Thursday, April 15, 2021

ISGD Tasting: Holyrood Distillery

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I love Edinburgh.  I made the trip up, for the first time, quite some years ago when my other half was working there.  Fell in love the first visit and have equally loved it every time since.  Last time we headed up was for International Scottish Gin Day last year and Holyrood Distillery was one of the locations on my visit list.  If memory serves, they’d recently opened their new visitors centre and it looked incredible – still looks incredible actually (picture below).  Sadly, it was the opening weekend of the Fringe Festival as well and everywhere was rammed so we couldn’t get in. Happily, though, I now get to have a look at a couple of gins they produce so I feel like I’m making up for lost time a bit, especially as we can’t be there this year!  A follow-up visit to the distillery is definitely on the cards for next time though – getting that pre-booked even before my flights are taken care of!

The Holyrood distillery has a rather enviable position, nestled up next to its beautiful namesake park right in the middle of Edinburgh.  The distillery was founded by Canadians Rob and Kelly Carpenter and Scot David Robertson – the staffing has expanded since though!  After almost a hundred years, they’re proud to be the first distillery to bring single malt distilling back to the city centre, but we’re here to talk about their gin!  There are 4 gins in total on the roster, Dry, Pink, Spiced and Auld Tam – the two we’re going to be taking a closer look at today are the Dry and the Auld Tam.

I’ve said it before, judge a distillery based on their core offering as it’s often the basis of everything else, and so it’s with the Holyrood Dry that we’re going to begin.  Holyrood gins are all styled the same, bottled in 50ml clear glass apothecary type bottles, with an embossed copper distillery logo on the front.  I rather like that each bottle also has an “I am full of…” and “…which makes me taste” section on the front – gives you a bit of insight around what to expect and it’s a nice friendly touch!  The try gin is “full of” juniper, coriander and citrus – specifically lemon and orange I believe, along with rosehip, ginger, orris, angelica, cassia and liquorice.  Liquorice is an often-misunderstood botanical in gins, but one you’ll find included very regularly.  The first time I tried a “Make your own gin” session, I went heavy on the liquorice because I’m a huge fan of anise flavours, and this is what I was expecting.  I’ve never made that mistake again, let me tell you.  Liquorice root provides an earthy sweetness as a botanical, rather than that anise flavour that you may expect.

There’s nothing particularly surprising or unusual in this gin – and that’s absolutely not a bad thing when it comes to a dry gin!  What I expect when I try a dry gin is juniper, citrus and a little spice.  Anything beyond that is an addition or a bit of a twist, but a dry gin is never worse off for focusing on the core of what makes a dry gin, so long as it does it well.  Looking at the botanical list, makes me expect a classic gin, and the nose certainly confirms that.  Even as you’re pouring the gin into a glass, you get wafts of piny juniper coming off it without having to get too close which always makes me happy.  Getting into nose a bit closer, yep, the big piney juniper is there, you have notes of that sweet citrus and then the undercurrents of spicy coriander. 

Tasting neat, you get the same, loads of Juniper upfront, a lovely kick of citrus sweetness and then a long lingering spicy finish – well balanced and delicious.  One thing that does make itself know is the slightly more prominent oiliness to the mouthfeel which is very pleasant as well.  A splash of tonic (and a splash more gin because the cat had the first lot… might have been me, guess we’ll never know) and we’re in classic G&T territory.  Normally, I expect a splash of tonic to bring out the citrus, and while this does, it also brings out the coriander and spice at the end more than I’d expect which is a pleasant surprise.  Overall, this is a classic, balanced, well crafted dry gin which I’m looking forward to having a play with in some cocktails – particularly a Negroni!

Second up, we have Auld Tam, which is Holyrood’s version of an Old Tom gin.  The really interesting thing with this is that all the sweetness, in this case, comes from the distilled botanicals and no added sugar etc, so technically this is a London Dry style!  It’s much sweeter than you’d normally expect from a dry though, but also a bit less sweet than you might for a classic Old Tom.  The sweetness in this comes from an intriguing selection of botanicals that you don’t see in gin that often: fresh peach, vanilla pods, orange blossom, chamomile and jasmine flowers.  These botanicals, along with the rather more traditional liquorice, orris root and milk thistle seed provide that sweetness and like the dry, an oily, viscous look to it in the glass.  The nose is hugely warm and floral with fruity elements and that vanilla running through everything.  It’s not overly sweet and cloying, but everything is in balance – it’s really quite an impressive feat to get that much-balanced flavour and sweetness through in what is essentially a dry gin. 

An Auld Tam Martinez

Normally at this point, I’d add tonic, but sweeter style gins never really work with tonic for me, and frankly, I don’t want to waste this.  It seems sensible to go for what I’d normally do with an Old Tom to start with, and that’s a Martinez.  The Martinez is a bit of a hybrid of a Martini and a Manhattan and generally uses an Old Tom gin.  For this, went with the Auld Tam, Antica Formula and just a tiny dash of triple-sec to give it a little citrus lift on top of that floral orange blossom.  Finished off with a spritz of orange zest over the drink and run around the glass, this makes an incredible drink.  There’s just enough sweetness there without it being too much and the vanilla gives the Antica a massive kick up.  Might need to have a play around with ratios, and maybe a dash of bitters in there as well but there’s the potential here for some amazing cocktails!

If you find yourself in Edinburgh – go give Holyrood a visit. I can’t speak from personal experience yet, but I’ve heard great stories from friends and it’s firmly cemented on the to-do list for next time we head north of the wall! If you’d like to know more, head over to https://www.holyrooddistillery.co.uk/

ISGD Tasting: Ben Lomond Gin

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Usual Disclaimer: Loch Lomond Distillery very kindly sent me their gin to try and write about for International Scottish Gin Day. All opinions, content and editorial decisions are, as ever though, solely my own.

Next, on our journey to ISGD, it’s time to head back down south just a little bit, to the shores of Loch Lomond to visit Ben Lomond gin.

