Nearly 18 months ago I was excited to collect the keys to my new home. I was excited because at said new house was a bottle of the Four Pillars x Herno collaboration, Dry Island gin (which, if anyone is interested, is one of my favourites ever). For that gin, the Four Pillars team incorporated some of Herno’s key botanicals into their process. Today, we try Botany Bay, the next release which sees Australian botanicals make their way to Sweden to join Herno’s distillation. Fun story: the first Swede to circumnavigate the world was botanist Dr. Daniel Solander who was so taken with the variety of flora he found down under that he named the landing spot Botany Bay. Inspired by this history, Herno uses their signature botanicals meadowsweet and lingonberry and combines them with Australian wattleseed, Tasmanian pepper berry and lemon myrtle. Before we taste the gin, I think we should just take a moment to appreciate the label which ignores Herno’s simple label tradition and is a bright, colourful picture of Dr Solander’s adventure (Dry Island had a label very in line with Four Pillars’ branding). So, do the contents live up to the label’s (and its predecessor’s) standards?
There’s been a lot of talk in the recent months about the rise in Scottish gin, but today we head across the water to the north west coast of Ireland. Boatyard Distillery is based on the banks of Lough Erne in their farm-to-bottle distillery. Their vodka is made from home-grown wheat, the spent grains go back to the land as fertiliser and animal food, and they pick their signature gin botanical (Sweet Gale – a type of bog myrtle) is picked from the family bog. Today’s drink is their flagship Double Gin, made by macerating eight botanicals for 18 hours in their wheat spirit and ensure the juniper flavour is front and centre using a filtration process which helps to highlight the beautiful pine notes. They keep their botanical list fairly traditional – alongside the juniper is coriander, liquorice root, angelica, orris, fresh lemon peel, grains of paradise and the aforementioned Sweet Gale. So, how does the banks of Lough Erne taste?
As you’ll probably know if you read my blog, I am a long time member of Craft Gin Club. My next delivery is due in March, but when I saw the announcement that February’s box is an exclusive release from Gŵyr, I had to get myself a box. The newest member of the family is a Valentine’s special featuring their distinct foraged wild fennel alongside pomegranate seeds, red rose petals and fresh pink grapefruit zest. The label may be pink, but the gin isn’t. Rhamanta has two meanings: the first is an old Welsh tradition of divining your romantic future, and the second is the translation “be romantic”. Because what says romance more than shovelling grains of wheat over a fire to see when they pop and then commanding someone to be romantic? Siân and Andrew liked the idea of “romance” counting as the act of sharing your gin with your partner, friends and family – sharing gin love is the best type of romance. Made in their distillery at the bottom of their garden, surrounded by their family (who are the team), over looking the sea, this gin also helps celebrate the couple’s 30th anniversary. Let’s raise a glass to Brooks’ and see how it tastes.
Fun story: my first proper job out of university was working in marketing and events for entrepreneurs and investors. Obviously I then added all my favourite people on LinkedIn. Fast forward a few years and up pops a notification from Tagore Ramoutar saying he is excited to be launching a gin. Last year at Junipalooza I went along to the TOAD (The Oxford Artisan Distillery) stand and guess who was there? We had a good catch up and he kindly gave me a sample of their Ashmolean gin. But today, thanks to Gin Kiosk’s clear out sale in December, I now have a bottle of their Oxford Dry gin. They claim to be the only distillery in the world to use ancient heritage grains in their spirits, which are grown by local, organic farms in sustainable ways. Taking inspiration from the Victorian era, the team approached South Devon Railway Engineering and some of the last British copper smiths who worked for two years to build two copper stills. Firstly, a 2,400l still named Nautilus, and secondly a 500l still called Nemo (big Jules Verne fans here) which, alongside five copper column stills, allows them the freedom to be creative. Their final recipe contains everything you would expect from a classic gin – juniper, coriander, orange and lemon peel, meadowsweet and a touch of nutmeg plus a few other botanicals, so how does it taste?
As you might have seen from previous posts, I am a big fan of Scotland and last year supported International Scottish Gin Day in August. One of the new(ish) gins coming from Scotland is Hills & Harbour gin. Hailing from Galloway (down by the border, the area is home to Gretna Green), they have a simple premise – make a gin for everyone, not just the gin snobs. This promise means they won’t charge you a month’s salary to buy a bottle (although at £40 it is definitely not the cheapest), and they won’t use poncy jargon or trendy botanicals. Using local grains, they make their own wheat base spirit as they believe this is key to the best flavour. They use 11 botanicals including Noble Fir needles (the Hills) and Bladderwrack seaweed (the Harbour) from the local area, they say the gin is juniper forward with hints of tropical fruit, citrus and “a subtle scent of the shore”. So, how does it taste?
Note: The team at Gwyr kindly sent me a bottle of Bara Brith to complete the set, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
Readers of the blog will know that I am a big fan of team Gower Gin. I’ve already sipped on their Original gin, seasonal Pinwydd, and Rhosili gins, and today we try their latest addition: Bara Brith. What is Bara Brith you ask? Sometimes known as ‘speckled bread’, it is a mixture of dried fruits, brown sugar, spices and black tea, and this gin is inspired by their grandmother’s own recipe. This recipe is reproduced on their signature striped labels, and included with every order inside the reusable muslin bag. They soak the fruit in warm tea with fresh citrus, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon before distilling it and they suggest serving it with ginger ale or with tonic and a slice of lemon.
