Cocktails with… Butler’s Gin

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With what is perhaps the beginning of a renaissance in artisanal gin distilling in the UK, it is exciting to speak to someone who is not only doing their own distilling, but also coming to the industry from a wholly different angle.

Such was the case when I first spoke to Ross Butler of Butler’s Gin. Ross started out by wanting to create a product that reflected his character and, as a part of this, he wanted to start off debt-free, purchasing raw materials only when an order came in. When I spoke to him, Ross spoke of the trade-off between time and money and how he had decided to invest time in his product rather than borrowing money. It seems to have paid dividends, as Butler’s Gin is now due to launch in the USA and the EU next month. Given that he only sold his first bottle of gin on 22nd February 2013, this is remarkable.

Butler’s Gin is made in Hackney and takes a London Dry Gin, which is made to Ross’  specification and recipe, which he then infuses with various botanicals kept in muslin bags, a bit like over-sized tea bags. The infused botanicals include lemongrass and cardamom.

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On its own

Nose: A dry, berry juniper with liquorice root, allspice, ginger/cardamom and lemongrass.

Taste: A measured, classic start of juniper and coriander, followed by some sweeter, spiced notes such as ginger, cassia and cardamon. This is all rounded off with a long finish of lemongrass.

Gin & Tonic

A clean gin and tonic with juniper, plenty of spice from the cardamom and citrus from the lemongrass. My tonic recommendation would be Fevertree and maybe Schweppes; however I would steer clear of eFentimand or Waitrose own-brand as they are too citrusy.

Martini

All of the crisp juniper and citrus that you would expect from a Martini, but with the added character of cardamom, spice and then the dry grape character of the vermouth. Full of flavour and pretty classic, if you are talking about the Martinis of the ‘30s and ‘40s rather than the ultra dry drinks of the ‘50s and ‘60s, but that’s just how I like it.

Negroni

The bold flavours of this gin work well in a Negroni; it’s exceptionally flavourful, with some dark chocolate spice coming through, along with a finish of cardamom and citrus.

Cocktails with… Joséphine Gin

I picked up my bottle of Joséphine Gin  from the fine selection of nearly 100 gins available at the Whisky Exchange. The cost? A reasonable £17, but this was only for 35cl, so the gin works out at £34 for 70cl, a handsome sum indeed.Josephine Gin is named after Joséphine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte and first Empress of France. It is made by the cognac house, Camus, and it has been suggested it was designed with female drinkers in mind.In my experience, this gin is not spoken about often and is not well-known; in fact I have only ever seen one other bottle, in the extensive Gin Bar of the Feather’s Hotel in Woodstock. (Edit: It is now stocked at Graphic Bar in Soho)
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1) Neat
Nose: Anis and floral – like a cross between Fruit Salad chews and Blackjacks (liquorice & aniseed). Quite sweet, with a hint of Dandelion & Burdock.
Taste:Very soft; the juniper was pretty subdued. Very floral, sweet, with anise at the end. Very unusual and certainly not a classic style.
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2) Gin & Tonic
There’s a strong nose of Dandelion & Burdock and it was quite sweet, making for a very odd Gin & Tonic. There were strong notes of sarsaparilla, as well as some herbal notes. Bitter at the end, any dryness came from the gin. If I had tasted it blind, I’d never have guessed that it was a Gin & Tonic. Despite my outcry at how unorthodox this was, Mrs. B. quite liked it.
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3) Martini
An interestingly floral Martini. Not so crisp as a classic example of the drink, but the juniper does come through. Better with a large lemon twist.

4) Gimlet
Pleasant, but not distinctive; the gin needs a bit more eumph! It was quite a nice drink, but doesn’t seem to have any discerning characteristics to it, making it rather forgettable.

5) Aviation
Horribly sharp, unbalanced and waste of all of the ingredients involved. Not recommended.

6) White Lady
Reminds me of Orange Chocolate Creams, but the juniper is quite sharp. A touch unbalanced, with the orange flavour in particular being quite strong. The finish is rather dry and there was an unpleasant aftertaste that stuck to my mouth.

7) Negroni
High anise, almost as if it had absinthe in it. A little sarsaparilla, surprisingly sweet and any real bitterness from the Campari is only at the end. Quite good.

