Category:Gin Reviews’

City of London Dry Gin

 - by Dug

City of London Dry Gin (or COLD Gin) is distilled at the City of London Distillery, which is the first distillery to be commissioned in the City of London (or “The Square Mile”) for over 200 years – are you picking-up on the theme yet?

The distillery has been created as a destination as much as a place to create gin. Not only is there a bar at the distillery but they do distillery tours, gin master-classes and corporate gin creation sessions, as well as making the venue available to hire for your own events. It really does seem to have made itself as accessible as possible to the general public and tried to tap into every possible revenue stream.

The project is the brainchild of Jonathan Clark and Jamie Baxter, the latter being the master distiller that bought us Chase Vodka and William Chase Gin.

While grain neutral spirit is bought-in, the rest of the distillation and bottling process happens on-site. The gin is bottled at 40% and at least two of the citrus fruits are used fresh.

Botanicals…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander Seed
  • Angelica Root
  • Liquorice Root
  • Fresh Orange
  • Fresh Lemon
  • Pink Grapefruit

The gin is not cheap; retailing at £32.50 from the distillery, it’s placing itself firmly in the top-tier price bracket (although, it is available a couple of quid cheaper elsewhere).

City of London Dry Gin

City of London Dry Gin

The bottle is a fairly standard heavy-bottomed round-shouldered affair but the dressing does set it apart from most. The neck is capped with a cork and then dipped in bright red wax (I love a wax topping). There’s a narrow, two-inch-wide label on the back of the bottle with an image of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the inside; when the bottle it full, the liquid magnifies this to fill the full width of the bottle, which is a really nice touch.

Cutting into the wax and opening the bottle (small squeak, satisfying pop) and getting to grips with it, here’s what I found.

Nose

Giving COLD Gin a good sniffing reveals a heavy citrus load. The juniper is quite restrained but so is the alcohol. That’s about it.

Neat

Like the nose, the juniper in the neat gin is quite restrained. It carries a boat-load of citrus and there’s definitely some grapefruit in there. There’s also a hint of toffee-like vanilla (who knows where that came from). The alcohol is fairly well restrained.

G&T

Blimey! A Fever tree tonic really brings-out a torrential cascade of citrus. The grapefruit mentioned above really comes to the fore and the experience drips with different citrus fruits from a fresh and fruity attack right though to the slightly bitter, dry finish. The juniper is mild and takes a back-seat through the citrus-ride and there’s little spice or root flavours in evidence.

There are a lot of similarities between this and Larios Gin but COLD Gin is obviously the better quality of the two. COLD is smoother and while it might be a little one-dimensional, it has a multifaceted one-dimensionality (which sounds a little counter-intuitive) that gives it a lot more depth and interest. However, it does have a much higher price-tag than Larios, and the big question in my mind is: does it warrant that steep ticket-price? I’m not convinced that it does; to my mind it should sit in the mid-twenties price bracket. It’s good but I don’t think it ranks up there with No.3 or Herno Juniper Cask, especially when Whitley Neill comes so much cheaper. Saying that, citrus-forward gins don’t float my boat like a juniper-forward gin does, so if your tastes favour citrus, then City of London Dry Gin might be worth the outlay.

Larios Gin

 - by Dug

I bought this bottle of Larios Gin in a Tenerife airport around this time last year. Every shop that had a booze shelf seemed to stock it, and every bar had it on-optic; it was as ubiquitous as Gordon’s is in the UK. So, when I saw a one-litre bottle in the airport, on-offer for around £9, I had to pick a bottle up.

Larios Gin

Larios Gin

The bottle is nothing exciting with a metal screw-cap and a slightly generic label that reminds me of a Boddingtons beer-pump badge.

As with many budget gins, details are hard to come by. I managed to get the following list of botanicals from Difford’s Guide…

  • juniper
  • lemon
  • bitter oranges
  • coriander
  • cinnamon
  • almonds

So, without much else to waffle about, I guess I should just get on with talking about the gin.

Nose

The aroma of Larios is a little disappointing; the scent of alcohol is as predominant as the juniper. There’s an smell of citrus, possibly lemon.

Neat

Again, the taste of neat Larios is a bit of a disappointment. In many ways, it mirrors the aroma, in that the alcohol is very prominent and quite harsh and the juniper takes a back seat. Where it differs from the aroma is the citrus; it’s far more evident in the neat taste and really dominates. There’s very little in the way of spice, with possibly a hint of coriander hidden in all that lemon.

G&T

In a gin and tonic, Larios begins to wake up a bit. The juniper notes are still very subtle but the citrus absolutely explodes. It changes into much more of a sweet orange flavour and it goes very well with the Fever-tree tonic water to provide a very luscious drink. The finish is quite a long one and has a marmalade bitterness to it. There’s still a lot missing though; it’s a bit mild and one-dimensional.

