Navy Gin Tasting for Trafalgar Day

As part of my recent trip to New York, I arranged a Navy Strength Gin tasting, which was kindly hosted by New York Distilling. Upon our return to the UK, we decided to hold a second tasting in London, which also coincided with the UK launch of FEW Spirits by Ginuine Spirits.

The Navy Gin Tasting in New York (note Master of Malt had not yet released theirs at this time)

Navy Strength Gin dates back to the days of Empire and British naval superiority. At this time, gin for ships (the drink of naval officers) was bottled at 100 Proof (on a scale developed using the Bartholomew Sikes hydrometer), which is the modern equivalent of 57%ABV.* At this strength, if the gin was spilt on gunpowder (they were often stored together), the powder would still ignite.

In the 19th Century, Plymouth was home to Britain’s naval fleet and the distillery on the quayside (Blackfriars Distillery, the modern home of Plymouth Gin) was the supplier for much of the fleet. Subsequently, for many years, Plymouth Gin 100 Proof was made on and off, as required.

When Plymouth 100 Proof became a permanent feature of the distillery’s portfolio in 1993, the term “Navy Strength” was used over “100 Proof” as it was easier to understand and more clearly illustrated that the gin was stronger. It also seems a particularly fitting title, given the distillery’s historic naval connections.

The (Blind) Tasting at Graphic Bar in London

Fast forward to 2010 and the start of the current gin boom. The global availability of Plymouth Navy Strength was limited and US demand for stronger gin led to some distillers coming up with their own varieties of Navy Strength Gin.

So what’s the current definition of Navy Strength Gin?

Navy Strength Gin = Gin at 100 Proof (57-58%ABV)

Anything below this strength is “under-proof”, whilst anything above is “over-proof”. Thus, gins such as Old Raj Blue (55%ABV) and Finsbury 60 and Blackwoods 60 (both of which are bottled at 60%ABV) are not Navy Strength Gins.**

All of the gins that we tasted were 57%ABV and were tasted blind (even I didn’t know which was which). Here are our notes in the order in which the gins were tasted.

#1 – FEW Standard Issue (57%ABV)

Made by FEW Spirits at their distillery in Illinois, USA and recently arriving on British shores this gin has a different base and a different botanical mix to their American Gin.

Nose: Quite fragrant, with some vegetal notes, perhaps luscious tomato. There’s also some piney juniper, a fair bit of coriander, and some flowery notes, too.

Taste: With some maltiness and creaminess, everyone in the panel agreed that this had plenty of flavour. The grain elements came across as notes of toasted cornflakes. There was also plenty of coriander and other floral notes, such as honeysuckle, followed by a leafy herbalness and sweet pepper toward the end. The finish was pleasant and dry.

FEW Standard Issue is available for around £38 for 75cl from Master of Malt.

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#2 – Plymouth Navy Strength (57%ABV)

This is the original Navy Strength Gin and a long-time favourite of mine. It dates from the days of the Distillery’s origins in the naval town, although, for many years, it was not made on a regular basis. In 1993 (Plymouth Gin’s bicentenary), the Navy Strength became a regular in their product assortment. For Plymouth Gin, the term “Navy Strength” is simply an alternative to using 100 degrees proof; no more, no less. Plymouth Navy Strength is a higher strength version of their standard gin or, simply put, “The 42.4, but with less water”.

Nose: Juniper up-front, followed by citrus, coriander, earthy notes and a touch of cardamom.

Taste: This had a strong and intense flavour; almost a little peppery. It was very classic in style, with piney juniper, fresh and zingy citrus, and a slight sweetness towards the end, which was slightly reminiscent of caramelized orange peel.

Gin & Tonic: A very classic style of Gin & Tonic, this was very crisp, with juniper, some sweetness and a bitter finish. Quite a lot of citrus, too.

Martini: Flavourful and powerful, with juniper, some sweet citrus and spicy coriander. This cocktail had a long finish with plenty of cardamom, which I love. It had a real “wow” factor; simply superb. A textbook drink, worthy of the name “Silver Bullet”.

Negroni: Superb; perfect bitter/sweet balance, sweet jammy citrus, and hints of dark chocolate. Bold, intense, and delicious. My favourite.

Plymouth Navy Strength Gin is available for around £28 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

#3 – Perry’s Tot by New York Distilling (57%ABV)
Made by NY Distilling based in Brooklyn, New York, this is a mix of 10 botanicals, including cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. It named after Matthew Calbraith Perry who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1841-43.

Nose: Complex, with overriding characteristics of pine and coriander and some other, deeper herbal notes.

Taste: This was a departure from the classic style of gin, with an immediate POW! of flavour that’s invigorating and exciting. Notes of citrus and coriander were quite powerful, with some sweet liquorice root, too.

Gin & Tonic: Refreshing, complex and herbal, with a big dose of coriander. Whilst this drink sets itself apart, it’s not one for traditionalists.

Martini: Sappy and piney juniper, this cocktail was quite spicy with coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Negroni: Slightly sweeter and spicier than a typical Negroni, with notes of juniper and milk and dark chocolate. Very tasty.

Perry’s Tot is available for around $33 for 75cl from Park Avenue Liquor of New York City (US only)

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#4 – Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin Navy strength (57%ABV)

A stronger version of their revolutionary Bathtub Gin, which show that, mere “GIN” (by the EU definition) could be mighty tasty. The use of crushed botanicals (a difference to the Original Bathtub) means that the gin is not only BIG in terms of alcoholic strength but flavour intensity too.

Nose: Juniper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Taste: Soft to start, followed by a huge burst of flavour: cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and cloves. All in all, this was very christmassy and had quite a lot of warmth from the alcohol (but not burn). I think it will work wonders in autumnal and wintery cocktails; it’ll really warm the cockles.

Gin & Tonic: A cloudy mix, with nutmeg and cinnamon and some ginger, too. Quite refreshing, with quite a distinct, savoury side to it, too. Another lovely drink that would be good for Autumn and Winter.

Martini: Flavourful and intense, with lots of coriander, as well as sweet Winter spice. Very powerful, in terms of both alcohol and flavour.

Negroni: This could very well be called a Christmas Negroni; there’s a sweetness upfront, with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, as well some juniper and more sweetness towards the end.

Master of Malt Bathtub Navy Strength Gin is available for around £42 for 70cl from Master of Malt

#5 – Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin (57%ABV)

Rebranded and repackaged in 2012, initially for the American market, Royal Dock is now available to us in the UK and beyond. The recipe for the gin itself has been made since 1863 and has been supplied to the Admiralty as well as the wider trade. Made by the Hayman family, it is named after the Royal Dock at Deptford, a one time contemporary of the likes of Plymouth and Gosport. It uses Neutral Grain Spirit and a blend of 9 classic botanicals.

Nose: Classic and fresh, with juniper, citrus and liquorice.

