Scottish Gin Tasting

In recent years there has been an increase in gin distilling in Scotland and, what with the patriotic nature of some of the brands, we decided to look a little closer at the Caledonian Gin.*

I was particularly interested as to whether or not there were any shared characteristics amongst the group that might not be so common in non-Scottish gins; this will be addressed at the end.The tasting was conducted at Graphic Bar in Golden Sq., Soho; a fine example of a Modern Gin Palace with a range of over 130 gins. The panel was made up of willing volunteers from The Juniper Society, which is hosted by Graphic two times a month.
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L-R: Boe, Hendricks (USA), Old Raj Blue, Edinburgh Gin, Cadenhead Classic, The Botanist, Darnley’s View, Old Raj Red, Hendricks(UK), Caorunn

The gins were tasted blind and we tried them on their own and with tonic water, with no garnish. The gins are listed in the order tasted and alcoholic strength is denoted by %ABV.

#1 Old Raj Red (46%)
This made by Cadenhead and was created in 1972. It contains 8 botanicals and then has saffron added to it. Rather than being clear, it is a light golden colour; having said that, only one member of the panel noticed this.

Nose: Juniper, citrus, slightly floral.
Taste: Strong flavours: lime, juniper, citrus and coriander. Not massively complex, but lots of flavour.
With tonic: The panel found this rather pleasant, and spicier with tonic. Fresh and refreshing, it was thought that it wouldn’t really need a garnish.

For more information on Old Raj click here.

Old Raj Red is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £23 for 70cl.

#2 Edinburgh Gin (46%)

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Nose: Juniper, floral, herbacious.
Taste: Almost all of the panel found strong flavours of nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as some creaminess and a Plymouth-like sweetness.
With Tonic: Mixed views here: some of the panel found it clean, crisp and liked its spiciness, but others found it to be a bit flat.

Edinburgh Gin is available from The Drink Shop for around £25 for 70cl..

#3 Cadenhead’s Classic (50%)
Made by the same folks as Old Raj Red and Blue.

Nose: Subdued, fruity, juniper.
Taste: A more intense taste than nose, with heavy juniper, some pepper, citrus and a hint of bitterness, rather like a classic London Dry Gin style. One of the panel described it as “rather lovely”.
With tonic: Dry and bitter, with a little sherbet sweetness. Generally the panel thought that this was a robust, no nonsense Gin & Tonic.

Cadenhead’s Classic Gin is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £25 for 70cl.

#4 Hendrick’s UK (41.4%)
Made by William Grants and containing 13 botanicals. The gin is made using a combination of distillation from both pot and Carterhead stills and is finished off with the addition of cucumber and rose essences.

Nose: Fresh, leafy, floral, cucumber rind.
Taste: Fresh, smooth and silky. Floral, in particular rose and lavender. A general, green leafy flavour; maybe cucumber? One panelist described it as “pretty”.
With tonic: Refreshing, crisp and fresh. Delicious; this was very popular with the panel.

For our full review Hendrick’s click here.

Hendrick’s UK is available from Tesco and Waitrose for around £22 for 70cl.

The Panel

#5 Caoruun (41.8 %)
Caoruun contains five Scottish Celtic botanicals; dandelion, bog myrtle, heather, coul blush apple and rowan berry.
Nose: Juniper, citrus and a little aggressive
Taste: Quite light, a musky juniper and citrus as well as some earthy notes, very clean, quite nice.
With Tonic: A soft flavour, juniper, citrus and quite smooth.
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Caorunn is available from Master of Malt for around £25 for 70cl.
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#6 Hendrick’s (44%)
This is the US version of #4, which is bottled 2.6%ABV higher than the UK version; it makes a surprising difference to the taste.
Nose: Minimal citrus, some juniper, strong floral.
Taste: Very floral, with hints of lavender, violet, rose, plus juniper and some green leaves.
With Tonic: Very tasty; well-balanced, flavourful and fresh. A real hit with the panel, although one member would prefer to drink it on its own than with tonic.

For our full review Hendrick’s click here.

#7 The Botanist (46%)
This made by Brudladdich, a Scottish whisky distillery in Islay. It contains a staggering 31 botanicals, a list of which can be found here.

Nose: Quite soft; juniper, spice, a slight soapy, floral quality.
Taste: Juniper and coriander and quite a heavy perfume quality, with different flowers and herbal notes. Quite smooth and a long finish.
With Tonic: Rather pleasant, with a good finish; balanced. This was particularly liked by one member of the panel.

For our full review of The Botanist click here.

The Botanist is available from Master of Malt for around £25 for 70cl.

#8 Boe (47%)
Boe Gin is

Nose: Floral, herbs, pine, vanilla.
Taste: Quite a complex taste; herbs, lavender, spice, cinnamon, angelica and, towards the end, a vanilla-oak note. Quite strong, alcohol-wise, but this comes through as warmth rather than burn.
With Tonic: An excellent fresh and moreish gin and tonic, this was a favourite of a few of the panel members.

Boe Gin is available from Master of Malt for around £28 for 70cl.