It isn’t a great G&T, in that I prefer a much greater juniper pay-load and it has a certain lack of character, but considering this gin costs next-to-nothing, it isn’t a bad tipple. If you like citrus-heavy gins and a weaker juniper-profile, Larios will certainly make an acceptable quaffing gin.

Herno Juniper Cask Gin

 - by Dug

Disclaimer: the spelling in the title is wrong; it should be Hernö but the umlauted ‘O’ is too difficult for my inherent levels of laziness, so I am going to spell it without (sorry).

Herno Juniper Cask Gin

Herno Juniper Cask Gin

I heard about Herno Juniper Cask a few months ago and was instantly fascinated by the idea. The thought of barrels made of juniper wood was exiting enough but the fact that the gin is aged in them instantly had me hooked.

I was actually invited to the launch of this gin, in London, but there were other commitments that I couldn’t rearrange, so I sought a bottle of my own – direct from the distillery, no less (thanks Jon).

Juniper Cask is the brain-child of Jon Hillgren, the Master Distiller of Herno Gin. It’s distilled in Northern Sweden in a 250 litre copper pot-still called Kierstin. All of the botanicals are organic and listed below…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander
  • Meadowsweet
  • Cassia
  • Black Pepper
  • Vanilla
  • Lingon berries
  • Lemon peel

The gin is then aged in 39.25 litre juniper wood barrels (an historic barrel size in Sweden apparently) which had to be especially commissioned, as no one had been making these previously. After 30 days in the barrels, the juniper wood has imparted a pale straw-yellow colour to the gin.

The gin is then diluted to bottling-strength with the distillery’s own well water. The bottles are corked with a synthetic bung and the tops dipped in beeswax. I love this touch – I always bang-on about the packaging and, in this instance, the use of beeswax provides a layer of sensory experience missing from most gins – the smell of beeswax is evident long before you uncork and set loose the aroma of the gin.

Each bottle is numbered and I had to think long and hard before opening mine; bottle 37 of 87 from cask 1 would have sat very nicely next to my unopened bottle number 75 of Oxley Gin. In the end though, I did open it and here’s what I found.

Nose

Sniffing the neck of the bottle is an interesting experience in that the beeswax from the seal mingles heavily with the scent of the gin. This is actually quite pleasing but not overly representative of the gin itself. I love the smell of beeswax, it reminds me of my years as an archer (a freshly waxed bowstring drawn to the nose). In the glass, the aroma is slightly smokey toffee with undertones of juniper and orange.

If anything, adding a little water intensifies the flavours while damping down the alcohol harshness.

Juniper Wood Cask

Juniper Wood Cask

Neat

The attack is fast and brief; it hits the mouth with a flash of light, sweet orange and toffee. There’s a light antiseptic, smokey taste in the middle (like echoes of the peat of an Islay whisky) that’s a precursor to the development of an intense, *deep* resinous pine/turpentine richness that builds through a host of subtle spice and woody flavours, finally evolving into a warm earthy finish that goes on and on and on. It eventually leaves the mouth tingling and tasting like having bit into a grapefruit peel. There’s a degree of alcohol harshness but, for a 47% gin, it’s pretty-well contained.

G&T

The addition of tonic water sweetens the drink a lot, subdues the alcohol harshness and brings the citrus to the fore (and also makes the drink slightly cloudy – a testament to the amount of oil in the gin). The intensity of the juniper/pine resinous flavours are bought down to a much more subtle journey (although they remain at the forefront of the experience); the resultant G&T is still intense, just not aggressively so – the earthiness is gone and the woody notes balance well with the sweeter, more lush citrus flavours. It seems to beat Tanqueray 10 at its own game (and that takes some beating). It’s absolutely brilliant with a slice of pink grapefruit.

Herno Juniper Cask carries a tremendous juniper-load but it’s unlike any other gin I’ve tried. It’s powerful, it’s flavoursome and it’s unique. At about £30 for a 50cl bottle, it’s an expensive gin and I recently wrote an article asking if there were too many premium gins on the market and calling the price-tags of many of these into question; it seems like the universe was trying to tell me something when it landed Herno Juniper Cask in my lap – a gin that truly justifies its premium ticket-price.

With its potent unique flavours, this might not be a gin for everyone but if you like your gin dripping with juniper and are looking for something truly unique, then  you should definitely give this a try.

 

Opihr Gin

 - by Dug

Gin, with elephants! This is what went through my mind when I saw Opihr Gin sitting on the shelf at the local supermarket, and you know what? I love it already and I haven’t even opened it yet.

