Cocktails with… Crossbill Gin

With Christmas only days away, I was excited to receive a parcel that I had been eagerly awaiting: one of the first two bottles of a new gin from Argyle, Crossbill Gin.

It was around this time last year that I tried my finest gin of 2012, the excellent Warner Edwards, and the botanical simplicity of Crossbill Gin held great promise.

Crossbill Gin is the brainchild of Jonathan Engel, who also owns Pincer Vodka. The recipe has takes a long time to perfect largely because of the difficulty of sourcing 100% of the botanicals from Scotland. But now, just in time for the last days of 2013, the gin is ready to drink.

Bottled at 45.8% ABV distilled in a new microdistillery near Loch a’Bhaillidh and contains two botanicals: juniper and rosehip. Both are 100% sourced from Scotland – a first for a British gin since at least the Second World War.

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Own
nose: heaps of juniper with a little saline too and a hint of celery and cracked black pepper
taste: A smooth texture with a luscious almost citrus crispness up front this leads to an array of different juniper nnotes, green, piney, sappy and then a slight floral lift and sweetness before a long dry finish. Very intense and the character and quality of the juniper really shine through.

Gin and Tonic
Pack with juniper pine the drink is dry, crisp and very flavourful, some hint of floral citrus and a hint of wood sap. Simple clean and delicious.

Martini
A complex Martini with plenty of green and herbaceous notes including a hint of olive, some salty slaine elements as well as the bold juniper. Oily and viscous with a little floral woodiness. Unusually I would recommend an olive garnish. Lovely.

Negroni
Big bold full pine and juniper and the gin flavours match the intensity of the herbal vermouth and bitter sweet campari well. Orange or Pink Grapefruit slice or twist would be a great garnish. A Negroni for those who like explosively flavourful version of the drink – like me.

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“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.

World Exclusive! – Cocktails with Herno Juniper Cask Gin

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Today, we have an exceptionally exciting product to work and we’re proud to say we were given the first bottle to review, too. That product is Hernö Juniper Cask Gin from the Hernö Distillery, the world’s Northernmost distillery in the small village of Dala, just outside the City of Härnösand in North Sweden. This spirit follows on from the great success of their Swedish Excellence Gin and their Navy Strength Gin.

A few Craft Distillers have already experimented with aged/rested/yellow gin, but most use ex-bourbon casks; other examples include Cognac and ex Jean de Lillet casks (the latter is used by Burrough’s Reserve), but, as yet, no-one has integrated that vital component of gin into their use of wood: juniper.

Until now…

JC bild 20130805

Hernö Juniper Cask has been matured in barrels made from Juniper wood. The barrels are Ankare in size, which is a traditional Swedish measurement dating from the 1600s that equates to 39.25 litres. After its time in the barrels, the gin is diluted with water from the distillery well to 47.0% ABV. It is purposefully not chill-filtered, in order to retain maximum character.

On its own
Colour: Light lemon/straw yellow.
Nose: Some lemon and orange, followed by a progression of crisp pine notes, woody notes of juniper and a little sappiness. Intense, inviting and engaging.
Taste: A rich, smooth and silky – almost honey-like – texture. There’s a herbal sweetness to start, before moving onto a light, green juniper note, followed by a darker, heavy flavour of juniper and rich, bold pine notes. Finally, there’s some citrus peel and a little woody sappiness.
Finish: Resinous pine, a hint of beeswax, citrus peel and a touch of coriander – long and harmonious.

Frozen
Very thick, with a silky texture. Big, full and bold flavours of green juniper, pine, and hints of sappiness, followed by citrus, coriander, and some herbs and spices, such as fennel. The flavour then progresses on to notes of vanilla and wood, before a long, dry finish of pine with a hint of beeswax. Intense, superb and a great way to enjoy the spirit.

Bees Knees
A great long drink: the piney, woody juniper notes work really well with honey, as opposed to sugar. This is a great way to appreciate the gin in a long, refreshing drink.