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#9 Old Raj Blue (55%)
The high-strength version of Old Raj Red.
Nose: A very strong nose; almost perfume-like, with juniper and flowers.
Taste: The perception of alcoholic strength continues in the flavour, as does the juniper and refined floral notes.
With Tonic: The panel thought that this Gin & Tonic had a real kick to it and that it tasted very strong; that said, most of them really enjoyed it and their drinks were quickly finished off.
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For our full review of Old Raj click here.
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Old Raj Blue is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £26 for 70cl.
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#10 Darnley’s View (40%)
Named after the husband of Mary Queen of Scots and containing six botanicals including locally sourced Elderflower this is the newest Scottish Gin on the market.
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Nose: Juniper, floral a slight mineral quality.
Taste: Very soft with a water-like smoothness and a slight warmth at the end. Juniper and rather floral with hints of rose and violets, long finish.
With Tonic: Soft, flavourful and refreshing. Rather pleasant although less intense then some of the others.

For our full review of Darnley’s View click here.

Darnley’s View is available from Royal Mile Whiskies for around £25 for 70cl.

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#11 Blackwoods Vintage 2008 (40%)
A scottish Gin using a variety of botanicals include those that grow wild in the Shetland Isles. Blackwoods also make 60% version of their gin.
Nose: Strong and complex with juniper, citrus and earthy herbal notes.
Taste: Very smooth and soft, citrus juniper and herbs as well a s touch of floral. Juicy and excellent.
With Tonic: Very refreshing and juicy as well as being full of flavour.
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Blackwoods is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £19 for 70cl.
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The Results

Each member of the panel ranked their top three gins and these choices were recorded. We then allocated points as follows: three points for a first choice, two for second, and one for third.
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The results were:
#1 Hendrick’s USA
#2 Old Raj Blue
#3 Hendrick’s UK
#4 Old Raj Red
#5 Cadenhead Classic
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Scottish Gin Characteristics

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After the tasting and some thought, I remain unconvinced as to whether there is a particular set of flavour characteristics common to Scottish Gins; some seemed to be more floral and less juniper-led then a  London Dry Gin, but then others seemed rather classic in style. The control gin (meant to stand out as a classic style) was lost amongst the rest of them.
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There was definitely a trend for the bottles to emphasise their Scottish heritage and quite a few use locally sourced or indigenous botanicals – heather and bog myrtle being quite popular – but this is no different to the sourcing techniques of other gins such as Moore’s (Australia) and Death’s Door (Wisconsin, USA).
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Many thanks to the panel, Graphic Bar and the Gin Producers of Scotland for making this article possible.

*I’ve not included Tanqueray and Gordon’s as they used to be made in London and the move to Scotland was one of economics. In addition, today there is, otherwise, nothing particularly Scottish about them.

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Gin’s Review Index

Gin reviews are a big part of SummerFuritCup.

Here is a list of the Gin’s we have reviewed so far, just click on the name to go to the page.

#

3 Corners Gin

6 O’Clock Gin (London)

A

Adler Berlin Gin (Germany)

B

Bathtub Gin (England)

Bedrock Gin (England)

Beefeater London Market (London)

Beefeater Winter (London)

Berkeley Square (England)

Blackwoods (Scotland)

Bloom (England)

Boe (Scotland)

Bombay Sapphire EAST (England)

Boord’s (USA)

Botanist Gin (Scotland)

Both’s Old Tom Gin

C

Cadenhead Classic (Scotland)

Caoruun (Scotland)

Cittadele Reserve (2008) (France)

Cork Dry Gin(Ireland)

D

Darnley’s View 

Death’s Door (USA) – Wisconsin

Dorchester Old Tom Gin

Dry Fly (USA) – Washington State

E

Edgerton Pink (London)

Edinburgh Gin (Scotland)

F

Foxdenton Gin (London)

Flora St. Gin (England)

G

Gin Mare (Spain)

Ginebra San Miguel (Philippines)

H

Hammer Gin (Norway)

Hayman’s London Dry Gin (England)

Hayman’s 1850 Reserve Gin (England)

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin

Hereford Gin (England)

Hoxton (France)

I

Iceberg Gin (Canada)

Ish (London)

J

Joséphine Gin (France)

Jensen’s Old Tom Gin

K

Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin (London)

L

Larry’s Gin Pink (Finland)

Larry’s Gin Yellow Vintage (Finland)

Lebensstern Pink Gin (Germany)

Limbrey’s Gin (London)

M

Mayfair Gin (London)

Moore’s Gin (Australia)

N

Nolet’s Silver Gin

O

Old Raj Red (Scotland)

Old Raj Blue (Scotland)

OLD TOM GINS

Oliver Twist Gin (London)

P

Perivale Gin (London)

Plymstock Gin (England)

Portobello Star Gin (London)

Q

Quintessential (England)

R

Ransom “Old Tom” Gin

Rudolf Jelinek Czech Dry Gin (Czech Rep.)

S

Savier Artisan Gin

Savier Juniper Gin

Sacred Christmas Pudding Gin (London)

Seagram’s Extra Dry [Ancient Gin] (USA) –  Indiana

Seagram’s Distillers Reserve (USA) –  Indiana

Secret Treasure’s Old Tom Gin

Sipsmith Gin (London)

Sloane’s Dry Gin (Netherlands)

Studer Gin (Switzerland)

T

Tanqueray Malacca

Tanqueray Rangpur

U

Uganda Waragi (Uganda)

V

Veresk Gin (Russia)

Vikings Gin (Latvia)

W

Wray & Nephew Old Tom Gin (Jamaica)

X

Xoriguer Mahon Gin


Y

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Z

Zuidam Dry

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Map updated to include South Sudan - Click To enlarge

For more of our Gin Reviews please click here

Cocktails with… Death’s Door Gin – from Wisconsin, USA!