Okay, crazy openings, with all their implied bias, aside, I owe this gin a debt of gratitude. Work and family comitments are more important than “the journey” and while I still love drinking gin, this site has had to take a back-seat for a while. Every time I went to the “booze shelf” to fix-up a G&T, I would catch-sight of half a dozen mostly empty bottles of gin, sitting there forlornly, awaiting write-up, and I would get terrible pangs of guilt. However, upon clapping eyes on the delightfully colourful bottle of Opihr on the shelf, I knew I had to buy it, and better than that, I had to share it.

Opihr Gin

Opihr Gin

So, here I am; thanks Opihr.

Speaking of the bottle, it’s a glorious feast of red, gold and black with accents of purple and turquoise. The front-ends of two elephants (Indian in design) poke-out from behind a regal-looking circular black badge (okay, the picture makes it look blue, but it’s definitely black!). The neck is adorned with a little square pamphlet (not uncommon with gin) but it’s fastened-on with a thick braid of red and gold cord. The bottle itself is a heavy-bottomed square affair but there isn’t an edge in sight; in-fact, it looks like someone has taken a square bottle and over-inflated it to bursting-point. To me, it strikes a good balance between fun and opulence.

Opihr Gin is produced by Quintessential Brands, owners of G&J Greenall (who distil it), so it comes from the same camp as Bloom and Berkeley Square.

Bottled at 40% ABV, Opihr is a London Dry gin. It’s named after a (legendary, apparently) region that often bestowed cargoes of gold, silver and spices upon King Solomon, and is pronounced “o-peer”. If you hadn’t guessed already, it’s heritage (marketing) comes from the “ancient spice routes” – why does that sound so familiar?

Details are somewhat scant (partly because the its website hasn’t launched yet) but this is what I can piece-together of its botanicals…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander
  • Cardamom
  • Cubeb
  • Ginger
  • Orange
  • Grapefruit

I’d imagine there’s a root or two in there too, as well as another spice or citrus fruit.

Opening the bottle and giving it a good sniff reveals copious black pepper. Pouring into a glass, the aroma changes to a much-more cardamom-led experience. There are hints of juniper and coriander.

Trying Opihr neat is a very rewarding and warming experience; the spices are clear and evident in the attack, middle and finish. The juniper is almost overwhelmed by the spices but it manages to just hang in there with a surprisingly clear pine-taste underpinning the overall experience. There’s the burn of citrus and it isn’t the smoothest gin in the world either, with the alcohol roughening the warming feel of the drink. There’s a certain smoky tobacco thing going on too; I can’t help but think of cigars.

Mixing a G&T (3:1 with Fever-tree, no garnish) drives-off a load of cardamom in the effervescence along with soapy hints of coriander. The flavour is wonderful; the tonic water smooths-out any trace of alcohol harshness and adds/brings-out a complimentary load of citrusy goodness. The cardamom is still in strong evidence but its like a small cardamom float and doesn’t overwhelm. There’s a pleasant biting astringency in the after-taste but the ride is rounded and exiting. It makes my mouth water copiously when drinking it and each mouthful leaves me wanting another; I could practically inhale these.

Purists might complain that the juniper isn’t as dominant as it should be, but I’m happy.

All-in-all, Opihr Gin really ticks all the boxes for me; it’s got flavour in spades, it’s loaded with spice, it stands well on it’s own and it makes a magical G&T. Also, at £22 (Waitrose) it seems to be one of the first gins released in an age that doesn’t break the bank.

I’m so glad it lived-up to that moment when I saw it on the shelf.

6 O’Clock Gin

 - by Dug

6 O’Clock gin came to my attention when I was looking for premium tonic waters other than Fever-Tree; it was the first time I had come across a gin with a companion tonic water. That was many months ago now and I have come close to buying 6 O’Clock on two separate occasions.

The second occasion was only a couple of weeks ago; I’ve been accumulating tonics for a tonic water tasting and actually ordered some 6 o’clock tonic water. I came pretty close to ordering the gin, but the postage on different tonics was racking-up, so I decided against it.

Then, a mere two weeks later, I noticed that Waitrose had added 6 o’clock to their range of gins and it took me about three seconds to cave-in and add it to my basket.

6 o’clock gin is the brain-child of Michael Kain, Director of Bramley & Gage (more renowned for their liqueurs than their gin). It was inspired by his Great Grandfather, Edward Kain, a Victorian engineer, inventor and gentleman. Edward’s motto was “balance, poise and precision” and he not only created many refinements of existing technologies but created blueprints for boilers and stills. Apparently, after retiring from the Merchant Navy, every day Edward would retire at 6 o’clock to his old armchair, with a G&T, to allow his mind to wander for an hour to mull-over inventions and innovations.

