Note: I was sent a bottle of Highclere Castle gin to try, but all thoughts below are completely my own
If you’re a fan of period drama, you might have seen Downton Abbey and so will be familiar with Highclere Castle. Now, I have to admit that isn’t really my cup of tea, but growing up in Hampshire I knew of the place. Well known for world class entertainment, they wanted to produce (in their words) the finest gin in the world. So, no pressure there.
It’s September! For some people that means back to school time, or holiday time (which is actually also me), but it mostly means it is Craft Gin Club delivery time! This month’s gin is a lockdown project from Viki Baird and Pat O’Brien in Dublin. The roots of Social gin started long ago when Pat first tried to set up a distillery in Dublin, but sadly weren’t able to secure the necessary funds to get the project up and running. Pat never gave up on the idea, and when they found their plot in Dublin 8, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it.
From day one, Pat and Viki had three goals for their brand: one, to be modern and use cutting edge technology; two, to be as sustainable as possible; and three, to do good for their local community. From this, Stillgarden Distillery was born. In front of their distillery, they worked hard to build a community garden – what is now known as the Social Botanist Project. They grow a number of their own botanicals and encourage the local community to get involved with their garden as well as teaching them to cultivate their gardens at home. The botanicals in this gin include lavender, mint, rowan berry and rosehip alongside classics juniper, lime peel, lemon zest and cubeb.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year….aka Christmas! And what does Christmas mean? It’s Craft Gin Club delivery time! This month’s bumper box contains a festive special edition of Kirkjuvagr gin. I have tried their Origin and Aurora gins in the past, and since then they’ve had a rebrand and have some rather stunning new bottles. Based on an island which is closer to the Arctic circle than it is London, their home is important to them. Not only are they inspired by their Viking ancestry, but they are also lucky enough to pick their own native angelica on the island. For this Christmas edition, they carefully selected Aronia berry (also known as the Viking berry) alongside festive spices cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Because it’s Christmas, they also add some frankincense and myrrh – although the only gold you’ll see here is on the bottle. To balance all the spices, they add rose hips and three types of rose – Burnet, Ramanas and Red roses.
This bottle has been sitting on my shelf for a while as a gift from my former housemate (the one that organised gin judging awards). Hailing from one of the world’s most prestigious wineries, the Spanish Bodegas Williams & Humbert group, the gin is made in stills that are over 100 years old. The company was founded in 1877 and focused on making sherry and brandy, and in the 1960s moved towards making wine. Since then they have expanded to make a huge variety of products including gin, rum and vodka. The gin I am drinking today is made from high quality English grains, and distilled at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham to make a traditional London Dry gin. Alongside usual botanicals juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orange and lemon peel, orris root and liquorice root, they also add almond shells, sweet orange, orange blossom, cassia bark, and Buddha’s hand lemon. Buddha’s hand is a variety of citrus fruit from Asia, shaped like a hand with a number of thin tendrils. It is less bitter than a traditional lemon, but with a lot of fragrance which makes it a great addition to cocktails.
I have been excited to try this gin for a really long time. I’ve tried a number of the Four Pillars gins (notably their collab with Herno Dry Island and their Bloody Shiraz), so when I saw their Olive Leaf gin, I wanted to pop some in a martini. Sadly, they kept it exclusive to Australia for the last year before launching in Selfridges this month. In 2015, they collaborated with Santamanía Destileria Urbana in Madrid, which created their first savoury gin using fresh olives and rosemary. This became a firm favourite in the line up, and inspired them to experiment. Keeping the Mediterranean inspiration, they used three types of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, plus olive leaf tea, lemon, bay leaf, rosemary, lavender and grapefruit, plus Australian staples macadamia nut and lemon myrtle. It took a year of experimenting to get the right balance of flavours and textures to work in both a classic Spanish GinTonic, and the perfect martini.
This month’s Craft Gin Club is another special addition – luckily not a flavoured gin, but instead an award winning gin featuring a heritage botanical. Sarah and Jon set up The River Test distillery after attending a distilling course in 2017. On this course, they learnt about iStill, an innovative and fully automated still which uses less power than a traditional copper still. The team are based on a site of special scientific interest in Hampshire which means they are responsible for conserving the flora and fauna on their land.
