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 1936 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.

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Dry Vermouth Tasting – With SW4 Gin

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Anyone that has been following my series on Martini Gadgets will realise I have a passion for this mixture of gin and vermouth. As gin has become increasingly popular, a wide array of gin tastings have taken place, held in London, Manchester and Oxford, to name but a few. But what about the vermouth? When a cocktail only has two ingredients, even the lesser partner is a crucial component.

Vermouth is an automatized wine. The flavour is determined by “appropriate derived substances” (e.g. seeds, herbs, spices, roots) and there is no prescribed combination of these, with the one exception that a Vermouth must contain an Artemisia (such as wormwood). Vermouth can be sweetened, but only with caramelized sugar, sucrose or grape must.

Typically there are three main types of vermouth:
Red: A sweet style that is coloured with either caramel or herbs. Often drunk as an aperitif or in cocktails such as the Manhattan and Martinez (both potential ancestors of the Martini).
White: A sweet style based on white wine.
Dry: A dry style, also based on white wine and synonymous with the modern Martini.

Two more styles seem to be growing increasingly popular: Rose Vermouth and Orange/Ambre Vermouth.

All of the vermouths in our tasting were tried on their own and then we tried our top ten in a Dry Martini.

Dry Martini Details
SW4 Gin
5:1 Ratio
Stirred
No Garnish

#1) Martini Extra Dry (Italy) (15%)

A very familiar product to most and synonymous with its namesake cocktail.

Own: On the nose, there is a little pistachio and wet slate. This is quite dry; probably one of the driest we tried. It was quite simple and rather tart.

Martini: Pretty good, a classic drink. It’s a popular brand, readily available and makes a decent drink. This is an excellent fall-back when it’s difficult to get hold of some of the more obscure varieties.

Martini Extra Dry is available from most supermarkets and off-licences for around £8 (75cl).

#2) Noilly Prat Dry (France) (18%)

Own: A very fruity nose with a hint of nail polish. Great scents of honey and blossom, and the slightest hint of salt. One panelist likened the nose to that of a good muscat. Noilly Prat has depth of flavours and is quite complex. There is some jamminess, akin to an apricot preserve, and there is a pleasant warmth at the end. Very popular with the panelists.

Martini: A truly classic Martini and exactly what I would expect when ordering a Dry Martini. Excellent balance between gin and vermouth, with just enough herbal flavours to complement the gin without overpowering it. Cool, clean and crisp.

Available from Waitrose around £10 for 75cl.

#3) Filipetti Extra Dry Vermouth (Italy) (14.8%)

Perlino also make a Blanco and a sweet vermouth, as well as Martelletti, a Classico Vermouth.

Own: Dry; exactly what you’d expect from dry vermouth. Some floral aspects like a good muscat. Well balanced with hints of honey and cinnamon. Very pleasant.

Martini: In the proportions of 5:1, this made the wettest Martini of those that we tried. The dry and slightly fruity flavours have a strong presence in the cocktail and, if you like only a whisp of Vermouth flavour in your Martini, this is worth a look.

#4) Dolin Chamberry Dry Vermouth (France) (17.5%)

Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, this has a wine content of 75-80%, which is notably higher than some of its competitors. Dolin also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth.

Own: A musky, tropical nose with notes of passionfruit and guava. Soft flavours, well-rounded, simple and neat. This would make an excellent aperitif and has a lovely aftertaste. A couple of panelists likened it to a dry sherry. Another popular vermouth amongst our panel.

Martini: Exceptionally clean, with a slightly warm texture. Strong, but not overpowering flavours of Juniper and Angelica, a balanced bitterness and a touch of cinnamon. The vermouth compliments SW4 well.

Available from Waitrose around £8 for 75cl.

#5) Stock (Italy) (16%)

Made by the Stock Spirit Company, whose biggest markets are in Italy and Slovenia, Stock is made with Italian Table Wine and Italian Brandy and is infused with more than 50 herbs & spices. They also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth, in addition to a very tasty Maraschino.

This has a superb, fresh leafy green flavour and was a favourite of one of the panel. It made a very flavourful Martini whilst still maintaining the underlying characteristics of a Dry Martini.


#6) Cinzano (Italy) (15%)

Founded in 1757 in Turin, Cinzano is owned by Gruppo Campari. Cinzano has a Classic range, comprising of a Dry, Red, White and Rosé varieties, and a Mediterranean range: Limetto and Orancio, which are vermouths with twists of orange and lemon (somewhat akin to the old Martini Limon).

Own: A fruity nose, akin to a house white wine, with some peach notes. It tastes like sweet grape juice and is not very dry, as vermouths go. The taste is much better than the smell, but the panel was left unimpressed.

Martini: Quite a basic Martini; pretty good, but lacks the depth and crispness of some of the others.

Available from Waitrose around £5 for 75cl.

#7) Vya (USA) (17%)

Made in Madera, California, Vya was made in response to an increasing number of premium gins making their way into the market; the idea being that, if you’re spending $30 on a gin, does it make sense to then mix it with a $6 vermouth? They also make a sweet variety of their premium vermouth.

Own: Vya had a nose reminiscent of fresh vegetation: cabbage or pea pods. The panel disagreed on their opinion of the taste: some enjoyed its definitive flavours, which were fresh and bright with hints of cloves and liquorice, whereas others found it exceptionally bitter and overpowering.

Martini: Cool and flavoursome with hint of cinnamon and spice, followed by a lightly bitter edge at the end. Complex and slips down the throat very easily, moving toward the intense flavours of the home-made vermouth.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £16 for 75cl.

#8) Top Shelf (UK)

This is based on a flavouring syrup produced by home-brew specialist Still Spirits. They suggest mixing it with either vodka or wine, so we decided to try both versions.

i) Wine-based (14.7%) – This had a nose of moth balls; slightly sherberty. Very sour, very dry, a bit like cordial. Watching the physical recoil of people as they tasted it was very interesting. As a result, this is not recommended, although it should be noted that mixing the syrup with a better quality wine would probably improve the results.

ii) Vodka-based (Sipsmith) (16%) – With a nose of moth balls and lavender perfume, this reminded one of the panel of their great aunt. The taste is much better than the wine version, being sweet with hints of creamy vanilla, although some of this obviously came from the vodka. Not so dry and closer to a Sweet Bianco than a Dry vermouth, this was nonetheless quite palatable and had an interesting a hint of Christmas spice.