Taste: Again, very classic in flavour, being smooth, clean and crisp. It was well-liked by most of the panel. There was a good amount of juniper, but it wasn’t overly sappy, being freshened up with citrus peel, coriander and spicy herbal notes. Quite excellent. Strong, yet smooth; just what you want from a Navy Gin.

Gin & Tonic: This ticks all the boxes: zesty, refreshing and clean; very classic and solid, with no outlandish characteristics. A real pleasure to drink. My favourite.

Martini: More flavourful than Plymouth, with greater flavours of spice, black pepper and coriander. Delicious and rather dry, in the classic Martini style. A really good, crisp and intense Martini.

Negroni: A clean, crisp and classic cocktail; no Negroni fan would be disappointed with this.

Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin is available for around £26 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#6 – Leopold’s Navy Strength (57%ABV)
Launched in the Autumn/Fall of 2011, this is made using a different botanical mix to their excellent Original Gin and was designed to be more botanically intense, using Bergamot rather than hand-zested pomelos. Like the Original, each botanical is distilled separately and then they are all blended together.

Nose: Plenty of juniper, which dominates the nose.

Taste: Sweet and very, very piney, this had plenty of herbal notes. It was very warming, with a  warmth that gradually builds over time.

Gin & Tonic: A very herbal drink, with plenty of pine and some juicy citrus, which also made this particularly refreshing. It had intense flavours, with the greater concentrations of botanicals being evident.

Martini: Thick and viscous, with intense green and piney juniper, spicy coriander and crisp citrus notes. This was easily the most intense Martini, flavour-wise, of all that we tried and was certainly memorable. Very tasty and great for a change.

Negroni: Wow! A very flavourful, lively, herbal and piney Negroni. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, many will love it.

* It is worth noting that the strength of the rum of Naval Tots was calculated differently.
**Sun Liquor of Seattle make a Gun Club “Navy Strength” Gin, but, as this is bottled at a mere 50%ABV, for the purposes of this tasting it is not classed as a Navy Strength Gin.

Special thanks to all our panel of tasters: Michael of Ginuine Spirits, Paul of FEW, Zack and the folks at Graphic Bar, Mr Justin of North Virginia, Aaron of TheGinIsIn (America’s Gin Reviewer), Sean of Plymouth, Emma Stokes of London Cocktail Society, Chris of GinJourney, Dave Hollander of The New Sheridan Club, Clayton Hartley of The Candlelight Club, Dickie the GinSage, Mrs. B., Clint of Imbibe, Kirsty Chant of Chant Communications, Paul of G-Vine, Wilkes of @wilkes888 (The London based food and drink-o-phile), Olivier of TheGinBlog, NY Distilling, MasterofMalt (including photography), Hayman’s, Leopold’s, FEW and TheWhiskyExchange.

Gin Tonica Tasting – 15 Spanish Gin & Tonics for World Gin Day

The Gin industry, like almost any other, is subject to changes and trends over time. One such trend that I have recently noted with interest has come over from our neighbours in Spain and has been taking British gin bars and brands by storm. I am talking of the the Gin Tonica: the method of serving a Gin & Tonic in a large balloon glass (sometime known as a coupe glass), over either a copious amount of ice or a single, large ice ball.

With some gin bars now serving all their G&Ts in this style by default and with branded glassware becoming available from many big British brands, I thought it was time to take a closer look at what some call a phenomenon and others, a craze.

One of the purported advantages of using a balloon glass over a highball is that the drink has more room to breathe, allowing the aromas of the gin, mixer and garnish to be more concentrated and easier to enjoy. The larger glass also gives you a bigger canvas to be creative with the garnish. In addition, the increased volume of ice keeps the drink cooler for longer and helps to prevent ice melt.

I’ve spoken to a variety of different brand representatives to try and get the preferred Gin Tonica serve for their gins, although some of the following are of my own invention/modification.

Bloom
Nearly two years ago, this was the first gin that I came across that had specially-designed glasses for a Gin Tonica.
[40ml Bloom, 100ml Fevertree Tonic. Garnish with strawberry, lime & chamomile flowers.]
Summer in a glass! A lovely fruitiness comes from the strawberries and the lime stops the drink from being too sweet. The gin contains chamomile as a botanical, which the flowers in the garnish are a nod to. They look very unusual, but I wouldn’t suggest you  eat any of them; if you do, you’ll certainly have fresh (perfumed) breath.

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Plymouth
This recommendation for serving Plymouth Gin came from Spain.
[50ml Plymouth Gin, 100ml Fevertree Tonic. Garnish with lemon and lime twists and juniper berries.]
Although you can’t see it, the oil from the twist of lemon adds a great fragrance to the drink and gives it a little pizazz. The juiciness of the juniper berries works well with the juniper in the gin and makes that flavour seem even fresher than in a regular Gin & Tonic. This is a simple, yet effective serve and very easy to do at home (most supermarkets sell juniper berries; they can be usually be found in the herbs and spices section).

Bombay Sapphire
This was recommended to me by Sam Carter and Sean Ware of Bombay Spirits. Balloon glass serves were an integral part of their Ginbilee Celebrations.
[50ml Bombay Sapphire, 100ml Fevertree. Squeeze a lime wedge into the drink and add the wedge as a garnish.]
Rather limey, notes of vanilla and coconut also come out. Definitely thirst-quenching and is a drink that could stay cold for a long time; not that that should matter, because you can finish it quickly. Bombay Sapphire’s glasses are also relatively sturdy, making the drink easy-to-drink in more ways than one!

Hayman’s London Dry Gin
[50ml Hayman’s London Dry Gin, 100ml Fevertree Tonic. Garnish with a lime spiral.]
Fresh and zesty, with a crisp bitterness from the lime peel. Very pleasing visually, too.
Crisp and refreshing, the bold, classic flavour of the gin creates a simple, but very sippable drink.

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Bombay Sapphire EAST
In the Autumn of 2011, this cocktail accompanied the launch of Bombay Sapphire East in New York and Las Vegas.
[Slice 4 inches of lemon rind thinly and twist it around the inside of the glass, before dropping it in. Add one ice sphere, some juniper berries, one whole, edible flower (no petals), one very thin lime wheel and one verbena sprig. Pour 2oz gin over the sphere.]
The original recipe specifies lemon verbena, but I had none to hand; I thought that lemongrass was a suitable substitute. The lemongrass brings out the floral citrus of the gin, whilst the lime gives it a little zestiness that contrasts well with the gin’s peppery fire, coming from the black peppercorns in its botanical mix. Very spicy, but lovely all the same.

Tanqueray
To accompany their branded glassware, Tanqueray have developed the Quatro Serve:
[50ml Tanqueray Gin (43.1%), 100ml Fevertree Tonic. Take a slice of lime and wipe around the rim, before adding to the drink. Swirl and serve.]
A strong & powerful Gin Tonica. Very clean, with strong juniper flavours and some earthiness. The high chill-factor from the copious amounts of ice works particularly well with this particular gin and tonic mix. The lime adds a zesty liveness to the drink for the palate, nose and eyes.

