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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Gin and Tonic

Top ten gins for 2021

We’ve picked some of our favourite new gins and some classics to drink this summer, with tips on how to enjoy them. So, whether you’re a Martini lover or adore…

We’ve picked some of our favourite new gins and some classics to drink this summer, with tips on how to enjoy them. So, whether you’re a Martini lover or adore a G&T, here are our top ten gins for 2021.

The gin world does not stand still. Every week, we are inundated with great offerings from new producers and new offerings from great producers. It’s an exciting time to be a gin lover. But all that choice can be a bit daunting. So, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite gins both new and classic to enjoy in the sun this summer.

There’s everything here from vibrant Mediterranean-style gins to complex port cask-aged spirits; we’ve included tiny producers and global brands. If it’s delicious and contains juniper, then it’s a contender. So without further ado, here are our top ten gins for 2021.

Top Ten gins for 2021

hyke-gin-very-special-gin

Hyke Very Special Gin

We loved everything from Foxhole Spirits. The team uses leftovers from wine production in their distinctive gins. This gives the base spirit an unmistakable floral character. Combine that with other botanicals including grapefruit and Earl Grey tea and you have a gin of great elegance and smoothness that’s worth treating with a bit of care.

What does it taste like?

A well-rounded, luxurious spirit carries notes of delicate citrus, herbal tea, crisp juniper leading into warming cubeb and ginger spiciness. Perfect Martini gin.

portobello-road-savoury-gin

Portobello Road Savoury Gin

If you like your gin to taste like gin, then you’ll love this latest release from London’s Portobello Road. It majors on the juniper which combined with Calabrian bergamot peel, Seville green gordal olives, rosemary and sea salt produces a deeply dry gin that positively reeks of Mediterranean. It’s the next best thing to going on holiday. Gorgeous bottle too.

What does it taste like?

Powerful juniper, pungent herbs and refreshingly bitter citrus notes. This might be the ultimate G&T gin but it’s a great all-rounder. 

port-barrelled-pink-gin-salcombe-distilling-co-that-boutiquey-gin-company-gin

Port-Barrelled Pink Gin – Salcombe Distilling Co (TBGC)

And now for something completely different. This was produced by Devon’s Salcombe Distilling Company in collaboration with Port house Niepoort and bottled by That Boutique-y Gin Company. The base spirit is a pink gin, steeped with sloes, damsons, rose and orange peel post-distillation. It’s then aged in a cask which once held a 1997 Colheita Port to produce something of great complexity and deliciousness.

How does it taste?

Fragrant and fruity with plum and orange oil. Lovely sipped neat on ice or with fresh raspberries in a seriously fancy G&T.

bathtub-gin

Bathtub Gin

Alongside all the exciting new products, we’ve included a few old favourites like the mighty Bathtub Gin. It’s made with a very high quality copper pot-still spirit infused with ingredients including juniper, orange peel, coriander, cassia, cloves and cardamom to produce a powerful gin with a creamy viscous mouthfeel. 

How does it taste?

The initial focus is juniper, but the earthier botanicals make themselves known in the initial palate too with the most gorgeously thick mouthfeel. Negroni time!

dyfi-original-gin

Dyfi Original Gin

Dyfi gin was set up in Wales by two brothers, Pete Cameron, a farmer and beekeeper, and Danny Cameron, a wine trade professional, in 2016. It took them two years of research and tasting to come up with the recipe which includes bog myrtle, Scots pine tips, lemon peel, coriander, juniper and more. A very special gin. 

How does it taste?

Drying juniper and coriander spiciness, powerful pine notes with a touch of oiliness, bright bursts of citrus keep it fresh and light.

cotswolds-no-2-wildflower-gin

Cotswolds No.2 Wildflower Gin

The Cotswolds Distillery was set up to make whisky but the team began making gin to help with cash flow. And they turned out to be rather good at it. This is based on the distillery’s classic dry gin which is then steeped with botanicals including elderflower and chamomile to create a floral flavoured gin inspired by the wild flowers of the Cotswolds. 

How does it taste? 

Earthy liquorice, a crackle of peppery juniper, softly sweet with candied peels, just a hint of clean eucalyptus lasts. This would make a splendid Tom Collins.

fords-london-dry-gin

Fords Gin

Created by bartender Simon Ford in conjunction with Thames Distillers in London to be the ultimate all-rounder gin. For the botanical selection, they use a varied selection from around the world, including grapefruit peel from Turkey, jasmine from China, angelica from Poland, lemon peel from Spain, as well as juniper from Italy.

What does it taste like?

Herbal rosemary and thyme meet floral heather and juniper, pink peppercorns, and grapefruit pith. Try it in a freezer door Martini

gin-mare-gin

Gin Mare

No, the name is not a reference to the bad dreams you have after a night on the sauce. It’s the Spanish word for sea, pronounced something like ‘mar re’, and it’s another Mediterranean stunner featuring rosemary, thyme, basil with lots of zest, and the start product, arbequina olive. This is the gin of Barcelona. 

What does it taste like?

A fragrant, perfume-like gin majoring, very herbal and aromatic with notes of coriander, juniper and citrus zest. 

dingle-original-gin

Dingle Original Gin

It’s another ‘while we wait for the whiskey’ gin, but it’s no afterthought. Containing rowan berry, fuschia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather, this gin from the Dingle Distillery in Kerry won World’s Best Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards. And when you taste it, you’ll understand why. 

What does it taste like?

Juicy and sweet with authentic summer berry notes, followed by fresh herbs (think mint leaf and fennel).

tanqueray-number-10-london-dry-gin

Tanqueray No. Ten

And among all the new brands, it’s worth paying tribute to one of the old timers. Tanqueray’s heritage stretches back to the early 19th century but this No. Ten was introduced in 2000. It’s a small batch gin made using whole citrus fruits alongside chamomile and juniper, and takes its name from pot still number 10 at the Tanqueray distillery. 

How does it taste?

Perfumed and aromatic with notes of tangy grapefruit zest, creamy custard, cardamom, Earl Grey tea and clean zingy juniper. Massively refreshing. 

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Not another one! How can gin brands stand out?

There’s a lot of gin out there. A hell of a lot. So, how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Lucy Britner meets three British…

There’s a lot of gin out there. A hell of a lot. So, how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Lucy Britner meets three British brands doing things a bit differently.

If someone were to illustrate ‘Gin Lane’ now, the sign would be on a decorative metal plaque and it would read ‘Gin O’Clock!’ or, even worse, ‘Let the fun be-GIN’. The juniper spirit has captured the hearts, minds and gift shop owners of the nation, and barely a week goes by when a new gin or a new expression isn’t released. 

Once upon a time, Hendrick’s dined out on ‘unusual botanicals’. Now, rose and cucumber seem relatively usual in comparison with some of the bonkers concoctions that are on the market today. (Hi, Unicorn Tears! Though shame on you for making unicorns cry.)

And there are so many of them. In fact, according to booze trade group the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), combined sales of gin and flavoured gin in shops, supermarkets and online went up 22% in value in 2020, breaking the billion-pound mark for the first time, worth £1.2 billion and totalling 75 million bottles.

That’s a lot of gin. The question is: how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Especially the ones that don’t have giant drinks companies with their hefty marketing budgets behind them.

