Back in June when I went to Junipalooza and had the best time, I had a chance to briefly meet York gin. One of those gins that everyone raves about based in, you guessed it, the city of York, they are the only distillery in the city and hand make all of their gins. They have four gins to their name: the London Dry which uses nine botanicals including black pepper, lemon peel and grains of paradise and this year won silver at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; the Roman Fruit inspired by their Roman ancestors which is infused with apples, berries and hibiscus; and the Outlaw gin which pushes the ABV up to 57% and incredibly won a double gold at San Francisco this year which is not an easy thing to do. The fourth gin is the one we are trying today, the Old Tom gin. Now, if you know me, you know I love an Old Tom gin. This is made in collaboration with Michelin starred restaurant Star Inn and uses botanicals foraged from the local area and the restaurant’s garden including the White Rose of Yorkshire, bronze fennel and star anise. So, how does it taste?
Today’s gin is one you might recognise. Caorunn gin is widely available in supermarkets and bars – first time I had it was in a Wetherspoons (FYI, having it with Mediterranean tonic and garnished with an olive and some rosemary is great). Made in the Scottish highlands with 11 botanicals – six traditional and five locally foraged – Caorunn means rowan berry, which (funnily enough) is one of their local botanicals. They also use bog myrtle (sweet and resinous), heather (honeyed and perfumed), Coul Blush apples (crisp and clean) and dandelion leaves for a touch of sharpness. As well as this gin, they have launched a Highland Strength edition – taking the current 41.8% ABV to 54% – and today’s gin, the Scottish Raspberry gin. Using raspberries from Perthshire, this gin could easily be compared to the huge number of pink gins that have flooded the market recently. Caorunn decided to join the fruit gin trend quite late, but have avoided the pink colour. The sweetness of the berries is distilled in their unique copper berry chamber which allows the vibrancy of the fruit to come through, but without the colouring. So, how does it taste?
If you know me, you know that I am a big fan of Hayman’s gin. The people behind it are lovely, the gin is great, it has a real history and it is also incredibly affordable. If you’re interested you can read all my thoughts about their dry gin, their Old Tom gin, their sloe gin, and their navy strength Royal Dock gin. Today we are drinking their new addition to the family – the Gently Rested gin. Taking inspiration from the Gin Palaces of the 1800’s, when gin was sold from cask barrels rather than bottles, they rest this gin in old Scotch whisky barrels for three weeks. The barrel resting trend seems to be on the rise in the gin industry – and Hayman’s are clear to say that they aren’t ageing the gin, just letting it sit there and imbibe some of the flavours. The time in the cask allows the gin to take on a spiced note which complements the existing juniper and coriander. They suggest pairing it with cheese (urm, YES) and instead of tonic, using ginger ale to amp up the peppery notes. So, how does it taste?
One of the boldest bottles on show in the Newcomer’s zone at Junipalooza was today’s dram, Sandhills gin. A big, bright yellow bottle certainly stands out and draws your attention in. Husband and wife team Jeanette, plus long time family friend Brian, take a scientific approach to making their gin. They distil the ‘heavier’ botanicals such as juniper and coriander in a traditional copper pot still before blending it with their cold vacuum distilled ‘lighter’ botanicals. Vacuum distilling allows them to capture the softer notes from ingredients such as gorse flowers, Douglas fir, yuzu peel, Tasmanian pepper berry, dandelion root, and local honey. Located in the Surrey countryside (a 34 minute drive from where I grew up, just saying), the area is covered in gorse and heather which attract the bees, making the local honey used to sweeten the gin, the hives sponsored by Sandhills gin to support the colony. Their spring water comes from their own bore hole drilled 65m deep to ensure purity, and as you might guess, this distillery has an ethos of sustainability. Any waste from the production is recycled (where possible) and a percentage of their profits go to charity – split between CountryMice (a local charity providing end of life care) and Clockhouse (a project aiming to end loneliness with activities, healthy meals and the opportunity to meet new people).