Top Shelf Dry Vermouth Flavourings is available here for £2.29 for 50ml (One 50ml bottle makes up to 1.125 litres of Dry Vermouth.)

#10) Berlino (UK) (13%)

Berlino is produced and bottled by Continental Wine and Food (CWF), who are based in Huddersfield. Although it looks a lot like vermouth, it is in fact billed as “Extra Dry Aperitif”, made from the “finest quality concentrated grape juice, herbs and spices.”

Own: There were various cries of disgust at the smell of this; “wet dog” and “drains” were among two of the more polite comments. It had very little flavour and was rather watery, but did have a sharp, bitter finish. This was the least popular of the varieties we tried. At £3.20 a bottle it may look like a cheap alternative, but it would be a false economy.

Belrino is available from Tesco for around £3.20 for 70cl.

Mr Hartley waits, in anticipation, for the tasting to start.

#11) Home-made (UK)

Based on a recipe from the Plymouth Martini Book, which can be found here, this vermouth was designed specifically for Plymouth Gin, but we were intrigued as to how it would fare with SW4.

Own: Fresh, with a slightly meaty nose, one panelist likened it to hotdogs (in a most positive way). Another comment stated that it was reminiscent of a German Christmas market, with mulled wine, stollen and bratwurst. The taste was rather savoury and quite heavy on cloves, with some hints of anise and angelica too. Without a doubt, it had very intense flavours, but was also very good. If you’ve never tried making your own vermouth, I highly recommend it.

Martini: Very popular with the panel, this was jam-packed with flavour. This vermouth may not produce your typical, very clean, very crisp Martini, but it is an excellent drink nonetheless and, if you like a wetter, more flavourful Martini, then this is definitely worth trying. Cloves and Christmas spice come through, but complement the gin well.

#12) Lillet Blanc (17%)

Own: A very light and subtle nose of white grape, grass and dried flowers. Sweeter than expected, this was less complex and thinner than the Jean de Lillet, but, served cold, it is an excellent aperitif and an all-round good product.

Martini: A soft Martini that was less herbal than normal. Simple flavours, less bite and some subtle citrus. Smooth and delicate, and rounds off the gin nicely.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £15 for 75cl.

#13) Jean de Lillet

Own: Strong, savoury nose; fresh and very appetising. The taste is quite sweet, with overtones of honey, blossom, apple, pear and peach. It’s a little buttery and reminiscent of a quality Sauternes. This was really very, very good and there would be little danger of it oxidising before the bottle was finished. It had a finish of apricot stones, apple and almond.

Martini: A rich and flavourful Martini, this does make a truly excellent drink, but for my money I’d rather drink it neat. We also tried it in a Vesper as a substitute for Kina Lillet and the drink certainly had a more bitter edge and was pleasant golden yellow, although perhaps not quite sweet enough.

A selection of the Vermouths we tasted

#14) Gancia Bianco (14.8%)

Own: The nose of Gancia Bianco had hints of sloe gin and lemonade. Floral and herbal. The taste is very pleasant and was a very nice surprise: it was a little syrupy, like mead. It also had a finish of lemon pith, which counteracts the sweetness well.

Martini: A very flavourful Martini and not too sweet. I’d never really thought of using Bianco vermouth in many cocktails, but in a Martini it worked well; nice for a change.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £12 for 75cl.

#15) Martini Gold (Italy) (18%)

Own: Very floral on the nose, with hints of tea, lavender and Bergamot. The taste is quite smooth and sweet, but has an underlying bitterness akin to Campari or Suze. Quite a long finish, with the saffron coming through. Very much a departure from their traditional range, but a product with potential.

Martini: On the face of it, this is a pretty standard martini – cool and crisp – but there is definitely a more bitter finish than usual, with herbs and spice and the hint of saffron, which works well with the bitter elements. It’s like you’ve made a martini half with vermouth, half with a bitter apertif.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £21 for 75cl.


In Conclusion
From our tasting, it is clear that the vermouth you choose for your Martinis can have a big impact on the drink and so it’s a decision worth some consideration. It’s also clear that vermouth is something that is more versatile than I had previously thought: its merits extend beyond its use in Martinis and that, by over-looking Bianco/White vermouth, I’ve been missing out; definitely something to look into.

THE RESULTS

Best Aperitif: Dolin
Best Martini: Noilly Prat, Home-made
Best All-rounder: Fillipetti

Special Recommendation: Jean de Lillet

A special thanks to Pernod Ricard, Bacardi-Martini, Lillet, Marblehead, Speciality Brands, Vya, Perlino, Stock Spirits Interntional, Imbue and Graphic Bar for their support in this tasting.

Thanks also to SW4 Gin for providing the Gin for our Martinis.

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Alcoholic Ginger Beer Tasting – June 2012 Edition


Update November 2012 – Ginger Grouse Added,

Update July 2012Since the market has expanded so much we undertook a second tasting incorporating the new products, the new results are below.

Following the success of our non-alcoholic ginger beer tasting, natural progression seemed to recommend a tasting of their alcoholic counterparts, although it should be noted that only Fentiman’s and Crabbie’s currently make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ginger beer.

The ginger beers were tried blind, thanks to the help of our server, Mrs. B, and we tasted them both on their own and with ice. The tasting was conducted by myself and my grandfather, David Smith Snr (a long-time ginger beer fan).

During our tasting we noticed that the ginger beers fell broadly (there was some cross-over) into two categories:
1) Traditional: these follow a similar flavour profile to non-alcoholic ginger beers; and
2) Ale-led: these have a more “ale-like” flavour profile and are typically made by beer breweries.

Traditional-Style Ginger Beer

From left to right: Hollow’s, Stone’s, Crabbie’s

#1 Stone’s Ginger Joe (4.0%ABV)

Made by the company that makes Stone’s Ginger Wine and my favourite fruit cup (sadly discontinued), this isn’t out on the market yet and so we were very lucky to get a sneak preview.
The product uses their famous ginger wine as a base and is named after Joseph Stone, a grocer with a fine moustache and founder of the Stone’s Company.