Rachel HIcks from Skywave Gin

No gimmicks, it’s Rachel Hicks from Skywave Gin

Get to know your customers

Sky Wave Gin, based in Oxfordshire, differentiates itself in a variety of ways, which aren’t always immediately obvious,” says Rachel Hicks, partner and distiller. “There’s no huge marketing budget to flash the brand in consumers’ faces, but firmly and consistently we promote our beliefs in craft, quality and originality.”

Simon Pettit, the brand’s business development manager, delves deep into the analytics, highlighting the impact of different social media platforms on reaching the Sky Wave drinker: “We have just started a Facebook campaign to target the over-40s, without generalising, as initially we were finding the Instagram and Twitter stuff was just getting re-shared and not generating click-throughs.” This is combined with more traditional marketing campaigns in publications including Cotswold Life, and the Chilterns Society’s magazine, as well as events like the Artisan Food Market at nearby Waddesdon Manor.

He says the aim is to form a deeper customer relationship. “We still reckon the ‘old school’ approach has merit when coupled with engagement on Facebook. We’re already seeing small indications of a better level of interest.” Hicks added: “We are very happy targeting the ‘older drinker’ and not chase the younger market”.

No gimmicks

As the old saying goes, ‘fish where the fish are’. Indeed Hicks adds that Sky Wave consumers already “know and love” gin and they are not interested in gimmicks. “We’ve paired our premium gins with a classic, timeless brand image of clean, simple lines which appeals to our target age range of 35-55 years old,” she continued.

There’s also another draw: the distillery. The venue is at Bicester Heritage, a former RAF site and now the home of historic motoring, which again is a good fit for Sky Wave customers. “You may pop in for a bottle of Navy Strength and spot a 1934 Bugatti driving past or a World War II Tiger Moth landing on the airfield next to us,” says Hicks.

Elsewhere, she says quality comes before short-term profit. “We’ve always been more concerned with the quality of our gin than how much profit there is to be made,” she adds. “For example the majority of our gins are created at 42% ABV or above to achieve the flavour profile we want.” To be legally called a spirit, gin must be at least 37.5% ABV, but duty is paid based on the percentage of pure alcohol per litre. Therefore, it’s cheaper to make a lower ABV gin than a higher one.

Off Piste Gin

Off Piste Gin, on-trend branding

Going off piste

From historic motoring to ski slopes and Off Piste’s gin has its very own USP. The brand, which has been around since 2020, is Off Piste Wines’ first foray into spirits.

Brand ambassador Helen Chesshire says the aim is not simply about appealing to skiers or snowboarders but to a wider demographic who enjoy a bracing walk in the countryside and who are discovering new adventures. “Our customers may well be adventurous types but they also know gin well,” she says. “We had a lot of messages and comments from people over the past year who told us they were buying the gin for themselves or a loved one who was missing the mountains.”

She describes Off Piste drinkers as a mix of discoverers and adventurers. She says the gin appeals to an “older generation of hedonists – 50+ original Glastonbury goers – and younger gin drinkers looking to discover new brands”.

When it comes to engaging fans, Chesshire says the brand will appear at The National Snow Show later this year, with plans to meet a wider community. The brand also had a sponsorship deal with Winter Olympian Chemmy Alcott.

“With all new gins or indeed other spirits, there needs to be a hand-sell,” Chesshire explains, describing “engagement and loyalty” as well as hearing feedback from drinkers to help “understand how we could expand on our cocktail serves and our future plans for brand growth”.

The taste, too, she describes as ‘bracing’, with the delicate herbaceous and floral notes that you might expect from an Alpine-inspired gin.

Darnley's Original Gin & Tonic

Darnley’s Gin & Tonic, very nice

Cottage industry

In Scotland, Darnley’s is a veteran of the modern gin movement, having set up shop in 2010. Director William Wemyss says it started “before the gin craze really took off”.

The great thing about having a bit of time under your belt is that you can also get a real handle on who your drinkers are.

“Our target demographic is 25-45 female gin drinkers who also have an interest in other lifestyle categories such as food, entertainment and gardening,” Wemyss says. “We know this because of the data that comes through our website tracking with Google analytics.”

He says that provenance across food and drink is becoming even more important to consumers, and within gin, that means touting natural botanicals and, as far as possible, local ones.

The brand includes a limited edition ‘Cottage Series’, which is inspired by botanicals local to the cottage that houses the Darnley’s distillery. The most recent release is Smoke & Zest, which features Fife-grown barley smoked over pine wood chips, and rowanberry that grows around the distillery. Wemyss also hints at a brand new release, though he’s keeping it under wraps until World Gin Day (12 June). Watch this space.

These three brands have carved their own niche – and they know who their drinkers are. That’s surely a great way to remain relevant in a crowded marketplace.

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Five great gins from around the world

We’re having a gin festival at Master of Malt this week so on the blog we’re highlighting five great gins that show the sheer diversity that can be found in…

We’re having a gin festival at Master of Malt this week so on the blog we’re highlighting five great gins that show the sheer diversity that can be found in those three simple letters, ‘g’, ‘i’ and ‘n.’

This week it’s gin festival time over on the Master of Malt website. Gin’s beauty is in its versatility. All it needs to be is a spirit flavoured with juniper and you can go from there. You might favour a classic London dry gin, or something flavoured with sweet oranges, or aged in oak. 

It is made all over the world so to celebrate the wondrous diversity of gin, we’ve chosen three very different interpretations of juniper from England, South Africa, Venezuela, Scotland and Cornwall. Plus we’ve included some tips on the best ways to enjoy them.

Fords Gin Cocktail shaker

Fords London Dry Gin

When you have a vision for the kind of gin you want, you could spend thousands on a distillery and spend years learning how to be a gin master. Or you could go to the best. Like Charles Maxwell master distiller at Thames Distillers in South London. Maxwell is the source behind dozens of gin brands and probably knows more than anyone alive about turning someone’s gin dreams into juniper-scented reality.

Ford, an industry stalwart who was involved with bars such as Koba in Brighton before a stint as brand ambassador at Pernod Ricard, wanted to create a gin for all seasons. He explained: “I wanted to take elements from all of my favourite gins and put them into one, well-rounded gin.” To create that weighty profile, Maxwell steeped the nine botanicals for 15 hours to soften them and get them to release their oils before distilling in two John Dore stills, Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. 

The profile is juniper dominated, supported by other flavours including jasmine, cassia and grapefruit. The result is a weighty thick gin with a classic profile, bottled at a useful 45% ABV. It’s a great all-rounder but that viscosity makes it an obvious choice for a Martini.

Ford doesn’t just make gin, his business the 86 Co. (since 2019 part of Brown Forman) also makes Caña Brava rum, Tequila Cabeza, and Aylesbury Duck Vodka.

How to drink it

Ford suggests something called a freezer door Martini. Remove 200ml from your bottle, add 100ml of dry vermouth, and 100ml of filtered water. Shake, put in your freezer and it’ll always be ready when you want an instant Martini.