6 o'clock gin

6 o’clock gin

The first thing that struck me about the the bottle was the colour; it reminds me of blue ink cartridges I used to have at school for my fountain pen. It was like a giant ink cartridge sitting on the shelf.

The bottle is a tall, slim, heavy-bottomed affair. The label, for all its text, has pretty scant detail about the gin itself. It’s bottled at 43% and the bottle states that there are six botanicals as well as juniper (making seven); the bottle lists only three but, using the power of Grayskull Google, I managed to unearth the following six…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander
  • Orris
  • Angelica
  • Orange peel
  • Elderflower

This leaves one unidentified mystery botanical.

It’s won a small suite of awards, including a Gold (best in class) at the 2011 IWSC and a silver in 2012.

The bottle is corked but, disappointingly, didn’t squeak. Uncorking and sniffing revealed a moderately juniper-forward aroma with a faint underlying sweet floral hint. The alcohol is pretty dominant though. The juniper is very fresh and green.

Neat

Tasting neat, 6 O’Clock starts with a soft, sweet juniper which evolves into a stinging bite of citrus and the harsher, turpentine qualities of juniper. There’s hints of spice and there’s the faintest hint of angelica (although I could be projecting that).

G&T (Fever-Tree, 3:1)

Next-up was mixing a G&T (Fever-Tree, 3:1). This was a clean, breezy G&T with plenty of fresh, green, vegetative juniper. The juniper is surprisingly forthright but not as dominating as something like Tanqueray or No.3; although there is a freshness to the juniper that is similar to that of No.3 gin. There is an orange citrus bite that has hints of marmalade about it and I’m not sure there isn’t lime in there too (in spite of the lack of garnish). Is there a hint of floral sweetness or am I imagining it because I am expecting elderflower?

There’s something missing in the middle-palate. It only lasts for a fraction of a second between the attack and the finish but for a brief flash, the G&T just tastes watery. This doesn’t really detract from the experience as the rest if very flavoursome; I just find it curious.

Overall, this is a very balanced G&T with  juniper firmly to the fore but I’m a little disappointed that the elderflower isn’t more in evidence. It’s a proper summer’s-day G&T with plenty of flavour and character; very nice indeed.

Update: Mixing at slightly stronger ratios brings some angelica into greater prominence.

G&T (6 O’Clock Tonic Water, 3:1)

Lastly, I mixed-up a G&T with 6 O’Clock tonic water (3:1).

This was a vastly different beast; the tonic is a lot milder than Fever-Tree and the resultant G&T is gentler, clearer and breezier with a definite lemon and lime hit. 6 O’Clock tonic somehow manages to tame that clear, fresh juniper and bring it down to a much softer level. There’s the faintest suggestion of post-mix lemon & lime in there which stops me being completely at-ease with this G&T. I think this combo is a little too citrus and not enough quinine for my liking; the tonic seems to over-ride the gin somewhat but that could be because I am so conditioned to drinking Fever-Tree.

Conclusions

6 O’Clock Gin is priced anywhere between £20 and £26; at the cheaper-end of this bracket, this is a sterling gin and well worth the money. At the higher-end, it’s still pretty good and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Master of Malt Origin

 - by Dug

I say “Master of Malt Origin”, but their full title it “Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Cold Distilled Juniper” – grand but a little unwieldy for a title.

The story is a simple but sensible one. Ben Ellefsen, Sales Director of Master of Malt, had a notion that the origin of juniper in many gins played a smaller part in the botanical list than the origins of the other ingredients, in spite of it being the main ingredient. You can read the full account on the Master of Malt blog, here.

I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s all in that blog post but, in-short, Ben appealed to MoM blog readers for samples of Juniper from all over the world. After chasing down dozens of samples, around ten were selected as potential prospects and, as far as I know, four initial samples were selected for maceration and cold-distillation in a rotary vacuum still. Another three were added later to make seven.

This range of single estate origin juniper distillates are now available from Master of Malt for the somewhat princely sum of £34.95 per bottle. Each is bottled at 46% ABV and comes with a small vial of other gin botanical distillates so you can convert the bottle into a fully-fledged gin with a complex suite of botanicals. The full range can be found here.

A little while ago, a small box arrived at my door containing little sample bottles of four of these distillates. Tonight I tried them.

Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Juniper Distillates

Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Juniper Distillates

Each one comes in wax-sealed 30ml sample bottle. The wax is slightly rubbery and plasticy; an odd texture and not at all what I was expecting. Still, it sheared nicely when I applied brute force and unscrewed the cap with the wax still on.

In preparation for this little voyage of discovery, I had a G&T with a fairly simple gin and then cleansed my palate with unadulterated tonic water. I opened a new pack of shot glasses that we have had kicking around for an age and sat down with my notepad, far away from distractions like the TV, cats and my wife.