It was whilst drinking the Tanqueray from the copa (balloon) glass that I realised the degree to which the glass cools down your hand and wrist, which obviously adds to its chilling effect.

Martin Miller’s
I spoke to some chaps from Miller’s at the recent Feather Gin World Record Event and their suggestions included lime and grapefruit (both of which work well), but I was most captivated by a recommendation to try strawberries and cracked black pepper.
[40ml Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength, 100ml Fevertree Tonic. Add three halved strawberries and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.]
On paper, this seems questionable, but, in reality, it was very good indeed. The freshness and crispness of the Miller’s gin works really well with the juicy strawberries, and the peppercorns add a contrasting savoury and peppery element. A very well-balanced drink, this is both imaginative and lovely.

Beefeater
[50ml Beefeater, 120ml Fevertree Tonic. Before adding the ingredients, add a twist of lemon peel oil to the bottom of the glass and garnish with a slice of lemon and orange peel.]
Quite a zesty drink, with the more earthy notes of the gin being apparent; there is a pleasant bittersweet (tonic-gin) character, making this more than your average Gin & Tonic. The zestiness stays as you sip (it starts at the bottom of the glass with the twist and gradually works its way up). The orange garnish is not essential to the flavour, but it does add visual appeal and its juicy smell provides hints to the orange in the gin.

Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin (43%)
A twist on the drink outlined by Fleming in the book Dr. No, this is a James Bond Gin Tonica.
[Add the juice of a whole lime, followed by the spent shells, to a glass. Pour in a double measure of gin, fill the glass with ice, and top-up with tonic.]
Superb; this is one of the best ways there is to cool down on a hot afternoon. The lime, surprisingly, does not overpower the gin, being balanced by the slight sweetness that comes from the elderflower in the gin. Fevertree Tonic works very well in this drink, as it is clean and doesn’t interfere with the other flavours. Served in the Gin Tonica style, the drink is even colder than usual; I think 007 would be impressed.

Boodles
[40ml Boodles Gin, 100ml Fevertree Tonic. Garnish with two slit cardamom pods and a lemon spiral.]
I’m a big fan of both the cardamom notes of this gin and the slit cardamom pods in this drink’s garnish, which gradually make their presence known. The drink is lively, with the citrus and herbal garnish accentuating the flavours of the gin. It is also quite dry and sharp for a Gin & Tonic, with a touch of bitterness, partly due to the character of the gin, but also the earthy quinine of Fevertree. You know you’re drinking a proper, adult drink without a trace of soda pop sweetness or fizziness.

The Gin Tonica originated from Spain, so it only seems right to also feature some Spanish Gins:

Port of Dragons 100% Pure

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This is recommended by Port of Dragons; the recipe can be found here.
This was very enjoyable: the gin seemed more lively and the tonic more crisp than in a normal Gin & Tonic. The high volume of ice helped considerably, too. The cardamom was still there, but more balanced with additional zing. Very good, indeed.

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"Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication."Port of Dragons 100% Floral

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Recommended by Port of Dragons, this recipe can be found here.
Fresh, floral and fruity. This was very refreshing and reminded me of a spring or summer garden. As well as being visually attractive, the flavours of the gin were really enhanced by the luscious fruits in the garnish, which are an excellent alternative to the usual slice of lemon or lime.

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Number Zero Gin

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This had a bitter, earthy start, courtesy of the quinine in both the tonic and the gin. Dry juniper notes followed, then the sweet, floral and citrus notes: lavender and violet, and, finally, the dry, slightly bitter, tannins of the tea. This was really a rollercoaster of flavours that left me rather impressed. Mrs B described it as a “Perfect combination of a Gin & Tonic and iced tea”.

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G’Vine Floraison
This serve actually came from Munich, so it’s German rather than Spanish. I’ll let this video explain:

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Emperor’s New Clothes?

I’ve been researching this article for a little over a month now and the subject matter has been met, in the UK at least, with mixed reactions. Evidently, some gin folks remain sceptical about the Gin Tonica’s application in the UK and I can see why.

Over the past six months, the enthusiastic acceptance of the serve has bordered almost on a craze (Bloom were way ahead of the curve), but questions have been raised on the practicality of the glassware in bars and at home (some of the glassware is very delicate). The point has also been made that few households will have sufficient quantities of ice or stocks of exotic garnishes to make the drinks at home.

But maybe that is a strength of the Gin Tonica? It DOES provide folks with something that they can’t easily get at home and, as a result, it makes having a Gin & Tonic out-and-about special again and makes the experience more unique.

Some folks are certainly behind it; I noticed in the supermarket (Sainsbury’s) the other day that, if you buy a 70cl bottle of Bombay Sapphire and send off the tag to a specified address, they will send you two free balloon glasses (they are good and sturdy, too). One London Gin Bar have even switched to serving all of their Gin & Tonics in balloon glasses by default (you can, of course, request a highball or tumbler if you’d prefer).

So is the Gin Tonica a fad? I don’t think so. It’s done well in Spain and I think that, in the high-end gin bars, this serve could become a star, particularly with some more imaginative garnishes. For folks drinking at home, I’m not so sure that it will become commonplace, but the glasses are certainly talking points (so long as they don’t break!).

Epilogue

The sharp-eyed amongst you may have realised that I have only covered fourteen Gin Tonicas. Number fifteen is a bit of a wildcard and has been included because I have drawn a similarity between this new way of serving Gin & Tonic and the old 1970s, English-pub style. Notably, both are served in wine glasses (big or small), rather than tumblers. Sarah Mitchell, The Modern Madame Genever, was kind enough to provide a recreation.

The Mitchell (Queen Vic) Gin & Tonic

Recipe
50ml Beefeater, one can of Britvic Tonic (preferably at room temperature and slightly flat).
3 pieces of partially melted ice.
Add ingredients to a large, smeary wine glass with a wafer-thin slice of 3-day-old lemon.
Serve on top of a lager-stained bar top.

This is the complete antithesis of the other 14 drinks that we have featured today, with quality not being key to the drink, but – perhaps it’s Sarah’s impressive mixing ability, or the use of a good quality gin – this was not that bad and, I’m afraid to say, was still a far cry from the worst Gin & Tonic that I have ever had.

Cocktails with Hayman’s 1850

 

Back in June 2011 we were privileged enough to try a new product from Hayman’s: a new Yellow Gin; that is a gin that is rested in oak barrels before bottling. Hayman’s use the term “rested” instead of aged; I think is for clarity, as the gin only sits in oak barrels (mostly old Scotch ones) for 3-4 weeks, and some people might say it’s too short a time for “aging”.

As with many of their other products, Hayman’s 1850 Reserve Gin has historical significance behind it. Prior to the bottling act, introduced by William Gladstone in 1861, all gin was sold by either the barrel or the cask. The bottling act meant that it could be sold in single bottles and, thus, began the start of the off-trade market.

