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:-
- Aloe Vera
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?
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”.
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.
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.
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.