As we head reach the halfway mark we try one of the newbies to join this year’s Ginvent fun. Downton Distillery won the bursary slot at the 2019 Junipalooza festival and had one of the most decorated stands ever. Which is just as well really as they have one of the most beautiful bottles currently on the market. Downton Distillery take their name, not from the TV show, but from Downton Manor in Wiltshire which once belonged to Queen Elizabeth I until she gifted it to Sir Walter Raleigh. For those not as clued up with their history, he helped colonise America and sailed to South America for the search of ‘El Dorado’. In a barn adjacent to the manor house, the gin is made with more than a nod to this jet-setting history. They use botanicals from around the world, for example; the juniper is from Tuscany, pink pepper from Brazil, bay leaves and signature botanical red cedar from their own estate, szechuan pepper from Asia and grapefruits, lemons and lemon verbena from the Mediterranean. These are first macerated (soaked) in their base spirit before vapour distilling the gin with fresh botanicals, finally they add their spring water that travels down from the New Forest and though the Wiltshire Downs. I had a sample of this back in June so I’m excited to revisit it, so let’s go!
Day ten of Ginvent brings us a gin from a team based in Perth, Scotland, but distilled down in London. Bright Spirits are certainly not the only company to distil off site, and for a team that started in 2018 they already have three gins to their name. The first, Pips, is designed to be a taste of summer – strawberries, raspberries and blueberries along with pineapple and citrus peel. The second, Peels, is (as you might expect) bursting with citrus – lemons, key limes, yuzu and grapefruit. The third and the one we are drinking today is Roots which they say is “spicy, warming and earthy” utilising ginger, grains of paradise, galangal root and cardamom amongst others. As with all of their gins, all flavours are distilled in tthe gin and no sugar, artificial flavourings or syrups are added after this. They say this finishes in your mouth like a Dark Jamaican ginger cake. I’m a big fan of ginger cake, so let’s see how this tastes.
Happy Monday! For today’s Ginvent we revisit Tappers gin – last year we had a dram of the Darkside gin and this year is their Wintergreen edition. The Tappers range come in beautiful bottles – you know I’m a sucker for good branding – and have a lot of iterations considering they launched in 2016 up in the Wirral peninsula. They are a brand that mean small batch when they say it; their botanicals are sourced as locally as possible and they only produce 40 bottles at a time. This gin was the second in their range to be released, back in October 2016, and is inspired by the range of plants that stay aromatic in the wintertime. As their gin is compounded (made by adding the botanicals to the base spirit with no distillation after this point), it has a natural tinge to it from the juniper and the remaining botanicals – spruce needles, cassia bark, birch bark and meadowsweet (plus five more secret ingredients). They say it has the crisp taste of a winter’s day, let’s find out shall we?
As we enter week two of Ginvent, we start with something special. We were lucky enough to get tickets to an evening with Capreolus Distillery at Gin Foundry HQ as part of their Summer Series and it was eye opening. Barney, who can talk more than I can, introduced us to his extensive range of products, starting with their most recognisable Garden Swift dry gin, before we moved onto some of the aged gins and eau de vies (which is an incredibly big collection). Today’s gin is from their rare Hart & Dart gin, so good it gets it own name rather than just a barrel aged edition. They start with the Garden Swift gin (which, FYI, came about by hundreds of individual distillations and blends to ensure they were getting the exact mix they were looking for), known for it’s bold fresh Sicilian orange and British lime leaves is then aged in rare mulberry wood barrels. This gin is released in single batches which each has it’s own character from the wood – mulberry adds a sweetness, a spice note and a hint of florals. This sweetness, they say, brings in notes of apricot on top of the 34 carefully picked botanicals already in the gin. They also recommend it in place of an Old Tom gin in cocktails (due to the sweetness), or in a classic negroni thanks to its complexity. So, how does it taste?
We’ve made it to the end of week one, hurrah! Just two and a bit left. Today’s gin is from Rock Rose, a Scottish brand with some beautiful bottles. I’ve tried their original gin a few times out and about, and their Winter gin was included in the 2017 calendar. Made in Dunnet Bay Distillery (who also do a lot of contract distilling) they have three key flavours, plus four seasonal editions. In their main range they have their original gin, a navy strength gin, and today’s drink: the pink grapefruit Old Tom gin. This excites me because I love pink grapefruit, and I love Old Tom gins. As you should know, an Old Tom style gin is traditionally sweeter than normal gin (legend has it that back in the illicit gin trade days, people would add turpentine and such to their mix so would throw in a load of sugar to hide the taste) and the Rock Rose team add muscovado sugar at the end of the process. Before this, they hand peel organic pink grapefruits which are hung in a basket and vapour infused during the distillation. This gin was originally a limited edition run in 2016 during a competition for artists to design them a new label. The demand for this was so high that they went on to tweak the recipe slightly and bring it back in the core offering in 2019. So, let’s give it a try!