Herno Juniper Cask - The Barrel

Gin & Tonic
Some savoury spice notes come through on the nose, such as cumin and caraway. The flavour is mainly strong juniper and coriander, with a little sweetness to start, followed by a dry finish, which is long and lingering.

Martini
Looks superb – a very light gold in colour. This is a clean and crisp Martini, but, although it makes a good drink, I can’t help but feel that the vermouth detracts from the flavours of the gin at the ratio that I used (5:1). I think the solution to this problem would be to go dryer, i.e. use less vermouth. Also, mixing it with Lillet may have some potential.

Negroni
Very intense; perhaps a little too sweet with Martini Rosso (which adds a slight note of coconut), so I would recommend using a more bitter vermouth, such as Antica Formula or Sacred Sweet Vermouth. There’s a great, long finish of piney juniper with just a hint of sap. With the more bitter vermouth, this is simply superb.

Juniper Cask French ‘75
An intense French ’75, but nonetheless very good, indeed. This is full of excellent, strong pine notes, a little sappiness and a hint of raw honey. Complex and unusual. Superb.

In Conclusion
Hernö Juniper Cask is a superb spirit and certainly one of the highlights of 2013’s gin releases so far; I’ve not had anything as exciting and engaging and with such bold juniper flavours since I tasted Barr Hill from Vermont – coincidentally, fans of this gin are sure to be fond of Hernö Juniper Cask.

The gin is excellent on its own, but I enjoy it even more from the freezer. As mixed drinks go, I think the Bees Knees (a variation on a Collins) was my favourite.

A special thanks to Jon and the Herno Team for giving this exciting preview.

Cocktails with Chase Single Botanical Gin or is Juniper Vodka?

ChaseSingleBotanicalGinTitle

Some folks of the Twitter-set may have seen Anonymous Artist’s recent ThirstyChat (Twitter’s leading drinks debate platform) on the subject of London Dry / Botanical Vodka*, so I was amused and delighted to receive a surprise package from the Chase Distillery containing a single botanical gin; or (as the accompanying letter suggests) is it a juniper vodka?

This product comes at a time when people are thinking about the flavours of individual types of juniper more than ever. Cascade Mountain (now Crater Lake Gin) kicked things off a few years ago** and this was followed last year by Master of Malt’s Origin series, which focused on using juniper from specific geographic locations.

WilliamsChaseSingleGin

My bottle from Chase came with an accompanying letter informing me that this is one of only 1,000 bottles of this spirit and that the aim of the product was to highlight the importance of the base spirit in the production of gin and that Chase is somewhat different in that they make their own.

It is unusual for a British gin to make their base spirit from scratch; other than Chase, the English Spirit Distillery and Adnams are the two notable others. In the USA, however, it is far more common for distillers to make their own vodka from scratch to use as the base spirit for their gin.

By using their own base spirit, it is almost as if the distiller can adjust the flavour in a third dimension; the spirit adds a further variable and can act like a botanical in its own right.

ChaseJuniperVodka

Bottled at 40%ABV Chase Single Botanical Vodka uses Chase’s potato vodka spirit as a base. This is the same base as their excellent Chase Extra Dry Gin.

#1) On its own
Nose: Superb – big and full, with green pine, a hint of sap, a touch of citrus (almost like coriander) and vanilla. Rich and compelling.
Taste: Thick and full in flavour, with strong notes of pine needles, followed by hints of bitter wood.

#2) Gin & Tonic
Another great drink, crisp refreshing and vibrant the flavours seems to “pop” out of the glass. In addition to the piney juniper I do get some hints of anise and a touch of vanilla just showing the depth of flavour that a juniper spirit has.

#3) Martini
Very clean with a pleasant crispness and whilst keen focus on juniper there are some other spicy elements in there; hint of ginger and cinnamon making the drink a little more interesting than you might expect. I don’t think it needs a garnish but I would side with using a lemon twist over an olive.