Inverroche Amber in a Negroni

Inverroche Amber Gin

This distillery was founded in 2007 by mother and son duo, Lorna and Rohan Scott. Their secret weapons are native South African plants called fynbos native to the Cape’s wine growing region. These are colourful shrubs and bushes that grow wild in a special area known as the Cape Floral Kingdom

The Scotts work with local botanists to preserve fynbos and harvest them sustainably. To make the gin they use between 20 and 30 different varieties of fynbos alongside more usually botanicals including of course juniper.  

These are distilled in a  tiny 1.7 litre copper pot still known as Mini Meg using vapour distillation so the botanicals sit above the sugar cane spirit. This is how the Scotts produce their classic gin but they also make two others which are the result of post-distillation infusion.

The Verdant is infused with “late summer blooms”, fynbos from mountainous areas, while the Amber gets its gorgeous colour from coastal fynbos. The result is a gin with a woody spice character with tobacco leaf and a nutty texture. It’s bottled at 43%ABV.

How to drink it

That texture and woodiness makes it a great sipper but it also adds a whole new layer of complexity to a Negroni: just add one part Amber Gin, one part Campari and one part sweet vermouth to an ice filled tumbler, stir thoroughly, and express an orange twist over and drop in.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Canaïma Small Batch Gin

And finally a gin all the way from Venezuela. It’s called Canaïma and it’s the creation of bartender Simon Carporale who wanted to do something to help preserve the Amazon’s rainforest’s fragile ecology. 

These plans came to fruition when he met the founder of Diplomatico rum and the two came up with the idea to make a gin with a difference. For a start, the botanical mix is quite something with over 19 involved. 10 of them are sustainably-sourced Amazonian botanicals harvested by indigenous people. This includes açaí berries (a purple fruit known for its regenerative qualities), uve de palma (red fruit harvested from a palm tree), copoazú (related to the cacao tree), túpiro (an orange fruit known for its pleasant taste), merey (a kidney-shaped fruit that produces just one cashew nut), seje (a palm fruit that has oily flesh and a very delicate, chocolate-like flavour) and semeruco (a fruit foraged from the Andean foothills where Canaïma’s distillery is based). 

Alongside native botanicals, the team at Diplomatico also use more traditional botanicals such as juniper, grapefruit, and orange. They distill each one separately in a 500 litre copper pot still before they blend them into the final gin

Canaïma doesn’t just taste good, it does good too. It provides over 250 jobs for indigenous Amazonian people at its distillery. 10% of the sales go to Saving the Amazon charity and  Tierra Viva, a foundation that helps preserve native crafts such as 

woven baskets and coasters used by the brand.

How to drink it

The brand recommends something called a G&G which consists of 40ml Canaïma Gin, 150ml grapefruit soda and two lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges and drop them into a Highball glass, add ice, gin and grapefruit soda, give it a stir and garnish with a grapefruit twist.  

Hendrick's Lunar Gin

Hendrick’s Lunar

Hendrick’s really shook up the gin category when William Grant & Sons launched it back in 1999. That’s ten years BS (before Sipsmith) in gin terminology, ie. centuries in gin years which are longer than even dog years.

Anway, it was created by  distiller Lesley Gracie at the Girvan distillery in Scotland. Hendrick’s was unusual for a number of reasons. Gin was not fashionable in 1999, yet here was a new brand in distinctive medicine bottle packaging and then there was the taste! With it’s cucumber and rose petal profile, it didn’t taste like any other gin around at the time. It had some gin traditionalists harrumphing into their G&Ts. But quickly, a Hendrick’s and Tonic became a thing, always with a slice of cucumber rather than citrus fruit.

Hendrick’s Lunar is a little bit different from the classic bottling. Gracie was inspired by moonlit evenings tending botanicals in her hothouse. It’s a citrus-led gin with subtle peppery and floral notes to it, and it’s proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers with lots of five star reviews. 

How to drink it

It’s a nice one to sip neat but also makes a splendid Lunar and Tonic with a slice of cucumber, naturally, and also a grind of black pepper.

Elemental Cornish Gin on a beach

Elemental Cornish Gin

And finally, from Cornwall, a part of England that’s not really English, we have Elemental Cornish Gin. It was one of the very first Cornish gins, founded back in 2013. Only eight years ago, but, as we mentioned above, a long time in gin years.

There seems to be some sort of connection between the pandemic and distilling as our very own Ian Buxton noted recently, and that’s certainly the case here with Cornish Gin. In early 2020, Nick and Joe Woolley moved to Cornwall with their toddler and took over the distillery, just before the entire country was locked down. Not great timing, but they have survived and thrived, turning out lots of high quality gin.

Their classic Cornish Gin is made in a copper pot still from 12 botanicals including lemon and orange peel, chamomile, cassia, cassia, cinnamon, cardamom and, of course, juniper.  It’s diluted with spring water from Bodmin moor before bottling at 42% ABV.

How to drink it

Elemental recommends a Martini or a G&T, but we can’t help thinking with those citrus notes it would make a cracking French 75, a blend of lemon juice, Champagne, gin and bitters (full recipe here.)

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be…

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be considered a cocktail. So, drink helmets safely strapped on, in we go!

Is the Gin and Tonic a cocktail? I put the big question to Twitter and the results were startling: 67% against and 33% for. If only all public votes could be so decisive. Bearing in mind that most of my followers are drinks nerds, does that mean that the G&T is officially not a cocktail?

Not a cocktail?

Let’s look at the arguments. Many people said that the G&T was a long drink and therefore not a cocktail. But does that mean that a Tequila Sunrise or a Highball isn’t a cocktail? 

It got a bit heated at times. Top American wine writer Miquel Hudin commented: “Two ingredients is a ‘combinado’  no matter what decoration or garnish you toss in those god awful bucket glasses.” But then a Martini usually only has two ingredients, sometimes only one if you’re particularly hardcore.

Drinks expert Julian Vallis even disagreed on the number of ingredients: “It’s a Gin Highball with 3 ingredients. Gin, quinine-infused sugar syrup and soda water. You can also call it a Kina Martini with Soda if you’d like to deconstruct it.” Which is true if you’re using something like Jeffrey’s tonic syrups

Others got quite technical, saying that Flips, Punches etc were also not cocktails. I feel that is getting too purist. Originally, a cocktail was a specific drink made from spirits, water, bitters and ice. But that ship sailed a long time ago, we’re quite happy to call new-fangled vermouth-laced concoctions like a Manhattan or a Martini cocktails.

As Richard Godwin, author of The Spirits put it:  “If the Mojito is a cocktail, which it is, then the G&T is surely a cocktail. (See also Paloma, Cuba Libre, Americano, etc). If you go by the ‘true’ definition of a cocktail, then Daiquiris, Mai Tais, Sidecars etc also aren’t cocktails. Which they clearly are.”

Gin and tonic

Very nice, but is it a cockail?

Just thrown together?

Another argument against is that while drinks like the Martini are prepared using shakers, jiggers etc. a G&T is simply thrown together. But then other cocktails are thrown together like a Paloma, Tequila and grapefruit soda, or a Gin and It, gin and sweet vermouth.

Also, you can make a G&T with as much care and attention as you might a Martini. In my youth, I used to laugh at my old grandfather who before handing us a drink would pedantically explain why he used so much ice but I now realise he was right. He always used miniature Schweppes bottles for maximum fizziness, freshly cut lemon and he measured the Beefeater. Getting a G&T from him was like visiting the Ritz. So different from my father’s with ice that had been sitting out all morning, warm gin and, worst of all, tonic water out of a 1.5 litre bottle.

