Thursday, July 16, 2020

Junipalooza Hamburg 2018

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Ugh, 2 1/2 months since the last post.  That’s Holidays, Illness and two new kittens taking over everything for you!  The kittens are pretty adorable though so they get forgiven.

So, September 2017 saw Junipalooza visit Hamburg for the first time at the beautiful Fischauktionshalle.  The Gin Foundry guys really know how to pick a location, and this one really echoed the feeling of the Tobacco Dock venue in London.  While normally Junipalooza runs over the whole weekend, the Hamburg offering ran Friday and Saturday because guess what happens in the Fischauktionshalle on a Sunday morning?  Surprising nobody, the Fish Market takes place.  I’ve been told on good authority that it’s well worth visiting from 5am on a Sunday for its rather unique blend of people out doing their food shopping for the weekend, and all night party people who have popped in for breakfast and to listen to the live bands.

Onto the gin, it was great to see some local German offerings that I wasn’t terribly familiar with, more than a couple of which made the trip home with me, mixed in with some old favourites.  I went out with hand luggage only, thinking I’d resist the lure of having to pay the £30 to put a bag full of bottles in the hold on the way back… should have known I’d break at some point (damn you Stig).  So, just a few little notes about some of the ones that caught my eye, or indeed came home with me.  Hope to follow up some of these with proper tastings in the near future.  I had intended to take a lot more photos than this, but the night before I left my camera battery decided to snuff it… so that put an end to that idea.  Ah well.

Bareksten – I’m going to start with this one as it blew me away.  Bareksten is a Norwegian gin, distilled at the Oss Craft Distillery by the fine Viking gentleman that Stig Bareksten (Thank you, Katie, for the intro!).  I was already a fan of the existing gin, and this just took it to another level.  Deep, earthy juniper on the nose with some citrus coming through, and then more spice and sweetness when you taste.  Just… yum, and as I mentioned, the one that broke my resolve not to pay to put a bag in the hold on the way back home!  Just to throw it in, I’ve also been in love with the branding of this stuff since day one, the whole black on black, gloss on matt of their materials an bottles just… well… pleases me greatly!

Huckleberry Gin – So, Huckleberry can mean Blueberry, among a few others – who knew?  Don’t answer that, the answer is probably a whole bunch of people and I’m just laying my ignorance out there for all to see.  I think these guys actually had one of my favourite brands of the event, simple but it made me smile.

Two guys from Munich put together Huckleberry Gin, as a tribute to friendship (aww).  Copper pot distilled with 22 botanicals including, of course, Blueberries.  Delicious, fruity and terribly easy to drink with the blueberries leading the charge alongside the juniper.  One I don’t think will be hanging around on my shelf for too long.

Gin Sul – A local Hamburg gin, which seems to have been going from strength to strength (especially if the number of bottles I saw people picking up at the airport are anything to go by!)  Created by Stephan Garbe, a carpenter by trade, after travelling Portugal.  Each bottle proclaims “Saudade distilled in Hamburg”, Saudade apparently meaning a feeling of melancholy, longing or nostalgia – kinda what you get after coming back from a great holiday.  The gin features some of the usual botanicals but also rose, allspice and labdanum.  Floral but without overriding the juniper heart, makes an amazing G&T with some orange and rosemary.

GinT Rubro – I’ve been eyeing this up for a while, but was a little put off by the price without actually having had a chance to taste it, as I would any higher priced overproof gin.  Well, I tasted it and then bought a bottle before leaving which should give you an idea of what the outcome of the tasting was.  GinT is a rather distinctive looking London Dry, Navy Strength Portuguese gin that wouldn’t be out of place in a chemistry class (appeals to my inner nerd).  When we first tasted it, the guys on the stand asked what we could smell and taste.  Both myself and the friend I was with recognised something, but it wasn’t until they mentioned the fig bark that the penny dropped.  The friend that put me up for the weekend is Australian and he immediately clicked it was a fig tree in the garden back home that it reminded him of.  Delicious, punchy, slightly fruity dry gin, well worth the price of admission.

Martin Miller’s 9 Moons – I’ve said on a couple of occasions that I think the big lesson I took back from Hamburg was that I can no longer say, “I don’t normally like cask aged gins”.  There were several that really converted me to the cause, but there were two that stood out, this being one of them.  9 Moons is barrel aged for 9 months (obviously) in bourbon casks in Iceland.  Was really interesting to see what a different the Icelandic climate makes to the ageing process and how much trial and error it took to get this right.  The result is delicious, the usual clean, crisp citrus and cucumber notes of the standard gin is muted somewhat, and the ageing process leaves you with this incredible hit of warm vanilla, followed up by a spicy, cinnamon and pepper finish.  Officially a convert.