When stored, transported and sold in wooden casks, the gin would, unintentionally, take on some of the flavour of the wood. Hayman’s 1850 is an attempt to recreate such a gin; the kind you would have found in the great London Gin Palaces of the middle of the 19th Century.


1.  On its own

Nose: Initially, cream, vanilla, oak and grain. Light and creamy, followed by juniper and citrus.
Taste: Very smooth, with initial notes of juniper, followed by coriander and then some light creaminess. A pleasant sweetness appeared at the end.

2.  Gin & Tonic

Very nice; fresh and crisp juniper notes with a mellow ending. Very enjoyable and balanced.

3.  Martinez

Quite intense at the start, but the flavours softened and the profile lifts after a while, making a very pleasant drink. Sweet citrus from the bitters came in right at the end.

4.  Dry Martini

Rather classic, being crisp and clean with prominent juniper and citrus notes; the main difference from other examples of a “classic” Martini is that the end is a little more rounded. Very nice; full of creamy vanilla and oak flavours.

5.  Old Tom Cocktail

Very pleasant; dry gin notes alongside vanilla. The oak notes go well with the sugar and pastis. A crisp and tasty drink.

6.  Gin Old Fashioned

Silky and complex; keeps opening up. There was a definitive vanilla, woody sweetness, reminiscent of whisky Old Fashioneds, which went well with the sugar and sweet spice of the bitters. Juniper, coriander, citrus, and some earthy notes appear towards the end. Very good, indeed; superb!

7.  Gin Sour

These often work well at showcasing Gins, but not here; the lemon juice and sugar seem to take away from the Gin; I’d rather sip it on its own.

8.  Hot Toddy

Quite nice; a more subtle and laid back drink. There are strong notes of juniper and pine, but it is nonetheless warming and comforting.

9.  Negroni

Very nice. Smooth and silky. This tasted polished and well-rounded, with a pleasant vanilla oak character to it, more so towards the finish. The flavours of the Gin – especially the juniper – came through well.

10. Hayman’s 1850 – Frozen

This had a pleasant viscosity to it and the slight tint of colour found in the Gin at room temperature seemed more emphasised. The oak notes were also more prominent, with a little vanilla coming through at the end. Overall, this was simply a way to drink the Gin and experience its flavours more intensely.

11.  Bramble

Great! Full of flavour: sweet, sour and fruity, with a hint of vanilla. The Gin came through well. Very tasty.

12.  Milano

Fresh. Rich and bracing, but very tasty. The herbal notes of the Galliano and the oak from the Gin go together very well.

13. Clover Club

Soft, silky and smooth. The sweet pomegranate and berry notes of the Grenadine went well with the lighter oak and vanilla notes of the Gin. A very nice drink, indeed, with distinctive notes of lemon and juniper.

14. Shady Tree

A nice cooler, this has some sweet vanilla notes, as well as a citrus bite and a bit of fire. This is a good drink, but maybe not the best to harness the full potential of this Gin.

15. Pink Gin

This cocktail was quite pleasant, although it didn’t work as well as I had expected; the bitters seem to obscure the flavour of the Gin slightly.

16. Alexander

Superb; really smooth and creamy, but with a decent amount of dryness, too, courtesy of the Gin. This makes it less sickly than most Alexanders, and one for those that usually find this drink too rich.

17. Gimlet

Another smooth cocktail with some sharper lime notes at the end. I have always got some vanilla from lime and, as a result, this works remarkably well alongside the vanilla oak of the Gin.

18. Collins

Very pleasant, fresh and invigorating. The Gin came through well but is not overpowering. Very good indeed.

19. White Lady

Pretty good; in particular, very, very smooth and less tart and sharp than most. Quite a “quiet” drink, which I think would be good to relax with. The Gin comes through, but the drink remains silky soft.

20. Aviation

Very pleasant, although much softer and less crisp than many Aviations. There is a little tartness from the lemon, but, overall, this a very mellow drink.

21. Singapore Sling

This was a very nice drink, although seemingly less sweet than most Singapore Slings that I have had. That said, the uniqueness of the Gin is very well-hidden, so it is perhaps not the best way to enjoy the Gin.

In Conclusion

To me, this was a great first Gin to review for 2012. I really like the innovation shown by the Hayman’s family in making it and I look forward to seeing the yellow gin market gain popularity. This is a really tasty drink, both on its own and also in a Martini. It made a plethora of other great  drinks, too, but, if you want to fully appreciate the flavour, I would most highly recommend those two drinks.

 

For more of our Gin Reviews please click here

British Sloe Gin & Japanese Umeshu

At the 2011 London Boutique Bar Show, I came across a very intriguing product at the Eaux de Vie Saké stand, Shiraume Umeshu. What struck me was how similar in nose and taste it was to Sloe Gin and, when I heard a little about its culture, I knew an article was in the making.

Umeshu
Umeshu is a liqueur made by steeping Umes, commonly known as Chinese Plums or Japanese Apricots, in alcohol (Shochu) and adding sugar to sweeten it. Although using Shochu is the most common alcohol base for Umeshu, some are based on high-strength saké. It is popular in Japan and Korea (Maesil ju), and China and Taiwan (Meijiu). Its origins date from a few centuries ago and it is often made at home, using freshly picked fruit.

Sloe Gin
Sloe Gin is a liqueur that is made by steeping Sloes (the berry of the Blackthorn Bush) in gin and sweetening with sugar or honey. The exact origins of Sloe Gin are unknown, but it is thought to date back to at least the 18th Century. Some suggestions have been made that state that the Sloes and sugar were used to hide the poor taste of the gin of the day or, alternatively, as a possible preservative for the flavour of the sloes.

Sloe Gin making in the UK is full of lore and myths and these include that the best time to pick Sloes is after the first frost of the Autumn/Winter. In the West Country, it is said that any Sloes not picked after the end of September should be left for the fairies.*

Sloes are often pricked before steeping; this is traditionally done with the thorn of sloe bush, but, if a metal implement is used, it must be made of solid silver**.

Tasting Notes

Hayman’s Sloe Gin

This was first launched in April 2010 and use Hayman’s London Dry Gin and English Sloes. It is Victoria Moore’s Sloe Gin of choice in “How To Drink Christmas”. It is bottled at 26% ABV.

Nose: A strong, yet soft initial nose of berry and almond; this is then followed by some dryness.
Taste: A light texture, and very smooth. There are some floral notes as well as the jammy berry ones and a hint of almond. The finish is very dry.

Akashi-Tai’s Shiraume Umeshu

This is made by the Akashi Tai Brewery in Japabn who have been making fine Saké since 1918. Today they also distill Shochu and make a variety of liquers based on both Shochu and Saké. It is made in Akashi-city, Hyogo, Japan and is bottled at 14% ABV.