Ginger Joe doesn’t taste too alcoholic (this was a favourite of my Grandma, who doesn’t usually drink alcohol) and was sweet, but had a nice amount of ginger behind it. There was slight syrupyness (reminiscent of ginger wine), but this didn’t spoil the drink. Stone’s did improve with ice, where the flavours became more pronounced. All in all, the drink was tasty and refreshing; I’ll look forward to its release.

Stone’s Ginger Joe is available from Ocado for £1.60 for 330ml and will be available in Tesco for £1.95 for 330ml,

#2 Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

Made by the same firm that has been producing Ginger Wine and Whisky Mac for decades, Crabbie’s was the first of a new wave of alcoholic ginger beers to be released on the market and have recently expanded their portfolio (see here for more details); their most recent release is a non-alcoholic ginger beer: John Crabbie’s.

The Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer has tangy ginger on the nose and an initial taste that is reminiscent of ginger nut biscuits or ginger snaps. It had quite a long finish, with a warming tingle afterwards. This was quite fizzy and was slightly more beery than the Stone’s.
It was quite nice on ice, but we both felt that it lost some of its character and, therefore, would prefer to drink it chilled without ice.

Crabbie’s is available in Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s for around £1.50 for 500ml

Crabbie’s is also available at J.D. Wetherspoons.

#3 Hollow’s Superior Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is made by that bastion of the soft drinks world, Fentiman’s. Both their tonic water and non-alcoholic ginger beer have done very well in previous tastings on Summer Fruit Cup.

Hollows was launched in September 2010, is botanically brewed and contains pear juice. It is named after John Hollow’s the son-in-law of Thomas Fentiman. It appeared lighter and more cloudy than the others and there were interesting floral notes in the nose. The floral aspects continue in the flavour of the drink, with little hints of violets. This reminded me of ginger lemonade or a strong ginger ale (the soft variety), with the alcohol element being far from over-powering.
On ice, this was very refreshing, although we thought some of the complexity of the flavour was lost.

Hollow’s is available from The Drink Shop at £2.13 for 500ml.

#4 Church’s (Aldi) Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

This is available at a very reasonable £1.39 for 500ml, so it’s pretty cheap, but how does it taste?

This is quite fiery and gingery, but probably the least alcoholic-tasting that I have had. It was very similar in many respects, except colour, to Old Jamaican Ginger Beer and had that same heavy warmth of fieriness at the end. The upside of this is that it is not too sweet, which means you could probably drink more of it. There’s also a slight, bitter muskiness at end. The downside is that it is may be a touch too fizzy for my liking.

Still, it represents excellent value for money and is a pretty good product overall.

Church’s is available from Aldi for £1.39 for 500ml.

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#5 Sainsbury’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer* (3.8%ABV)

This beer was created by the Head Brewer of Freeminer Brewery, Don Burgess, a gentleman who lives “to brew beer, not make money”. Thanks to Chris to altering us to this variety

The beer is quite gingery, but, thankfully, not too sweet. It has a good level of fizz, without being overly effervescent. The flavour starts off slowly and then builds in a crescendo of spiciness. The finish is long, but, apart from the residual tingle from the ginger, is relatively hollow. This ginger beer is refreshing and quite easy to drink; we both enjoyed it and would buy it again.

I was intrigued that, despite being made in a brewery, this was not an ale-led ginger beer and in fact was more similar to soft-drink-style ginger beer.

Sainsbury’s Taste The difference Alcoholic Ginger Beer is available for £1.62 for 500ml from Sainsbury’s

#6 Crabbie’s Spiced Orange Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

Crabbies have taken their original formula and added natural orange extract and a hint of spice.

This had a medium fizz; it seems slightly less fizzy than normal Crabbies.
Initially, there are flavours of ginger and vanilla, which are followed by slightly spicy, bittersweet orange; in some ways, this reminds me of chocolate orange. This is then followed by the familiar Crabbies ginger fire.
I consider this to be a modest modification on the original, but the new flavours are certainly noticeable and quite welcome. It’s seasonality will keep it special.

Crabbie’s Orange is available from Morrisons for £1.99 for 500ml.

#7 Crabbie’s Black Reserve Ginger Beer (6.0%ABV)

This created by reserving some of the original alcoholic ginger beer during the steeping process and oak mature it with extra spice, citrus and steeped ginger.

nose: strong slightly syrupy with a hint of spice and fire at the end
taste: crisp and citrusy to start with then some sweetness and a good kick of ginger fire. Medium to low fizz touch of smokiness to.  This is refreshing, easy to drink and pleasantly quaffable.
with ice: the ice chills the ginger beer down nicely and on a scorch hot day this would be lovely, when it’s not so sweltering I’d go for having Crabbie’s Black chilled from the fridge to stop the drink becoming too watery.

Crabbie’s Black Reserve is available from Tesco for £1.99 for 330ml.

#8 tESCO sIMPLY ALCOHOLIC Ginger BEer (4.0%ABV)

Tesco were a little behind the curve on making a soft-style alcoholic ginger beer. However, following in the footsteps of Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s, they havehad an ale-led alcoholic ginger beer for a good while now. When I purchased my bottle, it was available at a promotional price of £1, but the regular price is still a reasonable £1.50.

I thought it had a medium-high fizz, good levels of fiery ginger and wasn’t too sweet. As such, it was refreshing and very easy to drink.
I would say that this is the alcoholic ginger beer that most closely tastes like a soft version. With added ice, this was even more cooling and refreshing; the ice brings out additional hints of citrus, making it highly quaffable. Overall, this had a great taste and was even better value for money.


Tesco Simply Alcoholic Ginger Beer is available from Tesco for around £1.39 for 500ml.

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#9 JEREMIAH WEED ROOT BREW (4.0%ABV)

Bottled at 4%ABV this had an intriguing nose of sweet ginger, sarsaparilla and malt. To taste, it had quite a rich texture and, like the Sour Mash brew, a medium-low level of fizz. The ginger was definitely there, along with some herbal and citrus notes. Not too sweet, it was quite refreshing on its own, even without ice. The finish had reasonable fire to it.

Once ice was added, I found that the fire became far more restrained and, as a result, the drink became more refreshing. It was nice served with a lemon wedge.

Overall, this was well-balanced and easy-to-drink.

Jeremiah Weed Root Brew is available from most supermarkets for around £1.80 for 500ml.