Marylebone Cask Aged – Well, after saying how the weekend converted me, I couldn’t mention one cask-aged gin without bringing up the other as well.  I gather I was fairly lucky to snag a bottle of this at the end of the event as it seems the very nice gentleman Johnny Neill only had a couple of bottles brought along for samples… kinda feeling I should have run around everyone at the end of the evening to see what else special was around!  So, if you haven’t tried it, Marylebone London Dry is distilled in London by the Pleasure Garden Distilling co and is a great classic example of a London Dry.  The Cask-Aged variant takes their dry and ages it in Rum barrels.  I think what’s often put me off is that when a gin is aged in whiskey barrels you get a lot of that heavy peaty flavour which I’m really not a fan of.  This, aged in the rum barrels, however, lends it that delicious, fruity, slightly spicy rum edge without overpowering the juniper or all the other notes of the dry gin.  Need to spend some time with this one methinks to pick up all the nuances.

Incredible event overall.  Much more of a chilled feeling than the London event, and a bit more intimate.  Really hope it goes from strength to strength and comes back next year with more distillers and more locals in Hamburg discovering the joy of the day!

My god, I hate having my photo taken.  I look like the joker!

Tasting: Raven Gin – Thought & Memory

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I do love a bit of Norse mythology, always considering them to be one of the most interesting pantheons, so Raven Gin tickled that interest before I’d even started. In Norse myth, Huginn and Muninn are a pair of ravens that fly all over Midgard, scouting for Odin, the All-Father. Roughly translated from Old Norse, Huginn means “thought” and Muninn means “memory”, and some say they served as such for Odin, being projections of his power, or his…spirit (hah!).

Raven Spirits is a new company, founded by two brothers in Royal Deeside, Aberdeen. For their first release, they’ve done two gins, a limited founders edition, and their signature gin, “Thought & Memory”, named after Huginn and Muninn. To Quote, “Raven Gin takes inspiration from Huginn and Munnin. A premium gin, it brings together a thoughtful mix of soft spice and delicate mandarin to reveal a long, warm and memorable finish.

First up, the bottle. A fairly standard glass bottle, but for me, it’s the label that really stands out. The two ravens stand either side of the label, around a bronze embossed centre, over a rather Celtic style background. It probably comes back to the love of the Norse Myth, but I really like the focus on the birds and what comes together as a fairly simple, but well composed and quite striking design.

Onto the contents. Thought & Memory is a “Premium Dry” gin and has the slightly unusual botanical of Mandarin to provide some of the citrus. I don’t think I’d have been quite able to identify exactly what it was, beyond something orangey, but once you know it’s there, you can really smell it. The Juniper on the nose sits back a little bit and lets the mandarin come to the fore with some spice underpinning it.

Tasting neat, it flips around a bit from the nose and you get more of the juniper at the fore with the mandarin following in after, and then as you’d expect, the cassia and other spices rolling in for the finish. Interestingly, the addition of a splash of light tonic didn’t make a huge difference for me on this one, a great G&T, but the same flavours came through in a similar fashion, maybe with a bit more emphasis on the citrus. A nice little slice of lemon peel added in just pushes the citrus even further forward. What I did find though was that after the spice had passed, I was left with just a lingering impression of that mandarin making for a pleasant and quite fresh finish. Bonus marks for the fact I gave my other half a taste while I was writing this and the only response I got was, “Yes please”, which is apparently my cue to go downstairs and get another glass and some more ice.

Good stuff. The addition of the mandarin is something different and gives it a twist without taking it too far from the spirit of a London Dry style gin. Looking forward to seeing what else the guys come out with and whether it continues to appease my little nerdy joy over Norse myth. I tried to translate the runes on the little bottleneck tag at the top of the page, but they confirmed it’s a fairly incomprehensible alphabet called Elder Futhark and… well… it’s just decorative in this instance. At least I don’t feel bad that I couldn’t translate it! If you’re interested, you can pick it up directly from their Web Site.

As a quick extra note, Thought and Memory also just picked up a gold award at The Gin Masters 2018 – not bad for your first month or so out there!

