“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… Beefeater Summer Gin – Blackcurrant, Elderflower and Hibiscus!

Okay, so I’m a little behind the times with this review and a little out of season, but as I’m quite a fan of Beefeater, a London Dry Gin that is actually distilled in London, I thought I’d take the time to write this review up. It’s still available so, if you like the sound of it, maybe you can be lucky enough to pick some up. I am speaking about Beefeater Summer, which takes the classic nine botanicals in Beefeater’s recipe and adds three bonus ones: Blackcurrant , Elderflower and Hibiscus Flower.

Released in May 2010, this has since been followed by Beefeater Winter (October 2010) and Beefeater London Market (June 2011). Whether there will be any more limited editions is anyone’s guess, but I sure hope so!

I remember being quite excited about Beefeater Summer, the start of a limited edition range that I have only ever seen reflected in the Berkshire Mountain Ethereal range of gin. Here are my tasting notes.

#1) Own
Nose: Juniper and some floral muskiness, mixed in with berry notes; I was reminded of elderberries, a hint of strawberry and an additional, dry berry note. Overall, it was quite fresh and light and, well, summery.
Taste: Initially very smooth, with some full, ripe berry flavours that gradually give way to lighter, sweeter floral elements, some vanilla and then the familiar coriander and juniper. There’s quite a sweet finish, almost like Old Tom Gin,with a similar floral intensity.

#2) Gin & Tonic
Lovely; really fresh, fruity and invigorating. The juniper and coriander are a bit lighter here; there are some floral notes, as well as a touch of berry. I thought this was really nice and perfect for a hot, hot day.

#3) Martini
Tasty; quite delicate, but complex, too. This was very, very fresh, zingy and peppy, and would make a really nice pick-me-up with a summer floral factor. I really like this.

#4) Frozen (from the Freezer)
Very smooth, with a silky texture. The juniper comes through, as does some fruity berry notes and citrus; additionally, there was elderberry/flower on the finish. This is quite a light and floral gin, but the more perfumed elements are neatly counteracted by the fruity berry character.

#5) Negroni
A rather fruity Negroni with a little extra energy, courtesy of the lively floral and berry notes. The classic notes of juniper and citrus are still there, which makes you know you’re still drinking a gin Negroni. Overall, the gin works well, with the other ingredients creating a smoother than normal Negroni, whilst keeping the usual bittersweet finish.

#6) Collins
This is summer in a glass! The Collins is naturally a great, sunny season cocktail and so the addition of some floral notes is superb. The blackcurrant works well with tartness of the lemon juice, creating one of the best gin Collins out there.

#7) White Lady
Pretty tasty. The blackcurrant comes through strongly, making this quite a tart White Lady. Nonetheless, it’s still very enjoyable, being crisp and fresh with a touch of zing.

Beefeater Gin's Master Distiller Desmond Payne and DTS

Beefeater Gin’s Master Distiller Desmond Payne and DTS

Cocktails with… Beefeater Winter

It seems that Beefeater have excelled themselves in gin innovation this year by launching not just one, but two seasonal varieties of their gin. Beefeater Winter follows their summer edition and, in addition to Beefeater’s normal botanicals, takes flavour from pine shoots, cinnamon and nutmeg. Given the very festive nature of this gin and Mrs. B’s new fondness for hot cocktails, in a new twist for “Cocktails with…”, one half of the drinks we tried were hot.

The COOLIES

#1 Gin & Tonic
We tried this in an icicle Gin & Tonic, using real icicles from a recent cold snap. I really enjoyed this drink, as I do normally with Beefeater, but it was only at the end that I could tell the two apart: Beefeater Winter has a much spicier nose.

#2 Martini
A good Martini; the extra botanicals in Beefeater Winter complement the vermouth well and, although the drink itself was stirred until ice cold, it seemed more warming than your average Gin & It.

#3 Gimlet
A subtle and smooth Gimlet; the gin balances out the lime cordial and is quiet until the end, when the winter spice comes through, followed by a little juniper bitterness.

#4 White Lady
Beefeater Winter produced a beautifully smooth White Lady, and, as with some of the other cocktails we tried, the difference between normal Beefeater is noticeable at the finish of the cocktail.

#5 Aviation
A crisp Aviation. Although it is quite nice, I preferred most of the other drinks.

#6 Bramble
The Bramble rather overpowers Beefeater Winter, with the Creme de Mure making it too sweet; the ingredients don’t seem to blend well.

Icicle Gin & Tonic (with real Icicles!) made with Beefeater Winter

The HOT Ones

#7 Mistletoe Mist
The cranberry and mint are well matched and the nature of the gin means that the flavour comes through without overpowering the drink. This hot and fruity cocktail is a nice alternative to most hot toddies and nogs, as it’s neither creamy nor based on honey.

#8 Hot Apple Gin
This smelt liked apple sauce and reminds me of home-made stewed apples. The warmth of the gin comes through, with a little spice and some apple freshness; it’s a good alternative to the standard hot gin toddy. Mrs B. says it reminded her of a hot apple pie.

#9 Hot Alexander
A hot version of the Original Gin Alexander, this was a punt, but I was pleased with how it worked out. The standard drink is usually served ice cold and so isn’t so great for the winter, but the hot version has a delicious creaminess and provides a good appreciation of the gin and its wintery notes.

#10 Gin Egg Nog
This was a hot variation of the recipe provided by Beefeater. It tasted a little like cake batter, with a flavour of the gin at the end. The gin works well, as it is not too overpowering, but provides some spice. The drink tastes a bit like custard, but, when you consider the ingredients, that’s not too surprising.

#11 Hot Gin Toddy
I think the garnish of cloves add something to the flavour and complements the Beefeater Winter well. This gin makes a very classic gin toddy.

#12 Bakewell
Tastes like a Christmas Bakewell tart: a little milky, with sweet almond notes, all finished off with a cherry garnish. Some juniper and spice at the end.

#13 Buttered Beefeater
Hot buttered rum, Beefeater style. This was incredibly indulgent and probably should take the place of a pudding. It tastes of caramel and butter, reminding me a tad of raw flapjack mix. Drinking it through a top of layer of whipped cream adds to the sweetness and the coolness of the cream contrasts nicely with the warmth of the drink. I used molasses sugar, which seemed to work better with the flavours of this particular gin.

Beefeater Gin's Master Distiller Desmond Payne and DTS

Beefeater Gin’s Master Distiller Desmond Payne and DTS

In conclusion, I think this is another great innovation and, although I think it works well in some of the cold drinks, it really shines in the hotties; with a bit of innovation and seasonal flair, you can find some perfect winter warmers to make with this gin.

After this review, it begs one question: in the future will there be other seasonal variants of Beefeater? Perhaps a spring or autumnal gin? Time will tell, but I for one would like to see them!

Available for around £18-£20 for 70cl from The DrinkShop & The Whisky Exchange.

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