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#10 Morrison’s New Season Cider with Ginger Flavour (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is actually a ginger cider and is made by H Westons & Sons of Herefordshire, (they make a large range of cider and perry, including  my favourite, Old Rosey, a really great, scrumpy-style cider. That said I’d say that this I’d say it a pretty comparable product.

Nose: Jammy, citrus and ginger. A bit like ginger marmalade.

Taste: Rather pleasant; dry, juicy and, whilst the ginger is there, there’s no definitive burn or fire. Finally, there’s a little vanilla at the end. There’s some muskiness and hints of almond, too. It’s very refreshing, not too sweet and, although initially the ginger is faint, as you drink more, its effects builds up.

Morrison’s New Season Cider with Ginger Flavour is available form Morrison’s for £1.50 for 500ml.

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#11 Brother’s Special Edition Ginger Cider (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is actually a ginger cider and is made by Brother’s (they also make pear, tutti fruitti, strawberry and toffee apple cider to name but a few) but I’d say it a pretty comparable product.

Funnily enough, this tastes like ginger cider (who’d have thought it?); however, it also has similarities to the sweeter alcoholic ginger beers, such as Crabbies. Brother’s Ginger is not too fizzy and not too sweet and is really quite refreshing; however, one downside is that after one bottle, it is a bit sickly. I don’t think that I’d bother with ice for this drink; just serve it straight from the fridge. Whilst this is not technically a ginger beer, it is worth trying if you enjoy the likes of Crabbies, Stones and Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer – if you like cider, too, so much the better!

Brother’s is available from Tesco for £1.99 for 500ml.

 

#12 GINGER GROUSE (4.0%ABV)

This first time a whisky company  has got into making  ginger beer, this drink is (partly) fortified with Famous Grouse Blended Scotch, this make sense as a Scotch and Ginger Ale is a classic and refreshing drink.

On its own (chilled)
Nose: Warm ginger, hints of sweet butter.
Taste: Whilst not overly or forcibly bubbly, lots of small bubbles do rush over your tongue initially. The flavour is then light and refreshing, with notes of citrus – both lemon and lime, and both buttery and creamy, reminding me of lemon tart and key lime pie. The whisky is subtle, but present from the outset, adding a very light woodiness that reminds me of a Whisky & Ginger; the main difference being the stronger, more fiery notes of ginger on the finish that gradually build up as you drink more. All in all, this is tasty, refreshing, and very easy to drink.

Ginger Grouse is available from Tesco for £2 for 500ml.

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Ale-led Ginger Beer

From left to right: Tesco, M&S, Frank’s Williams’

#12 Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

From the folks that brought you Koppaberg Cider comes Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Made in Sweden in the style of Genuine Swedish Ginger Beer, this is described as a traditional beer blended with ginger. Frank’s also make an Alcoholic Root Beer.

This was somewhat of a hybrid between the two categories and we both quite enjoyed it. The drink had a frothy head and smelt rather malty. The drink in itself was quite fizzy and, with hops and malt throughout, much more like beer than the previous varieties. I also got a subtle flavour of apples from the drink, too. In addition to all of this, it also had a strong ginger flavour that became more pronounced as you drank it. However, this didn’t improve with ice.

Frank’s Ginger Beer is available from Tesco’s for around £1.99 for 500ml. It is also available at J.D. Wetherspoons.

#13 William’s Ginger Beer (3.8%ABV)

Made by Williams Bros Brewing Company in Scotland, William’s Ginger is described as having a “beery” flavour even though it contains no hops. This was pretty beery with some light ginger flavours initially, followed by a very strong ginger aftertaste.

If you find most ginger beers too sweet and would find something like the M&S (see #6) too far-removed from ginger beer, this is definitely worth trying. It’s worth noting that this did not improve with ice, but then real ale doesn’t usually go well with ice.

#14 Marks and Spencer’s “Ginger Ale” (6.0%ABV)

This is a blend of Fredrick Robinson’s Dark Ale with Fentiman’s Traditional Ginger Beer, in an approximate 70/30 ratio, and is bottled exclusively for Marks and Spencer. Robinson’s also make a separate beer called Ginger Tom, which is also a dark ale blended with Fentiman’s.

The Ginger Ale was very dark; the same colour as coke. It tasted predominately of ale and, to befair, we easily guessed which one this was. There was some ginger on the finish, but its taste didn’t readily identify it as a ginger beer and, as far as real ale goes, I’d rather have a pint of something else. It was a bad idea to add ice to this.

Marks and Spencer “Ginger Ale” is available from M&S £1.99 for 330ml.

#15 Tesco’s Finest Alcoholic Ginger Beer (3.8%ABV)

Like #5, this is also made by Williams Bros Brewing Company of Scotland. It’s worth noting that this is effectively the same product as #5, but it was interesting that the Tesco variety was darker, despite the flavours being very similar. I would suggest that the best way to serve this was slightly chilled but not too cold.

Tesco’s Finest Ginger Beer is available from Tesco’s (suprise, suprise) for around £1.79 for 500ml.


#16 Piddle Brewery’s Leg Warmer Ginger Beer (4.3%ABV)

From the Piddle Brewery in Piddlehinton, Dorset.  Amongst other products, they also make the following beers: Jack’s Riddle, Silent Slasher and the seasonal Santa’s Potty.

Leg Warmer itself is a seasonal beer, for the summer, and it is made with Styrian Golding and Saaz hops and real ginger.

Certainly an ale-led Ginger Beer, it has the appearance of a cloudy pale ale, with no fizz; it is quite hoppy, with ginger at the end, but it is quite subdued. However, it is most pronounced on the aftertaste. It certainly isn’t one that you’d serve on ice and it has a suggested serving temperature of 12-13 oC. Unlike most of the other ale-led Ginger Beers, this is not too rich nor stout-like, which makes it rather more refreshing..

This is available from various Piddle Brewery Outlets.

#17 wYCHWOOD gINGERbEARD (4.2%ABV)

A dark, amber brown in colour.
nose: Initially, there was malt , followed by sweet ginger wine.
taste: Very smooth and quite sweet, with minimal fizz. It seemed like a real, middle ground between soda and ale.

with ice: much better, the flavour is tipped towards the soda side of that balance. Still, it’s a bit sweet and creamy, like ginger soda, but with malt undertones and a real, real fire on the aftertaste.