I then, excitedly, poured and sampled.

Arezzo, Italy

First-up was from Arezzo, Italy.

Nose: On the nose this distillate was soft and slightly creamy with a gentle resinous pine freshness with generic but gentle woody undertones.

Taste: In the mouth it had a sweet, creamy building attack. The middle-to-end palate has a nice bite of juniper but still remains soft and warming with a slight soapiness to it.

This was certainly the gentlest and smoothest of the four and would make a great Scottish-style gin.

Valbone, Albania

Nose: The Valbonian distillate was the mildest on the nose and the juniper notes were definitely harsher and raspy, but subdued.

Taste: This was a work of contradictions to me; it was definitely the mildest of the four in flavour but it was also the harshest – it caught the back of the throat with spicy pepper/chili heat that lingered. The sweetness of the attack is very short-lived and it quickly gives-way to biting ferocity.

Meppel, The Netherlands

There’s a pleasing symmetry here in that the juniper for this origin distillate came from The Netherlands, the birthplace of gin. I like symmetry (on a tangent, why is the word symmetry not palindromic?).

Nose: Sniffing this one rewarded the nose with a gentle earthiness and a deep, rich pine resin.

Taste: There is a characteristic sweet, creamy attack with a great underpinning warmth. This slowly gives way to a building crescendo of tart, biting juniper pine notes. After peaking, this slowly trails off into a long peppery finish that tingles and burns on the tongue for a long, long time.

This would make a staggering backbone to a big-juniper, forthright gin.

Veliki Preslav, Bulgaria

Nose: The aroma of this distillate was very fresh and turpentine-like. There’s a vegetative quality to it that is hard to pin down to specific plants – just a greenness, maybe cut grass (from a lawn with plenty of dandelions and other weeds).

Taste: This is a fresh juniper – it reminded me of the freshness of No.3 Gin. It’s a big, big juniper. It was the most alcoholic tasting of the four (odd seeing that they are all the same strength) and the sweetness of the attack was slight but it sustained throughout. There was a prickly, almost stabbing mouth-tingle at the end.

In all, very fresh and clean.

Thoughts and conclusions

These are all very different; they are all Juniperus communis and it’s only the soil and climate that differs – and what a difference that makes.

Some distilleries make a lot of the fact that they travel the World looking for the best juniper and I have always wondered how much of this was just marketing hype. However, these four juniper distillates have such different characters and qualities and it’s no wonder that gin can vary so much even when there is little difference in the botanicals.

This has been a real eye-opener; a true education and a privilege.

If I were to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be the Arezzo from Italy; I love the gentle smoothness of it, but Meppel is a very close second. However, without trying each one, made-up with its other botanicals to make a full-blown gin, it’s going to be difficult to make a concrete choice.

There are three that I have yet to try, so watch this space – I may be adding to this in the coming weeks/months.

Finally, a map

For the academically interested (or, like me, the geographically retarded) below is a map with markers of the general locations of each juniper. I was struck by the latitudinal similarity of three of these but I suspect this is as much coincidence as anything significant. Saying that, Juniper likes well-drained, mountainous terrain and there is a lot of that in South-Europe.

 

Adnams First Rate Gin

 - by Dug

I have been wanting to try Adnams First Rate Gin (or “Finest Cut First Rate Gin”, to give it its full and slightly cumbersome name) ever since trying Adnams Copperhouse Gin toward the end of last year. So, a few weeks ago, when Adnams advertised a period of free delivery, on Twitter (@Adnams) I caved-in and added another bottle to the collection.

I was a little disappointed that it didn’t come in the cardboard tube that it is often pictured with. I know that this makes no difference to what’s in the bottle but I like those little points of detail that make the packaging of a premium gin feel properly premium.

The bottle itself is the same heavy-bottomed, round-shouldered affair that Copperhouse (and many other gins) comes in. The label has the familiar deep blue and copperplate too, but it’s supplemented with the clean, crisp, sky-blue and nautical imagery of a mast and sail.

Adnams First Rate Gin

Adnams First Rate Gin

Adnams First Rate Gin uses a better quality of alcohol than its cheaper sibling and, as with all Adnams’ spirits, the alcohol is produced by Adnams. It also shares a core of botanicals with Copperhouse but there is a raft of additional botanicals to differentiate it.

Speaking of botanicals, these are…

  • Juniper Berries
  • Coriander Seed
  • Orris Root
  • Liquorice Root
  • Angelica Root
  • Sweet orange Peel
  • Lemon Peel
  • Cardamom Pod
  • Cassia Bark
  • Angelica Root
  • Caraway Seed
  • Fennel Seed
  • Thyme
  • Vanilla Pod

This is a “distilled gin”, not a London Dry, presumably because of the vanilla pod which I have heard cannot be distilled and requires the addition of a post-distillation infusion or essence.