Junipalooza London 2018

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Sadly, Junipalooza London, one of the finest events in the calendar for anyone who has a bit of a gin thing, is finished for another year.  Junipalooza is the only event at which you’ll find so many distillers and gin fans all under one roof.  Organised by the fine people at Gin Foundry, the event this year was bigger than ever with over 65 distillers getting together for the weekend of the 9th of June to coincide with World Gin Day.  The concept is simple, it’s a chance to meet the people being producing some of your favourite tipples and actually get to have a chat with them about how it’s made, their inspiration, their passion, and of course to sample their wares.  In short?  It’s awesome.

I wish I’d had a chance to visit every distiller but unfortunately, that just isn’t possible, even over two days, but I got through a lot of the people I wanted to see and there were some highlights.

This year, there were four “Experiential” zones set up by various distillers, one of which was the first ever live distilling at an event by Warner Edwards.

Apologies in advance to Tom for that photo, but it made me chuckle.  Distilling took place live throughout the day, with a great talk from some of the people behind the gin about their production method and ethos, not to mention a chance to stick your finger in the gin coming straight off the still.  The session ended with everyone wax dipping their own bottle of the one-off gin to take home.

Locksley Distilling’s Sir Robin has long been one of my favourite gins, so the fact they were in attendance with some brand new offerings made them pretty much my first port of call.  One of the new offerings was Morocello, a Sicilian Moro Blood Orange liqueur which was delicious, smooth, citrusy, not overly sweet and very easy to drink.  The one that really grabbed me though (and I left with a bottle of) was the VSOT, or Very Special Old Tom.  Apparently something of a 1 in the morning decision, it runs along the lines of “Let’s do a navy, and make it an old tom, and why not barrel-age it too?”  Genius.  They’re doing two different editions of this, a standard one which is a Navy Strength Old Tom, and then varying limited editions throughout the year experimenting with different barrels – this one is finished in a Sauternes barrel.  It’s smooth as anything despite the ABV and while barrel-aged gins sometimes don’t do it for me, this one really hit the spot.

Old Bakery – Great gin with an equally great story.  Ian, who runs a plumbing business, bought an old Victorian bakery as an office, and after a bit of a legal dispute during some building work, needed to look back at the history of the building.  As a result of the investigation, he discovered that the bakery used to sell illicit gin and did what any sensible person would do… tracked down the descendants of the original bakers and found out what botanicals they used to make their gin.  How can you not love that?  The gin itself is delicious, a nice dry, piney juniper flavour, a lovely sweet lemon to join it and a nice note of spice to finish it off.  The second I was told there were only 2 bottles of the navy strength left, I made my purchase on the spot!  No regrets.

Probably my favourite addition to the event this year was the Newcomer’s Zone, where freshly launched, or even yet to be released gins can get some air time.

Woodlab Distillery – Symphonia gin is distilled in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland by, a very clever man, Ric Dyer.  Ric worked in the Pharmaceutical industry for thirty years, but in 2016 decided he’d put his PhD in Organic Chemistry to equally good use, and apply a scientific method to making gin.  Each botanical is distilled individually, under the best conditions to make the most of its flavour.  The distillates are then combined to form the final gins.  Symphonia has 3 gins, a Dry, Apple and Summer Fruit Cup, all distilled from an apple base spirit.  While their dry gin was excellent, with just a hint of that apple flavour from the base spirit, the one that really stood out was the Symphonia No. 2 – Apple Gin.  This Gin has Bramley Apples added to the recipe which gives it a lovely golden colour and introduces a real apple kick without destroying the underlying flavour of the gin or indeed making it too sweet.

Brindle DistilleryCuckoo Gin was another newcomer that probably made the most impact on us out of all of them and it had the honour of being the one that 3 of us all walked away with a bottle of.  Distilled from their own barley, it’s made on Holmes Farm in Lancashire by the Singleton family.  All the ingredients are either grown on the farm or sourced locally, including the water which is gathered from a nearby aquifer.  The one that hit the spot for me was the Spiced Gin.  Distilled with clove, ginger, cinnamon, fennel and lemongrass, it does everything for me that a spiced gin should and warms all the right parts – can’t wait to try it in a Negroni.