#4) Negroni
This makes a simple, but flavourful Negroni. The juniper bounds through and holds up against the sweet vermouth and Campari with ease. Classic in style, and one for the big fans of this classic gin drink.

In Conclusion
I think that Chase Single Botanical Gin is an excellent product and highlights the importance of base spirit well. I look at this as a single botanical gin, even though it could, technically, be called a juniper botanical vodka.

I do think that the base spirit used makes a difference, but, at the same time, I don’t think that gins that use neutral grain spirit are inferior; in fact, some folks are firm advocates of the use of NGS for making gin.

I think that both types of gin have their merits (and I really enjoy and value both), but making your own spirit opens up a lot of room for experimentation and innovation. Food (or rather gin) for thought, indeed!

*If you missed it, check out the transcript here. This week’s debate (on Tuesday 26th March at 15:00 GMT) is on the subject of celebrity booze.
** They actually use Juniperus Occidentalis, which is larger than the more mainstream Juniperus Communis.

Chase Single Botanical Gin is available for around £37 for 700ml from The Whisky Exchange

ChaseMirror

Cocktails with… GinSelf Gin (from Spain!)

Continuing our latest spate of Spanish gin reviews, today we’re looking at Ginself, which is made in an artisan distillery in Valencia. It is produced in batches of 500 litres in an 18th Century still, using a combination of 9 botanicals that are macerated for 24 hours prior to distillation. The gin is brought down to bottling strength (40%ABV) with spring water from the Sierra de Espadán.

The mix of 9 botanicals are:

The Taste

1) On its own
Nose: Juniper, with spicy, floral coriander and zesty, floral orange. There’s also a slight, biscuity nuttiness from the angelica, too.
Taste: With lots of orange blossom upfront, it reminds me of orange shortbread. These notes are followed by lemon, coriander and a finish of dry, floral pininess. It’s quite smooth, with a little warmth at the end.

2) Gin & Tonic
Full of citrus and floral notes, this has orange and orange blossom right upfront. It’s very juicy, tasting like it has fresh orange in it, even though I didn’t use any garnish at all. For this reason, I think it’s better to stick to using the cleaner, rather than more citrus-heavy, tonic waters with this gin.

3) Dry Martini
Clean, with lots of orange, as well as some floral orange blossom. Unlike some other gins the orange notes in this one are quite dry and not sweet like triple sec. Perhaps a twist of pink grapefruit would work well as a garnish? It was a good match for the gin in a Gin & Tonic.

4) Negroni
This makes a lovely drink that is packed full of flavour. There are a lot of orange and other citrusy botanicals in this drink and they work well, which is understandable, given that orange is a typical garnish to a Negroni. I think this more accessible than most Negronis, but it still has the familiar bitter-sweetness that fans of the drink crave.


5) Gin Tonica
This is quite simple to make: combine an approximate two-to-one ratio with about a teaspoon of Pink Grapefruit Juice, a twist of Grapefruit oil and a wedge of fruit. It’s very colourful, but also complements the floral orange blossom and other citrus in the spirit. This drink has a refreshing, zesty bite to it, making it perfect for a hot summers day or even a hot autumnal evening inside (when someone has been a bit over-eager with the heating).

6) Sweet Martini
Sweet, herbal and citrusy; too sweet for a pre-dinner drink, I think, but it would work well as a digestif, with its bold flavour and complexity. There’s plenty of orange, too.

In Conclusion
I really enjoyed Ginself and it certainly has its own character. It has a lot of floral and citrus in its flavour profile, although this is in the form of a warm orange flavour, as opposed to a zesty or bitter lemon one, which makes a difference. I like the Gin Tonica especially – so crisp, so delicious.

GinSelf on Facebook

Master of Malt Single Estate Origin Gins – Part II

Holmes was stumped so Watson looked it up on MasterofMalt.com and found the bottle contained a delicious array of botanicals!