The finished product is bottled at 48% and corked with a wide-bore squeaky cork.

Pouring a little into a glass and giving it a “good nosing” was an interesting experience. This is the first gin I have come across that smells of toffee – I am guessing this this is the vanilla. This in underpinned by juniper and it doesn’t smell like a 48% ABV gin.

Tasting First Rate neat reveals an incredibly complex flavour profile;  rich and oily. The attack has a big ol’ juniper hit that is smoothed, even muted, by the vanilla toffee notes. It’s also somewhat prolonged and lingers a fair while before giving way to a short, sharp middle palete filled with prickly, peppery, herbal notes. There’s a heavy, complex aniseed finish which is probably a combination of liquorice, fennel and caraway. There’s also a long-lasting, stinging mouth-tingle in the after taste.

Mixing First Rate into a G&T (Fever-Tree, 3:1), the first thing I noticed was that it turned cloudy. This was no great surprise as really oily gins do tend to drop oil out of solution when diluted.

The tonic water really brings out the cool fennel and some stronger hints of the citrus, cinnamon (ok, cassia) & cardamom. The aniseed finish is tamed a lot and there is more of the fennel identifiable. While it is quite an intense G&T it still contrives to feel light and breezy in the mouth.

I suppose the name begs a question: if Good Ordinary Gin is good but ordinary, is Adnams First Rate Gin, first rate?

Well, it’s no No.3 and, as such, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it “first rate” but then, it isn’t in the same price-bracket either; at £26 a bottle, it’s significantly cheaper. It’s certainly a powerful, flavoursome gin with some significant departures from the classic style and it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. However, if you like the heavy, powerful, complex gins, then it’s certainly worth a look-in.

Gin Mare

 - by Dug

Many people have recommended that I try Gin Mare. This culminated in a three recommendations in one week followed by finding that Waitrose had it on sale with £6 off – it must have been providence.

Gin Mare is distilled in a former chapel in the Spanish fishing village of Vilanova i la Geltrú, which is located on the Costa Dourada in the province of Tarragona.

Gin Mare

Gin Mare

The bottle is a stout, tapered, round affair that is somewhat difficult to grip safely, especially with wet hands; it seems to want to just slip out. The blue/white colour scheme is supposed to represent the sea and the sky. The bottle-top is a tall, monolith-like, screw cap which has four ridges which represent the four Mediterranean botanicals; these really dig into the hand when you do the top a little too tight. All-in-all, while pretty, it isn’t the most ergonomic of bottles.

There is a Latin motto on Gin Mare’s bottle which reads “Mundus appellatur caelum, terra et mare” and translates (according to Google Translate) as “the world is called heaven, earth, and the sea”. One little note of the pronunciation: it isn’t mare, as in a female horse or nightmare, it is “mar-ray”, as in the Latin for sea.

Gin Mare differentiates itself through the use of some unusual botanicals…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander
  • Cardamon
  • Bitter Orange
  • Sweet Orange
  • Lemon
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Arbequina Olive

Look, no roots! I am struggling with this; I do wonder if I have missed a few as there is no mention of orris, angelica or liquorice. The roots are traditionally used as a fixative, to stabilise the flavour, and I wonder if this means that Gin Mare will lose flavour quickly in the glass, or even a half-empty bottle. However, at the risk of a little foreshadowing, I doubt it will hang around that long.

The three citrus botanicals are macerated together for a year before being distilled. Each of the other botanicals are distilled separately after being macerated for 36 hours. This is, in part, due to the varying batch-to-batch intensity of the olive distillate and allows these individual elements to be blended to make a consistent finished product, which is bottled at 42.7%.

Opening the bottle and giving it a good sniffing revealed a good backbone of juniper and some really herbal undertones. There was a late-arriving alcohol tingle in the nose as well.

Sampling neat gave a nice, sweet juniper attack which quickly gave way to a dry, savoury roller-coaster of mixed herbs. The finish is lingering and dry. Adding water didn’t really change this a great deal.

In a G&T, Gin Mare really shone. Mixing at 3:1 with Fever-Tree rewarded me with a glorious drink. It was crisp, dry fresh and mouthwatering. That inherent savouriness of the neat spirit is emphasised by the tonic water, becoming almost an umami-hit and those mixed herbs resolve clearly into thyme and rosemary. There is also a hint of that resinous smell of tomato plants, which could be a combination of basil and olive but I could just be projecting that. The finish lingers for ages and has a slight bitterness that I associate with eating olives. Others report that the taste of olive is fairly obvious but I didn’t really get that.