Nose: Fruity and jammy with hints of plum and peach. There is also a nutty almond note, which is bittersweet in nature. A very little bit of rice wine at the end. Mrs B also got crumbly marzipan on the nose.
Taste: This also had a very smooth texture, with a full mouth-feel. It was slightly sweet to start, and then along came some bitterness. Very jammy, with a berried fruitiness. Some musky graininess, which reminds me of sake.

The main differences I found  between the sloe gin and the sake are: colour (the sake is more yellow, whereas the sloe gin is red) and sweetness: the sake is sweeter and the sloe dryer, but, beyond that, they are quite similar. Both are rich.

Cocktails

#1) Long Pedlar
Originally, this mix of sloe gin and bitter lemon would have used Hawker’s Pedlar Sloe Gin, but, today, it is acceptable to use any variety.


1) Sloe Gin - Quite tart; interestingly, this now tastes quite like the Umeshu does on its own. The sloe gin seems to stand up quite well to the bitter lemon and the jammy, slightly floral notes come through.
2) Umeshu - This was actually quite bitter; the sweetness of the Umeshu seems to have all but disappeared. Not a particularly well-balanced, it just seemed to taste like syrupy lemonade. However, after finishing the glass, I did find the resultant tartness quite refreshing and Mrs. B was rather fond of it in general.

#2) Vale of the Martinez
This was taught to me by Sam Carter at a recent Bombay Sapphire Sloe Gin event, this was easily my favourite drink of the evening.

[50ml Sloe Gin, 25ml Dry vermouth, 10ml Marashino, 2 Dashes Orange Bitters]

1) Sloe Gin – The dry fruity notes of the sloe gin come through as do a hint of flowers quite dry by equally delicious.
2) Umeshu – Brilliant, a lovely clear amber colour, with the perfect balance of sweet and dry and hint of plum and cherry with a orange lift of a finish. This really is superb.

#3) Sloe Gin Sour
A standard sloe gin cocktail and, from my research, also a common way to drink Umeshu. This particular recipe comes from Victoria Moore’s “How to Drink Christmas”.

[50ml Sloe gin, 20ml Lemon Juice, 1tsp of Egg White, Shake & Strain]

1) Sloe Gin - Superb, very refreshing with a great balance between tartness and sweetness.
2) Umeshu - Another good, the jammy sloe gin qualities really come out of the Umeshu in this drink. If tasted blind I would have thought it was Sloe Gin.

#4) Umeshu Tea
This is a Umeshu Cocktail, rather than a Sloe Gin one.

1) Sloe Gin – Quite nice; the herbal, floral fruitiness complements the dryer smokiness of the tea. For some, this might actually be a bit too sweet, but the sloe flavour does come through well.
2) Umeshu – The slightly smoky tannins of the tea work well with herbal and slightly fruity, sweet notes of the Umushu. This is a nice alternative to a toddy. Lovely.

In Conclusion

Although the flavours of Sloe Gin and Umeshu do differ,*** there are a lot of characteristics that are common: the sweet fruity jamminess, the hint of nutty almond, the level of sweetness with a bit of bite, and the fact that, although there are commercial products available, it is a popular drink to make at home. The fact that these two drinks evolved on other-sides of the world to forfill similar cultural positions is somewhat amazing.

Postscript

There are other varities of Sloe Gin availaible in other European countries, such as:
ITALY – Bargnolino (bottled at 40-45%ABV, base alcohol varies)
GERMANY - Schlehenfeuer (Sloe Fire)
SPAIN – Pacharán  – This uses an anis-flavoured spirit rather than gin.

Mrs B. and I smell experience the intriguing Bombay Sapphire Sloe Gin cocktail

I also had the opportunity to go to the Blue room at Bombay Sapphire in London for a Sloe Gin event earlier this week. In addition to trying some top notch cocktails we were shown how to make Sloe Gin in 3 hours, using a vacuum sealed bag and a heated (to 56 0c) water bath. If that wasn’t enough we got to try some re-distilled sloe gin, that was clear, one of the best tipples I have had in a long time.

* This creates something of an issue this year, as the first frost didn’t come until well into November.
** There is acidity in the Sloe Berries and this may react with other metals, tainting the flavour of the sloe gin.
*** Some more than others, I thought that M&S/Boudier Sloe Gin was more similar to the Umeshu than the Hayman’s

Speed Tasting – An Introduction to 11 Boutique Gins

The Boutique Bar Show London is only 2 weeks away (21-22 Sept) and, as usual, will feature a plethora of Boutique drinks brand exhibitors as well as a host of other features. This includes talks, competitions and new product launches.*

The recent boom in new gins coming to market has been led by a range of diverse boutique gins. In preparation for this year’s show, a tasting of Boutique Gins was held at the Graphic Gin Bar, Soho.

In addition to the six gins at the tasting, I have included notes for other gins who will be exhibiting over the two days. Further details can be found here.

To review five gins in the three true tests of a gin (neat, in a G&T and in a Martini) would lead to a mammoth article, so I have, instead, gone with a simple, three word review for each.

Adnams First Rate

From the famous Norfolk Brewers, Adnam’s is available in two varieties: one with 6 botanicals (40% ABV) and another with 13 botanicals (48% ABV); it is this latter “First Rate Gin” that is featured below.

Own: Juniper Spicy Flavourful
Gin & Tonic: Cardamon Cooling Dry
Martini: Classic Dry Floral

Hoxton Gin

It is safe to say that Hoxton Gin takes the traditional gin lover out of their comfort zone. Grapefruit and taragon are not unknown in the world of gin botanicals, but coconut is the real wildcard. Hoxton was developed by Gerry Calabrese as his vision of a gin for the new millennium.

Own: Flamboyant Tropical Confectionery
Gin & Tonic: Fresh Twisted Coconut
Martini: Creamy Coconut Citrus

Gin Mare

Another gin with unusual botanicals can be found in the Mediterranean Gin Mare from Spain. Each of the 10 botanicals is distilled separately and then blended to ensure a better balance. Signature botanicals include: thyme, rosemary, basil and, unusually, olive.

Own: Savory Herbal Intense
Gin & Tonic: Rich Dry Refreshing
Martini: Complex Contemporary “Can-I-Have-Another?”

Iceberg

With Iceberg Gin, it’s all about the purity of the water, which comes from North Atlantic icebergs. The brand considers this to be the least polluted water on earth. Iceberg is a 100% corn-based spirit and has 6 botanicals, including coriander, bark and pepper.

Own: Silky Smooth Earthy
Gin & Tonic: Juniper Clean Zesty
Martini: Pure Subtle Sophisticated

Edgerton Pink

Edgerton Pink is one of the more distinctive gins on the market, not least because it’s pink. Created by the same folks behind London Blue Gin, it is flavoured and coloured with pomegranate. It is produced at Thames Distillery using 14 botanicals including nutmeg, damiana and Grain of Paradise.

Own: Jammy Soft Floral
Gin & Tonic: Fresh Fruity Florid
Martini: Unusual Lasting Berries

Edinburgh Gin

Edinburgh Gin is a Scottish, Art-Deco-styled spirit is made by Spencerfield, the folks behind Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose Whisky. Edinburgh Gin takes pride from its Caledonian heritage and uses Scottish grain alcohol as well as Scottish botanicals such as milk thistle and heather.