In Part One, I tasted the Origin Range of Single Estate Gins from Master of Malt on their own, in their pure juniper form, but what about the little vial that accompanied each bottle?

This contains a mixture made using a number of other popular gin botanicals, such as coriander and cardamom, which can be added to the juniper spirit to make a multi-botanical gin. I mixed each of the four varieties of gin with their vials (all of which are the same strength and made using the same botanicals; I also mixed them to the same quantities).

So what did they taste like?


1) BULGARIA – VELIKI PRESLAV


i) On its own
Nose: Juniper, coriander, and a touch of cardamom.
Taste: This seemed quite viscous and strong (alcohol-wise); there is also a touch of saltiness, which is followed by some sweetness. The predominant flavour of fresh juniper is followed by big and spicy notes of green cardamom. All wrapped up nicely with a long, delicious finish.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Quite sweet for a Gin & Tonic – almost sherbety – this also had notes of lemon, cardamom and vanilla. Some will probably prefer a drier drink, although I found that the sweetness levels improved with a little ice-melt, making it more refreshing and bring out more of the nutty cardamom.

iii) Martini
Clean and crisp, although it seems quite strong in terms of ABV. Lots of green cardamom notes. This chills well and is nice and spicy.

iv) Negroni
An impressive Negroni: oodles of flavour with a strong juniper and citrus presence. Textbook.


2) NETHERLANDS – MEPPEL


i) On its own
Nose: Spicy juniper and coriander, salt and pepper.
Taste: The juniper is strong and prominent amongst the other botanicals, although there is  a notable liquorice sweetness, citrus, vanilla and a touch of cardamom. A complex, balanced gin with a long finish.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Fresh and crisp with juniper, citrus and cardamom, along with a touch of coriander. Refreshing, this provides everything you could want from a Gin & Tonic.

iii) Martini
Very clean and raising to the appetite, with equal measures of juniper, citrus and spice. This was certainly complex, but not overwhelmingly so; it will compete with the best of its contemporaries.

iv) Negroni
A clean and soft Negroni; bittersweet and easy to drink with all of the characteristics that aficionados look for, plus a good deal more. A pleasure to drink.


3) ALBANIA – VALBONE


i) On its own
Nose: Clean and not aggressive, with citrus (lemon & lemon verbena) and some juniper.
Taste: Quite savoury, with some saltiness and a hint of tomato, I think this would work well in a Red Snapper. A good finish of dry juniper.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Creamy, with a little sweetness that’s followed by a bitter, earthy juniper flavour that works well with the quinine. Cooling and quite light, making it the height of refreshment.

iii) Martini
Smooth, easy to drink and spicy with coriander, cardamom and liquorice. Again, a dry finish.

iv) Negroni
A very straightforward Negroni that will please, but not wow. It has a good balance, but the gin presence could be stronger.


4) ITALY – AREZZO


i) On its own
Nose: Quite gentle, with a mix of citrus, biscuits, nuts and juniper, finishing with spicy cardamom.
Taste: A good, solid gin with a generally good balance, although it leans a little towards cardamom (not that I’ll complain about that!). This gin is one for fans of Plymouth/Sacred/Boodles, plus many other folks, too. Very good, indeed.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Easy to drink, although the gin is a little lost behind the tonic. That said, the drink is delightful and refreshing; it would just be nice if you could taste more of the gin (maybe just add an extra splash?).

iii) Martini
Exceptionally smooth, with hints of anise and coriander. There’s some citrus, but it’s by no means overpowering. I think it would work well with an olive garnish.

iv) Negroni
Full of flavour, this is a rather spicy Negroni that will please fanciers of cardamom as this flavour takes centre stage. Despites having such prominent flavour in its midst, the balance of the cocktail is good and it is refreshing. It has so much flavour that I think I’d drink it ungarnished.

In Conclusion
It is amazing what a difference the source of juniper makes to the overall flavour of gin and I hope that Master of Malt do many more events like this so that others can get a chance to taste them first hand (although, of course, you can buy them from the site too!).