Gin Mare has a companion tonic called 1724 Tonic Water, so I hunted some down to see what it was like. The underlying flavours were very good – it seemed to bring out more of the herbal notes of the gin but there was an underlying taste of post-mix lemonade (which utterly ruined it for me) and the tonic was practically flat in comparison to the Fever-Tree. I was a little let-down by this, expecting, as I was, something a lot more special.

Overall, Gin Mare is a really good premium gin. Mind you, you do pay for it; at around £35 a bottle (give or take) it’s certainly a once-in-a-while treat. The savouriness makes the G&T a good tipple for dinner-time (unlike many gins) but it isn’t too savoury to be enjoyed at other times. This definitely makes it into my top-five list of non-classical gins.

One last note: to all those that demanded I try this, thank you.

 

Death’s Door Gin

 - by Dug
Death's Door Gin

Death’s Door Gin

Death’s Door Gin has been firmly on my drink-this-as-soon-as-possible list. To explain why, I will move swiftly on to the botanical list; there are three…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander
  • Fennel

Now, I love fennel, the seeds, the bulb, it’s all good. Finding a gin that features it as one of only three botanicals was a fortuitous day. The only problem is that it’s rather expensive; at £40 a bottle, it isn’t something you generally buy on the spur of the moment but I was looking to purchase a particular wine for my wife and, in order to use a “spend X and get Y off” voucher, adding a bottle of Death’s Door Gin almost paid for itself. Happy times.

Death’s Door Gin is created on Washington Island in Wisconsin, USA. The gin is named after Death’s Door Passage, a stretch of water between Washington Island and the Door Peninsula; if you are curious, here’s a map.

The juniper berries grow wild on Wisconsin Island and the coriander & fennel are sourced from Wisconsin State. The alcohol is created from Washington Island wheat and organic malted barley from Chilton (also in Wisconsin) and is triple distilled. If you happen to live in Wisconsin, then this gin is, from an environmental point of view, a very low impact gin.

Death’s Door has the same (or at least, very similar) oval/round bottle as Sloane’s Gin. Unlike Sloane’s Gin it has a cork stopper rather than a metal screw-cap and the labels are screen printed.

Enough prattle; more about the gin…

Nose

Giving the bottle-top a sniff rewards the nose with crisp, clean juniper – lots of deep, rich, resinous juniper. In the glass there is still that juniper but there is a creaminess to it and a strong hint of fennel. The alcohol scent is there, not brilliantly contained, but not dominant either.

The juniper reminds me of No.3, it’s very crisp and fresh.

Own

There is a bright, clear juniper attack that is, frankly, near mind-blowing. This is then followed by a spike of intense fennel/aniseed which tails-off into a long-tail of mellower fennel. The finish has a pleasingly dry bite with peppery undertones and an almost citrus tingle.

G&T

This is very much like the neat gin, just with tonic. I say “just”; it’s very cool and dry, the clarity of the juniper is astounding in the attack and the aniseed spike of fennel is clear and, if anything, slightly tamed and enriched by the tonic – it’s almost like there is proper liquorice-stick in there (not the root, the black, sticky stuff you buy in sweet shops). The finish is soft and cool and somehow contrives to be both sweet and dry at the same time. There’s a long-lingering fennel after-taste with hints of rosemary.

While this is a fairly one-dimensional G&T, this is far from being a bad thing. This is a simple and elegant G&T with bucket-loads of quality. It’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s luscious and very moreish.

I can see that, if you don’t like fennel, then this might not be your cup of tea, but I love it. It has a very simple flavour-profile but gin doesn’t need to be complicated.

 

Hoxton Gin

 - by Dug

I avoided buying Hoxton Gin for a long time. It seemed to me to be a very divisive gin which has attracted a lot of criticism and courted controversy. In the gentlemanly world of gin, there appeared to be a disruptive lout in the reading-room who, in spite of plenty of tutting and shaking of heads, has, so far, refused to go away.

I knew I would have to try Hoxton eventually and relegated it to the buy-when-on-sale list. However, a couple of weeks ago, Sainsbury’s had it on offer and I could refuse no more; to do so would have been to breach some sort of unspoken code-of-conduct I have constructed in my head. Leaving it on the shelf would have been an admission of prejudice and of a closed-mind. So smiling at the 20% discount and the opportunity to sample something new, I picked and purchased, happy that I would be giving it a “fair trial”.

Hoxton Gin

Hoxton Gin

The full list of botanicals is difficult to find. Most sources only list the following…

  • coconut
  • grapefruit
  • juniper
  • iris
  • tarragon
  • ginger

I’d be interested to know which part of the plant the “iris” refers to. Likely the flowers, but orris root is the root from the same genus of plants, and I wonder if this is just a way of making a normal gin botanical sound more exotic. Cynical, me?