ProceraSometimes you remember the gin, sometimes you remember the people, and then sometimes you remember the cheese… and the gin and the people.  Procera was a really interesting one, coming out of Africa and the first gin to be distilled from African Juniper – Juniperus Procera.  These guys are really early on in their journey so you won’t find too much out there at the moment, but they’re definitely one to watch.  They also have the honour of not only being the first distillery to put salt in my gin… and actually make it work!  Worth watching the video of their unique bottles being hand blown.  The only thing holding me back was the price, which while possibly justified by a truly handmade bottle and artisan spirit, I think needs to drop below the £50 mark to really get out there.  Sincerely hope they manage it, and not just because they plied us with that amazing blue cheese.

See, this is the problem with Junipalooza.  I’ve probably typed too much already and I’ve barely even scratched the surface of some of the amazing distillers in attendance, including many who had incredible products: Hidden Curiosities, Doghouse Distillery, Six Dogs, Bertha’s Revenge, 6 O’clock… and the rest.  If you have even a passing interest in gin, it’s a great event with a really warm friendly vibe, full of people who enjoy the drink and really want to know more about those behind it.  Can’t wait until next year?  Junipalooza Hamburg is happening in September and Junipalooza Melbourne in October.  If anyone is heading over to Hamburg for the Saturday evening session, feel free to throw something at the back of my head while i’m deep in conversation or staring dreamily at a row of bottles.  At least I didn’t leave empty handed!

Tasting: Elephant Strength Navy Gin

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I love Elephant Gin, I’m going to make no secret of that… not that I could make a secret of it considering how many people I tell to get the stuff.  I also love a Navy Strength gin as I enjoy the bigger kick you tend to get out of the botanicals and the depth of flavours.  Finally, I love Elephants… so that’s pretty much the trifecta.

Elephant Gin, despite the name, is distilled in Germany, about an hour outside the wonderful city of Hamburg.  While it’s distilled in Germany, the heart of the gin and its origins are found, more appropriately, in South Africa where some of their botanicals originate from.  14 botanicals are used to distil the gin, including the more unusual South African ones of Buchu, Baobab, Lion’s Tail and Devil’s Claw.  The other South African link that the gin has is, of course, the elephants themselves.  Elephant is one of a number of gins with a charity element to their business and 15% of the profits from their sales are donated directly to charities that work at elephant conservation.  If you’re interested in their wonderful conservation work, you can find more information about it HERE.

Now, as much as I may love elephants, 15% of your profit isn’t much use if the gin is no good and nobody buys it.  Thankfully, that’s not the case here, and I’ve chosen to take a look at the Elephant Strength (Navy Strength) variant as fewer people seem to have tried it than the London dry.  Nothing to do with the fact I love a navy strength gin and it’s always nice to have an excuse for another!  The Elephant Strength uses the same recipe as the London Dry but with a few tweaks.  Firstly the ABV is, of course, cranked up to 57% and they’ve used twice the quantity of botanicals with a focus on the buchu, orange peel and pine.

I think identifying some of the flavours in Elephant is a bit tricky since I have no frame of reference for Buchu or Baobab etc, but we’re going to give it a shot anyway.  One really nice touch before moving onto the contents is that each bottle bears the name of an Elephant.  To quote the distillery, “The Elephant Strength labels carry the names of the so-called Magnificent Seven: the strongest and most impressive elephants known to Kruger National Park, South Africa, these precious bull elephants all bore tusks weighing more than 50kg each.”  In the case of my bottle, that’s “Ndlulamithi”, which apparently is a traditional Tsonga word meaning “taller than the trees”.

The gin itself is slightly oilier and more viscous than the London Dry, you can see it’s movement and it clings to the glass slightly more than usual which is always a pleasant sign for me.  On the nose, you get that initial hit of alcohol that you’d expect at this ABV, but it’s not as overpowering as some.  Once the alcohol has passed you get the piney juniper up front, but it’s, for me, strongly joined by a lovely citrus note which I assume is part in thanks to the baobab.  Tasting, it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the mouthfeel, it is indeed as oily and viscous as it looked from the glass.  As you’d expect, it packs a punch, but not in an unpleasant manner as some navy strength gins have a tendency to do.  The juniper comes up first and is soon followed by that citrus edge hinted at by the smell, before leading you into something a bit more herbal and fruity.  Finally, once you think it’s done, it suddenly finishes with a really warm, spicy peppery note that lingers.  Adding a splash of tonic really brings the herbal flavours out to the fore to join the juniper, but does seem to mute the spicy peppercorns somewhat.  This leaves you with a less intense taste at the end, still with that spice, but softened by more herbal notes.