GingerBeard is available from most supermarkets for around £2 for 500ml.

#18 BADGER BLANdFORD FLYER (5.2%ABV)

This is made by the Hall & Woodhouse Badger Brewery of Blandford St. Mary in my neighbouring county of Dorset. They are well known for their ales, such as Badger’s First Gold , Tanglefoot and Fursty Ferret. This bottle has a fly fishing theme that appealed to an angler friend of mine.

This was certainly an ale-led ginger beer, being very smooth, not too fizzy and definitely not too sweet. It worked better chilled than over ice, providing a very refreshing tipple. Fans of heavy ginger notes may be disappointed, as the Flyerhas a more subtle fieriness, that only appears on the finish.

Blandford Flyer is available from Tesco and Waitrose for around £2 for 500ml.

#19 OLD TOM ALE WITH GINGER (6.0%ABV)

Made by Robinson’s of Stockport, this is a variation on their popular Old Tom Orignal Ale (which itself has a slight fieriness to it) with added ginger.

This was a deep, dark red-brown ale, with hops and hints of sarsaparilla and ginger on the nose.
Ale-like initially, this was followed by some sweetness, hints of vanilla, sarsaparilla, and wintergreen,with more ginger coming through towards the end. Intriguingly, rather than a ginger beer, this seemed to be more of a mix of ginger or root beer with dandelion & burdock and cream soda.
With ice, the drink became smoother and more refreshing and the ginger spice was more prominent. Overall, I would say this is one of
the better ale-led ginger beers.

Robinson’s Old Tom with Ginger is available from Sainsbury for around £2.50 for 330ml.


A very enjoyable evening.

In Conclusion

After the tasting, it was clear that we both preferred the Traditional Style Ginger Beers (although Mr. Hartley of the Institute of Alcoholic Experimentation preferred the Marks & Spencer’s version), which we found both more gingery and more refreshing. An 8th ginger beer (Crabbie’s Non-Alcoholic) was thrown in as a wild card, and the most noticeable difference was the colour. In terms of size we thought 330ml was the sweet point of size.
I also think that it’s worth noting that, although most of the brands suggested enjoying their drinks over ice, we both preferred them on their own and would simply drink them well-chilled from the fridge.

Here is our top 3, over which we reached a general consensus:

With Alcoholic Ginger Beers an Root Beers entering the market, a return to alcoholic lemonade? Personally I’m hoping for a hard Dandelion & Burdock.

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Ginger Beer Tasting – 27 (previously 20) Varieties put through their paces.

I’ve got a little gin research project going on that is due the end of February. The survey is simple and takes 90 seconds please help us out by completing the survey.

 Click here to take survey

This article has been updated for Ginger Beers 21 -27 please scroll to the bottom.

One of my first favourite cocktails was the Moscow Mule; its easy construction and readily available ingredients, as well as my previous fondness for ginger beer (and ale), made it very attractive to me.

A part-time stickler for tradition (see the Vesper post), my choice of vodka has never been in question: I have always used Smirnoff. Limes are also relatively standard (despite there always being some exceptions), but a more considerable question to ask is which ginger beer to use (due to the lack in the UK of the original Moscow Mule ginger beer, Cock ‘N’ Bull). Having recently been encouraged by an experienced individual in the spirit world to conduct a ginger ale tasting (17th Jan 2011, 19:00 @ Graphic) I thought I would take some time over the festive period to explore the options available with regards to ginger beer. (A dedicated Moscow Mule post will follow shortly.)

The ginger beer market seems to be split into four distinct types: mass-market (Britvic, Schweppes, Old Jamaica); boutique brands (smaller, but still readily available, e.g. Fentimans and Fevertree); small batch (Breckland Orchard & Luscombe); and supermarket own-brand.

The ginger beers that we selected to try on this occasion were tasted on their own without ice, but had been chilled beforehand. The panel was made up of four non-industry enthusiasts all ready to put their taste buds to the test and hoping for a non-repeat of Donoghue vs. Stevenson.

#1) Great Uncle Cornelius

Made by James White, this was the only still Ginger Beer we tried and had the look and taste of cloudy apple juice. It was considered by the panel to be very drinkable and very tasty. It lacked a strong ginger flavour and didn’t really taste like a typical ginger beer, although I think that is how it is meant to be.

Simply as a soft drink, this would make a perfect summer cooler and I would heartily recommend it for that. One of the panel summed it up nicely with, “I could drink this all day.”.

#2) Schweppes
A very sweet variety; nice and bubbly. What was unusual about this one was that it had a nose of Terry’s Chocolate Orange; it was reminiscent of orange soda. There was quite a lot of ginger, but overall it was felt that the ginger was too weak and the beer too sweet.

#3) Fentiman’s Regular
A very pleasant flavour, with a good strong ginger presence and a taste that lasts for a long time. This also improved noticeably with ice and the panel thought it would be a good drink to accompany a meal.

Available from Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury & Morrisons 4 x 275ml  for around £4.25 As well as large variety of Independent Retailers, if you have trouble finding some, Fentiman’s offer a personal postcode search service to help you find you nearest stockist; contact them via their website.

#4) Barr’s Original
From the creators of IrnBru, this ginger beer had a smell that the panel didn’t like very much. It rated average on terms of warmth and general flavour, but the initial taste was disliked and its bitter finish divided the group. We much preferred #17, which is also owned by Barr’s.

Available from Tesco £1.45 for 750ml

#5) Bundaburg Regular
This is a ginger beer from Australia. Before the tasting, I would say that this was my favourite, but, upon reflection, I realised that although it a lovely soft drink in its own right, it isn’t really a typical ginger beer and, as such, doesn’t mix like one either.
The rest of the panel felt that it was quite sweet, but lacked a lasting flavour and the gingery fieriness that they were looking for. Great on its own, but not for mixing.

Available in Waitrose £1.19 for 340ml

#6) Fentiman’s Cool (Organic)
A relatively recent addition to the Fentiman’s range, this organic variety was the first of two “cool” Ginger beers that we tried. The notion of a “cool” ginger beer is that it has a more subtle ginger flavour and is aimed at those the may find a typical ginger beer a touch too firey.

Fentiman’s Cool tasted strongly of vanilla and buttercream and reminded one of the panel of custard cream biscuits. Quite a long flavour with a mild fiery kick,it was a little watery on the finish. Quite nice, but the panel felt that it lacked something.

