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.
After a little break, I’m onto the final gin from my York gin tasting set. The Chocolate and Orange gin is inspired by the Christmas classic – the chocolate orange. I’ve tried a chocolate and orange gin before from another distillery and for me it’s a tough one – the chocolate side was great but the orange was not (very much a personal thing and I fully understand why people without an aversion to orange enjoy it). So what does a chocolate orange have to do with York? Did you know the Terry’s chocolate orange was invented in York? I certainly didn’t, and once you know that, this makes more sense. They take dried, roasted and crushed cocoa beans and fresh oranges which are combined with the York original gin. They suggest serving this in an espresso martini, but I think chocolate and orange are the perfect match for a negroni. So, let’s see how it tastes.
After a short Christmas break, I am returning to my York gin tasting set and today we taste the Roman Fruits gin. If we were to judge a book by its cover, I would guess this would be lower ABV and sugary sweet, but this is a full strength gin at 42.5% ABV.
The Romans founded York in AD71 and this gin is infused with flavours associated with Ancient Rome. They take their London Dry gin and let it infuse with hibiscus, apple, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries for two weeks – with no added sugar! This gives it the rich ruby colour and layers of flavour. Fun fact – they even gave this gin it’s own Latin motto – Veni, vidi, bibi – aka I came, I saw, I drank.
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.
Today I venture to what I think of as the ‘flavoured gin’ side of the York Gin Tasting Pack. The Grey Lady gin, like all of their range, takes inspiration from the city’s history – did you know that York is regarded to be Europe’s most haunted city? The most famous of these is the Grey Lady – a nun who broke the rules of celibacy by falling in love with a nobleman so was bricked up in her room and left to die (delightful). She now lingers in that spot – which happens to be the dress circle of the Theatre Royal (that’s one cultured ghost).
To make the Grey Lady gin, they distil the London Dry with Earl Grey tea and some extra lemon and orange peels before being infused with blue pea flower. Whether this adds flavour or not, I don’t know, but apparently it gives it a “ghostly blue-grey hue” (not gonna lie, mine looks crystal clear so far). Furthermore, like all their other gins, this has also won a number of awards including a Silver medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.
Opening my bottle and the extra citrus drifts up to you alongside that perfumed, smoky note of the tea. In the glass this opens up, the aromatic tea filling your head space. A splash of water helps bring those sherbety citrus notes back to the fore. To taste it’s not as ‘flavoured’ as I anticipated/worried it might be. The gin is really well balanced, not becoming too floral thanks to the citrus (complemented by the bergamot in the tea) and that gentle spice note I’ve come to expect underpinning it all.
They recommend serving this with Fever Tree light tonic – FYI, my drink is still crystal clear – and I’ve initially gone with a 1:1 ratio. This brings the spice back into the picture from the London Dry base and the fragrance from the tea adds a little something extra. Adding an extra dash of tonic helps lengthen it and dial down a touch of bitterness. Overall, I think this is really nice. So, controversial statement: I don’t like tea. Sorry (not sorry). So I was a bit worried about this gin, thinking it would perhaps be overpowering. But it’s really not. There’s enough there to add flavour but not so much you verge into soapy or heady.
The recommended garnish here is dried lemon peel and BOY are the pieces they supply huge! I ripped one in half and the intense smell that comes from it is so inviting. This is the first dried garnish that has added something to the drink – well, the flavour isn’t that different but adds such a lovely scent as you lift it to your face.
You can get a 70cl bottle of the 42.5% ABV gin from the York Gin website for £39 (at time of writing)
The Old Tom gin from the York Gin tasting pack uses the same botanical list as the London Dry and Outlaw gins. On top of that, they add a sugar syrup flavoured with white alba rose (the White Rose of Yorkshire), bronze fennel, star anise and pink peppercorns. The rose and herbs are grown at Michelin-starred restaurant, the Star Inn at Harome. This gin is another award winner – winning the Best English Old Tom at the World Gin Awards in 2020 and 2021.
To smell, I get the juniper and cardamom that I’ve learnt to expect from this range, alongside something a little sweeter. In the glass, a hint of cooling menthol from the fennel starts to come through, but this changes to a bright citrus note with mixed with a splash of water. To taste you pick up the peppercorns, and it’s not as sweet as I anticipated. Old Tom gins are known for being a sweeter style, but I wouldn’t have guessed this was an Old Tom from a blind taste. It has a lot of character, the soft fennel balancing the tingle of pepper, with that woody unpinning.