My favourite of the four was easily the one made using juniper from the Netherlands, which, for me, outperformed the others in almost every cocktail. It was so complex that I preferred it without the extra botanicals and so will be drinking the rest of bottle as is.

Many thanks to everyone that has made this article possible and I look forward to Macedonia (I have heard intriguing things!) and Kosovo.

Also, watch out for our review of the Master of Malt Summer Fruit Cup (good name, eh?).

But wait! There’s more….

Ben and his Cask

As a final touch to our tasting at the Juniper Society, Ben presented us with a 50 litre barrel and asked us what our favourite of the four gins was. The majority chose the Netherlands Gin (a choice with which I agreed). We were then told that it was to be mixed in an Negroni (for aging in that very barrel) and proceeded to be asked whether we wanted to use just the juniper spirit on its own or the multi-botanical mix. A huge majority voted for the unadulterated Netherland Juniper on its own.

Mrs B and I add to the cask

Mrs B and I add to the cask

We all got a chance to pour in some of the ingredients and sign the cask and were then given a little stub (we have 00006 and 00007), which entitles us to a glass of the 1 Year Old Negroni at the Juniper Society’s third birthday in 2013. The barrel is now proudly displayed on the bar at Graphic.

Master of Malt Origin Gins are available at £34.95 a bottle (71cl) from  their website.

Special thanks to Ben, Cat and Rhyan of Master of Malt, Adam & Sarah of The Juniper society and zack and his team at Graphic Bar.

Master of Malt Single Estate Origin Gins – Part I

A lot has changed since Mrs. B & I first made our way up to London for the first ever Juniper Society (the launch of SW4 Gin) in July 2010; since then, we have written a plethora of articles, contributed to trade magazines and I’m now writer-in-residence for Graphic Bar, the very location of that first meeting.

An artist’s impressionof the Professor – sketched on the back of an envelope.

As such, it was with considerable anticipation that I travelled up to London for the 2nd birthday party to celebrate this special group of people. Of course, if you are looking for special and unique products, then look no further than Master of Malt, the drinks and spirits shop that are now pioneering a new wave of drink innovation with their in-house products. The revolution is spearheaded by Professor Cornelius Ampleforth, whose crazy concoctions we have written about on a number of occasions.

Today’s focus is on Master of Malt’s new range of Single Estate Gins, which are the brainchild of Ben Ellefsen, their Sales Director (I like to think of him more as Head of Innovation). Whilst he was making his Bathtub Gin, he uncovered inconsistencies in the batches of juniper that he was using, even though his supplier insisted they were from the same country. Sadly, they could not be more precise regarding the exact origin of the berries and, thus, a project was born.

Even Holmes struggles with this mystery bottle.

Even Holmes struggles with this mystery bottle.

Ben set out to source quality juniper berries that could be traced back to a much narrower area. A bounty was placed on such juniper and advertised on the Master of Malt website. After a lot of leg work from Ben and his team, the first four Single Estate Gins are finally ready.

Each bottle contains 700ml of Juniper Spirit (or single botanical gin, if you will); the juniper of which all comes from a single geographical source. The actual species of the berries (Juniperus Communis) is constant throughout. Each bottle is also accompanied by a small 10ml vial, but I’ll write more on that in part 2 of this article. For now, here are my tasting notes for the four Single Estate Gins.


1) BULGARIA – VELIKI PRESLAV


i) On its own
Nose: Full and leafy, with fresh, ripe juniper and some citrus. This is bursting with character and very inviting.
Taste: There’s an initial smoothness with a touch of citrus, followed by sweetness in the middle. This then moves towards an earthy bitterness, including dark chocolate on the finish, as well as a slight pepperiness.

ii) Gin & Tonic
Crisp, fresh and leafy green. There’s a distinctive taste of fresh juniper berries, along with a dash of citrus and a touch of lavender. This could probably do with a garnish, just to perfect it.

iii) Martini
Creamy, but with the juniper family’s recognisable leafy-green flavours. It’s definitely dry, but manages to retain its creaminess; very distinctive.

iv) Negroni
A relatively sweet drink; a touch syrupy, with a pronounced bitter finish. Good level of dryness. Classic in style, but perhaps a little lacking in depth. There’s a coffee or chocolate-like bitterness towards the end.