Some years back, I spent a little time in Madison, Wisconsin and I have a very good friend that lives there, so I have rather a soft spot for the Badger state. So, when I found out about Death’s Door, a Gin from Madison, Wisconsin, my interest was piqued.

Death’s Door takes its name from the translation of “Porte des Morte”, the name of a strait that links Lake Michigan with Green Bay (the very same Green Bay that is the home of the 2011 Superbowl champs, the Green Bay Packers) that is notorious for shipwrecks. It is also the body of water between the Door County Peninsula and Washington Island, and the latter is where Death’s Door get the wheat for their base spirit from.*

Death’s Door also make a very tasty vodka and a White Whisky.

Death’s Door contains only 3 botanicals:

  • Juniper Berries (wild from Washington Island)
  • Coriander (from Wisconsin)
  • Fennel (from Wisconsin)

#1 Neat: There’s a touch of juniper and coriander on the nose initially, followed by some pine & fennel, somewhat reminiscent of a forest.When drinking it, I found that the gin is quite warm with juniper up-front, and fennel and anise on the finish, which gradually gets sweeter.

This reminds me of the pizzeria in my home town and, thus, I was inspired to accompany sipping this with some fresh green olives; I can confirm that they were rather tasty partners.

#2 Gin & Tonic: Quite sweet with an interesting, but good, combination of the juniper/quinine bitterness and the fennel. Citrus is present but more subtle then in most Gin & Tonics. This drink is best with lots of ice and it is exceptionally refreshing; it doesn’t even need a garnish.

#3: Martini: A surprisingly crisp Martini, with juniper and fennel flavours early on. If you imagine a classic Dry Martini and then add a layer of fennel/anise flavours on top of that, you have a Death’s Door Martini. I like it but some may find the fennel too dominant.

#4: Gimlet: A different take on the Gimlet with this drink. It is cool and refreshing but the fennel does dominate a touch too much for my liking; some adjustment of the proportions may improve this cocktail.

#5 Aviation: OK but lacking in flavour. There are some herbal and citrus notes but the drink still needs more character. It’s possible that using Creme Yvette rather than Creme de Violette would improve things.

#6 John Collins: Tastes like a Collins that has been made with anise syrup rather than simple syrup. Easy to drink with a nice bite of citrus. Is it a typical Collins? No. Is it tasty? Yes!

#7 Gin Bump: The flavours clash rather badly, any subtleties are lost and it is also too sweet. Certainly not the best way to enjoy the gin.

#8 Bramble: A classic example and very refreshing. All the flavours are well-balanced and no one element of the drink overpowers the others. Very good indeed.

#9 Negroni: I’m not usually a fan of Campari but Death’s Door Gin seems to hold it’s own against the bitter aperitif. This drink is fresh, cutting and extra bitter. If like Negronis, try this.

#10 Gin sour: This is sadly not a great way to enjoy this gin; there is no harmony between the ingredients and the lime dominates.

#11 Milano: The herbal notes of the gin and the Galliano are perfect partners and the lemon juice stops the mixture from being too sweet. This is delightful with some subtle anise on the finish.

#12 Gin Old-Fashioned: The sugar, water and bitters really mellow out the fennel notes of the gin. This drink is smooth with a balanced flavour and a lovely bitter-sweet streak at the end. Immensely sippable.

In Conclusion
Even though Death’s Door Gin only has three botanicals it is certainly flavourful. The fennel does make itself felt in many of the drinks we mixed and is certainly a distinguishing characteristic of the gin. However I think rather than try and hide this quality oif the gin, it is better to embrace it as your would the anise notes of other products such as absinthe. A gin Sazerac or TNT cocktail would, I think, work well. Of the selection we tried The Old Fashioned and the Gin & Tonic were easily my favourite.

*Death’s Door Gin uses a 60:40 mix of organic Washington Island wheat and organic malted barley from Chilton, WI.

For more Gin Reviews please visit Cocktails with…

Hendrick’s Garnish Taste Test

Anyone who has ever bought a bottle of Hendrick’s will know that Hendrick’s and cucumber go hand-in-hand. When I first tried it six years ago, I have to admit to being a tad surprised at being served a glass of gin & tonic with a slice of cucumber in it; surprised, but ultimately delighted, as it was delicious.

Since then, I have come across other gins that suggest garnishing drinks with one of their botanicals, two examples being:
- Pink Grapefruit with Tanqueray No. 10; and
- Cape Gooseberries with Whitley Neill.

I’ve been asked why companies don’t just add more of that botanical’s flavour to the spirit to negate the need for additional garnish. It’s a good question and I’m not sure of an answer.
However, aesthetically, a slice of cucumber or a handful of strawberries makes the drink more appealing, not to mention the fact that you get a little snack you get once you’ve finished the drink.