Their commitment to the environment doesn’t end there. Their bottles are made of 55% recycled glass, and are made here in the UK to reduce their carbon footprint. They also invested in an electric van to carry out their local deliveries! Their original gin uses botanicals from their land – rosemary and bay grow in abundance, alongside their key ingredient: meadowsweet. Their original gin ended up winning Best London Dry Gin in England at the 2020 World Gin Awards, and when Craft Gin Club got in touch, they were up for a new challenge. For this version, they teamed up with a local farmer who introduced them to Maris Otter barley, a variety bred specifically for brewers and distillers. So, how does it taste?
Note: Wayne from the Redsmith Distillery kindly sent me a bottle to try but I will let you know what I really think.
Redsmith Distillery came about when founder Wayne decided to branch out from commercial heating and pipe fitting in 2013 into distilling. With an engineering degree, Wayne decided he would build his still from hand whilst studying at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. In 2015, he finished building his still and gave it the name Jenny – whilst I’d love to say I inspired this, it’s actually named after ancestor who was married to a Cornish copper miner. The first batch of his London Dry style gin was ready for the public in May 2016, and in October of that year won the Gin of the Year award at the Craft Distilling Expo. Wayne uses nine botanicals in his one-shot gin, using juniper, coriander, fresh oranges, bay, cardamom, rosemary, orris, angelica and cassia – they then describe the taste as “leafy salad notes” which makes me intrigued to try it, but also wary as I don’t generally like my gin to taste of salad.
Note: The team at Wharf Distillery sent me a bottle to try, as always I’ll let you know what I really think.
Wharf Distillery are based in Towchester, a market town in South Northamptonshire, and are (currently) the only grain to glass distillery in the county. They opened in 2014 by founding team Alice, who formerly worked in a brewery, and Laurence, who made cider as a hobby until his Hard Cider won Champion Cider of Britain in 2011. This led them to experimenting with ciders, meads and apple brandy before turning to distilling. In the last six years they’ve created their own grain base spirit, which is used in their whisky, single malts, gins and vodkas, and locally source fruit for their brandies, liqueurs and aperitifs. Their range is even more extensive than it sounds, with nine gins alongside their other products. Today we are trying one of their New Town gins, a range of contemporary gins that pays homage to their base in the New Town of Milton Keynes. For this range they take their London Dry gin as a base before adding in additional botanicals. There are currently three gins in the range: orange & pomegranate, mango & cucumber, and lemon and basil. They say the lemon & basil is “perfect for those hot summer evenings”, so let’s see how it holds up in mid-December! Continue reading
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It’s December which means it is Craft Gin Club delivery time! Usually at this time of the year I am frantically writing a blog a day for Ginvent, but for many reasons they weren’t able to make an advent calendar this year which means I’ve actually get to try this box vaguely near the start of the month. This box, like the last few December editions, includes a Christmas themed gin. Cotswolds gin is a very nice gin (review here) and this version includes their signature lavender and grapefruit, alongside clementine, cardamom, black pepper and bay leaf. They used ten times the amount of botanicals to alcohol which imparts a lot of flavour, along with so many essential oils that the gin louches when mixed with water or tonic.
Whilst most distillers will chill filter this out to produce a clear liquid, the Cotswolds distillery team leave it as is to ensure they don’t lose a drop of flavour. Their recommended serve is with London Essence tonic water, and the signature cocktail of the moth is a Gin Star Martini (details below). Before we taste the gin, my last blog about CGC focussed on the ‘value’ of the box, and you can certainly see this here. Alongside the 70cl bottle of gin, we received: two bottles of London Essence Indian tonic, one bottle of Grapefruit and Rosemary London Essence tonic, a carton of Crafted Mango and Passionfruit juice, a bottle of cocktail syrup, a small bottle of Codorniu cava, two Kind nut bars, a bag of mixed fruit and nuts, a bar of Gnaw chocolate; and, most excitingly, a giant bag of Tyrrell’s crisps. But moving on from the snacks, how does the gin itself taste?
Note: Please note if you join Craft Gin Club using the links in this post, you will receive money off your first box and I will receive money off a future box via the referral link.
I’m going to be straight with you. I was considering cancelling my [affiliate] Craft Gin Club subscription this month, mostly because the pictures teasing this month’s gin featured coconuts and mangoes and tropical fruits and I was really worried it was going to be a fruity/flavoured gin which is just not my thing. But I decided to give it a chance and make a decision after this box. Boy am I glad I didn’t cancel. This month’s gin is Stranger & Sons hailing from India – this was actually part of the 2019 Ginvent calendar and you can read a fairly in depth review of it here. Whilst a part of me it is sad that it is a gin I’ve already tried, I’m excited to have more than 30ml of it to play with. Continue reading