Own: Soft Spicy Festive
Gin & Tonic: Juicy Fresh Cinnamon
Martini: Crisp Creamy Nutmeg

Ish Gin

Modern meets traditional with Ish Gin, a Classic London Dry style with contemporary packaging and an extra boost of juniper for old-school gin lovers. Ish is bottled at 41% ABV, made at Thames Distillers and contains 12 botanicals.

Own: Bold Warm Juniper
Gin & Tonic: Dry Refreshing Flavoursome
Martini: Crisp Fresh Juniper

Sipsmith Gin

Made in the heart of Hammersmith, Sipsmith Gin is produced in one of only four operational gin distilleries in London. The gin contains ten classic botanicals and is bottled at 41.6% ABV.

Own: Classic Balanced Juniper
Gin & Tonic: Refreshing Clean Exemplary
Martini: Powerful Juniper Citrus

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Hayman’s London Dry Gin

Created by Christopher Hayman, the great grandson of Beefeater founder James Borough, Hayman’s London Dry Gin is designed to be a very Classic London Dry and, as such, contains rather classic botanicals.

Own: London Dry Gin
Gin & Tonic: Fresh Lemon Classic
Martini: Clean Clean Crisp

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Bloom Gin

Created by Joanne Moore, the Master Distiller at Greenall’s Distillery, after she had spent several years as the custodian of the Original 1761 Greenall’s. Bloom was largely inspired by her love of gardening and, as such, contains floral botanicals such as Honeysuckle, Pomelo and Chamomile.

Own: Sweet Soft Floral
Gin & Tonic: Bright, Blossoming, Beautiful
Martini: Delicate Silky Floral

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Sacred Gin

Vacuum distilled in Highgate, North London; Sacred Gin is helping to bring back gin distillation to the Capital. Botanical are distilled separately and then blended to create a balanced product. Be sure to try the Cardamon “Final Touch” Gin & Tonic, it’s something of a revelation.

Own: Silky Balanced Flavoursome
Gin & Tonic: Juniper Citrus Powerful
Martini: Unusual Cardamon Lovely

London No.1 Blue Gin
This is a commercially successful gin that is exceptionally popular in Spain. It contains 13 botanicals, including Gardenia, which gives it its blue colour. This is not a London Dry Gin, as the colour is added post-distillation, but this doesn’t effect the flavour.

Own: Warm, juniper, reasonable
Gin & Tonic: Sweet, neutral, easy-to-drink
Martini: Ice-blue, cinnamon, concise

GVINE Flouraison Gin
G’Vine Gin is produced in ___ France. Rather than using the usual grain-based alcohol for its base, G Vine uses grape spirit. It also uses grapevine flower as one of its __ botanicals. In addition to the Flouriason a Nouvaison gin is made, this is at a higher strength and contains a different balance of botanicals. It reminds me strongly of the now defunct Gordon’s Distillers Cut.

Own: Dry, spicy, cardamon
Gin & Tonic: Bold, cardamon, invigorating
Martini: Sprightly, floral, cardamon

Portobello
This is a gin that was made especially for Portobello Star, a bar in Portobello Road and home of the Ginstitute Gin Museum, a small still and tasting room where visitors can make their own gin. Portobello was designed to be classic in its style with a modern twist, which comes from the inclusion of nutmeg in the botanical mix.

Own: Juniper, nutmeg, pepper
Gin & Tonic: Flavourful, fruity, spicy
Martini: Crisp, classic, contemporary

Bulldog Gin
Launched in 2007, Bulldog was originally promoted as being the perfect spirit for a Gin & Tonic and, more unusually, a Dirty Martini. It is produced at Greenalls and contains a variety of  botanicals including the rather unusual and exotic lotus leaves & dragon eye.

Own:
Gin & Tonic: Unusual, mild, juniper-light
Martini: Juniper, Coriander, Twangy

Broker’s Gin
Founded in 1998 and produced at Langley, Brokers contains 10 botanicals and, with its distinctive packaging and bowler hat bottle cap, is quintessentially English. The 47% is very popular in Export Markets and this variety won a plethora of awards.

Own: traditional, london, dry
Gin & Tonic: strong, flavourful, punchy
Martini: Textbook, clean, crisp

Knockeen Hills Heather Gin
Made at Thames Distillers and owned by the same folks behind the excellent Knockeen Hills Irish Poteen, this gin has heather as a prominent botanical, in addition to juniper t is bottled at 47.3%. Its sister gin, made using elderflower, is produced at a lower strength of 43%.

Own: smooth, creamy, floral
Gin & Tonic: Strong, flavourful, fresh
Martini: Creamy, smooth, mellow

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*At least one of the above brand are having their UK launch at Boutique London.

Drinks from the Vault #1 – Hayman’s Fruit Cup

Occasionally I come across a discontinued or obscure product that is of such interest I feel compelled to write about it, these article will be part of a new series called “Drinks from The Vault”.
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Recently, there has been lots of interest in fruit cups, Pimm’s and its alternatives, whether it is from boutique gin brands bringing out their own brands, folks experimenting with different spirit bases, or folks wanting to make their own. But today we take a brief step back in time, to look at the – now discontinued – Hayman’s No. 1 Fruit Cup.
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The now discontinued Hayman's No1 (Vodka) Fruit Mixer (Cup)

The now discontinued Hayman's No1 (Vodka) Fruit Mixer (Cup)

There was only one variety of Hayman’s Fruit Cup made and, most interestingly, it was vodka-based rather than gin-based (as almost every other Pimm’s alternative is). The product was discontinued nearly a decade ago and so has less to do with the direction of the company these days but as a Fruit Cup curio it is rather fascinating.
I found these bottles in a shop recently and so was delighted to buy a couple of bottles of Fruit Cup and Hayman’s history. Hayman’s serving suggestion is one part Hayman’s to three parts lemonade, plus a garnish of orange, apple, lemon and cucumber. Rather traditional, with no strawberry to be seen here – something that will no doubt please the Pro-Borage, Anti-Strawberry Pressure Group.

How does it taste?

Rather sippable. lighter then many fruit cups (gin-based ones) but Hayman’s has a stronger flavour than Pimm’s Vodka Cup and is more like what I would have expected Vodka Pimm’s to have tasted like before I tried it. The cup was fruity with a hint of spice and very refreshing.

In Conclusion

I thought that the Hayman’s No1 Cup was rather good and I’m pleased I purchased two bottles. What was most interesting was the fact that it was Vodka-based, but still a strong fresh flavour. If the interest in Fruit Cups continues or increases in the near future, who know some-one else might bring one out too. personally I’d like to someone make a pre-bottled Rum Fruit Cup.