Hendrink’s is pretty versatile when it comes to garnishes: I have had it served with cucumber, lemon, lime, strawberries, and even rose petals! After I received a bottle of the 44% (Export) Hendrick’s from relatives returning from abroad, I thought I would evaluate each of these garnishes alongside one another in a blind Hendrick’s & Tonic Garnish Taste Test.

Our garnishes were as follows: lemon, lime, cucumber, rose petals, strawberries,  and plain (no garnish, as a control). We tried all six with both the 41.4% and the 44% strengths of Hendrick’s. The gin & tonics were mixed in a 1pt Gin : 2pts Tonic ratio and served in covered coffee cups (thanks to my local Café Nero for supplying those), as we thought this was the best way to avoid identifying the garnish by sight.

Prepared garnishes, clockwise from top left, Plain, Lemon, Lime, Cucumber, strawberries, Rose Petals.

Hendricks 41.4% ABV – (UK Domestic)

No Garnish: The tonic comes through a lot more in this one; there is an initial bitter tang followed by floral perfume notes.

Cucumber: Strong cucumber with a fresh, slightly watery element; it tastes more of the skin than the flesh, but is very fine nonetheless.

Lemon: Exceptionally well-balanced, with subtle citrus and hints of vanilla. Very popular.

Lime: Fresh, citrus and a hint of cucumber, although this was possibly a touch on the bitter side and too sharp.

Strawberries: Hints of cucumber and sweet notes of strawberry. This adds a new flavour to the drink that complements the already summery profile of Hendrick’s. Bright and flavourful. Simply delicious.

Rose Petals: Soft and light, sweet and a touch syrupy, but well-balanced overall.

Hendricks 44% ABV – (USA)

No Garnish: Slightly savoury, with a subtle pepperiness. Well-balanced and complex.

Cucumber: Very strong flavours of cucumber, which dominate the drink. Quite fresh and rather pleasant.

Lemon: A strong bang of citrus, which pleasantly complements the gin, and a fresh sweetness akin to cool lemonade.

Lime: The most bitter and dry of the gin & tonics that we tired. Slightly fruity, but not very sweet.

Strawberries: Very good indeed; sweet and juicy, a touch of strawberry jam.

Rose Petals: Fresh, floral flavours, that aren’t overpowering; sadly lacking in flavour.

In conclusion, we both really liked the strawberries as a garnish as it made the drink rather summery, I was quite fan of the cucumber but Mrs. B found it a little over-powering. In contrast she like the delicacy of the rose petal garnish whereas I thought it too weak. A lemon garnish with the 41.4 also scored well.

The real conclusion we can draw is that we both preferred the 41.4% in a gin & tonic and that my wife and I don’t always agree!

For our coverage of our Tasting of 11 Scottish Gins, click here.

Cocktails with… Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin


Not content with the success of their Irish Poteen and Heather Gin the folks at Knockeen Hills decided to release another product, an elderflower gin that uses elderflower as one of the botanicals, this is not a very common botanical to use and is a tricky ingredient to get right.
Bottled at 47.3%ABV Knockeen Hills uses a base Irish Spirit that is distilled five times and the botanicals it uses are steeped for 24 hours. It is described as “London Cut” which means in addition to being a London Dry Gin it is, distilled and cut in London.

Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin is distilled at Thames Distillers and uses only four botanicals (a stark difference to the last Gin I reviewed) these are:

  • Organic Juniper Berries
  • Organic Coriander Seeds
  • Organic Elderflower
  • Liquorice powder

#1) Neat
Good nose, medium amount of juniper with some floral notes. Great warmth (not burn) on the tongue with juniper and elderflower. Not overpowering and subtle. The warmth of the texture intrigues me.

#2) Gin & Tonic
This makes quite a strong Gin & Tonic (the gin is 47.3%). The very heart of the gin seems to come through with a floral taste at the back of the mouth; the straight-forward juniper flavour is followed by the dryness from the elderflower. It’s interesting, because elderflower is often associated with something sweet (cordial, liqueurs, etc.), but this is definitely dry. Mrs. B was very fond of this drink, as it reminded her of cut green apples.

#3) Martini
I used some home-made vermouth for this martini, which complemented the Gin quite well and seemed to give the drink more flavour than usual. Knockeen Elderflower Gin does not make a classic Martini: it’s not so clean and crisp as others, but it is not overpowering and has a lot of character. I like this drink and it makes a nice change.

#4) Gimlet
An unusual Gimlet; less sweet than usual and, in the middle of the taste profile, the drink has a remarkably clean edge, almost Martini-like. There were subtle notes from the floral elements and the gin stands up well to the lime cordial.

#5) Aviation
There’s some great interaction of the elderflower and other floral elements with the violette and maraschino in this drink; it’s complex, but the flavours are all in equilibrium. Very tasty.

#6) Tom Collins
This Collins is, like many, a wonderful cooler. It is very refreshing, but sadly the gin is a little overpowered.

#7) Bramble
Very tasty; there’s equal intensity from each of the various ingredients, all combining to produce a fresh drink that reminds me of Spring. Crisp & delicious.

#8) White Lady:
Fresh and crisp, perfect for Spring or early Summer. There’s a good amount of juniper and distinct floral elements on the finish.