Ben Lomond is another gin that takes huge inspiration from the incredible landscape around it and the wealth of botanicals that can be found there.  The Loch Lomond Group has 3 distilleries in the area, the oldest of which dates back to 1772, and is primarily a whiskey distillery.  More recently though, they’ve expanded their range into gin, vodka and rum – one of which we are, of course, going to take a look at (no prizes for guessing which).

Due to the gin being a fairly recent addition to what they do, Ben Lomond Gin is currently distilled not too far down the road at the Glasgow distillery, until Loch Lomond have a gin still of their own to start production on site.  Once the distillate is made, it’s brought back inhouse to be cut and bottled.  It’s really nice to have some transparency around this – there are lots of incredible gins out there that distil elsewhere until they get their own setup and some that will continue to do so.  It doesn’t mean the distillery isn’t dedicated or involved in the process, it’s just an interim step in bringing the production inhouse for many.

I wanted to include a little bit here about the distillation, as I think it’s something that is relevant but also something that it’s important for consumers to both understand and not see as a negative – so long as distilleries are transparent about it. In fact, in many cases, I see it as a positive since so many incredible gins, made with as much love and passion as those distilled inhouse, wouldn’t exist if they weren’t able to start this way.

Let’s talk about the gin itself, it’s why we’re here after all.  Ben Lomond is inspired by its namesake, the 974-metre high mountain situated on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond and the most southerly of the Munros.  This, and the Loch and surrounding landscape, including Trossachs National Park, provide the backdrop and some of the local botanicals for the gin as well.  Slight aside, I just learned that Loch Lomond is often considered the boundary between the lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands – not entirely relevant but I thought it was interesting!  Even the bottle reflects the land around the distillery, a natural wooden stopper and heather inspired purple glass.  When the light shines through the bottle, it does looks bluer strangely, and then you move and it’s purple again… might just be my gin addled eyes but it’s very pretty either way!

Ben Lomond is a London Dry style gin (meaning nothing is added post-distillation) and is bottled at 43% abv.  Botanical wise, as mentioned there are some locally inspired additions to the gin alongside some of the stapes.  We have juniper, coriander seed, angelica, orange, cassia, liquorice, rose petal, Szechuan pepper, blackcurrant and rowan berries.  It’s these last two additions, which are handpicked in the local area that are the heroes in this particular gin and what make it a bit different.

On the nose, you get juniper of course, but you also absolutely get a hefty waft of berries from those signature botanicals which, along with the orange, add a slightly sweeter note than you’d often get in a dry gin from citrus alone.  Finally, you get a lingering pepperiness from the Szechuan which is actually more prominent than I would normally expect.

Tasting, to an extent it follows the nose, but with everything just that little bit more pronounced. What really hits you first is the berries – I’ll confess I have absolutely no idea what rowan berries taste like, but I’m now intrigued to find out at some point.  Knowing the blackcurrants are there, you can pick them out from the rowan, but they work together with the juniper amazingly well.  I think what shocked me a little bit on that first taste is just how much sweetness comes through from the fruit given that this is a dry gin.  It’s not “sweet” by any means, but it’s certainly more naturally sweet than a lot of juniper heavy gins, and as a result really quite smooth while not missing out on big flavour.  The blackcurrant, in particular, seems to linger long after you’ve swallowed as that heat from the pepper kicks in at the end as well.

Adding a splash of tonic levels things out a bit between the berries and citrus.  The sweet berry notes step back a little and let the orange come to the fore a little more.  This is a G&T you could tailor to anyone’s tastes quite easily and it still works.  Less tonic and the berries and sweetness are still more prominent, but up the tonic a bit and as you’d expect, the citrus is brought out more while the sweetness is dialled back.  This happens without losing the soul of the gin though, everything is still there, just with a different element highlighted. (So long as you don’t drown it of course!). The recommended serve is with Fever-Tree tonic, blackberries and lime.

An (almost) Signature serve G&T

There’s definitely some cocktail experimentation to be done here to see what those berries can do beyond a classic G&T.  Need to stock up on ingredients, but there are some classics that I always have to try.  In a Negroni with Campari and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, it really works.  I dialled back a bit from the usual equal parts since the gin has a little more innate sweetness and went with 40ml gin, 25ml Campari and 20ml Cocchi which seemed to balance things out nicely and was far too easy to drink.  One recipe that Loch Lomond suggest is a slight twist on a Tom Collins with raspberries.  No raspberries to hand unfortunately so had to make do with a classic Tom Collins – I wasn’t disappointed.  Slightly reduced the sugar syrup again to make up for that innate sweetness and it just worked so well with those berries coming through again with the lemon.  Hard to argue with a straightforward cocktail that lets the gin do its thing.  A Clover Club is definitely on the cards to try in the near future as well!

All in all, a great gin that does something a little bit different and does it exceedingly well.  I love that so many Scottish gins seem to be able to take in much of the stunning landscape around them and incorporate it into the fabric of the product.  There’s so much variety in what’s around the places these gins are made, you get something unique to the area that really celebrates where it comes from. Look out for the Gin to my Tonic festival in Glasgow next year (September) – hoping these guys will be there again!

If you’d like to know more about the gin, as well as the Blackberry & Gooseberry, and Raspberry & Elderflower infusions they do, head over to https://www.benlomondgin.com/

ISGD Tasting: Gin Bothy

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Usual Disclaimer: Gin Bothy very kindly sent me a selection to try and write about for International Scottish Gin Day. All opinions, content and editorial decisions are, as ever though, solely my own.

Normally, when I try something from a distillery for the first time, I start with their original gin, their core offering.  This tasting marks one of the few times that didn’t happen!  Earlier in the year, my Little Gin Box had a bottle of Gin Bothy Gunshot Gin in it. I loved it, and it became the first taster bottle I went straight out and purchased a full-size version of.  Despite the fact it feels more like a wintery gin, being heavily spiced, it was gone within a week and nary a mixer did touch it.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, I’ll start at the beginning and come back to the Gunshot later.

