“Me & My Botanical” – A Gin Guild Presentation

MeandMyBotanicalTitle

After a busy week at the beginning of October with the London Gin Summit and Craft Distilling Expo, I decided to make it a quiet London Cocktail Week for me this year. Having said that, at least one event that I definitely didn’t want to miss was The Gin Guild’s “Me and My Botanical” event, which involved five of the UK’s top distillers.

We kicked off with Tom Nichols…

Tom Nichols - Tanqueray

Tom Nichol – Tanqueray

Tom Nichol (Tanqueray Gordons) – Chamomile

Tom discussed his fondness for this daisy flower, which he uses in Tanqueray Ten and that Joanne Moore uses in Bloom; both described by Tom as floral gins. Up until 10 years ago, it was quite unusual to find chamomile being used as a gin botanical. Looking at the flower itself, it is the centre that contains the most oils..

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Charles Maxwell (Thames DIstillers) – Juniper & Liquorice

Charles Maxwell - On Juniper

Charles Maxwell – On Juniper

Juniper (Juniperus Communis)

  • The essential ingredient for gin, which is almost exclusively grown wild (although cultivated in the Netherlands).
  • Historically, it is closely linked with traditional medicine and is still being studied today.
  • Prior to World War One, juniper grew in abundance around the downs and surrounding areas of London, which is one of the reasons that London became a hub for gin manufacturers.
  • These juniper bushes were removed so that the space could be used for agriculture to ease food shortages during the war.
  • In the early days of gin, the botanicals would have been used to cover the taste of poor-quality spirit as much as to add a distinguished and complex flavour.
Charles Maxwell - Thames

Charles Maxwell – Thames

Liquorice

  • Also known as “sweet root”, liquorice contains a compound 50 times sweeter than cane sugar.
  • It contains glycyrrhizin, which is toxic with excessive consumption and, hence, is heavily regulated, especially in the USA.
  • The jury is out as to whether or not glycyrrhizin acid actually passes over with distillation.
  • Using liquorice root in stick vs. powdered form creates a slightly different effect.
  • But both add a complex, sweet note and a earthy softness.

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Desmond Payne (Beefeater) – Citrus & Tea

Desmond Payne - Beefeater

Desmond Payne – Beefeater

  • Citrus is an important botanical that gives upfront, clean, fresh and sometimes sharp notes to gin.
  • Lemons and oranges are the most popular types used in gin production.
  • A distiller’s choice of using Italian vs. Spanish lemons and sweet vs. bitter oranges impacts upon a gin’s flavour.
  • Other citrus choices include lime, grapefruit, tangerine and pommelo.

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He then outlined his five categories of gin:

Juniper-led;
Citrus-led;
Spice-led;
Herbal-led; and
Floral-led.

On the subject of drinking gin neat, Desmond said:

“(The) Evidence of a good gin is that you can drink it on its own.”

Which is a thought that I agree with; in general, if a gin tastes good on its own, it is more likely to mix well in a Martini, Negroni or with Tonic.

Tea

  • Desmond was inspired to use tea as a gin botanical after he tried Beefeater mixed with chilled green tea.
  • This happened after the tonic that was available in Japan, where he was at the time, was not bitter enough (quinine is heavily regulated in Japan).
  • In response, Beefeater 24 incorporates two teas into its botanical mix.
  • Tea mixes so well with other ingredients because it has very large molecules, which “fit in” well with other flavours.

Peter McKay (Alcohols Limited) – Coriander & Orris Root

Peter McKay - Alcohols Ltd.

Peter McKay – Alcohols Ltd.

  • Coriander is seen as the second most important botanical and is used both as a herb (leaf) and a spice (seed).
  • Few gins exclude coriander from their recipe, but an example is Van Wees 3 Corners Gin (made using juniper & lemon).
  • Key growing areas are South and East Europe, South-west Asia, India and North Africa.
  • In 2013, the best coriander is coming from Bulgaria. The reason? Its higher oil content, which is key when this year’s crop is unusually low in its contents of essential oils.