#9) Alexander
I increased the proportions of Gin for this one, so that some of the dry muskiness of gin comes through. The Knockeen Elderflower contributes more to the cocktail that most other gins that I’ve tried.

#10) Gin Bump (Buck)
The Gin Bump was a disappointment as the sweetness of the ginger ale clashed with the floral notes of the gin. Not recommended.

#11) Gin Sour
Pretty strong; you seem to feel the full whack of the 47.3% in this drink. It seemed to warm me up, rather than cool me down (which a gin sour typically would do), and, flavour-wise, it doesn’t do the Gin justice.

#12) Sweet Gin
This was an idea for a cocktail (if you can call it that) that just occurred to me: I simply added half a teaspoon of simple syrup to a measure of Gin. I was surprised at how well it worked and how it brought out a new dimension of flavours: it was almost like an elderflower liqueur, but tasted more complex.

#13) Clover Club
In a similar way to the White Lady, this was balanced, simple, tasty and enjoyable to drink.

#14) Gin Old-fashioned
Fast becoming a new favourite of mine, the Gin Old-Fashioned with Knockeen Hills Elderflower is delicious. Sugar sweetens up the floral elements (just like the Sweet Gin) which stops the Angostura from dominating the drink. This is a superb way to enjoy the gin.

In Conclusion
Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin is crisp and flavourful. The floral elements lend themselves well to a variety of cooling drinks, making it perfect for Spring or Summer (although I am still enjoying it during Winter!). Sometimes I think that when gins highlight one, single, botanical it can be a bit gimmicky and the rest of the gin profile seems to suffer, but I don’t think that that is the case with this gin.

Cocktail highlights included: Gin & Tonic (especially James Bond style),  the Gimlet,  the Aviation & the Gin Old Fashioned.

Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin is available from The Drink Shop here: for £26.44 for 70cl.

Cocktails with… Sacred Christmas Pudding Gin

Sacred’s Christmas Pudding Gin

The other day I was looking on Sacred Gin’s website under “Exotics”; this section features limited editions or single bottlings of varieties of Sacred Gin, including some of the most interesting distilled ports that I have ever heard off. Then, subtly placed at the bottom of the list, I saw an entry for Christmas Pudding Gin.

Father Christmas is in for a treat this year!

So how is it made? Christmas pudding is infused in Sacred Gin for three months and the resultant liquid is then re-distilled and bottled.

Having recently undertaken extensive experimentation with mincemeat vodka/liqueur, I thought I’d give it a try.

The taste:

Neat: It starts off softly and then starts to warm your mouth. Quite a strong flavour of dark fruit cake, a similar bitterness. The juniper still is there, but the overall flavour is about much more than that. A few minutes after drinking, my mouth feels like I’ve just eaten some Christmas pudding, including getting a sense of, strangely enough, its texture; it’s unusual, but I like it.

Frozen: Certainly an improvement on room temperature: drinking it from the freezer brings out the fruit from the pudding. Mostly raisin, but some other mixed fruit too. The gin is incredibly smooth. but has a little warm kick at the end. Tasty.

Martini: A crisp Martini with a slightly different finish; not citrus, but again, a slightly cakey, dark richness and some mincemeat spice in the mid-notes. I never thought a Martini could be partiularly festive, but I guess I was wrong.

Toddy: I’m usually a fan of hot toddies anyway, but this particular one has something else: it is cosier and more comforting, as the usual dry element of this drink, from the gin, is replaced by a gentle spice. Really, really good.

G&T: Quite a nice gin and tonic, sweet and quite refreshing. A little burnt fruit at the end. Good, but I think there are better ways to appreciate the gin.

In conclusion: I do find all of the experiments that Scared get up to very interesting, and if you haven’t heard of them, it’s worth checking their website. With regards to the Christmas Gin, it was something I really enjoyed, both for the novelty and for the flavours. I found that almost every drink I tried it in finished with a combination of toasted sugar and the dark, cakey after-flavour of Christmas pudding. I’m not sure how many bottles are left, but if it sounds like it appeals to you, I’d buy sooner rather than later.

Sacred Christmas Pudding Gin is available for £14.95 for 20cl from their website.

For more of our Gin Reviews please click here

Cocktails with… 6 O’Clock Gin

Here is a gin that was made to go with tonic; so much so, that it even has its own tonic specifically designed to match it. I know that some gin distillers have produced their own tonic for their premixes, but this is the first time that anyone has released their tonic water separately; new ground for the tonic world.

6 O'Clock Gin and its matching Tonic Water

6 O’Clock Gin and it’s accompanying Tonic are both made by Bramley & Gage*, who are famous for their fruit liqueurs and sloe gins. 6 O’Clock Gin is bottled at 43% and contains seven botanicals, including orange peel and elderflower. As for the Tonic, along with natural quinine, it also contains essence of lemon and lime. I think this gives the tonic that extra zestiness that I like and, when I make my own, I use lemongrass to the same effect, just like John.

Why Six O’Clock? This was the time when inventor & engineer Edward Kain would enjoy his gin, but not before; in essence, this was his “cocktail hour”. In honour of his Great Grandfather, Michael, the creator of the Gin named his new spirit after this.