Available at various Independent Retailers, if you have trouble finding some, Fentimans offer a personal postcode search service to help you find you nearest stockist; contact them via their website.

#7) Hartridge’s Celebrated
Made by a family-owned company that has been making soft drinks since 1882, this variety is part of the Francis Hartridge Celebrated Range, named after the founder of the company.
It had one of the best fizzes of all of the ginger beers that we tried and certainly smelt like ginger beer. There was a medium level of ginger on the flavour and it had a strong and long warmth to it. There is also an excellent root beer and a good quality dandelion and burdock in the same range.

Update: I tried Hartridge’s Regular Ginger Beer today, in the interests of completion, here are some tasting notes but it has not been included in the already-determined rankings. This much more firey than the Celebrated, it has a lovely lip-tingling feeling and is rather quaffable, if I’d had this found this earlier (for the tasting) it would have definately been a contender.

Available in Morrisons and Waitrose

#8) Fevertree Regular
A familiar face when it comes to premium mixers, this was popular amongst our panel. It had a very strong ginger flavour and was rather fizzy. There were some citrus notes also and it was certainly enjoyed by the panel; just be careful not to get the bubbles up your nose!

Available from Waitrose £1.75 for 500ml

#9) Fevertree Naturally Light
We thought that this was a subdued version of Fevertree’s Original; unless you specifically want a low calorie version, I would stick to the regular. However, if you want a diet ginger beer, this is not a bad option.

Available from Waitrose £1.75 for 500ml

#10) Britvic
A firm favourite in many pubs and bars across the land, I first had this when I was given it accidentally instead of ginger ale; it was a nice surprise, though. It had a savoury nose and was rather sweet; some of the panel found the sweetness rather artificial (checking the bottle later, I found that it does contain aspartame). The flavour is relatively low on the ginger, but light and rather mixable.

#11) Belvoir
Rather perfumed, with some hints of elderflower, Belvoir tasted more herbal than most of the other ginger beers, although it also had some fiery ginger notes. It wasn’t very fizzy at all, which may appeal to some. The panel quite enjoyed this and thought that it had a nice aftertaste, but when considered against the others, it was only upper-middle-of-the-road.

Available from Asda £2.20 for 750ml

#12) Old Jamaica
Extremely bubbly, with a strong sweetness underneath and a fierce fieriness. Very popular with the whole panel; a favourite and generally considered to be what a ginger beer should be.

Available from Asda £2.99 for 6 x 330ml

#13) Luscombe Cool
This had a perfumed nose and a creamy texture. It had a medium amount of ginger and a taste somewhat reminiscent of butter cream. Certain resemblances with the Fentiman’s Cool.

Available Online from Luscombe’s website, Able & Cole, Riverford Organic and The Virtual Farmers Market.

In-store at Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods.

#14) Heron Valley
A very refreshing drink with a savoury nose and flavour (but not herbal). We thought that this was quite a simple drink, but you certainly get a lovely flash of fiery flavour. It was a pleasure to drink on its own and mixed well, too.

Available from Heron Valley’s website and selected delicatessens and bars in the Plymouth area (including the Refectory bar at Plymouth Gin distillery)

#15) Breckland Orchard Chilli Ginger Beer
With a citrus nose of orange and lemons, this reminded one of the panel of bonbons. As for the taste, the whole panel loved it; we thought that it had just the right balance of sweetness and fieriness. Both refreshing and warming, the chilli comes through at the end, in a similar way that it does in chilli chocolate, producing a unique twist on a product that, by all accounts, was already pretty good. If you haven’t tried this yet, do. Our highest recommendation.

For further details visit:Breckland Orchard’s Website

#16) Luscombe Hot
Starting with an enticing nose, this had a strong, fiery heart. Some vanilla and butter cream flavours in addition to the ginger. This was also one of the most warming. I know a bartender who forever sings the praises of this product and I can see why.

Available Online from Luscombe’s websiteAble & ColeRiverford Organic and The Virtual Farmers Market.

In-store at Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods.


#17) Abbott’s
Also owned by Barr’s (4), this was very popular with the panel. It was quite sweet and had a zing of ginger. From my own experience, this had a taste that was quite close to some of the supermarket own-brands that are available. It was lovely served over ice with a splash of lime cordial.

#18) Gosling’s
Created by Goslings Rum to be the perfect partner for their signature cocktail, the primary purpose of this ginger beer is to be a good mixer.
It was pleasantly fizzy, with small bubbles. There were subtle notes of herbs and savoury, with a good balance of sweetness and warmth and a pleasant aftertaste. There was a good amount of ginger in the flavour, but it wasn’t overpowering; this isn’t too surprising, given that it was designed as a mixer, but, even so, it was a firm favourite of the panel to drink on its own.

Although not yet available in the UK, Gosling’s Ginger beer will hopefully launch later in 2011.

#19) Old Jamaica Diet
Very close to the Original: very bubbly, with a fiery kick; it wasn’t too sweet and any flavour of artificial sweetness is minimal. Quite tasty.

Available from Asda £2.99 for 6 x 330ml

#20) Bundaburg Diet
This ginger beer was quite dark in comparison to many others: it was almost ochre in colour. It started off in a similar fashion to the Bundaburg Regular, with a little burst of ginger, but the finish was full of artificial sweetness, which spoilt the whole experience.

Available in Waitrose £1.19 for 340ml

In conclusion, there does seem to be different flavour camps of ginger beers and, from our experience, different people will be attracted to different camps. For a lighter, more buttery drink with hints of vanilla, the two “cool” (Luscombe and Fentiman’s) ginger beers and the Bundaburg would be worth a look.

We thought that the best diet variety was Fevertree, followed closely by Old Jamaica.*

* None of the “Diet” versions that we tried contained Aspartame; however, it’s worth noting that Britvic (Regular) does.

UPDATE

I have since come across a further 7 ginger beers. These were not part of the original tasting and so are not included in the rankings. Nonetheless here are some tasting notes.

THE NEW ONES (L:R) Hartridges, M&S Fiery, Crabbie’s Fiery, M&S Extremely Fiery, M&S Gastropub, Stoney (CocaCola from SA)

#21 Marks & Spencer Ltd. – Extremely Fiery Ginger Beer

This is certainly fiery and, frankly, blows everything else out of the water. The fieriness comes at the cost of most of the other flavours, although I can say that sweetness levels are just right. If you like ginger beer REALLY fiery, then give this a go.