December is a tricky time – well, by tricky I mean I get my Craft Gin Club delivery and because it’s Ginvent I don’t get to open my delivery until later in the month. This month we got a bumper box: four cans of Merchant’s Heart tonic, festive nuts, Pedrino sherry and tonic spritz, a bottle of cava, biscuits, winter tea, and the main event – Copperfield A Christmas Carol gin. Distilled in the Surrey hills, husband and wife team Chris and Katherine (who between them have a degree in biochemistry and chemical engineering, and a PhD in brewing and distilling) were left home alone after their children grew up and decided it was time to set up their distillery. Inspired by the classic books collected by Katherine, and named after a legendary policeman in their village, the Surrey Copper Distillery was born. Going full steam ahead, they designed a spirit lab and distillery, ordered two 2 litre and one 20 litre copper pot stills for their gin, plus a second 20 litre still for their vermouth. All are named after literary characters – Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Alice, and Wendy (Darling), and their branding is an homage to illustrations on antique book covers. Their original London dry gin uses – you guessed it – a historical recipe found in a library archive of pink peppercorns, cubeb berries, rose petals, hibiscus and elderflower. This time we are trying their Christmas gin exclusive to Craft Gin Club members which focuses on cloves, cinnamon, star anise, orange, rosemary and sage. So, how does it taste?
Back in June, I visited Junipalooza and finally got a chance to meet the Never Never Distilling Co. Based in Adelaide, Australia, they say they embrace the Australian spirit of adventure (is that a thing?) and produce some of the most juniper forward gins on the market. This inspires the name Never Never, which TBH just makes me think about Neverland, which is kinda of the point – they celebrate those that dare to be different and seek more from life. Started by friends George (the science whizz), Sean (sales and marketing expert), and Tim (head distiller), the three came together and are currently based at the home of Big Shed Brewing, but long for their own space in the outback. They currently make three key gins, their ‘normal’ gin is Triple Juniper (which funnily enough is juniper heavy), their Southern Strength (52% ABV) and then today’s gin, the Juniper Freak which is an ode to the juniper berry. This gin sits at 58% which gives it a punch and helps to amp up the oily juniper – the description for this might be my favourite ever: “It’s a seriously big gin, but hey, we’re not here to fuck spiders”. I don’t know if that’s an Aussie saying but I love it. The Juniper Freak won Australia’s Best Navy gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards, so how does it taste?
Note: Darnley’s sent me a sample of their new gin to try, but as always, I’ll let you know what I really think.
For today’s tasting we are travelling back up north to Scotland, specifically the east coast of Fife to a town called Kingsbarn to try the newest in the Cottage Series released by Darnley’s. At the 13th-century Wemyss Castle, Mary Queen of Scots met her future husband Lord Darnley – an occasion that later inspired the Wemyss family (who already run an established whisky distillery) to renovate a cottage and try their hand at gin distilling. They plumped for a London Dry gin style, first steeping their botanicals in a four times distilled neutral grain spirit, before distilling it in their 300l pot still for a fifth time. Their core range of gins started with their Original gin, inspired by the wild elderflower growing on their estate, which creates a light, floral gin. They then went on to make their Spiced gin which brings flavours of pine needles, peppercorns, cloves, rosemary and cardamom. They then created a Navy Strength edition of their Spiced gin, bringing it up to 57% and adding in more juniper to allow the flavours to shine even at this higher ABV. Because having three spirits isn’t enough, Darnley’s are now creating limited edition gins, known as the Cottage Series. These releases are inspired by the botanicals growing on their estate and beyond. The first, launched in July 2018, featured sloe berries, rosehip and elderberry and was originally named the Very Berry edition. Today we try their second release, the Smoke and Zest. For this, their distiller Scott Gowans has taken the home grown barley that is used in their single malt whisky and smoked it in his family’s smoker with pine wood chips. They balance the smoke out with rowanberry and coriander (grown at the distillery) for a touch of sweetness and Turkish orange peel for that tang. The inspiration for this really comes from rowanberries, also known as Mountain Ash and it was this name that inspired Scott to look for something smokey to add to the citrus. The idea to smoke the barley over pine chips came from the production of Lapsang Souchong tea, to create what they call an unusual gin with juniper at its heart. So, how does it taste?
Note: I pester Emile and Olivier over at Gin Foundry a lot and at Junipalooza they kindly handed me an apple mint plant and told me to be patient. Two months later, they have now gifted me a little bottle of gin to go with the garnish, but as always, I’ll let you know what I think.
Even newbies to the gin game should recognise Warner Edwards, if not, they are basically the people that made the first rhubarb gin. They also make lots of other yummy gins, I’m particularly in love with their Honeybee gin with lemon, honey and a splash of hot water whenever I have a cold. They are very big on sustainability and grow many of their own botanicals (including the honey from their own bees) from their farm. They use water from their spring and are believers in good things coming to those that wait; no over harvesting here. Instead they try to put more back into the soil than they take. They’ve been besties with the Gin Foundry crew for a while, being one of the few brands that have been involved with Junipalooza from the beginning, and they have now teamed up for a limited edition gin. They gave the team at Warner Edwards a challenge – only use botanicals within a three mile bee flight of the distillery. They wanted to look at not just the botanicals that work together, but how the environment can shape a flavour profile and working with the land around you from planting through to harvesting.
This approach fits with the Warner Edwards ethos, but also presented a challenge – if you can’t use citrus fruits, coriander seeds or angelica root, what do you put in your gin? Luckily within the three mile radius they have a plethora of goodies including lemon thyme, lemon verbena, lavender, chamomile leaves, bee pollen, dandelion root, toasted applewood and some homegrown green juniper (note: some juniper is also bought in from further away, but they understand that real gin actually tastes of juniper so needed to up the game slightly). Each bottle is preceded with a pack of seeds so you can grow your own apple mint garnish. My seeds seem to be struggling, but luckily I have a pregrown one to fall back on. So, how does it taste?