Now, if you’ve ever been in a shop or a bar, you’ve probably seen and heard of Hendrick’s gin. The one that people think is fancy because it tastes of cucumber and has a nice bottle. Last March, they released a Midsummer Solstice gin which focused on the floral flavours of a summer bloom, and in June released the Orbium gin. Now, we all know the ‘history’ of gin and tonic, the quinine from a tree bark had anti-malarial properties, we mixed it with booze etc etc. Here, Hendrick’s have made a ‘quininated’ gin, as in they took their gin and added quinine, wormwood and blue lotus blossom. On their own website they say “it is almost certainly not for everybody” which intrigues me. It seems like a bold move for a major brand, even for one that builds itself around the unusual oddities of life. They’ve clashed together the flavours traditionally found in tonic and vermouth, which bring bitter boozy notes to mind. They say these are balanced by the blue lotus flowers, which takes the flavour from floral to bitter via a long slow finish. They suggest making it into a martini or a Martinez, or simply mixing it with soda. So, this should be an interesting taste test.
Anyone that follows me on social media might have seen that I basically stalk the Mackintosh gin family. I’m worming my way in to be an adopted daughter even though my hair isn’t nearly long enough or bright enough. They kindly sent me a bottle of their original gin back in May 2019, then I loved them so much I bought a bottle of their newly-launched navy strength gin in April. Due to lockdown my lack of commuting has given my bank balance a boost and I’ve been bored and FOMO kicked in so I just got myself a bottle of their Old Tom gin. Launched at the same time as the navy strength, I was unsure of the Old Tom – which is a style we all know I love – because it’s pineapple and grapefruit. I worry about pineapple in gin. It shouldn’t be on pizza and I don’t think it should be in my gin. Obviously Old Tom style gins are usually sweeter, and they add candy syrup between distillation and bottling along with the fresh pineapple. They say this is still juniper led with locally foraged elderflower, like their other gins, with a strong citrus burst.
Note: Stuart from Biggar gin sent me a sample to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
Back at the start of 2019 (do you remember that far back? You know, when we were allowed out and stuff), the team from Biggar gin sent me some of their gin to try and I LOVED it. I was just sad it wasn’t a BIGGAR bottle (see what I did there?). Sorry, I’ve been alone for eight weeks now, I’m finding bad jokes very amusing. Their new gin is bottled at 57% ABV (their original gin is 43% ABV) and made in small batches (hence my little Biggar sample), making their navy strength gin the third in the brand’s line up.
Alongside their original gin they have a Clyde Valley plum gin which is a limited edition gin infused with South Lanarkshire plums (FYI this is bottled in batches of 400 per harvest). As they are based in what is basically the centre of Scotland and far away from any oceans, they felt strange calling this new gin “navy strength” (hence, Biggar strength), and they didn’t just want to cut their original gin at a higher ABV. Instead, they took three of their original botanicals (rowan berry, rosehip and nettle) and added locally grown hawthorn berries, which when dried are similar to cranberries with a hint of apple. They wanted to make a gin that was recognisably Biggar, but with a twist and that also worked in classic cocktails.
If anyone follows me on social media, you’ll probably notice I have a little love affair with the Mackintosh gin family. I mean, I’m ginger and half-Scottish so I’m practically part of the family. I am a big fan of their London Dy gin which was launched last year, and so when they announced two new releases, I got very excited. The first is an Old Tom style gin with pineapple and grapefruit (the pineapple inclusion here worried me but I have been informed it is actually rather yummy), and the one we are trying today, the 59% ABV Mariner Strength gin. Made using the same botanicals as their London dry, but cut at the higher ABV (previously 42%), they say this is juniper led, with notes of elderflower, soft citrus and a hint of pepper. I’m a fan of Mackintosh gin, and I’m a fan of navy strength gins, so I have high hopes going into this one, so let’s see how it tastes.
If you know your gin, you should have heard of Daffy’s gin – I actually reviewed it at the end of 2017. Before I had a chance to try their gin, they actually released a limited edition gin (thanks to Gin Foundry’s HQ clear out I got myself a bottle) in partnership with Formula 1’s Manor Racing. Their already striking label gets a jazzy upgrade with a winner’s wreath and trophy, and so does their recipe. They didn’t want to start from scratch, so taking inspiration from their original eight botanicals, this edition features including Lebanese mint and fresh Spanish limes – the goal was to create something fresh and exciting. They produced just 2,500 bottles of this release, and sadly the team it was produced for has since gone into administration. So basically, I’m trying a gin that you can’t buy, that’s four years old, and made for a team that don’t exist. Don’t say I don’t keep on top of all the news in the gin world. So, even though you probably can’t try it, I can.
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?
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!
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: The Garden Shed Distillery team sent me a bottle to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I really think
Who are The Garden Shed Drinks Company?
Based in Glasgow, the team have a strong ethical baseline. They donate a portion of their profits to environmental charities and they aim to raise awareness about some of the issues that exist due to climate change. With the classic tale of four friends that got together and after a few drinks decided to make a gin, they started this in their garden shed. They are inspired by the botanicals that grow around them – blackberries from their garden, dandelions that are usually disposed of and some bee friendly lavender. They bottle their gin at 45% and say it is filled with floral and spiced notes. So, how does it taste?