Having tried it with a few different tonics, for me it’s a light tonic that really works with it.  I light my gins more on the dry side, and Elephant Strength is actually surprisingly sweet for a navy gin.  The light tonic takes the edge off the sweetness to balance it perfectly for me, whereas an Indian tonic wound up with a drink just a little too sweet.  Overall though, I’m a big fan of both the London Dry and the Elephant Strength.  As a lot of good Navy gins do, this one still maintains the spirit of the original, but just cranks some of the flavours up and delivers a complex but enjoyable, and worryingly easy to finish, drink.

I shall leave you with a picture of the rather cool little map that sits on the back of the rear label.  Very “Here be dragons!” adding to the navy theme!

Tasting: Betty’s Gin

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Grass Bottle Shot - Betty's Gin

It’s time I dipped my toe into writing up a tasting.  Decided I’m going to call these tastings rather than review since they’re just my thoughts on a gin and I don’t feel quite experienced enough to call it an actual review yet!  Since it’s the first, I thought it only right that I start with something local, and relatively new to the market, and so here we are with Betty’s Gin.

Betty’s Gin was launched back in February by Martyn and Karen, a husband and wife team, from their newly opened Heart of Suffolk Distillery in Bacton, Suffolk, and named for Karen’s mother.  Sadly, I didn’t make it down for the opening since I already had tickets to the London Gin Festival (timing), but popped in the week after and heard the queues had lasted all day!  Well worth popping in to see them for a chat if you’re interested in how the gin came to be.

Neat in the glass, the first thing to hit my nose was the anise, which came through quite strongly along with the Juniper.  Given a little time to sit, the anise mellows out a bit and lets more of the citrus through from the orange.  Tasting, in contrast to the nose, the orange seems to come through most strongly, while still not overpowering anything, leading into the anise again and leaving a nice oily mouthfeel which I assume is attributed to the almonds.

Interestingly, adding a splash of tonic seems to switch the initial nose and taste.  The citrus comes through more strongly when you smell it, but upon tasting the tonic really brings the anise flavour to to the fore, which then mellows off into the orange.  I’m generally a big fan of all things anise, so this really works for me, again,  without overpowering all the other flavours.  A little extra orange works really well if you want to bring the citrus out more, and they also recommend some pink peppercorns to add a touch more spice if you want a different serve.

Delicious first gin from Heart of Suffolk, can’t wait to see what they might come up with later this year in terms of some limited edition gins they’ve been talking about.  If you happen to be near Bacton in Suffolk, the distillery is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday (you can find the details HERE), and also buy directly from them if you want.

Everything else about them you can find at https://heartofsuffolkdistillery.co.uk/

Ginteresting Times

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I’d always planned to start up the blog once I finished putting together my little home Gin bar, especially as I decided to brand both with the name Ginteresting Times.  After a few months of playing about, starting painting, getting a decorator in, drilling holes in lots of shelves for lights and various other things, the bar is finally finished!  It’s been a bit of a pet project, so I thought it might be apt just to make my first post on the site with some pictures of the finished article.  

I had a couple of custom bar runners done as above because I’m a sucker for sticking a logo on something.  Found a seller on Amazon called L&S Print Foam Designs who took the custom logo and printed up the bar runner – £12.50 delivered which I still think is a steal.

The cupboards are Billy Bookshelves from Ikea.  Their standard dark blue ones, which they seem to have now swapped out for dark red on their web site.  Fingers crossed I won’t be needing an extra one, or a replacement.

The units weren’t originally lit so I bought some LED lighting strips from Amazon and cut a length to run along each shelf.  After that I drilled a hole for each and run the wire out of the back to a series of little LED strip junction boxes.  May eventually hook them up to the home automation with one of these.

The Bar is from Homebar Mancave and came with the lights etc all built in.

Below is Version 3 of the Botanical Tasting Wheel from the fine gents at Gin Foundry.  The Wheel “Was designed with the identification and articulation of flavours in mind”.  You can follow it from the inside out, starting with, for instance, Citrusy, which will then lead you out to Sour or Zesty and finally you realise you’re tasting Yuzu.. perhaps.  Very cleverly, the wheel also goes in the order that the flavours tend to hit your tongue.  Really interesting to look over when you’re tasting something and are a bit stuck for what it is you’re picking up – well worth a look at.

Overall, pet project complete and I’m really happy with the outcome – bit of a proud dad moment.  Now just to try and decide how many people are going to invite themselves over… I’m thinking perhaps I need to institute a “Bring a bottle” policy?  At any rate, no excuses for not posting on here now, time to start some writing.

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