A good story and a sense of place is something that seems to have come to the fore more and more in the gin market in recent years.  A great gin is great, but one with a story, botanicals and inspiration from the people and places involved in its creation – provenance – just give something more.

Gin Bothy is the, somewhat incidental, creation of Kim Cameron.  The business started off making jam which, of course, leaves rather a surplus of fruit from its production.  Now, what do you do when you have a surplus of fruit from jam-making?  If you said, “Infuse gin!” then congratulations! You get a gold star and a large G&T to sip while reading the rest of this.  If you said anything else, then please close your browser immediately and hang your head in shame.  Kim started by buying in gin and infusing it with seasonal fruits but soon moved to having her own gin distilled at a nearby distillery so she could control the quality of the liquid.  From that, Gin Bothy Original was born and has formed the core of the other expressions that followed. The Bothy itself, by the way, is a small stone hut that was often used to house farm labourers or as a mountain refuge. That’s a bit of a broad simplification and just what different meanings it has to the people there is covered in a rather nice little background story section on their website. Nestled in the stunning Scottish countryside, you can see why the area inspires such a love for the land and wanting to bring that provenance into the gin.

Gin Bothy Original is a true Scottish gin, inspired by the landscape and the locally available botanicals.  Along with the Juniper, there’s local Scots pine needles, milk thistle, heather, hawthorn, marshmallow root and rosemary, along with orange and lemon.  On the nose, it starts with what you’d both hope and expect – juniper is front and centre but there’s something else at the start, herbal and floral notes and a little sweetness that comes along with it.  I’m no botanical expert, and it’s one of those things I find fascinating because you’re learning new scents all the time and linking them to different botanicals that you pick up.  After a little reading, it seems it’s the heather and the milk thistle that’s coming through with the juniper and giving it that sweet, warm little herbal buzz.

Tasting, it starts as you’d hope from the nose, with the Juniper and those extra pine notes from the Scots Pine backing it up.  What’s immediately evident though is just how smooth it is – there virtually no alcohol-burn at all and, despite it sounding a bit cliché sometimes, an almost creamy mouthfeel that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from its viscosity in the glass.  The sweet notes in the smell prominent, but in taste, it seems to get more from the orange, along with that milk thistle as the citrus makes itself more evident.  Finally, your left on the trail of the lingering pine, which I assume is a combination of both the juniper and the additional pine since it’s more pronounced than you find with a lot of gins.

A splash of light tonic opens things up as you’d hope, but something about this really works well in a G&T.  The juniper still dominates upfront, but the tonic really lifts the citrus up to mix with that sweeter milk thistle, so everything just sits in a nice balance.  I think you can sometimes judge how good a gin is in G&T by whether it needs a garnish or not.  This doesn’t.  You could certainly garnish to tweak the flavours, but the important thing is it doesn’t need it in the slightest.

Now, as previously mentioned, the Original gin forms the base for Kim’s infusions, so it would be remiss of me not to talk about what, essentially, started it all.  We’ve got 3 here to have a look at: Gunshot, Speycast, and Stirrup Cup.  None of these infusions are hugely juniper-forward, as they’re all designed to be sweeter sipping gins, so if you only lean towards more juniper driven liquids, these may not be for you.  I feel like I approach these more like I would a liqueur than a drier gin. Whether you’re looking for the juniper or not, they are delicious drinks just to sip over ice in their own right though.

Where it all begins…

I’m going to start with the Gunshot because, frankly, it was my first love.  The bottle I bought myself back in June barely lasted a week and the whole thing was drunk neat over ice.  Gunshot is bottled at 37.5%, and in infused with cinnamon, cloves, mixed spices and local honey.  What hits you square between the eyes both on the nose and on the palette is cloves – it’s like a little Christmassy hug in a bottle.  As I mentioned before, Juniper takes a bit of a back seat here, especially with all those spices muscling into the fore, but the spice is what this gin is all about.  Something I meant to try last time was getting this into a Christmas Negroni, and since it’s getting cooler now, it feels like it’s time.  Just the Gunshot alone, I think would be a bit overpowering and a little too sweet, so I went for a 50/50 mix of Gunshot and Original, and then equal measures of Agora Vermouth and Victory Bitters.  Agora Vermouth is quite a recent release, local to me in Suffolk and is quite heavy on the anise, so it melds really well with those mixed spices.  I went with Victory Bitters rather than Campari since it’s not as sweet and so made up for the extra sweetness from the Gunshot.  Hello Christmas Negroni! Instant heat from the inside out and nicely balanced between sweet and bitter – photo to follow on Instagram soon!

Next is the Speycast: This one is infused with Scottish heather honey, cherry and mixed spices.  Because you haven’t got that heavy clove taking over, you do get more juniper here, but again it’s not juniper-forward. When you smell it, you get the fruity smell of the cherries, combined with the warm sweetness of the honey.  This is another that is amazing just sipped over ice, but also one I knew I wanted to try in another cocktail.  For me, this was screaming to be put in a Martinez!  Normally you’d use an Old Tom in a Martinez, so this honey-sweetened gin was a perfect fit.  I combined it with Cocchi di Torino Vermouth, a little Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and just a dash of Fee Brothers cherry bitters.  Delicious – perhaps a little tweaking needed on the ratios and maybe an extra dash of bitters to combat the sweetness, but it was a rich, deep, fruity Martinez that didn’t last nearly as long as I would have liked.