Old Tom Gin Tasting – 10 Varieties Compared

This is the first installment to what I hope will be a continuous series entitled “Raiders of the Lost Cocktail Cabinet”, in which I will look at drinks ingredients that feature in vintage cocktail books (pre-1950), but that have since become defunct or obsolete, meaning that a true recreation of some cocktail was especially difficult.Luckily, over the recent years, there have been a growing number of innovative folks who have set about trying to recreate some of these long-lost ingredients, either using inspiration from old recipes or by backwards-engineering remaining artifacts of the products.This week we shall look at Old Tom Gin. I remember, when I first became enthusiastic about gin, I heard about Old Tom, but never tried it. The first one I ever tried was Boords (when I was in the excellent Bramble Bar in Edinburgh) and I recall being disappointed, thinking that it just tasted like normal gin.* Since then, things have changed a lot and there are many more Old Tom Gins on the market.

There is a lot of discussion about what Old Tom Gin was like and why it came about; one theory is that it was a sweetened gin and that this was partly done to disguise the taste of the gin (that was less-refined when compared to today’s standards). The fact that a lot of gin would have been stored in barrels for shipping and sale also would have meant that the wood would also have added some flavour.

It would be easy to write several articles on the origins and history of Old Tom, but as I don’t really think I have anything to add to the already excellent works out there, I shall merely say that Old Tom Gin originated during the 18th century and was available until the 1960s; it’s quite possible that Gordon’s was one of the last producers.

The focus of this article is taste. With the help of Kamil of the Graphic Bar and my friend & colleague, Mr. Clayton Hartley, we gathered 10 varieties of Old Tom Gin for us to taste. Also on our panel were: the illustrious Mrs B, Mr Adam Smithson and Master Distiller of Beefeater, Mr. Desmond Payne.

L-R:Haymans Old Tom, Home-made BAtch#2, Secret Treasures 2007 Old Tom Gin, Home-made Batch #3, Boths Old Tom Gin.

The Old Tom Gins were all tasted neat and at room temperature.

#1 Xoriguer (38%ABV)
A gin from Menorca with geographic protection and can only be made in the Port of Mahon on the island.

Nose: A fair amount of juniper, with strong floral notes, including grapeflower. Reminded some of the panel of pines and a forest.
Taste: This had a very complex start: the flavours were intense and then diminished over time in a diminuendo of flavour. Soft and silky, rich in juniper and very floral; not too sweet and had a faint, and not unpleasant, hint of soap. Well-liked by the panel.

It was suggested that this was one of the closest to Old Tom Gin and that, with a little extra sweetness and a touch more oakiness, it would be almost spot-on. With this in mind, I exposed a small batch of Xoriguer to half a dozen oak chips for 8 hours and added a touch of sugar syrup. The resultant light-golden coloured liquid emphasises the floral notes of the gin and a touch of vanilla was added from the oak, along with a smidgen more sweetness on the palette. Maybe this is pretty close? Who knows?

£21.40 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#2 Both’s Old Tom Gin (47%ABV)
Both’s Old Tom Gin is made by The Both’s Distillery (founded 1886) for Haromex of Germany and bottled at 47%ABV it was the strongest proof we tried. It was designed to reflect the Old Tom Gin of the 19th century for use in cocktails such as the Martinez. The label, reminiscent of fuzzy 70s wallpaper in texture, looks to have been inspired by the label of Booth’s Old Tom Gin (discontinued), this gives the packaging a nice historical edge.

Nose: citrus with herbal undertones
Taste: sweet citrus and juniper, some fennel and anise too. Reminds we of local herb liqueurs of mountainous Europe. Very silky and very pleasant to drink
I really liked this as did most of the panel although most felt it improved slightly when cut with a little water as at 47% it was a touch over-powering, even so, very good indeed.

#3 Home-made Batch #2
Firstly batch #1 was a small test batch and so there wasn’t enough for this tasting. This is based on a recipe by David Wondrich which uses a blend of gin, whisky and sugar. I decided to use the roughest gin I could find (ironically this is made by the same distillery that make my all-time favourite gin) with reference to theory of the sugar being there to make the spirit more palatable.

Nose: Fruity, sweet a bit like fruit chewing gum.
Taste: A bit to sweet for most peoples palettes, but this is something that can be rectified. some berry elements and a final flavour of Barley Sugar.

#4 Ransom Old Tom Gin (44%ABV)
Made by Ransom Spirits of Oregon, USA. It is described as an historic recreation of the type of Gin that was in fashion during the mid 1800s in America. The recipe for Ransom Old Tom Gin was developed in collaboration with David Wondrich.

Nose: Very strong nose, juniper and herbs a bit like the 1812 Gin Liqueur or Ginger Wine..
Taste: This didn’t taste like any of the others we tried, it was very bitter and although not to my taste it was liked by quite of few of the panel members, including my wife. There were some hints of dried fruits, such as Papaya as well as some complex herbal notes.

Even though this is not like the other Old Toms we liked it was antique cocktails and it could make a pronounced difference in cocktails, it’s not going to be to every-one’s taste  but those that do like it will love it.

Ransom retails for around $36 for a bottle but is not currently available in the UK.

#5 Secret Treasures 2007 (40%ABV)
This is specifically described as an “Old Tom Style” Gin and is part of Haromex‘s Secret Treasures Collection, Germany and was created by created by Master Blender, Hubertus Vallendar in Kail. The bottle we tried was one of 688 produced in 2007. It uses a double distillation process and the Juniper come from the Apennines.

Nose: soft with some juniper and floral notes, sweet elements too.
Taste: a very fresh beginning like cucumber, in particular cucumber skin. A hint of sweetness but the gin remains quite dry, some pine and a little oakiness at the end.

If you tend to find many Old Toms a bit too sweet, this is worth a try.

#6 Home-made Batch #3 (Oaked)
Made in the same way as Batch#2 but this was put in a jam jar with a few whisky barrel chippings for 24 hours.

Nose: liquorice ice-cream, caramel and onion skin.
Taste: Much better than Batch#2 the oak has mellowed out the rough edges of the gin. This was pleasant enough with hint of vanilla and caramel but sadly not much juniper. On the upside it was smooth and easy enough to drink but on the downside it was not very gin-like and it was a bit sweet.

I think recipe is a pretty good representation and can give some really good results, but like any recipe the end product is only as good as it’s ingredients also I think I made it too sweet.

L-R: Dorchester Old Tom Gin (2007), Ransom Old Tom, Xoriguer Gin, Jensens Old Tom Gin

#7 Jensen Old Tom Gin (43%ABV)
From the creator of the Bermondsey Gin, this Old Tom is based on an original recipe dating back to the 1840s. Jensen’s take the view that Old Tom was sweeter, in order to hide impurities in the gin, but they suggest that this sweetness came from a more intense botanical mix rather than adding sugar (the cost of sugar being prohibitively high).