Peter also mentioned how different levels of coriander in conjunction with other botanicals impact upon a gin’s flavours. For example:

High Coriander + Angelica = Dryer Character
Low Coriander + High Juniper + Citrus = Sweeter Character

Orris Root

  • This acts as a binder or catalyst for the other flavours of gin botanicals (angelica and jasmine will also do the job).
  • It is made from the underground stem of the florentine iris.
  • These plants grow well in fine and sandy soil and take three years to cultivate; they are usually harvested in the dry month of August.
  • Plants are harvested by hand and, once the stem and leaves are cut off, the roots are planted.
  • The stem is then peeled and then dried several times in the open air.

Nik Fordham (Bombay Sapphire) – Angelica & Spice

Nik Fordham - Bombay Sapphire

Nik Fordham – Bombay Sapphire

Angelica

  • There are 60 types, but Angelica Archangelica is the type used in gin production.
  • It thrives in damp conditions and is harvested after its second year, once it has flowered and then died back.
  • The seed provides fragrance, whereas the stem is often crystallized and turned into a sweet or mixed with reindeer milk.
  • The root has some juniper and earthy flavours and aromas.

Nik also spoke a little about cinnamon, cubeb berries and grains of paradise.

Question Time

MeAndMyBotanicals - Q&A

The panel then invited questions from the floor, chaired by Simon Difford.

They spoke a little about terroir, where botanicals are sourced from. Largely, it seems that the source of the botanicals is subject to change, based on quality. Peter mentioned they had recently switched their supply of coriander from Russia to Bulgaria.

Simon Difford

Simon Difford

When asked about the rationale for using only “Juniperus Communis” (the only type of juniper allowed in EU production of gin), given that some US gins use other varieties to great effect, the panel gave a mixed response, ranging from:

  • “rules is rules”;
  • Communis is the most common variety found in Europe;
  • One other species (Juniperus Oxideridus) has been linked to poisonings; and
  • Potential protectionism, to stop US imports of gin.

Based on these comments, amongst others, it strikes me that the most likely explanation is that when the rules were written, the use of Western Juniper, Utah Juniper, and Rocky Mt. Juniper was relatively unknown. As the document is a technical one, it was not sufficient to simply say gin should be flavoured with “Juniper” – a species need to be specified, too; hence, Juniperus Communis.

www.theginguild.com

DTS with Sam Carter and Nik Fordham of Bombay Sapphire - Many Thanks to Gin Guild Director Nicholas Cook for sending this over.

DTS with Sam Carter and Nik Fordham of Bombay Sapphire – Many Thanks to Gin Guild Director Nicholas Cook for sending this over.

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Cocktails with… The Botanicals Gin

Gin is popular in Spain – very popular – and gin made in the UK is seen as being particularly prestigious, although there are some excellent gin produced in Spain itself. Brands such as Knockeen Hills and Brokers enjoy great success in Spain and there are even a number of brands that are produced in the UK for the Spanish market, but not actually sold here.

One such brand is the focus of today’s article: The Botanicals, which is made at Langley Distillery and contains 14 botanicals. It is bottled at 42.5% ABV.


On its own
Nose: Sweet, creamy orange, like Triple Sec.
Taste: Very fruity, with sweet orange, vanilla and a touch of anise. Very smooth and quite unusual, but rather nice.

Gin & Tonic
Lots of citrus on the nose leads you into a smooth, yet zesty Gin & Tonic. With primary flavours of juniper and orange, this is fresh, juicy and vibrant.

Martini
Quite sweet, with floral notes and, again, a good deal of orange. I would say that this is more of a citrus Martini than a Classic one and works rather well with a twist of pink grapefruit peel.

Negroni
Again, this was quite sweet, with a good burst of orange. It reminds me of the sweetness of Crodino or bottled Campari Soda. That said, it is very, very smooth. If the sweetness is an issue, I’d suggest adding a dash of lemon juice to maintain the cocktail’s balance.

Sweet Martini
This made a complex and intense Sweet Martini that had lots of citrus and bitter, herbal notes; it almost seems one step towards a Negroni, in terms of the bitterness. Deliciously refreshing and rousing to the appetite.

Fruit Cup
A fresh and citrusy Fruit Cup, in which the gin works very well with the herbal vermouth. It is also a little more complex than most gin Fruit Cups, with the flavours of the gin really standing out. Lovely.