Finally, the Stirrup Cup: The final infusion we’re tasting contains fresh apples, local honey, ginger and gorse. On the nose, it’s the apple that leaps out here, putting me in mind of something like a mulled cider. Tasting follows the same course as the nose again, the apple is there, with that lovely warm honey flavour to back it up. This time though, the ginger kicks in at the end with a warm, slightly tongue-tingling finish. While again the Juniper is there, it backs the apple up rather than taking over. Haven’t quite decided what I’m doing with this one yet – apart from just drinking it neat. A suggested serve is with sparkling apple juice or sparkling water with a dash of Elderflower, but I think, for me, I’d be worried about losing the flavour a little bit. Some experimentation is needed here… if there’s any left.

That’s only a little snapshot of the infusions – there are 13 variations in all, and I’m particularly intrigued to try the Amaretto at some point, inspired by a trip to Italy… That and make my way up north to actually visit the Bothy!

You can find more info on the Gin Bothy range at their web site. If you’d like to know more about Kim, Gin Cooperative did a great interview with her as part of their Women of Gin feature which is well worth a read.

Tasting: Zeiver Gin

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Disclosure: The bottle was kindly sent over by James at Zeiver, but all thoughts and opinions, as always, are my own.

Can we talk about botanicals for a minute or two? Good. When it comes to gin, there is one botanical that has to be present, and that is, of course, our fair lady juniper (long may she reign). Beyond that, you can use most things, but there are some botanicals that you quite often expect to see in gins. Coriander seed, angelica, orris root, lemon, liquorice root – and several others you see crop up regularly in a lot of classic gin recipes. Some gins cut things right back such as Crossbill which just uses Juniper and Rosehip, and nothing else, but these are more unusual.

Now, may I introduce Zeiver gin, which contains 9 botanicals:-

  • Juniper
  • Peach
  • Cherry
  • Pistachio
  • Macadamia
  • Apple
  • Aloe Vera
  • Lime
  • Grapefruit

Notice anything unusual about that list? Apart from the Juniper, it’s a pretty unusual combination of botanicals to see together, and with very few of the common ones that you expect to see. The other differentiating factor here is the base spirit. As if the botanical line up wasn’t unusual enough, the base spirit of the gin is one of a few made from rice, rather than the usual grains which just adds another layer of interest. The tag line on the bottle is: “A Gin, Unique” and despite usually being pretty damn sceptical at a claim like that, I’d not accuse them of hyperbole in this case. I’ve not come across a list quite like this before but the question, of course, is does it work?

Bluebells are not a botanical, just thought they looked pretty. Wouldn’t believe the weird looks you get when you go for a walk with a bottle of gin though.

Let’s take a quick step back before we get into the tasting though. Zeiver is the result of two gentlemen, James Bilson and Clayton Patterson, getting together over a G&T to set their respective worlds to rights. The idea of creating their own gin soon bubbled to the surface, and no more than a week later, the concept of Zeiver arrived. After coming up with their initial prototypes, they approached Dr John Walters at English Spirit Master Distillers, based in my neighbouring county of Essex, for some expert biochemical input. There, it’s production now lies, made in 200l batches in their copper stills.

Worth mentioning the design while we’re here since it’s quite distinctive – but makes my organised gin cupboard OCD side twitch just a little bit. The branding is really simple and modern, with a white version on one side of the label and a black side on the other. Which one do I have facing forward? How will I decide? This may keep me awake for some nights sweating and having to run down in the middle of the night to turn it around. The name Zeiver, by the way, is a play on the Dutch word “Zuiver”, which means “Purity”.

Official Zeiver Gin Bottle Shots

Any gin that clocks in at 47% is always going to get my attention. You see so many gins aiming for that 37.5% legal minimum that seeing something around 10% higher, irrespective of the extra duties etc that may incur, means it was done purely to make the gin as good as can be, not because of cost implications.

When opening the bottle (and appreciating the glass stopper… love a glass stopper me), you get a little alcohol kick as you would expect from this ABV, but mostly you get the juniper full in the face, with some citrus undertones supporting it. Having had a chat with James, they experimented with various strengths – starting around 45% (pretty damn respectable for a start), dropping to 42% and deciding it was a bit over smooth and could be lost in a cocktail, before finally ending up at the 47% we have now.

Neat, it clings to the side of the glass in that way that always makes you anticipate a rich, creamy mouthfeel – it doesn’t disappoint. Upfront, you get the juniper and citrus, just as the nose suggested along with some peppery notes that linger towards the end. Any worries I might have had about the fruit being sweet or overwhelming the juniper are put to one side. The cherry and peach is certainly there, but it’s subtle and compliments the taste in a dry manner rather than a sweet….fruitiness? While you’re dazzled by my wordsmithery (that’s probably not a real word – ah well), let’s add a drop of water to see how it opens up. The slightly mentholic front end kicks right back and while the juniper and citrus are still there, the peppery notes are pushed much more to being more of a pleasant lingering taste at the end. Oddly (probably just me), a drop of water almost seems to make it even more smooth and creamy – I’m assuming this is from the nuts and the Aloe. If these are what bring that quality then it’s a very clever addition to smooth out the flavour against that 47%. The other thing that seems to appear is just a tiny more natural sweetness, which I assume is from the fruits – just enough but nothing overpowering.

Zeiver G&T With Fever-Tree Light

Moving onto a G&T, with a splash of Fever-Tree light, it just takes it a little further than the water did. The warm pepperiness is lessened, and that very slight natural sweetness is counteracted by the quinine to bring everything into a beautifully balanced G&T. This is one I wouldn’t want to go more than 1:1 with the tonic on lest you risk killing that juniper payload.

Part of this gin really frustrates me… because this combo of botanicals is quite unique, it’s really damn hard to pick some of them out because they’re so unfamiliar, especially in this kind of combination and well, that just makes me feel like less of a person! I’m sure I’ll get over it with a Negroni… Yeah, that was an excuse for a Negroni. I decided to go with classic Campari and then pair this with Cocchi Vermouth di Torino in the hopes the big fruity flavour of the vermouth would pair with that really subtle sweetness in the gin. It didn’t disappoint. I’m a huge fan of a Navy strength Negroni as I love to get that juniper kick coming through, and this sits in a beautiful middle point ensuring you get that full flavour, but without quite as much of an alcohol kick as a full-strength navy.

