Last week I posted about Highclere Castle gin (if you missed this, you can catch up here). I wanted to learn more so snagged myself a quick Q&A with co-founder Adam von Gootkin…
Can you give us a quick introduction to yourself
Hi, I’m Adam von Gootkin, co-founder of Onyx Spirits Co., an award-winning craft distillery producing New England’s first whiskey. In 2017, I partnered with the 8th Earl & Countess of Carnarvon, the owners of Highclere Castle, creating the Highclere Castle Cigar Company. This partnership grew and in 2019 we launched Highclere Castle gin.
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.
I’ve been very quiet recently on the blog, mostly because I got myself a new job which keeps me very busy during the week and I’m trying to have a real social life so not had time to sit down and do any proper gin tasting for a while. I mean, I’ve definitely had gin, but not in a sit down in front of my computer and make notes kinda way. But that changes today because I got my quarterly Craft Gin Club subscription! This month includes a gin I’ve never heard of – Astraea gin.
Distilled in Seattle, Craft Gin Club is providing the platform for their UK launch. Founded by Danielle Leavell, the gin might be made in America, but is Scottish in spirit. After failing to find adequate courses that would teach her the art of distilling in America, she was accepted onto Heriot-Watt’s Brewing and Distilling Masters of Science – one of only seven women in her year of just 50 students.
During her time in Scotland, she saw the emergence of hyper-local gins that are based on foraging botanicals from their local area. She took this ethos home to Seattle and created four gins, each named after a landscape of the Pacific Northwest. This edition, the Meadow gin, is inspired by Paradise meadow at the foot of Mount Rainier – a meadow full of wildflowers. Here she decided on her botanical list including: chamomile; rosehip; lemon verbena; honeysuckle; and lemon balm.
Happy March! The evenings are getting brighter and, for me at least, it’s Craft Gin Club delivery time! This month’s box contains a special edition of Shivering Mountain gin (for a full view of box contents, check out my reel here). Hailing from the Peak District, founder Nick Malaczynski set up his distillery near Mam Tor.
Officially named for “Mother Hill”, Mam Tor is also known as Shivering Mountain due to the soft limestone deposits that wash away and move during rainy periods, giving the mountain the illusion of moving and shivering. The landscape doesn’t just inspire their name. The beautiful bottle features the landmass itself in the base, along with the textured glass refracting the light, and the base being embossed with the co-ordinates of Mam Tor’s summit.
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).