“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.

Cocktails with… Darnley’s View Spiced Gin

I’d heard a little about a new gin project from Wemyss Malts, the folks that brought us Darnley’s View Gin, and so I was very pleased when, last week (on our second anniversary), I received a bottle of Darnley’s View Spiced Gin.

This is a small batch London Dry Gin with added warming botanicals. I’m sure this will come into its own during the Autumn and Winter months, but, with the rainy British weather this weekend (just in time for the combined sporting extravaganza of The British Grand Prix, Wimbledon Final and Chap Olympiad), I’m sure that it’s equally welcome in glasses across the country today.

Darnley’s View Spiced Gin contains the following 10 botanicals:



The gin is bottled at 42.7% ABV, which is slightly stronger than the original Darnley’s View; the additional strength is said to bring out the flavours of the spicy botanicals a little more.

On its own
Nose: Dry and spicy, with ginger, cinnamon and maybe even a hint of turmeric. Complex and unusual.
Taste: Wow – this is a really spicy gin! It momentarily blew my mind! First off, the classic notes of juniper and citrus appeared, but then the flavour deviated down the spice route, with warm, savoury, spicy notes, such as cumin, ginger and even a touch of paprika or chilli. These flavours are well balanced and this drink really is very different to any other gin that I have tried.

I previously mentioned the seasonal attractiveness of the gin, but, in the spirit of innovation, I wanted to try it in a variety of seasonal cocktails.


Summer

1) Fruit Cup
I’ve experimented a lot with Fruit Cups, but I’ve never really gone down the spicy and savoury route (a missed trick there!), but with Darnley’s View Spiced, this drink really delivers. It was cool and refreshing, with a long, warming spiciness towards the end. As such, it is probably more of an Autumn drink than a Summer one.

2) Gin & Tonic
The savoury, spicy notes are slightly more subdued in this drink, but nonetheless work well with the tonic, creating a very unusual, but refreshing drink. I tried this without garnish and I’ll have to experiment a bit more before coming to a final conclusion on what’s best to use; I think lemon or lime would work best. It may also be interesting to try it alongside a more herbal tonic, such as 1724 or Mediterranean.


Spring

3) Collins
This was quite a refreshing drink, but the clean and relatively neutral flavour didn’t seem to go particularly well with the spicy elements of the gin; perhaps some adjustment is needed, but, using my standard recipe, this was not the best way to enjoy the gin.

4) Dry Martini
This made a very smooth & spicy Martini. I mixed it using a 5:1 ratio and, although a lot of the flavour came through and there was certainly potential there, as it stands, the drink still needs some work and seemed unbalanced and slightly sickly. I’d be keen to try it in a Sweet Martini.


Autumn

5) Gin Buck
Overall, this had a good mix of refreshment and spicy warmth, making it great if we get an Indian Summer; with a savoury spiciness somewhat reminiscent of food from the subcontinent, this drink couldn’t be more fitting. The flavour of the gin comes through well and the lime adds a zesty bite.

6) Negroni
In this cocktail, you get the classic bittersweet mix of a Negroni – crisp and refreshing – plus an extra kick of spice, as if someone has added a pinch of something from a bag that has made its way across the Ottoman Empire. I’m a fan.


Winter

7) Gin Toddy
This was a very warm and intensely tasty gin toddy; exactly the sort of warming drink that you need of a Winter’s evening or after a walk on a wet Saturday afternoon like today. No extra spice is needed and there is a unique, fiery kick that you don’t get in most toddies.

8) Ginger Old fashioned*
A light nose of ginger and juniper was supported by hints of savoury spice and salt. To taste, it was wonderfully dry for an Old Fashioned and had an initial flavour of dry juniper that was immediately followed by lots and lots of spice, finishing off with a flash of warm ginger. Different, but delicious, especially if you usually find Old Fashioneds a little sweet.

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9) Sweet Martini
A very herbal and intense drink with plenty of sweet and savoury spicy notes. Very complex and rather rousing to the appetite. Much better than the dry version.

In Conclusion
I think that Darnley’s View Spiced Gin is a great innovation and really adds something new to the ever-expanding gin market. It works better in some Classic cocktails more than others, but it nonetheless has a lot of potential, especially in the creation of new drinks.

Of those that we tried, our favourites were the Fruit Cup and both of the Winter drinks.

*An old fashioned made with King’s Ginger instead of sugar syrup and Spanish Bitters