Zeiver, Campari, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and a blood orange garnish

Really impressed with this stuff as a first attempt – and very much looking forward to seeing what these gentlemen get up to next. As a couple of guys with international links already, I know James and Clayton are looking to push out internationally – but obviously everything has been slowed down a bit due to the current international climate. Here’s hoping it won’t be long before normality starts to set back in and the expansion can begin. Cheers for the bottle to try, and also cheers to James for some hours of geeking out over classic 80s movies. The 80s: best movies, best music, best people – it’s a fact.

You can find out more about Zeiver at their Web Site, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If you’d like to grab a bottle for yourself, you can find it at The Gin Stall.

Tasting: Hrfan Valhalla

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The blog has been on a little bit of a hiatus lately due to life generally doing it’s thing and getting in the way (adulting – who would want to?) – but it’s time to get back on it and start with a VERY overdue look at Hrfan Valhalla Gin from Raven Spirits.

I came across Raven Spirits in 2018 when they released their first gin: Thought and Memory (My notes here). The story behind it was great, it sounded delicious and I’m an absolute sucker for some Norse Mythology so I ordered myself a bottle soon after release. Absolutely wasn’t disappointed with the inaugural offering and between the other half and me, we polished off most of the bottle in the first few days. It’s since gone on to win 2 gold medals in international competitions. A little rebranding also took place, changing the name from “Raven Gin” to “Hrfan Gin” – the old Norse word for Raven, which just makes me a little happier. Sad as it may be to geek out over a stopper, it’s one of my favourite new additions compared to the original bottle though. I already loved the Elder Futhark runes in the logo but now they’ve added them to a gorgeous copper stopper as well which is absolutely beautiful. Sadly, I could already read Elder Futhark (don’t ask), and remain convinced there’s a secret code in there somewhere… despite Peter from Raven Spirits saying there isn’t and the letters making no sense. Still… I persist!

Anyway, rune geekery aside, in the middle of last year, they released Valhalla as a variation on the Thought and Memory recipe, and Peter very kindly sent me a bottle down to try (So sorry that getting my thoughts down has taken as long as it has Peter, utmost apologies!).

I spoke about a bit of the background of the distillery, Callum and Peter and how they got started in my Thought and Memory notes, so I’ll get jumping straight into the gin this time. I still love the bottle design the guys came up with. Valhalla has a deep blue background with the bronze foil rather than the white of the Thought & Memory, but Hugin and Munin are still there front and centre (which makes my inner mythos geek a bit giggly). A variation on the original recipe, Valhalla tweaks the seven botanicals and also bumps the ABV up from 45% to 49% – rarely a bad thing in my book. It’s still a classic, one-shot distilled dry gin at its core though, with that extra little tweak from their signature botanical: mandarin. I’ve always thought that mandarin is rather a clever selection of botanical to feature front and centre. In the summer months, you’ve got that fresh orangy citrus note that makes great martinis and G&Ts, but then mandarins are also so associated with the winter months and Christmas that you can’t help but want help put it in a warming (ice cold) Negroni as well.

Since I restocked on Thought & Memory (T&M from now on), I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two side by side. Interestingly, for me, on the nose, the Valhalla actually seems just a little more restrained than the T&M. With T&M I get a little more of the mandarin along with the juniper and spice. With Valhalla, the mandarin and juniper are still very much there, but it’s almost like they’re overlayed with a more deep, earthy note. Whether there’s a little more of the angelica and orris root in there, whether the higher ABV has an impact on that, or whether it’s just me, I couldn’t say. Adding just a tiny splash of water actually lifts the nose a little and the mandarin starts coming back through on equal footing with the earthiness again.

Tasting, things get switched around and the higher ABV very much makes itself known. It’s still smooth as T&M was, but there’s definitely more of a noticeable warming alcohol hit and the earthiness from the nose gives way to the other botanicals. Juniper is at the fore as you’d expect, hope, and wish for, before giving away to that citrus and spice mix. At the end, you’re left with a very slightly less sweet finish, but somehow the citrus hangs on much longer with the spice, whereas the spice outlasts everything else in the T&M.

A splash of tonic switches things around again – The spice leans back a little more and lets that signature citrus get out in front to make itself known. Some gins suit a larger amount of tonic (with reason!) but here, too much starts to take too much away from that flavour profile, and I actually found myself preferring a 1:1 ratio with this to get that citrus upfront, but not ruin the flavour of the gin itself. You’ll see a little louching occur as the tonic hits and the gin and the oils release – which while some purists may not be keen on, I’m always rather pleased to see as I know I’m in for a great, smooth texture to the drink.

So, Valhalla, a tweak to the T&M recipe, but a really successful one. Bringing the alcohol up to give you a little more of that warmth, but somehow swapping the order and magnitude of the flavours around at the same time. Similar yet different and well worth looking into!

If you want to pick up a bottle, or just find out some more, you can get the info from their web site.

Bottle was gifted, but all thoughts and opinions ar

Gin & Rum Festival Ipswich

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A bit of a quickie write-up on this one – mostly because it’s the first Gin and Rum Festival we’d been to and it was interesting to note some of the differences to others. Some months ago (Lax, as I said), we headed over to the Gin & Rum Festival in Ipswich. They kindly sent me a couple of free tickets over, but all views are my own and I was planning to buy tickets regardless since there was a group of us. Luckily, the festival in Ipswich coincided with a nerdy board games weekend that we were having with a bunch of friends, so a few hours of gin and rum seemed the perfect excuse to break up the weekend a bit!

