Two very special gins have arrived from a Kenyan producer which makes what is regularly dubbed as the best gin in the world. Vintage Procera Green Dot and Red Dot gins are here!
Procera, the Kenyan gin which launched in 2019, has taken the drinks world by storm becoming a great favourite among bartenders around the world. The original Blue Dot Gin makes about the most delicious Dry Martini we have ever tasted. What makes it unique is that it uses Kenyan green juniper, juniperus procera (see photo in header). Almost every gin in the world uses European juniper, juniperus communis.
It was joined last year by two new versions. There’s Red Dot which alongside the African juniper is packed with spices to make a fiery gin that works brilliantly in more strongly-flavoured drinks like a Negroni and a Gin & Tonic. Then there’s the unique Green Dot which uses both fresh and dried berries from the juniperus procera tree along with the foliage and toasted wood from the juniper tree. No other botanicals are used. The result is something stunningly aromatic. Both of these two versions are only made in yearly batches so each release is different. But before we taste the latest Vintage Procera gin, first a recap on the whole story.
What’s the story behind Procera Gin?
Ex-banking people are ten a penny in the drinks world; it’s not unusual to make a fortune in the City and then put that money in a distillery or vineyard. The man behind Procera gin, Guy Brennan, had a slightly different career in finance. He worked for a micro-finance company in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, generally considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous countries. “I got robbed at gunpoint on day seven”, he told me. Yet, he lasted for three years before moving to the comparative peace of Uganda. “I fell in love with Africa”, he said. He met his American wife in Nairobi where he now lives.
The idea for Procera gin came when he was enjoying sundowners in Kenya with three friends. “We’re looking at those botanicals on the bottle and a large majority of them come from Africa and we said ‘why are we sending all these botanicals to London for some guys to distill it, to put it in this bottle, to send it back here for us to drink. Why don’t we make a gin?’” he said. “And we looked around and we said ‘because we don’t know how to make gin’”. Most friends would have left it there but Brennan and his friends, one of whom owns a brewery in Kenya and raises cattle, the other runs a restaurant, are some of life’s doers, so they decided to do something.
Meeting one of Africa’s greatest distillers
Brennan took a trip to meet one of Africa’s greatest distillers, Roger Jorgensen, on his farm in the Western Cape. That was in August 2017. Jorgensen has won more awards than you can shake a stick at and has become a guru for the continent’s distillers: Brennan described the visit as “going to the Dagobah system to visit Yoda.” In his baggage was an illicit substance, Kenyan green juniper, juniperus procera (hence the name of the gin). Almost every gin in the world uses European juniper, juniperus communis. Brennan picked up the story: “When I took a handful of these juniper berries I’d collected myself in the forest in Nairobi to him, and we distilled them, he looked at me and said ‘Guy, this is going to change gin’. And since then, that was two and a half years ago, Roger’s sold his farm in Capetown and he’s moved to Kenya.”
It took a while, however, to get the recipe right. The original Blue Dot uses a little Macedonian juniper, about one third. Brennan said it just didn’t taste as good with pure juniperus procera. Apart from that everything else is African. The neutral spirit comes from Kenyan sugar cane, there’s Somali acacia honey (incredible on its own), cardamom and mace from Zanzibar (see film above) among the botanical mix. They go out and collect the juniper themselves, the only competition are baboons.
They started out using a “hillbilly still” but now have a state of the art Mueller, the “Rolls-Royce of stills” as Brennan put it. Mueller father and son even came out to set it up, the first one they had sold in Africa. Jorgensen has a special technique for preserving the freshness of the botanicals. “They are put in a pillow case and steeped in the spirit, a warm maceration at 40°C. That extracts a lot of the essential oils. But then he would take out the pillowcase, so there was no organic matter in the pot”, said Brennan. This avoids heavy flavours and gives a freshness which makes Procera particularly good drunk neat or in a Martini.
Winning awards and impressing bartenders
Procera struck a chord right away winning a Michelangelo Award (important spirits competition in South Africa). In June 2018, they took some gin made on the basic still to Junipalooza in London. Brennan said: “We didn’t even have bottles ready. We had some sampling ones, but we decided to start selling them at £60 and we sold more than any of the other 75 exhibitors as the most expensive gin at Junipalooza.” It’s now available in most of the world’s best bars. Alessandro Palazzi from Duke’s Bar in London is a particular fan offering a super pricey Procera Martini.
There’s no doubt that Procera Blue Dot is one of the world’s finest gins. First I tried it neat and it’s superb, fresh and spicy, with not a hint of harshness. Also very long. There’s a real beginning, middle and end. But the real magic happens when you add ice, it brings out a creaminess, the texture thickens, it’s a joy to swill around your mouth. No wonder it’s proved such a hit behind the bar. But it is quite delicate, perhaps too delicate for some cocktails which is where Red and Green Dot come in. Let’s have a look at the new releases.
This is made from using a selection of five African peppers (selim pepper, black pepper, elephant pepper, alligator pepper and ashanti pepper), as well as oyster shell, locust bean, seaweed, tea, mace, myrrh, honey, orange, lemon and coriander. This is a big aromatic gin, bottled at 51% ABV, with an almost maritime edge to it, perhaps it’s those oyster shells, which makes a tremendous G&T.
Nose: Big fresh nose, lots of juniper, piney, even a little salty and maritime.
Palate: Super ginny, all the juniper, citrus, orange and lemon with big spicy peppers but with that trademark Procera smoothness.
Finish: Long and peppery. Has a proper beginning, middle and end.
It’s hard to believe that this is only made from one plant, juniperus procera. It’s so spicy that you would swear that it was distilled with liquorice, cinnamon, lemon and something fresh and minty. There’s a sweetness (though there is no sugar) and richness which I think would make it wonderful in rich cocktails that traditionally call for Old Tom like a Martinez. It’s bottled at 47% ABV. Just an extraordinary gin; it might even be my favourite from the range.
Nose: Very complex: herbal, floral, mint, strong juniper plus sweeter notes like liquorice.
Palate: Peppery to begin with, spicy and then sweet and creamy.
Finish: Sweet finish, cinnamon and a little liquorice.
So there you have it two extraordinary releases from Procera, As Pliny said, ‘out of Africa, always something new.’
The Procera range is available from Master of Malt. Click on links above for prices and to buy.