In Conclusion
The Botnaical’s Gin is very citrus and thus lends itself well to certian drinks such as the gin and tonic and fruit cup although it’s sweet, which can be used as an asset, needs to be considered when mixing.

Cocktails with… Gilpin’s Westmorland Extra Dry Gin

I first heard about Gilpin’s Extra Dry Gin when it won Silver at the IWSC in 2011, but further details were more of a mystery, so imagine my delight when I found a bottle in the Gin Collection of the modern Gin Palace, Graphic Bar, Golden Square. I then discovered Gilpin’s brand new website and found out that they were going to be at the Juniper Society on Monday 16th April 2012.

Gilpin’s Extra Dry Gin is made at Thames Distillers and is designed to be a gin that is extra dry in style. As a result, it doesn’t contain any of the more naturally sweet botanicals, such as liquorice or star anise, and uses bitter orange rather than the sweet variety. The botanical mix also includes two other citrus peels, sage and – uniquely – Borage (leaves). This last botanical is of particular interest to us at SummerFruitCup, as it is our logo and also an essential ingredient in a classic Fruit Cup.
The water for the gin come from Holy Well Spring in Cartmel in the English Lake District, Gilpin’s Dry Gin is bottled at 47%ABV.

Here is a full list of botanicals:


1) OWN
Nose: Sweet, with some warmth, spicy vanilla, cucumber peel and pine.
Taste: Very soft and smooth to start, with a slight, marmalade-like sweetness and a jammy pluminess. The end was dry, with lots of juniper and the finish was quite fresh and of moderate length. Very clean and easy to drink for a 47% spirit.

2) GIN & TONIC
This was a zingy and dry Gin & Tonic with a substantial burst of citrus and some more complex, fresh, herbal notes towards the end. I think that the likes of Fevertree or Schweppes will work better with this than Fentimans or 6 O’Clock, as, otherwise, you’re in danger of having too much citrus. Clean and refreshing and very quaffable for a 47% gin.

3) MARTINI
Dry, crisp and refreshing. Quite smooth, with a hint of oiliness, but plenty of flavour and a little alcoholic power. A very pleasant, dry cocktail with a touch of sage and a slightly bitter finish. A high-end Martini.

4) NEGRONI
A very dry and pretty bitter drink with a really depth of flavour. Sweet herbal to start and then a very intense dry dark bitterness. Memorable and one for the bitter fans.

5) FRUIT CUP
The gin really comes through, adding an extra layer of flavour to the drink in comparison to most pre-made fruit cups. There’s a good amount of sweetness, with a refreshing, yet full, flavour and a pleasant citrus chord.

6) SWEET MARTINI
Another very clean and smooth drink; the sweet vermouth contrasts well with the dryness of the gin, the result being a Sweet Martini that is dryer than many. There were some good herbal notes, citrus and a crisp, refreshing finish courtesy of the borage.

7) GIN COLLINS
Fresh and fizzy, this reminded me of a boozy lemonade. Surprisingly, the gin seems a little overwhelmed by the sugar and lemon. I found that the best way to improve this drink was to add an extra dose of gin (typically not something to complain about); this makes the drink more balanced, but still not spectacular.

Gilpin's Gin Tonica with willow Water Ice!

8) Matthew Gilpin’s Gin Tonica
I recently spoke to the driving and founding force behind Gilpin’s Gin, Matthew Gilpin, to ask him for his recommended serve for a Gin Tonica; here it is:

Fill a Balloon Glass Full of Ice
60% Gilpin’s Westmorland Gin
40% Fevertree Original Tonic
Slice of Lemon Garnish

I was lucky enough to be able to make my ice out of Willow water, which is sourced at the same place as the water used to make the gin.

This was certainly a strong drink, but the fruity, juicy elements of the gin really came through, as did some of the more earthy, herbal elements and the distinct freshness of the borage. The best way to describe it would be BURSTING; I think it is excellent and a rather pleasant way to round-off a Friday afternoon.

In Conclusion
Gilpin’s Gin is an excellent addition to the gin market and is a new favourite of mine. Its main asset is that it’s very dry, whilst retaining a fresh character with a crisp citrus element. My favourite drink was easily the Martini, although there was a host of other tasty drinks, too.