Nose: juniper and heavy spice on the nose, one panellist said it reminded them of a glue stick, but not in a negative way. Complex with quite a bit of depth.
Taste: Not very sweet and a lot of the elements of the nose come out in the taste, pine and strong herbal elements, there finish is reminiscent of liquorice powder and this is where any sweetness comes from. Definitely distinctive from the other we tried, it rather split the opinion of the group.

£24.50 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#8 The Dorchester Old Tom Gin 2007 (40%ABV)
This is made exclusively for The Dorchester Hotel, London by William Grants, the folks behind Hendrick’s Gin. I gather it was created to enable the barmen to authentically recreate some of the truly classic cocktails. I don’t how many runs there have been but I have only ever seen the 2007 bottling.

Nose: delicate and fragrant. Hints of rose and sandalwood, undoubtedly perfume-like.
Taste: sweet but not without dryness, the gin also had some floral notes. It was silky and smooth with hints of lavender and violet, some panel member were reminded of coniferous forests but all agreed it was very good, well balanced with a real depth of character.

The Dorchester Old Tom Gin is available for around £70 for 70cl from The Dorchester Hotel shop.

#9 Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
This was one the first of the new recreations of Old Tom Gin it is lightly sweetened and botanically intensive and is based on an historic recipe from James Borough the ancestor of current Master Distiller of Haymans, Christopher Hayman.

Nose: good solid juniper nose, a little sweet citrus, like Orange cremes.
Taste: very clearly gin, with slightly more intense flavour and an added sweetness. A very neat product and quite easy to drink. IF you see Old Tom as sweetened gin with a little more bang from the botanicals this would be a good choice. Very good indeed.

£19.90 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#10 Artisan Bar at The Langham Hotel
This is a blend of two mystery gins and some nuts and is then aged in a barrel.
Nose: Very interesting, notes of tea, toffee, dark chocolate and fresh Bran flakes.
Taste: Very complex with a bitter-sweet start. Dryness to start and then some sweet nuttiness such as hazelnut and just a hint of walnut. A rather tannin like finish, such as you might get from a tea liqueur. A complex and flavourful variety that was a treat to try.
All the panel enjoyed the taste of this variety but one downside was that it wasn’t especially characteristic of gin.

It seems that the Old Toms fell, generally, into two categories: those that were more botanically intense and also sweet (Hayman’s, Dorchester, Both’s and The Home-mades), and those that were just more botanically intense (Jensen, Ransom, Secret Treasures). It also seems that it was the former category that was more popular with the panel.

THE RESULTS

#1) The Dorchester Old Tom

#2) Xoriguer Mahon Gin

#3) Both’s Old Tom

#4) Hayman’s Old Tom

#5) Langham Hotel Old Tom

However both The Dorchester and Both’s Old Tom are currently very tricky to get hold of in the UK and so as a starter Old Tom to try out a few vintage cocktails with I would suggest giving Hayman’s a try, also being around the £20 mark it’s not too expensive to experiment with.

In conclusion, for a little while I have suspected that there may not be one single description of an “Old Tom Gin” and that at different times and in different places it meant something different. Looking at the variety of characteristics of the brands we have tried and the authenticity of the methods used to create them, I think this surely must be the case.

Xoriguer was a really interesting find and I think that using it as an Old Tom (particularly if it has been slightly sugared and oaked) has a lot of potential and deserves further research.
*Following a conversation with the Production Manager at Boord’s plant in the USA, it turns out that my view was vindicated, as Boord’s Old Tom is just a normal compound gin, perfectly respectable in it’s own right, but not designed, marketed or considered (in the slightest) as a gin in the Old Tom Style; Old Tom is just their name. This is a similar situation to Wray & Nephew’s Old Tom gin.

A Special Thanks To:

James Hayman for providing us with a sample and the excellent picture of Gordon’s Old Tom, Chris Seale of Speciality drinks, Blue Island Ltd., Harald of Haromex, Kamil and the folks at Graphic bar, Mr. Clayton Hartley, Desmond Payne of Beefeater and of course, the lovely Mrs. B.

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Update Bonus Old Tom Tasting Notes

Sounds Spirits Old Tom Gin (40.0% ABV)
Made by Sound Spirits of Seattle, Washington which holds the moniker of being Seattle’s first distillery since prohibition. Their old tom gin is rested on oak chips for about a month; it uses less juniper and more spice than the distillery’s Ebb and Flow dry gin.
Color: Very light yellow
Nose: Warm citrus, lemon, lime and orange, with complex spiced notes
Taste: A good spiciness up front, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger followed by some citrus and juniper, then coriander and finally some dry floral notes on a long finish.

Spring 44 (44.0% ABV)
Made in Loveland, Colorado this old tom gin contains a mix of 7 botanicals: juniper, coriander seed, orris root, lemongrass, rosemary, galangal root and pink grapefruit peel. The gin is aged in new, toasted, not charred, American oak barrels for 6 months to add a little warmth.
Nose: Very strong juniper – pine, but with an intriguing vegetal note alongside it and a sweetness, too, like celery with hints of sweet licorice powder.
Taste: The same vegetal notes from the nose come through on the taste, with a combination of savory, sour and bitter notes, including celery. The finish is slightly sweet, like licorice sticks, with more straightforward notes of piney juniper at the very end.

Downslope Ould Tom Gin (42.5 %ABV)
Made by Downslope Distillers near Denver, Colorado it is designed as an interpretation of a late 1800s style gin. It contains a mix of seven botanicals and is aged in wood for a number of months.
Color: Golden orange.
Nose: Some dry cider apple notes and then some bready maltiness.
Taste: A good full texture, some ripe apple to start followed by some sweet herbal notes, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reminiscent of a spiced baked apple. This is followed by a little maltiness and then some dry citrus, juniper and a hint of chocolate. A very complex example of Ould Tom Gin, as sippable as a malt whisky.

Goldencock Gin (38.0% ABV)
Dating from either the 1940s or 1950s and made in Norway by Arcus, Goldencock is the only old tom gin that still exists from the time before most brands stopped producing it. Given that it is not exported from Norway, it remained largely unknown for decades, with only scant reference in some books.
Nose: Juniper, coriander, citrus sweetness
Taste: Strong and intense flavor with herbal notes up-front, rosemary thyme and a hint of mint followed by some juniper pine. This is followed by a little sweet spice, lots of licorice and then a dry citrus finish.

Hammer & Sons Old English Gin (44.0% ABV)
Made at the Langley distillery in the oldest gin still in the UK, with a recipe dating from 1783. The gin contains a mix of 11 botanicals (juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon, orange, orris, cardamom, cassia, licorice, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and 4 grams of sugar per liter. The gin is unusually packaged in reused champagne bottles with a silkscreen print.
Nose: Vibrant, sweet lemon and vanilla, like lemon cheesecake, with a little soapy coriander, before returning to a fresher, lemon note.
Taste: Very smooth, with a hint of sweetness to start that is quickly outshone by strong notes of juniper, lemongrass, and coriander. The finish is of soapy coriander, juniper, and a dry note like wood crossed with soda water.