In Victoria Moore’s superb How to Drink, she spends four pages outlining how to make the perfect G&T and that doesn’t include gin recommendations. “To make a good gin and tonic you do not just have to care about every ingredient, you have to be anguished about them,” she writes. “Ice cubes, the more the better.” I think she would have got on famously with my grandfather. 

So yes, you can throw a G&T together, you can throw a Martini together, but you can also make it with skill and generosity.

How to make the perfect Gin and Tonic

A G&T can be elevated with fancy garnishes like peppercorns, or be jazzed up with fruit bitters. I tend to stick with lemon (not out of the fridge, Moore warns) or orange, lime is overpowering, though a stick of rosemary adds a nice flavour and makes a handy swizzle stick. 

Those Spanish fishbowl glasses look great on Instagram but I’m with Hudin here. For me a heavy tumbler is best. It doesn’t hold as much, but you can always make yourself another one.

As for gin, it’s really a personal choice. Tonic water has a strong taste so I tend to go for gins with a) big juniper flavours b) plenty of alcohol. I have a bottle of Bathtub Gin on the side, so that’s what I’m using today but TanquerayHayman’s, Brighton and Beefeater are all excellent in a G&T.

Margo and Jerry from the Good LIfe

Famous G&T lovers Margo and Jerry from the Good Life

The tonic water question

When it comes to tonic water, we have the standard Fever Tree in the house, the Mediterranean version is great too, but don’t turn your nose up at Schweppes. A few years ago, Harper’s magazine did a blind tasting of tonic waters and standard Schweppes came out on top. Whatever you choose, the fizz is all important. It must come from a small can or bottle and, as Victoria Moore puts it: ““I scarcely need mention that the tonic must be chilled.” 

So there you have it. Conclusive proof that the G&T is indeed a cocktail. It could do with a proper name though. You could call it a Gintonica as they do in Spain. But I’m going with a Margo & Jerry, after the Leadbetters, the G&T swilling couple from The Good Life. Cin cin!

60cl Bathtub Gin
Fever Tree tonic water

Chill everything, except the garnish. Fill a tumbler with ice, add the gin and stir, top up with tonic, stir again and garnish with a piece of lemon or orange (and rosemary if you like).

You can buy a Bathtub and Fever Tree bundle here, or a Mediterranean version here

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Brighton Gin: spirit of the seaside

Kathy Caton swapped the radio mic for the lab coat when she founded Brighton Gin with some local friends back in 2012. Since then the brand has gone from strength…

Kathy Caton swapped the radio mic for the lab coat when she founded Brighton Gin with some local friends back in 2012. Since then the brand has gone from strength to strength despite some early setbacks like exploding stills and botanicals disasters. 

Many of us have ideas after some drinks but few of us manage to turn them into a business.  The Brighton Gin story began when Kathy Caton was having a few gin-based cocktails with a friend one night. The following day, feeling surprisingly chipper while running around her home town of Brighton, she had the revelation to create her own brand of gin. She explained: “Gin is the one thing that lets me get away with it. Brighton is a place that needs to get away with it on a frequent basis. Boom! That’s it, I was going to make Brighton gin. It was just one of those proper lightbulb moments.”

This was in 2010 just before the gin boom. “Gin has always been my drink,” she said, “it’s hard to imagine how wildly unfashionable it used to be when I was at university.” But gin’s image was changing rapidly and it was now much easier for new distilleries thanks to Sipsmith and Sacred laying the groundwork with HMRC. “I thought there was going to be a moment. But I absolutely had no idea that that moment would be what gin is now. People with gin bars at home. Gin festivals. Gin tattoos!” she said.

Kathy Caton from Brighton Gin

Kathy Caton: gin lover (Photo by Liz Finlayson/Vervate)
Brighton Gin portraits on Brighton Beach

Easy does it

Caton had a strong vision for Brighton gin: “I wanted to make something that is of the best quality, that’s built on ethical and sustainable practices, made by a really diverse team,” she said. But her background in radio, with stints at BBC World Service, Radio 4 and Reverb Radio in Brighton, weren’t a lot of help for making gin. “I had very clear thoughts about how I wanted it to taste and the experience of it, but really bugger-all clue about how to do it,” she said. She realised that she would need the help of a scientist. The only one she knew was Dr Easy aka Ian Barry who is a physicist when she really needed a chemist, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Their first still was a little unusual. It was a glass apparatus which was used in the not hugely successful Samuel L. Jackson film, The 51st State, and Caton picked it up for £100 on Ebay. “We set it up in Easy’s kitchen. Looking back now we were just really dangerous and clueless. But each time you make a mistake you’re like ‘well we won’t do that again!’ and you learn more and more from it,” she explained.

Then she had a lot of fun experimenting. She described the process as like Road Dahl’s book George’s Marvelous Medicine, “everything would go in.” Initial batches were not promising: “They were so overloaded with stuff, they tasted like Domestos. I’m still using that for cleaning around my flat!”

But gradually, through trial and error, she narrowed it down to what she wanted. “Licorice was one of the things that was very early on the list to be booted out, “ she said. She was looking for a classic profile, a gin that tasted like juniper and citrus. Along with Dr Easy, she also called on the palate of top wine writer Johnny Ray who became an investor in the business.

The Brighton Gin team

Oh, they do like to be beside the seaside! (photo by Liz Finlayson/Vervate)

The gin boom!

Horrible early batches weren’t the only problems they encountered. “I popped out for a bag of crisps, which again, I would now never do. I would never leave anything running and just pop out to the corner shop,” she said. “When I came back I discovered what happens when you have windows open, glass and mirrors and quite strong sunlight bouncing around. There was a lot of clearing up to do.” The Samuel L. Jackson still had exploded! Fortunately nobody was hurt.

“I then went down what I now realise is the more sensible route of getting a small copper alembic and really just learning the process of distillation,” Caton said. She found that running the stills slowly got the best results though achieving consistency in the early days was not easy. 

The final recipe uses a “super-smooth organic wheat spirit as the base,” she said, with juniper from Macedonia and coriander seed “from Ringmer just eight or nine miles from where I am at the moment and that’s got quite a lemony spice to it.” They use fresh lime and orange peels, meaning lots of hard peeling work, “but those fresh peels definitely bring a different spectrum of flavour to it really,” she said. They do a cold maceration and then a warm one before distillation with everything in together. Now, though, she has now handed over distilling duties to Paul Revell, “ a former riot copper and also a former prima ballerina.” So Brighton!

Brighton Gin

Strong branding

Brighton belles

Brighton gin hit the shelves in 2013 and had an immediate impact. A delicious product helps as well as a strong brand trading on the town’s image.There can be few more apt places to make gin than Brighton, sharing as they do a seedy sort of glamour. This dates back to when the town was a favourite haunt of the Prince Regent in the late 18th and early 19th century: “the Prince Regent’s favourite breakfast drink, which he called ‘cherry cordial’ was basically a pint of cherry gin. So maraschino liqueur and gin, by the pint.” Caton said.