The motley crew

Gin & Rum Festival took over some of the assets of the sadly departed “Gin Festival ltd.” and the events follow a similar layout and theme. Your ticket gets you a glass and a festival guide, and then you buy drinks tokens at £5 a pop with as much tonic as you like. If you’re a hardcore gin fan that has had the pleasure to try quite a wide range, you might find the selection a little more limited than some festivals, due to the fact that half the selection is rum. There’s still a great choice though, and if you’re a fan of both drinks you’ve got 45 gins and 45 rums to choose from. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, one thing we noticed is that the atmosphere was much more relaxed than previous festivals, more seating available, and not as jammed wall to wall with people which meant you never had to queue for long at a bar. At the bars, the gins were well stocked, the staff were friendly, and MOST importantly…they didn’t pour the tonic for you. Nothing worse than going to taste gin and having someone drown it before you get a chance.

One thing it was really nice to see is several distillers represented there. Old Bakery was there with their gin and their new to the market rum – already a fan of the gin so wasn’t going to pass up a chance of a cheeky taster. The other face I wasn’t expecting, but was delighted to see was Dan Walsh. If anyone frequented Gin Festival Ltd. and went to any of the Tinker Gin masterclasses, you’ll have come across Dan who was their brand ambassador. After the collapse of Gin Festival ltd. Dan has developed his own gin, Rascal, and it’s cracking if you enjoy a gin with a fruiter edge to it (passion fruit in this case).

Quick write up as a said, but we spent an enjoyable few hours, nice chilled friendly atmosphere, some good stands to visit and a good range at the bars. The food options were a little disappointing, but I appreciate there are limited options when it comes to what you can prepare inside a town hall. Definitely an event that it’s worth getting a bunch of friends together and going to as the vibe was much more enjoying the drinks, rather than drinking to get drunk. A little depressed that the best selling bottle of the day was a revoltingly sweet marshmallow gin… but ah well! Cheers!

Junipalooza London 2019 Roundup

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Junipalooza London is, sadly, over for another year which means we’re currently in the “Post-Junipalooza Funk” week. Always feels like it’s akin to that week after Christmas. After all the excitement and build up, the event was amazing but now you know you’ve got to wait a year until the next one. And the event was amazing; the Gin Foundry guys did themselves proud this year sticking to their “Better, not bigger” philosophy. 76 Distillers (I think), 4 Experiences, Merchant’s Heart doing some free talks, Stig in his Norwegian Forest nook – all amazing. We went for Saturday Evening and Sunday again this year, and once again although I hit most of the distillers I wanted to see, there were quite a few I’m annoyed I just didn’t get time to get to. All three sessions next year maybe?

What I really took away from this year, as well as the gin, of course, is just how incredible the community is. I can’t think of another event where I’ve spent so much time with a smile plastered on my face just chatting, shaking hands and in many cases hugging people…which as a self-confessed hugger is never a bad thing. I was genuinely blown away by the openness, friendliness, and warmth of both the distillers and fellow attendees. It’s lovely to be able to meet someone you’ve been chatting to over Twitter for the last year and finally put faces to names and get to know them as a person rather than just a handle.

So, some noteworthy mentions. Frankly, this section could run on for pages and pages if I listed everyone, so this is very much a snapshot. Apologies to anyone missed out! As it is, I’m going there enough for me to keep each one fairly short and sweet.

Never Never Distilling Co.: Juniper Freak
I think Juniper Freak gets the award for most talked about gin of the event. When speaking to others about what had stood out to them, almost everyone had something to say about this stuff. Never-Never had 2 big juniper gins, Triple Juniper and the aforementioned freak. Both are made with juniper 3 ways, macerated, fresh and then vapour infused as well. The Freak is the navy strength variant and it’s just incredible. Thick, oily, louches like anything when you add a splash of water or tonic and is pretty much like having your senses pelted with Juniper from every direction. If you want to try the stuff for yourself, at the time of writing I believe it’s exclusive to Gin Kiosk.

Lone Wolf – Zealot’s Heart
When Brewdog rebranded their Lone Wolf gin line a few months ago, they also announced something new: Zealot’s Heart. Luckily, I remembered to ask as they had a bottle or two stashed under the counter. This stuff was delicious. Heavy on the juniper and Citrus and with a lot more depth than the Lone Wolf. Sadly not released for a few more weeks yet. They also mentioned that the Gunpowder Edition (Navy strength gin) is getting a rebrand a relaunch in the coming months too.

Downton Distillery – Explorer’s Gin
The newly launched Explorer’s Gin from Downton Distillery had the honour of the bursary spot this year and absolutely did it justice. Downton Distillery can be found in a Grade 1 listed barn, adjacent to Downton Manor in Wiltshire. The gin built around the spirit of exploration and nods to the links that Downton Manor has to Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth. Macerated and then vapour infused, Explorer is distilled as a one shot. Fifteen botanicals go into the gin but particular note should be given to something quite unique: Western Red Cedar. The charming and ever enthusiastic Hugh Anderson, the man behind the gin (pictured below being mobbed by some friends we were attending with) was handing out little sprigs to taste, and it’s… unexpected. It adds something really different to the gin, rich and piney with an almost mint like finish. Really sets Explorers apart from some of its contemporaries.

Mackintosh Gin
Mackintosh is quite a recent addition to the gin world, having launched only towards the end of last year. A family run distillery headed up by Jim and Deb Mackintosh, it’s a classic juniper-forward gin with a little lift from local elderflower and some fresh grapefruit. Heading down from Dundee, they were one of the six newcomers showing this year. As with last year, the newcomers zone was our first port of call and I don’t regret a second of it. Rather than repeating myself too much, if you want some more info on this one, you can read my previous write up of it here. Cheers to Ginsmagic for a copy of the end of the night selfie!