Available from Marks & Spencer £1.49 for 750ml.

#22 Hartridges

With a hint of chocolate orange creams on the nose, Mrs. B found this ginger beer particularly tasty. There was a nice amount of fizz and a good amount of fire, with hints of orange in the flavour, too.

#23 Crabbie’s Fiery Ginger Beer

This ginger beer had a raw fieriness that is most definitely not for the faint-hearted. It was also quite fizzy and not too sweet, but, as the ginger leaves your lips tingling after a single sip, this is one for the hardened ginger beer drinker.

#24 Marks & Spencer Fiery Ginger Beer

This is pleasant enough: quite gingery and unusually dry for a ginger beer. The flavour profile is nicely balanced, if not a little underwhelming. This worked as a mixer, but if you want a soft drink on its own, I’d opt for one of the other two varieties from M&S.

Available from Marks & Spencer £0.99 for One Litre.

#25 Stoney (from Coca Cola)

This is made by the Coca Cola Corporation and was kindly sent to me all the way from South Africa. Initially, it had a slight floral taste and was a little reminiscent of violet lemonade. This is halfway between a cool and a hot ginger beer (it has a reasonable fiery kick) and, curiously, the mid-notes are somewhat akin to Mountain Dew.

#26 Marks & Spencer Gastropub Authentic Ginger Beer

Typical sweet ginger nose, quite lemony with a medium amount of ginger and warmth. There’s a little muskiness, but over ice or served ice cold this was quite refreshing.

Available from Marks & Spencer £0.80 for 500ml.

#27 John Crabbies Traditional Cloudy Ginger Beer
I quite like the new Crabbie’s it has a good amount of fieriness and is pleasantly effervescence, neither too fizzy nor to flat. The balance of sweetness is about right and it’s popular with a few folks I’ve shared a sample with.

Available from Waitrose £1.99 for 70cl.

Many thanks to: Love Drinks, Luscombe, Breckland Orchard, Fentiman’s, Heron Valley, Great Uncle Cornelius (James White drinks) for your kind support for this article.

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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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Tonic Tasting

Tonic Tasting

A Bitter Sweet Truth

The Gin & Tonic is one of, if not the most popular way to consume this juniper spirit. Much has been written by prolific authors (at least in the drinks world) of the relative merits of various Gins within this context, and in fact some Gins have been specifically designed to make a great Gin and tonic. But what about the other key ingredient? No, I’m not talking about ice, as crucial as it is, nor will I dare to breach the world of garnish and lemon vs. lime; today, I’m talking about tonic water.I found critique of tonic to be sparse and, with an increasing market of premium mixers, I thought it was time to discover whether I was fond of Fevertree, barmy over Britvic, smitten with Schwepps or fanatical about Fentimans.

This was a blind taste test, as all the best tests are. For each drink, I used two blocks of our “regulation” ice and a mix of, just over, two parts tonic to one part Gin. The gin we used was Plymouth.

6 O’Clock
This is made by Bramley & Gage, a fruit liqueur company from South Devon. This was developed to compliment their new 6 O’clock gin. I know that other companies make their own tonics to combine with their gin in canned premixes, but this is first time that I have seen such a tonic sold separately.

Anyway, back to something more important: the taste. 6 O’Clock was very pleasant on its own; lighter than most tonics and with more citrus flavours. The quinine character is still there, but in a more balanced way than some of the others.

It made a refreshing gin & tonic, with a hint of citrus and wasn’t too sweet. It was quite moreish and was easy to finish.

Britivic Regular
This makes a refreshing, sweet and juicy concoction. It is very easy to finish and leaves you wanting more, but still has the bitterness that you would expect from tonic water. On its own, this is quite nice to drink; it’s not too bitter, but still has the quinine character. This came out high in our final rankings and we were very surprised; if you would have told me beforehand, I wouldn’t have believed you. Oh, the perils of drink-snobbery!

Britvic Diet
This had a nice bitterness and wasn’t absolutely awful, but it did have a nasty tendency to cling to the mouth more than most of the other tonics and produced a drink that was rather flat. Not a patch on its yellow brother.

On its own, this was actually quite drinkable – it tasted a bit like a flat lemonade – and although nice, didn’t taste like tonic.

Fentimans Regular*
This gin & tonic was full of citrus flavour from the start, but it still had the bitter character of quinine. This is a gin & tonic that really improves with time, making a lovely drink with a little bit of ice-melt. The higher citrus flavour comes from the addition of lemongrass, which is a common component of home-made tonic and, I believe, from reading The Chap, that Fentimans is closer to the type of tonic drunk in the late colonial-era. The citrus quality almost makes a garnish unnecessary… almost.

Drinking this on its own is almost like supping lemonade, what with its strong citrus flavour, but the slight bitterness means that the quinine isn’t lost.

* Fentimans Diet is not yet (July 2010) available, but it is anticipated for the future.

Schweppes Regular
The old familiar, this produces a cool and refreshing compliment to the tonic with a delightful twang on the finish, although it was not as refreshing as some of its counterparts. We both enjoyed this tonic and it did very well in the rankings, finishing in at a close number four.

On its own, this tasted like a pleasant and good standard of tonic water but was not really refreshing.

Schweppes Diet
In a Gin & tonic, this had a flat flavour and was too bitter, which provided little in the way of a compliment to the drink; a mere shadow of its regular partner. When tasted on its own, it was very dry and very fizzy: it was somewhat reminiscent of Alka Seltzer or highly effervescent soda water.

Fevertree Regular
With Gin, this makes a cooling drink and is initially pleasant and refreshing. However, although flavourful, it has a sharp, bitter, and somewhat unpleasant, aftertaste. On its own, this was not too fizzy, nor did it cling to your mouth; it had a good strong flavour, with a bitter kick at the end.

Fevertree Diet
This was overly bitter and really masked the flavour of the Gin, so its definitely not one for a moderately delicate spirit. This did not refresh, and at the end I was left searching my gin & tonic for any flavour beyond the bitterness. On its own, this was very anonymous and very clingy.