From the early days, it developed a strong local following and from there it developed into a national brand. It helped having a journalist on board in the form of Johnny Ray who made sure Brighton Gin was served at the Spectator magazine’s famous parties.

Since those heady early days, the gin market has been transformed. Caton said: “There’s been a huge explosion in flavoured and sweetened gins,” which she hopes will get new drinkers into the market. Brighton gin, however, has just stuck to its classic expression with a Seaside Strength version at Navy ABV appearing a couple of years ago. She doesn’t want to release anything unless it is perfect and consistent nor go down the limited edition route. But she hinted that the team is working on a new product, “they’re not ready to shout about it yet but nearly.”

The standard bottling is a wonderful product that manages to be absolutely classic but highly distinctive with its strong orange note. It really is smooth enough to drink neat and so naturally it’s superb in a Dry Martini. Caton said: “Cocktail-wise, I absolutely love and have never really grown out of a Negroni”. It’s a great all round gin making a lovely G&T with a slice of orange to bring out the orange in the botanical mix

Brighton Gin and Tonic

Makes a great G&T

Then comes the lockdown

Their business has changed a lot since the pandemic with the shuttering of the on-trade and not having festivals to go to. She explained: “Our business has been able to change virtually overnight to focus on selling direct to consumers through our website and supporting the off-trade and various other online sellers”. They have been making hand sanitiser as well as making deliveries on their Brighton Gin bikes. “I did quite a lot of public crying delivering to people. I remember delivering to a lovely woman down in Hove who had ordered a couple of bottles and some hand sanitiser and her saying ‘actually I’ve already got five bottles of your gin in my cupboard but I really want to see you all survive and I love what you’re doing with the hand sanitiser’.”

But with things opening up from the 8 March, it looks like the worst will soon be over. “I know that summer is coming again, we will be on the beach again some time!’” Caton said. Amen to that.

Brighton Gin is available from Master of Malt

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The Nightcap: 19 February

This week we tried to keep up with fancy new booze from Midleton, Macallan, and Kendall Jenner. It’s The Nightcap! Man, where is the time going? Before you know it…

This week we tried to keep up with fancy new booze from Midleton, Macallan, and Kendall Jenner. It’s The Nightcap!

Man, where is the time going? Before you know it we’ll be in March and the clocks will be going forward and we might even start to live a life that resembles the Before Times. The only thing that’s really helping us keep track of things at the moment is the weekly familiarity of The Nightcap. Especially because our calendar has pictures of kittens on it. How are you supposed to know what day it is when there’s something distracting right next to the key information? It’s a design flaw. Fortunately, there’s no such issue with The Nightcap. All you’ll find here is the biggest boozy news from this week. Speaking of which, let’s get on with the Nightcap: 19 February edition. 

It was full-on blog-maggedon this week as the news flooded in and the features rolled out. First, we learned that the standards you need to meet to call your product Japanese whisky was becoming tighter than simply bottling booze from elsewhere and singing The Vapors classic tune at your product. Then a peer-reviewed paper (no need to ask who funded it) claimed there’s definitely terroir in whisky. So much was happening you could be forgiven for not realising tomorrow is World Pangolin Day, but luckily we have a new competition to jog your memory. We also launched a bottle lottery for Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky and told you what to expect, made ourselves a royally good drink, wished That Boutique-y Gin Company a happy fourth birthday, marked the return of one of the grand old names of Scotch whisky, looked into the history of a gin giant and got the lowdown on why absinthe is a category is on the rise. And we did all that while doing the public service of reminding you that Mother’s Day is in a few weeks and suggesting some ideal pressies. Phew! Now, onto The Nightcap!

On The Nightcap this week we've got fancy Macallan!

An Estate, A Community and A Distillery will arrive at MoM Towers soon…

Macallan launches The Anecdotes of Ages collection

If there’s one thing The Macallan does exceptionally well, it’s put together fancy collections featuring incredible sounding whiskies we know deep down we’ll never taste. Still, it’s nice to look at them and dream, and in this case, they make for particularly good viewing. The latest series, The Anecdotes of Ages, is the Macallan’s third collaboration with iconic pop artist Sir Peter Blake and each individual bottle features an original Blake collage art on the label. Blake, as we are sure you know, created the artwork for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and that should be enough for anyone, frankly. Back to the whisky, there are 13 one-of-a-kind bottles in total, each from 1967, and every label tells a different story. It could be about The Macallan’s history, community, estate or that advert. Ok, so we made the last one up. Jokes aside, collectors will be pleased to know the bottles have been signed by Blake and come in a European oak case with photography that shows Blake’s journey with The Macallan, along with a leather-bound book and a certificate of authenticity. Price is likely to be in the region of £50,000. For those who don’t think they’ll get their hands on a bottle, you can always check out this  360-degree virtual art exhibit. The brand has also revealed that one of the bottles will be auctioned next month by Sotheby’s to raise funds to benefit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Additionally, The Macallan will soon be releasing a new more affordable whisky, a snip at £750, called An Estate, A Community and A Distillery, to commemorate Blake’s visit to the distillery. This reminds us of our favourite palindrome: a man, a plan, a canal, Panama. Anyway, this more affordable expression, will be displayed in a custom box inspired by Blake’s art and available from Master of Malt soon. Yep, you read that right. So keep those eyes peeled…

On The Nightcap this week we've got Kendall Jenner!

Jenner’s brand has attracted a lot of attention already, but not all of it is positive

Kendall Jenner creates Tequila brand 818

Keeping up with the Kardashians star and model Kendall Jenner has revealed on Instagram that her latest project is a Tequila brand called ‘818’, and quickly found out this particular boozy bandwagon isn’t always pleasant. “For almost four years I’ve been on a journey to create the best tasting Tequila. After dozens of blind taste tests, trips to our distillery, entering into world tasting competitions anonymously and WINNING (🥳). 3.5 years later I think we’ve done it”, the post’s caption read. “This is all we’ve been drinking for the last year and I can’t wait for everyone else to get their hands on this to enjoy it as much as we do! @drinks818 coming soon 🥃🤤.” But the reality star has faced backlash after being accused of cultural appropriation and “exploiting Mexican culture”, the former of which is not a new concern for her family. Although, oddly the same charges were not levelled at other celebrity Tequila hawkers like George Clooney or The Rock. Nothing to read into there. It’s fair to say we’re not exactly cheerily raising a glass to another famous person helping themselves to a bundle of precious agave and as we were writing this story we learned that American comedian Kevin Hart is doing the same thing (other spirits do exist, people). But it’s also worth noting that it’s fairly common for a Tequila distillery to sell its booze to various brands and few can honestly claim to truly represent Mexico in any deep or meaningful way. In fact, you can look up the product’s NOM number (Norma Oficial Mexicana) and it will tell you where the Tequila is made and assure you that production meets the required certification standards of the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT). You’ll find that the distillery (which 818 hasn’t disclosed, so we won’t either) makes booze for a number of brands is made so 818 really isn’t doing anything new. For anyone who actually cares about the Tequila, the range features a blanco, a reposado and an añejo made from 100% Agave Azul in Jalisco, Mexico and bottled at 40% ABV.

On The Nightcap this week we've got fancy Midleton!