The Taste

#1 Gin & Tonic:
There is no other way I could start this edition of “Cocktails with…” than with the drink of this Gin. When combined, 6 O’Clock Gin and 6 O’Clock Tonic create a soft, yet flavourful drink, which is probably one of the most relaxing gin & tonics I have ever had. That is not to say that it doesn’t have much flavour, as there is, without a doubt, a distinctive mix of juniper and quinine. It really is very good.

#2 Martini:
A classic Martini with a fine balance of juniper and citrus, full of flavour and more engaging than those made with many other gins.

#3 Gimlet:
Quite a good drink, but the gin is rather hidden by the lime cordial and so it doesn’t really complement it as best as it could. There is a little juniper at the end.

#4 White Lady:
A nice little zip to this, the citrus of the gin goes well with the citrus of the lemon. It’s quite tart but rather tasty.

#5 Aviation:
6 O’Clock produces a more gin-dominant Aviation than many, with the flavour of the gin really coming through. There is a little violet at the end, but, again, not the best use of the gin.

#6 Tom Collins:
A good Collins where each main ingredient plays an equal part: refreshing and easy to enjoy.

#7 Bramble:
I really like 6 O’Clock Gin in Bramble. Each individual flavour within the drink is apparent and it’s a very easy cocktail to drink. I think it would interesting to try this using Bramley & Gage’s Blackberry Liqueur instead of Creme de Mure.

#8 Sloe & Tonic:
As this post is also about 6 O’Clock Tonic, I thought I would try it with some Bramley & Gage Organic Gin from our sloe gin tasting. I’m not usually a fan of sloe gin and tonic water, but in this case I certainly make an exception. The tonic brings out the juiciness of the gin and it’s sweeter almond flavours.

In Conclusion:
There is no question what the best drink made with 6 O’Clock Gin was: it was the gin and tonic, as you would expect. Nonetheless, it would be hard to ignore the crisp and delicious Bramble that this gin makes, or how well the tonic went with sloe gin.

6 O’Clock Gin is available for £15.99 (35cl) and £23.65 (70cl). The tonic is £3.00 for a generous 730ml bottle. Both can be purchased from Bramley & Gage’s website.

*Technically the gin is actually made at Thames Distillers in London

Sloe Gin Tasting – A Comparison of 17 Sloe Gins

Sloe Gin Tasting

A few weeks ago, a friend and colleague of mine said, “I’d quite like to do a sloe gin tasting”. Needless to say, I agreed that it was a superb idea and we immediately set about procuring various samples for the evening. Originally I thought we’d get about 8, then 12 looked for likely but, in the end, we tried 17.

L-R: Will, Hartley, Fleur, CB, DBS, Robert, Mrs. B.

We initially tried the sloe gins on their own at room temperature and then tried them mixed with Fevertree Lemon Tonic/Bitter Lemon and Fevertree Lemonade in Long Pedlers. Here follows a summary of our panel’s notes on each.

#1 Moniack Sloe Gin Liqueur (17.6% ABV)

Produced by Highland Wineries, near Inverness, this has the lowest alcoholic strength of all those that we tasted. Moniack Castle also make a selection of other liqueurs, country wines and preserves.

Nose: Cider, Rosé wine or Rose Cider (something like Jacques Cider).

Taste: Sweet, somewhat reminiscent of a White Zinfandel, with hints of rose petals and strawberries. This was rather refreshing, smooth and quite unusual, as sloe gins go, but it was agreed that it was still quite a nice drink.

Moniack Castle Sloe gin Liqueur is available for around £13 for 75cl from DrinkOn.

#2 Bramley & Gage Sweet Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

This was the first of three sloe gins that we tried from Bramley & Gage, who are well-known for their range of liqueurs, as well as their new gin and its companion tonic: 6 o’Clock.

Both Bramley’s original and sweet sloe gins use a mixture of wild Dartmoor and imported sloes, steeped in gin that Bramley make themselves. This product contain a liberal amount of sugar and was designed for people that found the original too tart.

Nose: Liquorice, almonds, cherry and marzipan.

Taste: This was very sweet; too sweet, for some (it’s worth noting that these differences are why Bramley introduced the product in the first place). It has a little acidity at end and some herbal notes.

We found that this mixed really well and was well liked by the panel.

Bramley & Gage’s Sweet Sloe Gin is available form their website for around £14 (35cl).

#3 Plymouth Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

Made using the famous Plymouth Gin and Polish sloes, this contains noticeably less sugar than its counterparts in the tasting.

I really like this; it had a great jamminess in the mouth, which the panel enjoyed, but still had a tart finish. It was found to taste less artificial than some of the others and, with the fruitiness and a little spice, there were a lot of people who thought this “smelt like Christmas”. In addition to this festive fragrance, it smells like sloe and it tastes like sloe. It was agreed that this was a first-class example of sloe gin and something of a benchmark for the others.

Along with Juniper Green this was the Most Sippable Sloe Gin.

Plymouth Sloe Gin is available for around £18 (70cl) from The Whisky Exchange and from their excellent distillery shop in Plymouth. (One of the few places in the country where you can still buy their splendid Fruit Cup).

#4 Sipsmith Sloe Gin (2009) (29% ABV)

This is the most recent release (it’s been around for about a month) from Sipsmith Distillery, who were recently voted “Best Newcomer” at the recent Observer Food Monthly Awards. It uses Sipsmith Gin as its base.