Carters
This is okay, but not great. Nonetheless, it does represent reasonable value. This was fizzier than the others, a little clingy, and quite bitter, but after a couple of minutes it started to improve.

The extreme fizziness and the way it clings to the mouth does not make this a great option for drinking on its own.

Q Tonic
Produced in New York, USA, Q Tonic contains; Triple Distilled Water, Organic Agave, Handpicked Quinine, Lemon Juice Extract, Natural Bitters and it gets its fizz from champagne carbonation. The concept behind this tonic was that the creators went back to the drawing board to create a tonic from scratch that would “taste like tonic water should”.

So to the taste: Q Tonic certainly was different to everything else and so, in that respect, Q have achieved their goal. But in a Gin & tonic it doesn’t have much flavour beyond soda water; a little juniper does get through, but this drink is unrecognizable as a gin & tonic. The drink is unsubstantial and underwhelming, with a very short finish.

On its own, the tonic tastes predominantly like soda water, with a real lack of flavour.

As I said, it is different and maybe some people will love it, but it simply isn’t for me. With all the hype surrounding Q and its high price point, I was left bitterly disappointed.



And finally, this is only a matter of personal preference, but, by request, here is our top five ranking:

#1 – Britivic Regular

#2 – Fentimans Regular

#3 – 6 O’Clock Tonic

#4 – Schweppes Regular

#5 – Fevertree Regular

Summer Fruit Cup Tasting – Pimm’s and Friends

Summer Fruit Cups

Pimm’s & Friends


FOR AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE PLEASE CLICK HERE

Many readers may be familiar with the most popular summer fruit cup, Pimm’s, but let me introduce you to its lesser-known competition. With the sunny start of the Bank Holiday, we took the opportunity to take to the garden and taste a variety of fruit cups. We mixed 35ml of cup with 105ml of lemonade (our preference was R Whites), we added ice, and a garnish of lemon, orange, cucumber and mint. We assessed each drink in terms of the overall taste, how refreshing and how “moreish” (did you wish to drink more) it was.

Summer Fruit Cups: From Left to Right: Jeeves, Pimms, Plymouth, ASDA, Stones, Players, Austins, Pitchers.

Here are the results:

Austin’s – 21.9%ABV Available from Aldi

Aldi’s offering has an attractive price tag. It has a similar flavour to Pimm’s and I know folks who use it as an affordable substitute. That said, it does not have a very strong flavour and when mixed with lemonade it struggles to add anything to the flavour of the mixer. With time, ice melt and the infusion of the garnish the flavour improves but it is not nearly as refreshing nor is it as moreish as some of the others we tried. A garnish is essential with this one.

Player’s Original Punch21.5%ABV

Produced by Lamb & Watt of Liverpool, Player’s may be a little trickier to come by, and appears to be mostly found in specialist off licences these days, but it is well worth the effort. Player’s sweet, fruity style is what one would typically expect from a good summer fruit cup. This summery drink is very refreshing and perfect to enjoy on a sunny day. If you are looking for a very traditional, yet refreshing, fruit cup flavour, this would be your best bet.

Jeeves – 17.5%ABV Available from Tesco

This drink clings to the mouth, it has a strong but unpleasant flavour, similar to bitter herbs which was somewhat reminiscent of old vermouth. This was neither refreshing nor moreish. Less than half the price of Pimm’s, but not half as good. However, the drink did improve as the ice started to melt.

Pimm’s No.1 Gin Cup – 25%ABVAvailable in most supermarkets and off-licences

Owned by drink’s giant Diageo, Pimm’s is the oldest and the best known fruit cup. Although there are other varieties of Pimm’s (such as Vodka No.6)*, we tasted No.1 (gin based). The Pimm’s flavor was surprisingly not as strong as some of its contemporaries and was also quite sweet. The aftertaste of sherbet lemons was both unique and pleasant. A drink that was both refreshing and relatively moreish. This was Mrs B’s favourite before we started and, although we both enjoyed it, in comparison to the others it was rather middle-of-the-road.

Fruit Cup, Lemonade and Garnish - Lovely

Plymouth Fruit Cup – 30%ABVAvailable from Plymouth Gin Distillery and selected off-licences

A complex flavour of herbs and spices, which reminds me of Italian vermouth with a good balance of sweetness and bitterness. This cup has the highest alcoholic strength, which gives it a little more of a punch but it’s certainly not too much. With the exception of the Stones cup, this was the most unique with a flavour which is full, but not overpowering. Plymouth Fruit cup produces a cool and refreshing drink and certainly leaves you wanting more.
It also worth noting that Plymouth also suggest trying mixing their cup with ginger ale; we tried this later and were inclined to agree that it improved the drink further. Definitely one of our favourites.

ASDA Summer Fruit Cup – 15%ABV Available from ASDA

This divided opinion (who would have thought a fruit cup could be controversial!), one of us enjoyed the low-key sweet fruitiness and more prevalent herbal notes, which are somewhat reminiscent of peppered celery; the other found the taste and smell overpowering, and the drink unrefreshing.

Stones Summer Cup – 13.5% ABV

This is produced by the makers of the famous Ginger Wine of the same name and is marketed as a light version of their ginger wine. This has a different flavour but it was a break-away that worked well, it stands away from the crowd and looks pretty good. The flavour has a little spice and a small hint of ginger: it is fresh and refreshing. The drink was complimented nicely by the garnish.
It is worth noting that Stone’s suggest mixing their drink one part of cup to four parts of lemonade. When we subsequently tried another drink, mixed to these proportions, the difference was a very pleasant surprise as the edge of the flavour was taken off and the drink became incredibly refreshing and easily the most drinkable. An excellent option, particularly if you are looking for an option which isn’t as strong as Pimm’s.

Pitchers – 25% ABV Available from Sainsbury’s

Very close in terms of flavour, strength and even packaging to Pimm’s and priced at over £10 a bottle, this is the most expensive of the more generic varities we tried. However it is one of the better ones; although it clings a little to the mouth initially, the drink was refreshing with a balance of sweetness and spice that was, fortunately, not too sweet. This, made up in a jug, and shared with friends would be lovely…
*more varieties of Pimm’s used to be available (No2-5; Scotch, Brandy Rum & Rye, respectively) and we keen to experiment with Tequila, Bourbon, Cachaca, White rum etc. too. Pimm’s No7…?