It’s been a while coming, this one.
Since the launch of our original Bathtub Gin almost exactly one year ago, we’ve sold a huge number of bottles worldwide, and it’s fair to say that the critical reception has been pretty darned fantastic.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, Bathtub Gin is a compounded gin made from botanicals, as opposed to essences, meaning that the flavour is derived from soaking the botanicals in the spirit (and not then re-distilling it). As far as we know, this is the only gin in the world to employ this slightly curious method of manufacture – the result of which is a clean, fresh-tasting gin with a very slight natural tint to it. As those of you who’ve tried ‘normal’ Bathtub will know, the image below (of the Navy Strength Gin) is substantially darker in hue, due to its production method. More on this below.
Much deeper in colour than normal Bathtub.
Since the launch of the original bathtub gin, we’ve turned out a number of supplements to the range – from the short-lived Sloe Gin (sold out pretty quickly and we have to wait for next sloe season to get more), to the Martinez-Cocktail-Friendly Old Tom Gin, a matured, cask-aged version, and even a Summer Fruit Cup made with cold-distilled botanicals.
There has however, been one pretty big omission from the portfolio until today – a Navy-Strength Gin.
Now – the reasoning behind the original development of Navy-Strength Gin is somewhat murky. I’m sure that at least one Gin Geek* will pick me up or back me up here, but all the articles I’ve ever read about the raison d’être for Navy-Strength Gins seem to be slightly spurious to me.
The story goes that the reason the Navy would specify a strength of 57% abv is that this is the strength at which gunpowder would still ignite (and be useful) were the gin to be accidentally spilled on it. It’s worth noting two things here:
1) This is the same test that is used to ascertain whether a rum is ‘Overproof’ or Under-proof. It works, and it’s cool. In fact I might get some gunpowder for the new Rumbullion Launch. Oops. I’ve said too much.
2) It’s bollocks. Gunpowder that’s soaked in any liquid (even rocket fuel) isn’t going to work as well as gunpowder on its own, as there’s the pretty huge problem of changing the state of the liquid to get out of the way first. Vaporisation needs a lot of energy – ask any distiller – and it’s highly unlikely that a cannon would do much more than puke the cannonball limply out of the end of the barrel were it to be fired with gin-soaked powder. There’s a big difference between ‘burn’ and ‘explode’. Simple Gas Dynamics.
My guess is that the far more likely reason for the specification of a high-abv spirit (be it gin or rum) is a simple one of space. Liquor at 57% abv takes up only 70% of the room-per-unit-of-alcohol that liquor at 40% abv does. This would have made a substantial difference to the power to weight ratio of a sea-faring vessel given sailors’ propensity for imbibing liquor.
As an example – we’ll take a typical 17th Century Gunship – the HMS Royal Charles:
The Royal Charles
The ship had a complement of 800-odd, who would be at sea for many months at a time (let’s take 6 months as an example). The Daily Rum ration in the 17th Century was half a pint, twice a day (no, really…) meaning a rum usage of approximately 450 litres per day for the ship. Over the course of a six month voyage, specifying rum at 57% abv would therefore save somewhere between 24,000 and 34,000 litres of room over the course of a 6-month voyage**.
This is a good 30 or 40 tonnes including the casks, which represents about 2% of the burthen weight of the vessel. Navy-Strength Gins were therefore, in effect, the Carbon-fibre body panels and titanium wheel-nuts of their day.
So – enough blathering on – and on to how we actually make this marvellous liquid.
Apart from the difference in abv, there is a reasonably substantial difference in the method of manufacture. For our normal Bathtub Gin, we allow the botanicals involved (Juniper, Coriander, Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Dried Orange Peel) to steep gently and gracefully, whole, in the spirit for about 24 hours (dependent on ambient temperature) until the required concentration is achieved. For the Navy Strength version however, we wanted something a bit more aggressive. This isn’t just a case of turning up the level of the botanicals in line with the concentration – we wanted the Navy-Strength version to pack as hefty a botanical punch as the abv would allude to.
LHS not-bashed-up, RHS bashed-up. You get the gist.
What we did therefore was to take the botanicals, and as well as increasing the quantity (over and above the increase in concentration), we changed the manner in which they are steeped. Every individual botanical seed/pod/berry is crushed open by hand before being added to the spirit, and instead of infusing for 24 hours, they are left in the spirit for only one hour.
We found that this lends a much more punchy flavour to the Gin, as only the more assertive notes of each botanical come out – the earthy, more subtle flavours are left behind in the botanicals.
For the packaging, rather than mess with a formula that works, we’ve simply added a Naval ‘White Ensign’ Flag behind the same carboy illustration used on the original Bathtub Gin.
Nose: The additional abv is immediately apparent, but well-tempered by a huge whack of citrus. After the initial hit of juniper and citrus, the spices are easily accessible – far more so than in the standard Bathtub. Top-notes of Cinnamon and Cardamom are supported by the earthier Coriander and Clove. Overall, this is one of the best noses on any gin I’ve yet to experience.
Palate: Huge, mouth-filling, oily and complex. The initial burst of flavour comes courtesy of the spices – Cardamom, Cinnamon, then follows the Citrus and Juniper backbone, before settling into a wonderful melange of that Coriander and Clove combination. Absolutely fantastic.
Finish: Incredibly long and lingering, with the cinnamon and clove jostling for position for literally minutes after the initial sip.
Overall: We talk about ‘sipping gins’ all the time, but I’m not convinced anyone is actually buying it. This, my friends, is the exception. An absolutely ridiculously flavour-packed spirit, far beyond the reaches of what would be possible using distillation alone as a method of manufacture. Just remarkable…
*That’s a term of endearment by the way. I’m a whisky Geek. It’s fine. Embrace it.
** Depending on which way you’re shifting it, from 40% to 57% or vice-versa. I’ve also read some accounts that say that 80% abv was the standard strength for the 17th Century, which would mean this whole calculation was for nothing. Gah.