8 Alexander
Truly superb; the floral and light herbal elements mix exceptionally well with cacao and cream. The dry juniper stops the drink from becoming too sweet. This was the perfect balance of sweet and dry, silkiness and flavour.

In Conclusion

Even though Josephine Gin made some exceptional drinks (the Alexander, for example), in general, it just wasn’t for me. It was too far removed from any gin base-line and, at times, it was too sweet, too sickly or too floral. It didn’t work in a Gin & Tonic and, for me, that is a major downfall.

It just goes to show that, despite recent outcry at the likes of Brockman’s & Hoxton calling themselves gin (everyone’s opinion has it own validity), non-conformist gin outliers have existed for a while. For the rebel gin-lover, this may be worth a punt.

Hendrick’s Garnish Taste Test

Anyone who has ever bought a bottle of Hendrick’s will know that Hendrick’s and cucumber go hand-in-hand. When I first tried it six years ago, I have to admit to being a tad surprised at being served a glass of gin & tonic with a slice of cucumber in it; surprised, but ultimately delighted, as it was delicious.

Since then, I have come across other gins that suggest garnishing drinks with one of their botanicals, two examples being:
– Pink Grapefruit with Tanqueray No. 10; and
– Cape Gooseberries with Whitley Neill.

I’ve been asked why companies don’t just add more of that botanical’s flavour to the spirit to negate the need for additional garnish. It’s a good question and I’m not sure of an answer.
However, aesthetically, a slice of cucumber or a handful of strawberries makes the drink more appealing, not to mention the fact that you get a little snack you get once you’ve finished the drink.

Hendrink’s is pretty versatile when it comes to garnishes: I have had it served with cucumber, lemon, lime, strawberries, and even rose petals! After I received a bottle of the 44% (Export) Hendrick’s from relatives returning from abroad, I thought I would evaluate each of these garnishes alongside one another in a blind Hendrick’s & Tonic Garnish Taste Test.

Our garnishes were as follows: lemon, lime, cucumber, rose petals, strawberries,  and plain (no garnish, as a control). We tried all six with both the 41.4% and the 44% strengths of Hendrick’s. The gin & tonics were mixed in a 1pt Gin : 2pts Tonic ratio and served in covered coffee cups (thanks to my local Café Nero for supplying those), as we thought this was the best way to avoid identifying the garnish by sight.

Prepared garnishes, clockwise from top left, Plain, Lemon, Lime, Cucumber, strawberries, Rose Petals.

Hendricks 41.4% ABV – (UK Domestic)

No Garnish: The tonic comes through a lot more in this one; there is an initial bitter tang followed by floral perfume notes.

Cucumber: Strong cucumber with a fresh, slightly watery element; it tastes more of the skin than the flesh, but is very fine nonetheless.

Lemon: Exceptionally well-balanced, with subtle citrus and hints of vanilla. Very popular.

Lime: Fresh, citrus and a hint of cucumber, although this was possibly a touch on the bitter side and too sharp.

Strawberries: Hints of cucumber and sweet notes of strawberry. This adds a new flavour to the drink that complements the already summery profile of Hendrick’s. Bright and flavourful. Simply delicious.

Rose Petals: Soft and light, sweet and a touch syrupy, but well-balanced overall.

Hendricks 44% ABV – (USA)

No Garnish: Slightly savoury, with a subtle pepperiness. Well-balanced and complex.

Cucumber: Very strong flavours of cucumber, which dominate the drink. Quite fresh and rather pleasant.

Lemon: A strong bang of citrus, which pleasantly complements the gin, and a fresh sweetness akin to cool lemonade.

Lime: The most bitter and dry of the gin & tonics that we tired. Slightly fruity, but not very sweet.

Strawberries: Very good indeed; sweet and juicy, a touch of strawberry jam.

Rose Petals: Fresh, floral flavours, that aren’t overpowering; sadly lacking in flavour.

In conclusion, we both really liked the strawberries as a garnish as it made the drink rather summery, I was quite fan of the cucumber but Mrs. B found it a little over-powering. In contrast she like the delicacy of the rose petal garnish whereas I thought it too weak. A lemon garnish with the 41.4 also scored well.

The real conclusion we can draw is that we both preferred the 41.4% in a gin & tonic and that my wife and I don’t always agree!

For our coverage of our Tasting of 11 Scottish Gins, click here.