Keep your eyes peeled for more reaction to this beauty on this MoM blog

Kevin O’ Gorman blends his first Midleton Very Rare

In the past, only two master distillers have blended Midleton Very Rare, Barry Crockett and Brian Nation. Now, there’s a new signature on the bottle: Kevin O’Gorman stepped into Nation’s enormous shoes last year and has now released the 38th edition of possibly Ireland’s greatest whisky. We have to be honest, it’s a belter. As usual, it’s a blend of long-aged pot still and grain whiskies aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks. We spoke with O’ Gorman at a press conference last night and he told us that he narrowed the blend down to two samples and then spent a night agonising over them. The one he chose is heavier on the grain than last year’s pot still-dominated blend. It’s more like the Very Rare from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, he said. It majors on the sweet chocolate, caramel and vanilla notes but still with plenty of pot still spice. O’ Gorman revealed that the Very Rare 2021 contains a cask of pot still laid down by Barry Crockett in 1984. He was on ebullient form describing it as “the pinnacle of my career presenting the pinnacle of Irish whiskey.” We’ll have the full story including a closer look at the component parts when we get stock in a couple of weeks.

Tim Ashley VCL

VCL director Tim Ashley says invest in cask whisky… or else

Whisky investors getting younger says cask broker

Business is booming for whisky cask broker VCL Vintners. Apparently, sales are up 300% in January 2021 compared to the previous year. Not only that, but its customers are getting younger. No, this isn’t because of the magical age-defying properties of whisky, what the company means is that the average age of whisky investors is decreasing. The PR team sent us some figures that showed that the largest category, 26% of business, is people between the ages of 25 and 34. While well over half their investors are under 44. Casks start from around £5,000 but most of the trade is in the £10-30,000 range so some young people are clearly doing well despite the panny (as we’re calling the pandemic). Stuart Thom, director at VCL Vintners, commented: “It’s encouraging that the demographic is becoming a smarter, younger City audience with longer investment horizons.” He went on to explain exactly why there is so much interest, something we have reported on before: “With the markets going sideways for now and a tech bubble being rumoured in the States, whisky is being seen more and more as a stable long-term investment.” The great thing about investing in whisky is even if you don’t make any money, and there’s no guarantee the market will keep going up, at the end of the day, you have a barrel of single malt.

On The Nightcap this week we've got a big clock!

This story has everything: history, romance, and an enormous clock.

Johnnie Walker restores romantic Edinburgh landmark clock

Since 1960, Edinburgh’s lovers, young and old, have been meeting under a colourful clock on the corner of Hope Street and Princes Street. Known as the Binns Clock after the now disappeared department store that installed it. In its prime, the clock would play ‘Caller Herrin’ and ‘Scotland the Brave’ at seven and 37 minutes past the hour as kilted Highland figures would jig about. Sadly, in recent years the clock had fallen into disrepair and the Highlanders danced no more. Now, as part of Diageo’s plans for a swanky Johnnie Walker HQ which is due to open this year in Scotland’s capital, it was restored by the Cumbria Clock Company which has also worked on some pretty impressive clocks such as the Royal Liver Building and the big one, Big Ben. Bong! Restorer Mark Crangle described the laborious process: “We had to delicately strip back worn paintwork to source and match the clock’s original colours and gold trimmings, and we spent a great amount of time on the speed and timings of the bells, tunes and pipers to ensure it all matched perfectly.” Happily, Crangle and the team managed to get it all done for Valentine’s Day last Sunday, just in time for Edinburgh’s lovers to meet. 

On The Nightcap this week we've even more cask investment news!

Casks are all the rage this week it seems

Caskshare unveils new cask-buying platform

It must be the week of casks, as we have even more oak-scented news for you. Last Friday, we joined David Nicol, co-founder of the new venture, Alasdair Day from Isle of Raasay Distillery, plus Thom Solberg of Little Bat for a bit of a Zoom-based whisky extravaganza. The celebrations were to mark the launch of Caskshare, an initiative to make single cask whisky, and by extension buying shares in casks, more accessible. For mature whisky, customers can simply snap up a share (which equates to a bottle), and once all those shares have been snapped up, everyone gets their booze! For spirit yet to come of age, whisky fans can buy a share and the bottles will be sent when its ready. To demonstrate some of the whiskies available, Day shared samples from Raasay, and talked us through Tullibardine single malt and Cambus expressions. And, as it was Valentine’s Day Eve-Eve, Solberg treated us to a demo of a 14 February-appropriate serve. We all made Glen Moray-based (from Caskshare, natch) Roffignacs: the whisky, plus pomegranate syrup, cider vinegar, and ginger ale all built in a glass with ice. Delish! For more Caskshare deets, check out Caskshare.com – and what an evening of whisky love!

And finally… we need a G&T emoji now

Whether you’re fluent in emoji language like Kendall Jenner or the sort of person who gets in trouble for misjudged aubergines in the company Slack channels, here’s an emoji that we can all use without embarrassment, especially on a Friday at 6pm: a G&T emoji. Sadly, amazingly, it doesn’t exist yet! And so tonic water and mixer business Lixir Drinks has launched a petition to persuade Unicode to create an emoji for one of Britain’s favourite drinks. Yes, it’s a PR stunt, but a useful one. The company is hoping to get 10,000 signatures, so what are you waiting for, sign here and you’ll never have to write out the words Gin & Tonic again. Which reminds us, it’s getting on for 6pm now, G&T anyone? See wouldn’t that have been so much easier with an emoji?

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10 ways to drink less. . . with Fiona Beckett

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious,…

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious, Fiona Beckett’s new book, How to Drink without Drinking, is an invaluable guide to making this process fun.

With her column in the Guardian and her website, Matching Food & Wine, Fiona Beckett is one of the most trusted names in British drink writing. When Beckett recommends a bottle, you know it’s going to be one that she genuinely loves. Contrary to popular belief, drinks writers don’t spend all their time boozing. Beckett says: “Although I have to taste wine or other alcoholic drinks most days, like everyone else I benefit from a break from actually drinking them”. Her latest book, How to Drink without Drinking, is a guide with tips and recipes (we have one at the end) for how to make alcohol-free drinking fun. As she puts it: “It’s important to me that the days when I don’t drink are as pleasurable in terms of what I consume as those when I do.” The vital thing, according to Beckett, is to focus on the positives; she advises: “It’s important to see alcohol-free days as an opportunity, not a deprivation. There are, as you’ll rapidly discover, many advantages, including a better quality of sleep, improved concentration, weight loss, more spare cash and, due to the happy lack of hangovers, more productive hours in the day.” Sounds great. Here are her top ten ways to make cutting back on or cutting out the sauce a breeze. 

Fiona Beckett

Unlike most drink writers, Fiona Beckett does not need to be photographed with a drink in her hand

  1. Set a personal goal

You have to start somewhere, but make it realistic. Two alcohol-free days a week is doable for most of us, most likely after the weekend. Three is better still – preferably in a row.

  1. Don’t make up for it on the days you drink alcohol

On some of the days when you are drinking, you might want to reduce the amount you drink to one drink a day, sipped slowly and mindfully rather than gulped unthinkingly. If you’re trying to cut down, limit yourself to one (modest) glass with dinner or resolve not to drink when alone. Be aware and honest with yourself about what you’re drinking when you do drink. An app may help you keep on track.