I love tarragon (well, cooking with it at least) and I love ginger. I guess my love of juniper is pretty evident.

These botanicals are macerated for five days in French summer wheat alcohol before being distilled in 150 year-old copper pot stills. The gin is then filtered and rested for two months. Another curiosity is the filtering – what does this achieve at this late stage? Maybe there is too much oil in the distilled spirit. The finished product is then bottled at 43% ABV.

Hoxton Gin makes some significant departures from tradition; the label reads, quite brashly, “Warning, Coconut and Grapefruit” and has a very contemporary feel (almost ’60s retro contemporary). The bottle itself is a rounded square that you quite commonly find in Whiskeys (Bushmills for example) and the brand is emblazoned in black and white, with yellow accents.

This contemporary feel is reflected on the website which is peppered with border-line hipsters having fun with grapefruit. The site has pictures of graffiti and makes mention of Banksy, Damien Hurst and Pete Doherty. There is definitely an association being drawn between Hoxton Gin and trendy British creativity. The whole image is a little bit Brit-pop, a little bit Mod-era

Determined not to let all of this cloud my judgment, I opened the screw-cap and took a sniff. Well, what can I say? Coconut is pretty dominant. Somewhere under that big pile of coconut are strong hints of grapefruit and what might be juniper and some reclusive spice. The scent is very creamy but how much of that is from traditional gin botanicals and how much is from the coconut, I wouldn’t like to say.

Sampled neat, the coconut is even more dominant. It is thick and heavy from the initial attack, all the way through to a cloying, fume-heavy aftertaste. For several breaths afterwards, I am left with the feeling that I am breathing-out a cloud of coconut vapour – it is quite breath-taking (in that I found it hard to breathe).

Once I had got over the initial shock and took a few more sips, there is definitely an underlying layer of grapefruit and pineapple (which is not among the botanicals). Crowded away at the periphery are some hints of juniper but it is like they are calling weakly from the bottom of a well; difficult to make out, indistinct and probably dying.

Adding a small dash of water only seemed to intensify the coconut and tame the alcohol bite, making it even more cloying.

Mixing Hoxton Gin into a G&T (3:1 w/Fever-Tree) was an interesting experience. Initially, the additional bite of the tonic water and dilution seemed to tame the beast and resulted in a fairly pleasing experience. It was still heavy on the coconut in the attack and finish but more of the citrus and shy spice very evident in the middle. Adding a big ol’ wedge of lime (partly squeezed into the drink) also complimented it well; it added a lush citrus twang with the acidity cutting through some more of that coconut. However, after about half a glass, it seemed like the coconut was just biding its time and building in intensity; by the end, I was back to the gasping overload of coconut that trampled over every aspect of the drink. It was like someone had garnished the poor G&T with a dollop of sun-cream or hair conditioner. I was practically gagging by the end.

Where vodka-gins are argued to be a bridge, to the world of gin, for vodka drinkers, maybe Hoxton is a bridge for Malibu drinkers.

Determined not to waste most of a bottle of gin, I set out trying to find ways to make Hoxton enjoyable. There had to be a play-mate out there that would not be overshadowed by this monster.

Gin & Ting (3:1)

A Gin & Ting is not a drink I especially enjoy. It is pleasant enough but I find the Ting a little too sweet and overpowering with most gins, so I thought that this might make a good partner for Hoxton.

I really hit gold with this one, although if it were handed to me blind, I would never have guessed it contained gin. The coconut from the gin and the grapefruit from the Ting balance very well. It is a drink I can imagine being served in a pineapple with all manner of umbrellas, straws and other accoutrements, but it was enjoyable nevertheless. A little on the sweet-side, but nothing a healthy dash of bitters or a good squeeze of lime can’t remedy.

Negroni

I thought that the forceful flavours of the mighty negroni should be able to tame the coconut beast and I wasn’t wrong.

The blunt bitterness of the negroni takes away a lot of the cloying nastiness of the Hoxton, leaving a soft creamy coconut dimension to the otherwise harsh flavours of this traditional drink.

Salty Dog

Given that Hoxton works pretty well in a Gin & Ting, I thought that going straight for the source and mixing with pure grapefruit juice might be a good idea.

Originally, I was amazed at how the salty dog managed to tame both the grapefruit and the gin and make a surprisingly subtle drink. Well, it does the same to Hoxton Gin; the resulting drink is a beautifully subtle with just the barest hint of coconut.

Conclusion

This is a bad puppy that needs to be handled properly. It’s unrecognizable as a gin (juniper is far from being the predominant flavour) and traditionalists are likely to turn their noses up. However, there are drinks that it works well in, so to write-it-off completely would be unfair. Just bear in mind that the bottle does come with warnings for a reason.