Graveney Gin
The brainchild of Victoria Christie, Graveney’s master distiller, this gin started life as a hobby produced in a 5 litre still in Tooting. Even now it’s an organic and very small batch gin, produced in just two 30 litre stills. Still keeping it local, they have a nano bar in Tooting Market that is high up on my visit list next time I’m in the capital. Graveney has a lovely fresh nose that combines floral and piney and delivers in the taste in spades – smooth, juniper lead and a lovely earthy, nutty note to end with a slightly peppery finish. Vic was also testing a couple of possible new additions to the lineup and I have to say, a more difficult choice I don’t think I’ve made in a long time, they were both amazing and I can’t wait to see the final result. I’ll round this one off by saying Vic was absolutely charming and couldn’t have been nicer – only sad I didn’t think to get a selfie to follow up the hugs… I’m a sucker for hugs. If you want to find out more, I could do no better than to recommend that you head over to The Gin Shelf and read the interview that Matt did with Vic there, it’s a great read.

Corner 53 – L.M.P
So, Lemon Meringue Pie Gin… no no, hear me out, this isn’t some overly sweet abortion of a “gin”, this is very much still a gin at heart without me needing to do air quotes when I mention it. It’s also slightly batshit in the most glorious way imaginable. They chuck in lemon curd and pastry.. and it shouldn’t work, it really shouldn’t! It does though, the juniper is still there but you get this hit of lemon curd, rather than lemon and then you’re just left with this curdy, buttery aftertaste. Nuts… glorious.

Hidden Curiosities – Aranami
Anyone who knows me will know that Hidden Curiosities sits on high as one of my favourite gins of all time, as it does with most of my family as well! This is partly because the gin is amazing, and partly because you can’t help but love the lady behind the gin. Jenny was at Junipalooza this year to show off her latest creation: Aranami (Raging Waves if you’re not fluent in Japanese). The Aranami edition is an amazing 59% navy that continues to embrace the Japanese influence with 7 of it’s 20 botanicals being sourced from Japan. Yuzu gives it a stunning citrus hit with a difference, and sansho peppers impart an intriguing lemony, mentholy, somethingyness that’s really hard to describe. I could go on If you ever get the chance to taste a sansho pepper, do, it’s a weird and rather mouth-numbing sensation. It’s smooth enough to drink neat, which in itself is a feat at 59%! It also makes an amazing G&T with a real punch to push back against the tonic. Finally, if you’re a Negroni fan… just trust me and try it. One of the botanicals is salted cherry blossom (Hence the Raging Sea name) and it adds an edge to a Negroni that needs to be experienced.

The Gower Gin Company
I’ve been wanting to meet Siân and Andrew from Gower for ages, so they were another distillery it was lovely to finally put a face to after only ever having chatted online. No disappointment, they too couldn’t have been friendlier or represented their product any better Anyone who welcomes me at 11 am with an aged Negroni automatically scores brownie points. Anyone who welcomes me with one of the most delicious Negronis I’ve ever had and the first Negroni ever that didn’t make my other half wrinkle his face in disgust gets MAJOR brownie points. Gower were showing their Rhossili gin, celebrating the younger years of Dylan Thomas. The Rhossili edition is bottled at 45% and includes sea buckthorn and Rhossili gorse flower to give it a twist. It’s a lovely light gin with citrusy notes and a little more kick from that higher ABV. Also, who doesn’t love a distillery with a guard cat?

This is already getting too long, and I haven’t spoken about half the people I’d like to. Bruce from Brentingby who’s a bit of a legend and one with a pink gin that isn’t a horribly sweet fruity thing but a good, proper pink gin! Steven and Sue from Tappers who again were so friendly and informative could have sat chatting to them for ages. Keep an eye out for their upcoming Brightside release which is a distilled version of their delicious compound Darkside gin.

Tappers stand

Duck & Crutch, Seppeltsfield Road, York and their amazing Cacao (which I really want to try in a Negroni). John and Cynthia from Locksley Distilling who have been one of my long term favourites had their new Raspberry & Cardamon concoction which was delicious (Their Anti pink gin pink gin). I could go on for ages, but frankly, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already done well. I’ll leave you with a picture of the haul and a few random pics!

The Haul ™

Tasting: Pothecary Trinity

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I’ve been meaning to write this up for some weeks, but life, doing its thing, has been getting in the way. As such, I’m going to keep this fairly to the point, partly because this is a gin I really want people to know about.

Spoiler: The bottle is now nearly empty, so that should give you a clue as to my feelings if you can’t be bothered to read any further! Trinity is the latest release from the fine gentleman at Pothecary Gin and was kindly sent my way by Martin.

Trinity is a Gin. Note the capital G because this encapsulates everything I love about gin in it’s purest form and is something of an antithesis to all the distilled unicorn sweat and rainbow blended crap that seems to be flooding the market at the moment. We had my parents round for a drink a little while ago and my Dad asked for a “Ginny gin”. I went straight for the Trinity and as far as I know, it went down a storm. Pothecary blends their organic gins, distilling each botanical separately and then blending them in precise amounts to achieve the flavour they want. Trinity is aptly named as it includes only 3 botanicals: Juniper, coriander and bergamot. That’s it, nothing else to complicate things, just a classic gin that achieves what it sets out to do, and achieves it in stunning fashion.

Trinity is bottled at 49%, so it has a bit more of a kick than their original or Thai blends, but you don’t get nearly as much alcohol on the nose as you might expect. Instead, you just get at least one juniper berry shoved forcibly up each nostril with that lovely piney freshness you’d expect. Tasted neat, of course, you get the juniper up front, but more of the coriander carries through than you might expect from the nose, and ends with those lingering citrus notes from the bergamot. At 49%, it’s got a lovely warmth to it, that may be too much for some, but for me hits quite a sweet spot between the usual 38-40% and a navy strength gin, which can sometimes leave your eyes watering a little when tried neat. With a splash of light tonic, as you’d expect it open up rater, and you get more of that fragrant, citrusy bergamot coming to the fore to balance out the juniper.

In a Dry Martini, it does it’s thing again, the juniper at the fore, but with more of those citrus notes than you’d probably expect. The same applies to a Negroni (which was bloomin’ delicious by the way), and the bergamot lifts the bitter orange of the Campari up a bit, making it just that bit fresher. A nice wedge of grapefruit in there finished it off or me… several times.