  1. Tell your family and friends

Family should be on your side, but one of the biggest battles you’ll face is friends who keep pressing you to drink, maybe implying that you’ve become a party pooper if you don’t. Don’t be embarrassed to explain exactly why you’re cutting down – or out – making it clear that you’re serious. It may even involve changing your social circle. Find a non-drinking pal to go out with if the pressure’s getting to you.

  1. Don’t needlessly put yourself in the way of temptation

On days or periods you’re cutting down or cutting out, avoid your usual boozy haunts. Don’t make having a drink the main reason for going out – unless it’s a coffee. In fact, it may be worth taking the car, which gives you an easy excuse not to drink. If you’re embarking on a longer period of abstinence, clear out the booze from the cupboards and fridge, and steer clear of the wine aisle. Stock up with alcohol-free alternatives instead.

Make your own drink, like this blackberry shrub

  1. B.Y.O. (Bring your own)

If you’re visiting friends and are not sure if there will be something alcohol-free to drink, take it with you, particularly to a party. Alcohol-free beers, which look similar to the full-strength version, are an especially good bet as they won’t make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re away for the weekend, take a bottle of an alcohol-free spirit and some tonic to your hosts.

  1. Think about food 

You’re more likely to crave wine with food from wine-producing regions, especially Italy, France and Spain. So avoid the trattoria or tapas bar on your nights off in favour of your local Indian, Thai or Vietnamese. 

  1. Get into alcohol-free cocktails

It’s hard to find a substitute for wine, but alcohol-free cocktails can be mindblowingly good these days, with many top restaurants offering an impressive selection. I often start the evening with one, whether I’m drinking or no, and end up drinking it with food.

  1. M.Y.O. (Make your own)

There’s a real pleasure and satisfaction in making your own drinks. Like home-cooked food, they taste so much better than the shop-bought version and are cheaper, too, making the best of seasonal produce. Make them look as beautiful as they taste. 

  1. Find a non-alcoholc drink to get passionate about

Part of the appeal of wine, beer and whisky, is the knowledge you accumulate about them. But you can apply that type of geekery to other drinks, too. Get into tea, get into coffee, get into fermenting – all fascinating, absorbing worlds.

  1. Learn to love water

Probably your best friend on your sober days – or months – both on its own and as a chaser for any alcoholic drink you’re drinking. Don’t drink because you’re thirsty – drink for the taste. Serve water cool, fresh and flavoured, if you like, with fruit, cucumber or herbs. 

G&T or NG&T?

And now here’s a recipe. . . .  the NG&T!

The N stands for ‘not’. Serve it in a fancy glass with lots of ice and garnishes, and you’ll get much of the pleasure of the real thing. Beckett recommends making a juniper syrup in advance but you can buy it ready made.

75ml juniper syrup (recipe below or you can buy William Fox ready-made)
Tonic water to top up
2 slices of lemon and orange, and 2-3 juniper berries to garnish.

Fill the glass with ice and the garnishes, pour in the syrup, top up with tonic and gently stir. 

Juniper syrup:

400g granulated sugar
475ml water
15 juniper berries, lightly crushed
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lemon
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lime

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan. Gently heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to just below boiling point and simmer for ten minutes. Sieve when cool. It should last in the fridge for two weeks.

How to Drink When You’re Not Drinking by Fiona Beckett is published by Kyle Books, £15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens. Barentsz…

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens.

Barentsz is named after a 16th century explorer Captain Willem Barentsz who attempted to find a way through the Arctic to China. He didn’t succeed but gave his name to the Barents Sea somewhere way up north between Norway and Russia. Barentsz’s intrepid nature and never-say-die attitude inspired Michael Claessens to create his own gin.

Drink runs in the family blood: “My father’s business, Claessens, is the foremost specialists for the development and creation of brands for the international beverage industry. It has been developing, re-positioning and creating brands for nearly 40 years,” he told us. So starting his own drinks brand was the most natural thing in the world. And with his Anglo-Dutch heritage, gin was the obvious choice: “Gin has clear ties with my two home countries – UK and Holland. My family’s Dutch roots, blended with my London upbringing, made it appropriate that the new brand should be a gin – which was born in Holland and perfected in London”, he said.

Michael Claessens.

It’s Michael Claessens!

Refreshingly, he is totally candid about where the gin is made, by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers in London. Claessens knew exactly what he was looking for when designing his own gin with Maxwell: “Barentsz is different in that we actually spent time looking at the concept of gin from the perspective of ‘mouth feel’. It was very important to us that the harsh and often bitter reputation of gin was overcome, in order that we could create a spirit foundation of the finest quality that was soft enough to allow for more delicate and fresh botanicals – and a gin that could actually be enjoyed neat over ice.” He went on to say: “I spent a long time playing with the formulation of our spirit foundation. I wanted it to be something that tasted smooth before the botanicals were added.” The result was a special spirit made from two grains, golden rye and winter wheat.

We are big fans of the standard bottling here at MoM. With its jasmine note, it’s very distinctive but this doesn’t stop it being extremely versatile. It achieves the gin triple crown of being superb in a G&T, a Martini and Negroni. It was honoured with a gold medal at the IWSC in 2018. This new version turns up the jasmine and adds mandarin to the mix. “Once again, we seek to honour the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Arctic explorer, Willem Barentsz,” Claessens said. “Our mandarin and jasmine botanicals are inspired by his quest for a northeastern trading route to China by way of the sea. Mandarin oranges symbolise luck at Chinese new year and our jasmine flowers are sourced from China.”

Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin takes on some colour and sweetness from the mandarins but, according to Claessens, there is “no artificial colouring or sweeteners and no sugar. All sweetness is natural”. Claessens recommends drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange but like its brother, it’s lovely with a decent tonic water. So let’s raise a glass to Williem Barentsz and the Anglo-Dutch alliance and himself. Proost!

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Ramsbury Distillery – taking local to a whole new level

Last month we took a trip to the beautiful Wiltshire countryside to visit Ramsbury Estate which grows (almost) everything needed to make gin, vodka, beer and so many delicious snacks….

Last month we took a trip to the beautiful Wiltshire countryside to visit Ramsbury Estate which grows (almost) everything needed to make gin, vodka, beer and so many delicious snacks.

If you want to start making gin, there’s an easy way and a hard way. You could order a little Portuguese still on the internet for £500, get a licence, buy neutral alcohol, some botanicals and off you go. You can make very nice gin this way. Or you can buy a farm, grow your own wheat, ferment it, equip a distillery with an expensive column still to make neutral alcohol, distill your gin and then use the leftover botanicals to cure meat which, of course, you have raised on your farm. No prizes for guessing how they do things at the Ramsbury Estate in Wiltshire.

The estate covers around 20,000 acres and it’s owned by a Swede called Stefan Persson. He’s not the most high profile billionaire but the chairman and main shareholder of H&M, he’s not short of a bob or two. When I visited in April, I was shown around by the estate manager Alistair Ewing, head of marketing and sales Will Thompson and Mats Olsson, who used to work with Absolut Vodka. The estate employs 25 people not including the pub staff.