Nose: Juniper nose mixed with sloes, memories of home-made sloe gin.

Taste: This was found to be the closest to the “home-made” varieties people had tried; “just like mamma used to make”. This had a jamminess, similar to Plymouth, and the underlying Gin element was more dominant the the others. The one downside was a little sharpness at the end. Nonetheless, it was considered a great winter warmer and probably had the most potential to work well in cocktails.

The handsomely packaged Sipsmith sloe Gin is vaialable for around £17 (50cl) from The Whisky Exchange.

With our selection of Sloe Gin in the foreground Mrs. B & I enjoy a Gin & Tonic, “Evans” style.

#5 Bramley & Gage Original Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

This is a version of #2; similar, with a lower sugar content. Bramley also make a drink called Slider, which is usually made by removing the sloes from the sloe gin after maceration and combining them with cider. I used the same technique with some mincemeat vodka I made recently, making a mincemeat cider which was very tasty.

Nose: This had a similar nose to the sweet, as you may well expect.

Taste: Fruit & almond flavours, reminiscent of cherry bakewells. This was certainly tarter than the sweet variety and I found it more to my palette. It felt very warming and was, all in all, quite popular.

Bramley & Gage’s Original Sloe Gin is available form their website for around £14 (35cl).

#6 Lyme Bay Reserve Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

Part of the Reserve Liqueur range of Lyme Bay Winery (other varieties include Elderflower & Lemon and Blueberry) Lyme Bay also make a range of other country wines and liqueurs. Lyme Bay typically use English Sloes they also make a sloe wine and a Sloe wine-based fortified liqueur. I have been to their on-site shop which has good range of tasty products on offer, well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Each bottle is numbered and our was RL22676.

Nose: Smells like gin; very strong smell of juniper – a nice change.

Taste: This was sweet and smooth, and unusually light for a sloe gin. It was rather lovely and sufficiently quaff-able. All in all, it was popular with the panel, although one member remarked that it as rather Calpol (children’s medicine), but I think was actually a good thing!

Lyme Bay Sloe Gin (£11.99 for 35cl) and other products are avaialble from their website and the gift section of John Lewis.

#7 Gordon’s Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

The best-selling sloe gin in the UK with the widest distribution, too. If you’ve had commercial sloe gin, it would probably have been this. The modern version uses wild sloes, whereas its predecessor used dry sloes.

Nose: Floral and perfumed, with juniper and a bit of spice.

Taste: This was one of the few sloe gins in our tasting that people had any preconceptions of, but everyone was pleasantly surprised: everyone quite enjoyed its simple, balanced fruitiness and its intriguing notes of earl grey tea.

This was found to be The Best Mixing Sloe Gin

Gordon’s Sloe Gin is available for around £14 (70cl) from Waitrose, Tesco and other leading supermarkets.

#8 Hawker’s Sloe Gin (28% ABV)

This sloe gin has a Royal warrant (the warrant itself is held on behalf of Hawker’s by none other than Desmond Payne, Master Distiller of Beefeater) and is made with Dartmoor sloes. It is bottled at 28%; a little stronger than the usual 26%.

Nose: Geranium & mincemeat.

Taste: This was unlike anything else that we tasted that night, and it was really popular. It was quite sweet, but the panel still thought that its flavours worked. There were hints of mince pies and some strong herbal, almost menthol, notes. This is more complex than your classic sloe gin and is slightly set apart in terms of style. Although it wasn’t unanimous, this was one of the panel’s favourites.

Along with Jack Cain’s this was The Most Unusual Sloe Gin - i.e. the least like the others we had tried.

Hawker’s Sloe Gin is available for around £18 (70cl) from The Drinkshop.

Speed-tasting with Mr. Hartley using the SCH method.
#9 Juniper Green Organic Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

We were sent some samples from October 2010 (ever so fresh then). The sloes for this sloe gin come from Romania, as it is difficult to get certified organic sloes from the UK (ensuring they have been affected by wind-drift from the crop-sprayer or fertiliser run-off from fields is tricky). The sloes are steeped in Juniper Green Gin (40%) and the sloes are left to macerate until the alcohol level of the liquid drops to 26% (as the sloes absorb the alcohol).

Nose: Clean nose, with fruit and a little cinnamon-like spice, followed by juniper berries.

Taste: A nicely balanced, home-made taste. Warming, with a light sweetness and flavours of apples, pears and cinnamon. The panel really enjoyed this and it was amongst their favourites.

Along with Plymouth this was the Most Sippable Sloe Gin.

Juniper Green Organic Sloe Gin is available for around £22 (70cl) from

#10) Hayman’s Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

This is made by family firm Hayman’s Gin this uses wild English Sloes and their own Gin as it’s base.  Hayman’s also make a London Dry Gin, an Old Tom Gin and a Gin Liqueur.

Nose: lovely heavy sloe nose.

Taste: Quite light and refreshing, simple yet satisfying with a little cinnamon and a little citrus on the finish. Sweetness and tartness well balanced.

Hayman’s Sloe Gin is available for around £18 from the Whisky Exchange.

#11) Bramley & Gage Organic Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

This variety of Bramley & Gage’s sloe gin has a different spirit base and all of the sloes are imported (once again, the problem of getting certified organic sloes in the UK arises).