There are a lot of classic profile gins that have been coming out lately, and while lots of them are very nice, it takes something special to take that classic flavour profile and lift it to another level, especially with only 3 botanicals! I always judge a bottle on whether I would buy it again, and I intend to have a bottle of this on my shelf at all times. So far, one of my favourite gins of the year. You can find more information on their website, and if you’re lucky enough to be headed to Junipalooza, make sure to stop by and try it on Stand #20!

Tasting: Mackintosh Gin

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On the back of my decision to cancel my monthly subscription box, I had to pick a gin to spend that money on (I’d allocated it in my mind so there’s no way I was spending it on something else. It’s like Holiday money, once you’ve exchanged it, it’s not real money any more so you can spend it without guilt!). The choice I quickly settled on was Mackintosh Gin.

Mackintosh Gin is a proper family affair, produced by Jim and Deborah in the County of Angus in Scotland, and even involving their three daughters in brand and development. They started, as I’m sure many do, by getting into the burgeoning gin scene – and where better to do it than Scotland really? I’m more than a little jealous of the quality of the water up there…I say this as someone living in East Anglia which apparently has some of the hardest water in the country! Jim and Deborah’s “Gin Journey”, started the same way as I imagine it did with a lot of us, going to a gin festival and realising just how much there is out there and how many great people there are behind the products. Following that and a little “make your own compound gin at home” experimentation, the seed was planted of creating their own distilled gin. Mackintosh Gin was set up in February 2018, March saw the start of work with a nearby distillery on the recipe, and then 6 months later, they were ready to launch. Jim did say that looking back it was probably a bit of a crazy idea, but I’ve no doubt some of the best ideas start that way, and you can’t argue with the result…

Mackintosh is a pretty upfront London dry gin with a bit of a twist to lift it in a few areas and bottled at 42%. Many of the botanicals are as you’d expect: Juniper (duh), orange peel, lemon zest, angelica and coriander. The two noteworthy botanicals are fresh grapefruit rather than dried, and local Elderflower gathered from nearby.

On the nose, you get welcome, classic gin (no unicorn poop in sight): Juniper there in spades as you’d expect. Tasting neat, there’s the Juniper up front again, with a warmth from the alcohol but not in an unpleasant way. You get a slight hint of the citrus coming in afterwards, but the neat taste is certainly dominated by the juniper. Adding a splash of light tonic mutes the juniper a little, but brings the citrus forward a lot and you get a surprising amount of sweetness come through with the citrus notes. Once the main hit of the juniper and citrus have passed, you’re left with some slight peppery afternotes, but also a lingering hint of the floral elderflower. I’m not sure I’d know the elderflower was there if I didn’t know it was on the botanical list, as it melds well with the overall flavour rather than standing out on its own. Honestly not sure this needs any garnish, but adding a slice of fresh grapefruit just brings that citrus up another notch if that’s what you think might hit the spot at the time. A great London Dry gin, smooth, enjoyable, and going into a Negroni as soon as I restock on vermouth! I know, I’ve run out of vermouth and that makes me a terrible human being.

Fancy trying it for yourself? I’ve got a competition going on over on Twitter, until 31st March, to win one of your very own to enjoy. Click HERE to jump to the tweet.

If you’d like any more information or to buy the gin, you can find all you need over at: https://www.mackintoshgin.com/

On Subscription Boxes

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I hadn’t really planned to write a post on this, but I thought maybe I’d expand on what brought me to the decision beyond the odd twitter post the other week. Helpfully, this also leads me into the next Gin I intend to do a tasting on so, useful segue provided!

I’m not going to name any particular providers, this is more of a short general musing. I’ve been a member of a gin subscription club for the last few years now. It’s always nice to get the surprise arriving at the end of the month, looking forward to whatever goodies might be lurking in that cardboard box, full of potential. I think this is the feeling that a lot of these companies trade on, the excitement.

The last few months though, I found the boxes started to lose their shine a little bit. For me, I’m paying for a gin box, so one thing that always annoyed me a little bit was the constant inclusion of crisps, chocolate and snacks, though I appreciate a lot of people probably love these additions.

The thing that really started to lose appeal for me though, is probably one of the biggest selling points, and that’s the surprise of the gin itself. While there have been some stunning gins come through in the past, there have also been a lot that I found quite forgettable and I certainly wouldn’t consider buying again. While I might still enjoy a gin, whether I would actually go out and purchase it again is always the real benchmark. With anything like this, you’re relying on somebody else’s tastes, and not making an informed decision on what you might enjoy yourself. This was made particularly evident when one distillery, who made one of my favourite gins of the last year, mentioned that their gin had been rated by a subscription company tasting panel as not good enough. Mind blown a little bit on that one as the stuff is, in my mind, unquestionably delicious.

This all added up and nudged me towards thinking I’d be better off just spending the money on a gin of my choosing. There are so many new gins coming to the market these days, and many of them from small, super passionate distillers who are fulfilling a bit of a dream, that it makes me want to support them directly and be able to have a little dialogue with the people behind the product. It also means I can actively avoid anything with a distillation process that involves clouds, rainbows and unicorn poop.

It wasn’t until shortly after I’d decided to cancel my subscription, that a few people mentioned, on Twitter, something I was wholly unaware of. Now I want to make it clear that this isn’t true for all, but I learned that some subscription boxes pay the distilleries very little, if anything at all and their reward is the exposure it gives. While I appreciate it is a decent amount of exposure, it just hasn’t sat quite right with me ever since I found this out.

While I think in a lot of ways they’re a great way for people to get to know gins they may have not otherwise come across, the time felt right for me to move on. As I said at the beginning, a bit of musing really, but it lead me into buying my first bottle with a subscription-free bank account directly from a distiller, so, some tasting notes on Mackintosh Gin coming up next!

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