They recommend serving this as a G&T with Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic – normally with an Old Tom gin I wouldn’t bother with a G&T and move straight to a Tom Collins but I’m sticking to their tasting guide. This is less bitter than the previous two G&T combos – I imagine this is partly due to the sugar syrup and partly due to the tonic being more aromatic. However I have topped this up a little bit – I’m finding recently that I’ve moved from favouring a 1:1 ratio to more of a 2:1 ratio. This is rather tasty. It’s not as intense as the Outlaw gin, less spiced than the London Dry, slightly sweet but not cloying.
The recommended garnish here is star anise – I worry this might amp up the mentholic side too much but in the name of science (science? sure, let’s go with that) I’m giving it a go. It’s definitely adding some oomph to it, which I don’t love (but I don’t really like star anise that much generally) so I’ve fished it out and am going to just enjoy my G&T as is.
A 70cl bottle of the 42.5% gin is currently £39 from the York Gin website (at time of writing).
The Outlaw edition from York Gin is the strongest gin in their range. They took inspiration from York’s infamous villains – highwayman Dick Turpin, Yorkshire witch Mary Bateman, and Guy Fawkes. It has the same botanical make up to the London dry featuring juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root, cardamom, cinnamon bark, dried lemon peel, orris root, black pepper and grains of paradise. However, it ramps up the ABV from 42.5% to 57% – in 2021 this won the Best English Navy strength gin at the World Gin Awards, and in 2019 won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition which is quite the achievement.
Opening my little bottle and it’s recognisable as the London Dry, but definitely has a twist to it. Those same warming notes drift up but the juniper is slightly more prominent this time. In the glass the juniper comes through – with the London Dry I couldn’t pick up much juniper at all but here the woody notes are noticeable. A splash of water makes it smell slightly Christmassy – pine, citrus and cinnamon. To taste it’s drastically different to the London Dry – with that all I could taste was the pepper, but here it’s more balanced. The pepper plays its part, but it comes in just at the end after the juniper and lemon. I think personally, this is more to my tastes than the London Dry. And no, that’s not just because I like navy strength gin.
The tasting pack recommends serving this with Fever Tree aromatic tonic – a tonic designed for more juniper forward gins. Starting with equal measures and it is a proper strong gin and tonic. The tonic amps up the juniper and really hits you with the pine. Increasing the tonic helps dial down the bitterness and make it slightly softer to taste. I think if you aren’t a hardcore juniper fan then this is one to lengthen out – but it still has so much flavour you can get away with it.
The recommended garnish is dried peppercorns – as you might have seen from my last post, I think dried garnishes are mostly a waste of time and are purely there to get stuck in your teeth. But I am a good blogger so have dropped a few in. Strangely, some are floating and some drifted to the bottom and have started effervescing. I’m still not convinced they add anything to the flavour, but the added bubbles make it a bit fun.
You can buy a 70cl bottle of Outlaw gin from the York Gin website for £45 (at time of writing).
The London Dry gin is a staple in any range, so it makes sense to try this first from the York Gin tasting pack. This edition uses nine botanicals: juniper; coriander; cinnamon; orris root; angelica; cardamom; black pepper; lemon peel; and grains of paradise. I’m expecting this to have quite a bit of warmth to it from the cardamom, pepper and grains of paradise but hopefully the lemon peel will give it a lift.
Opening the bottle and you definitely get a whiff of lemon hitting you first, followed by a very gentle wave of warming spice. The spice opens up in the glass but it’s not one dimensional, you get a lot in your nose but it works cohesively. Diluting it down with a splash of water really opens up the aromas. You start to pick up the black pepper and the warmth is more recognisable as cinnamon and cardamom. To taste, the spice hits you first, the tingle of black pepper on the tip of the tongue brings it alive. On the second sip the spice dials down and becomes very easy to drink.
They recommend serving this with Fever Tree light tonic so I’ve started with equal amounts and you definitely get the heat from the peppercorns along with the freshness of the lemon. Adding a tiny bit more tonic lengthens this out. I like a hefty G&T but this has so much flavour to it that it can tolerate the extra tonic. I’m not normally one to garnish with dried things, but as they’ve supplied juniper berries I’ve thrown some in. Do they really add any flavour? Not that I can discern but if it makes you feel fancy, then go for it.
A 70cl bottle of the London Dry gin is available from the York Gin website for £39 (at time of writing).
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.