2) NETHERLANDS – MEPPEL


i) On its own
Nose: Deep piney and resinous juniper notes, with a slight nuttiness. A mix of savoury, citrus and floral notes gives this a full and very complex flavour, especially given that it is only one botanical.
Taste: Silky to begin; a little creamy, quite thick and rich. There is a lot going on, but the balance of the various notes is good. Coriander pops up halfway through. This is easily as complex as many other gins, which, given that it’s all from the juniper, is incredible, really.

ii) Gin &Tonic
Quite a citrusy Gin & Tonic with a touch of hazelnut. Very fresh and deliciously crisp. This is a drink that easily competes with the best of them – rather superb!

iii) Martini
A well-rounded Martini: clean and crisp, with notable some herbal notes in addition to those of the juniper. A hint of dry bitterness on the finish. This is a very Classic Martini, with a long fresh finish. Very good.

iv) Negroni
Smooth and fruity with a good bittersweet balance, I think this is quite accessible. Fans of Negronis will be content and it may even convert some very reluctant drinkers of Campari.
It’s smoothness makes it very easy to drink, but it’s still packed full of flavour.


3) ALBANIA – VALBONE


i) On its own
Nose: More subtle than the previous two; the juniper is lighter, but still clearly there and accompanied by floral notes, such as violet. The whole spirit seems rather confectionary, with a biscuity spiciness (maybe cayenne pepper) and hints of sweet liquorice and coconut.
Taste: Soft and smooth. There’s some juniper, but the spirit seems sweeter than the previous two, although obviously not sugary. The sweetness is a botanical one and actually reminded some of the Jolly Gin Fellows of varieties of Old Tom Gin; perhaps this gin would make a good base for one? Sweet citrus and liquorice root on the finish.

ii) Gin &Tonic
A real departure from the previous two, showing how much of a difference the berries make. This drink is lighter and cleaner, although, as such, it doesn’t stand up so well to the tonic water. Overall, this is still a pleasant drink with a dry, juniper finish.

iii) Martini
A silky Martini, although the juniper seems a lot less prominent – it’s almost as if this is 50/50 mix of a gin and vodka Martini. Subtle and a touch on the sweet side (that liquorice again!), but by no means a bad drink.

iv) Negroni
This starts with a gentle, earthy bitterness. It’s not very sweet, but there’s a good dose of herbal flavours, along with some deep, spicy notes. On reflection, this is quite a gentle Negroni that is much improved with a slice of orange.


4) ITALY – AREZZO


i) On its own
Nose: A clean nose of dry, zesty juniper, like pine needles; reminds me of a forest after its been raining.
Taste: The green pine continues to remind me of a forest. There is also a hint of vanilla, a creamy smoothness and a touch of lemon peel.

ii) Gin &Tonic
This was a rather a powerful Gin & Tonic, so if you like your drinks to be made with a powerful gin, then this is for you! Definitely a no-nonsense drink: juniper, quinine, and bubbles, making for great refreshment.

iii) Martini
A very clean and ultra-smooth Martini that adds a little warmth to the stomach once you have swallowed it. This is a drink that really makes an impact and, in my opinion, explains why Martinis are sometimes said to remind people of the purity of diamonds.

iv) Negroni
Quite a sweet Negroni, but with some bitterness at the end. Quite good, but maybe a touch too syrupy. A zesty garnish should perks things up, though.

There are also plans to add a fifth and sixth locational variety (Macedonia and Kosovo), but, for the moment, this ends Part One; Part Two can be found here.

Master of Malt Origin Gins are available at £34.95 a bottle (71cl) from  their website.