Nose: Strong smell of almond and marzipan, but with a more subtle scent then the other two. I believe that the almond comes from the stones of the Sloes.

Taste: This was a soft, light sloe gin, with an excellent balance of tartness and sweetness. It’s quite fruity, with some folks tasting raisins, and there was a very light saltiness at the tip of the finish. This is a great sloe gin and our clear favourite of the three Bramley & Gage’s.

Bramley & Gage’s Organic Sloe Gin is available form their website for around £17 (35cl).

#12) SLOEMotion Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

Founded in 2002 SLOEMotion now make a variety of Sloe based products: Sloe Vodka, Sloe Whisky, Sloe Brandy and of course Sloe Gin. Their sloes come from local hedgerows and they use the sloes from the liqueur making process in a range of truffles and chutneys.

Nose: Smells like bitter cherries and a little maraschino.

Taste: Juicy and tart, with a nice sweetness, a bit of caramel and a vanilla finish.

SLOEMotion Sloe Gin is available from £15.95 (35cl) from their website. I can also strongly recommend their Sloe Whisky.

Robert seems reluctant to try Mr. Harltey’s concoction a mix of 17 different sloe gins, a tasting in glass!

#13) Gabriel Boudier Sloe Gin (25% ABV)

This hot-footed to us all the way from France and is part of a range of products developed by Gabriel Boudier specifically for bartenders as opposed to a product sold in it’s own right.

Nose: Slightly reminiscent of cherry brandy and bitter almonds with a little citrus.

Taste: A good sloe gin, being both smooth and balanced with a silky texture. It was very drinkable and described as a “polite” sloe gin: delicate, but tasty and reminding one panel member of a “lovely big pillow”.

Gabriel Boudier Sloe Gin is available for around £17 (70cl) from The Drinkshop.

#14) Marks & Spencer’s Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

Marks & Spencers have a good range of own brand wine & spirits in addition to the sloe gin they make a Pink Gin and a Gin Fizz. Their sloe gin in made in France and contains: juniper, coriander, lemon & orange peel, angelica, orris root and fennel seeds. The bottle recommends serving it on-the-rocks or with tonic.

Nose: Sweet, with hints of almond and marzipan, a little cherry brandy.

Taste: A very short flavour, but easy to drink, with a pleasant smoothness. Although this sloe gin had no really remarkable qualities, we all agreed that this had wide appeal. This was surprisingly similar to number 13.

Marks and Spencer Sloe Gin is available for £10.99  (50cl) from larger M&S stores.

#15) Foxdenton Sloe Gin (29% ABV)

This is made by Foxdenton Estate, who also produce an excellent 48% gin (review here) as well as a range of other liqueurs. This was paler than most sloe gins, and was bottled at slightly stronger 29%.

Nose: Strong gin spirit, followed by a little sweetness and then the fruitiness of the sloe.

Taste: This was the least thick & sticky of our sloe gins. Initially, you can really taste the underlying gin, foillowed by the sweetness and the sloes. This is neither sweet, nor excessively sharp; it is both different and tasty and, for that reason alone, is really worth trying.

Foxdenton Sloe Gin is available for £18.80 (70cl) from their website along with their other liqueurs. Smaller sizes of the Sloe Gin are available.

#16) Cowen Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

From Malcolm Cowen (Drinks) Ltd., this sloe gin is bottled at 26%. The gin is distilled at Thames Distiller and they use organic sloes. Cowen also make and distribute a variety of other hard-to-find liqueurs.

Nose: Sweet cherries, followed by the underlying gin spirit and a hint of dry almonds.

Taste: This sloe gin fills the mouth with the flavour of sweet ripe berries and a little lavender. This fades to some dryness and a warming finish. A nice example of sloe gin.

Cowen is available for around £16 (50cl) from The Drinkshop.

#17) Jack Cain’s Sloe Gin (30% ABV)

At 30% ABV, Jack Cain’s Sloe Gin was the strongest of the bunch and opinion was split on it, but those who liked it, loved it. One such fan noted:

Nose: “The nose was really sweet and richly floral with notes of violets.”

Taste: I was expecting sickly sweet, but I was very much mistaken; instead it was sharp and dry with a little chocolate and citrus. This is really very different with the dryness of an aged rum, a very nice experience.”

Along with Hawkers this was The Most Unusual Sloe Gin

Jack Cain’s Sloe Gin is available from a variety of locations.


It is always difficult to come up with ranking system to do the tasting justice when you have so many varieties and quite a large panel; but we did come up with a panel top 5 so in no particular order:

Plymouth Sloe Gin

Bramley Organic Sloe Gin

Foxdenton Sloe Gin

Hawker’s Sloe Gin

Juniper Green Organic Sloe Gin

It is worth noting that to be considered “sloe gin” a spirit must be of a minimum strength of 25%ABV. I imagine that this along with being a sweet spot for taste is why most Sloe Gins are bottled at around this strength. (Thanks to Michael for this update).

For details on which sloe gins worked well when mixed, please see: The Sloe Peddler.

I would like to thank the folks at Graphic Bar for hosting the event, the producers who have been very generous at sending us samples of their Sloe Gins, Fevertree for providing the mixers and of course the panel.

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