We began the day with a pint of Ramsbury bitter at the pub on the estate, The Bell at Ramsbury. This was followed by a superb meal cooked by chef Oli Clark using ingredients from the estate as much as possible. To finish we had a Gin & Tonic pudding made with, naturally, Ramsbury Gin.

The Ramsbury ethos in diagram form

The Ramsbury ethos in diagram form

“We are a farm that has a distillery”, Ewing explained to me. He then outlined all the activities that take place on the estate in addition to spirit manufacture. There’s brewery which produces a variety of traditional English beers brewed from estate-grown barley. Apparently the soil isn’t good for hops growing so Kentish hops (with some Czech and New Zealand hops) are used instead. There’s cattle and pigs as well as game like deer and pheasants. The estate produces cold-pressed nutty rapeseed oil and grows rye to be used as biofuel. Waste goes into anaerobic digester, and water used in the distillery and brewery is filtered through reed beds. Not all the sustainable practices have worked: “We tried to reuse yeast waste from fermentation to make bread but the results were revolting”, Ewing told me.

Then it was off in the Land Rover for a tour of the estate with Ewing pointing things out to us in his deadpan Devonian burr. Seeing a hare galloping across the Wiltshire hills on a bright April day was a magical sight. When we couldn’t see any pigs, Ewing said, “they probably had a fight with a badger”. Less amusingly, he pointed out ash trees that are dying from a fungal disease. He expects to lose about 90% of the ash on the estate. These will be cut down and put in a wood chipper to be used as fuel.

Massive column still

Massive column still

After the tour, we had a quick look round the brewery (and yes, some beer) before the main reason for the trip, the distillery! And what a set-up they have! Distiller Dhiraj Pujari showed off his kit: Dominating the room is a 42 plate column still and to the side two pot stills. The neutral alcohol is made from wheat grown on the estate, fermented with a distillers yeast. The wash is first distilled in a pot still and then the low wines go through the column to create a 95% spirit. The fact that they have a pot still means that a whisky is a possibility though they haven’t produced any new make yet. Ewing told me that team are currently experimenting with making casks out of local oak which they might use to age their own whisky.

The gin is a classic London dry style partly distilled using juniper growing outside the distillery though they do buy in some too. Other botanicals include cinnamon, orange, lemon, and quince (which comes from the estate). Barrie Wilson, owner of Scotch and Limon, knocked up some drinks including Gin and Tonics and delicious beetroot Martinis, which were a meal in a glass. All the time snacking on delicious meats cured by smoke from leftover botanicals. Other products include a fruity, peppery vodka and a damson gin.  Your bottle will you not only when your spirit was made, but also when the cereal was harvested and which part of the estate it came from. Can’t get more local than that?

All this commitment to sustainability and localism doesn’t come cheap. According to Ewing, the estate owner “takes a long view on profit”. But Ramsbury Estate is much more than a rich man’s plaything. “We are custodians of the land”, Ewing said, “we’re not doing anything people weren’t doing 300 years ago. . . Except with more health and safety.”

Reeds at Ramsbury

Reed beds outside the distillery clean waste water and provide a habitat for birds

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Cocktail of the Week: The Iceberg Slim

Gareth ‘G’ Franklin is on a mission to bring liqueurs out from the back of the drinks cupboard and put them centre stage. His creation, the Iceberg Slim, shines a…

Gareth ‘G’ Franklin is on a mission to bring liqueurs out from the back of the drinks cupboard and put them centre stage. His creation, the Iceberg Slim, shines a spotlight on Luxardo Bitter Bianco.

The first rule of cocktails is that they are built around spirits. First pick your spirit gin, vodka, rum or whiskey and then make a Sour, Martini or whatever you fancy. Liqueurs, vermouths, bitters etc. are there to provide seasoning. Luxardo, however, has other ideas. The Italian drinks firm has just launched an initiative to make liqueurs the star.

The company is probably best known for its Maraschino liqueur, a great friend behind the bar, but today’s cocktail, the Iceberg Slim, is based around Luxardo Bitter Bianco. Launched in 2016, Bitter Bianco has a flavour profile similar to Campari (try it in a White Negroni along with Dolin Dry vermouth and gin) but it’s less sweet with a higher ABV at 30%. I loved its clean, bright flavours of bitter orange, rosemary and peach blossom with a nice bite from bitter botanicals including wormwood.

luxardo

Brand ambassador Gareth ‘G’ Franklin never leaves home without a bottle of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Brand ambassador Gareth ‘G’ Franklin told us a bit about the production process: Bitter Bianco is made by macerating all the botanicals separately, blending and then redistilling the resulting spirit. But, according to Franklin, “some things like wormwood when you distill them, they lose their bitterness so we do a separate maceration, and we add that to it.” Which is why Bitter Bianco isn’t actually white, it’s more of a pale yellow colour. Bitter Giallo Pallido doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Franklin was born and brought up near Cambridge, and, after a stint in Australia, is now working back in the city. He’s been with Luxardo for nearly six years now but his interest in liqueurs goes way back: “When I was growing up, my father and I used to go hiking”, he said, “I guess nowadays you’d call it ‘foraging’ but back then we used to just pick stuff. And we’d make liqueurs from it: all sorts of things, like rosehip liqueur, blackberries, greengages, stuff like that”.

He thinks that in Britain we have a prejudice against liqueurs. I certainly associate the word with sticky bottles at the back of my parents’ drinks cupboard. Franklin blames it on what he calls the ‘the Midori effect’. He elaborates: “don’t get me wrong, I’m not slating Midori. But in the late ‘70s everyone who was making liqueurs at that time just went ‘hey, we need to do this too!’ So what they did was they started synthesising flavours and then using big artificial colours. And I think that has just tarnished the category for most people”.

The Iceberg Slim

Behold, the Iceberg Slim!

To challenge these preconceptions, Luxardo and Franklin are doing a cocktail roadshow called ‘Modify This’ to show how versatile liqueurs can be. Franklin will be travelling around the country conducting liqueur masterclasses to bartenders. One of the cocktails he will be showing is the Iceberg Slim. Franklin explained how he invented it: “Luxardo Bianco is like a gin liqueur that contains no juniper”, he said, “And, for me, especially when it comes down to consumers that’s the easiest way for them to understand it because in England we don’t have this cultural association to the bitter palate, like Campari. So what do we understand? We do understand gin. So, essentially we’re just simply mixing it with the tonic and then we’re thinking about the different flavours which are quite reminiscent of an aquavit.  So I’ve added dill to accentuate those notes and lemon is always going to work with those sorts of fresh flavours. “

Franklin told he that it’s all about “synergy”, when the different flavours “marry together and kind of assimilate into one flavour.” And what about the name? He was surprised that his cocktail shares a name with a notorious American pimp turned author. According to Franklin, the name comes from the cocktail’s freshness and colour, or rather lack of it; “I did not realise it was the name of a famous pimp!”, he said.

Enough talking, let’s make this thing!

50ml Luxardo Bitter Bianco
200ml 1724 tonic water
Lemon twist
A sprig of fresh dill

Muddle fresh dill in the bottom of a collins glass or tumbler, fill with ice, add the Luxardo Bitter Bianco, top up with tonic water and stir. Express a piece of lemon peel over the glass, twist and drop in.

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