Heston from Waitrose: Earl Grey & Lemon Gin

Before I write any of this blog post I feel I need to make a full disclosure: I sort of worship Heston Blumenthal, aka St Heston of Bray. Over the years that he’s been becoming increasingly ubiquitous as the face of SCIENCE! in cooking I’ve watched his TV programs, read his books and even eaten at the Fat Duck. I didn’t stoop to buying one of his infamous Christmas puddings (not for want of trying) and have yet to pick-up any of his specialist salt mixes (a sign that my levels of pretentiousness are dropping) but am still bouncing like an excited child that he has a new TV series starting tonight. When I saw that he had a gin coming out as part of his Heston from Waitrose range there wasn’t much chance that I wasn’t going to buy a bottle.

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Navy Strength Gin tasting with Summer Fruit Cup

In my constant quest to learn All Things About All Things David from Summer Fruit Cup is my gin saviour. Along with pinging me details of some of the more random gins we have at work he has also run occasional tastings at Graphic and invited me along. The American Gin tasting back on World Gin Day was a bit of an eye opener and I jumped at the chance of attending his most recent one – a walk through a range of navy strength gins.

The tasting procedure was the same as last time – all blind, with David revealing all of the gins at the end after we’d submitted our top three of the night. In addition we’d be asked whether we thought each was from the USA or UK, an attempt to see if there are specific general stylistic differences between the two countries.

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Whisky Squad #38 – To make whisky you start with beer…

I am much behind on Whisky Squad write-ups, which is especially bad as I’ve recently started helping out organise The Squad properly, rather than just shouting drunkenly during the sessions and claiming that it’s ‘help’. Anyways, Whisky Squad #37 has fallen by the wayside, as I was helping present it and didn’t make enough notes. But never mind – here is number #38!

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World Gin Day – American Gin

World Gin Day may have been a couple of weeks back, but after dashing off a quick post about Latvian gin I had somewhere to be – Graphic Bar for a blind tasting of gin with David from Summerfruitcup. However, this was no Beefeater and Tanqueray laden group, instead focusing on a rapidly growing area in the world of juniper flavoured spirits – American gin.

With the flourishing craft distilling scene in the US comes a need to monetise maturing spirit and many of the distillers are turning away from the relatively easy path of producing vodka and also making gins. There are also an increasing number of distillers ignoring aged spirits and focusing solely on vodka and gin, which is an encouraging sign – it’s often easy to see gin as an ‘also ran’ in the craft distilling movement. While the US’s domestic spirit production was huge and varied before Prohibition it has taken rather a large amount of time to push beyond industrially produced alchohol to more widely available artisinal spirits, and gin has happily piggybacked on the explosion.

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World Gin Day – Viking Džins

So, it’s World Gin Day. While I don’t need an excuse to write about gin it is always nice to have one and I’ve spent the last few weeks going through our (scarily large) pile of gins at work making a list of some of the more interesting ones. While putting together a TWE blog post to do some pimping of my list and WGD I realised that I have been much remiss in my gin buying activity and had not got round to picking up something I’d promised myself, and others, that I would – Viking Džins.

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Sipsmith’s Damson Vodka and Sloe Gin

I’ve been much remiss when it comes to writing about Sipsmith, in as much as I haven’t really done so yet. I first realised that they existed when they supplied a stack of gin and vodka to the Blaggers’ Banquet, back in November 2009, the event that inspired me to start writing this blog. Since then I’ve visited the distillery a couple of times (first in May 2010, according to the email I just searched for) and have bumped into the folks from the distillery on numerous occasions. However, for one reason or another I’ve never actually done more that gushing about how lovely they are at people I meet in the street. So, to finally do that which I should have done before here’s some witterings about Sipsmith.

The distillery was started in 2009 by Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, formerly Fuller’s and Diageo reps in the USA, with writer and drinks historian Jared Brown coming in as master distiller and recipe guy. They bought a garage in Hammersmith (formerly owned, it turned out, by legendary beer writer Michael Jackson before he died), obtained (through a scary amount of effort) the first new distilling license for a copper pot still in London for 189 years, filled the garage with a beautiful 300l still made by Christian Carl that they named Prudence (after one of Gordon Brown’s favourite traits, so the story goes) and started making gin and vodka. They don’t do it alone, though – they also have a nice chap called Chris who does the day to day distilling. So, between the three of them, Jared being an occasional visitor, they produce a large amount of booze, the increasing quantity of which Sam seems genuinely shocked about.

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Gin Roundup

The last few months have involved quite a lot of gin, which is no bad thing. Gin is another of those spirits that is so often just lumped together in the “it all tastes the same” category, and until recently I half believed it. However, as I try more of them I am starting to notice the differences and similarities, and my recent dabblings have been rather helpful.

At the London Cocktail Society Christmas party we were all handed a slip of paper. Mainly I noticed the bit on it which said ‘fill this in and win some gin’, but there was also space for you to write in what you thought your three favourite gins were – thought being the operative word. The lovely folk of the LCS tabulated results, ran whatever numbers they wanted to run and produced a list of the top 5 gins according to the tastes of the party goers. However, rather than just tell us they decided to do a bit of brain tweaking and put on a blind tasting of the winners to see what we thought when not confronted with the baggage of pretty bottles and brands. Hosted at gin loving bar Graphic, of Juniper Society fame, we were presented with 5 plastic cups, unmarked apart from a coloured sticker so that we could match them up later. As hoped they all tasted rather different, although my notes are rather light (and mainly from memory).

LCS Gin

  • Hendrick’s – Nice and spicy, good flavour, hints of sweetness.
  • Sipsmith – this one mainly sat in my mind has being the most ‘gin-like’. Solid juniper, quite dry and nicely balanced.
  • Bombay Sapphire – very lightly flavoured. Most repeated comment – ‘Is this a vodka you’ve slipped in as a joke?’.
  • Number 3 – the most complex flavoured with lots of juniper, clove, cinnamon, pine, butterscotch and a bunch more. My favourite
  • Tanqueray 10 – quite piney (which I think is the juniper coming out) and complex. My second favourite after the No. 3.

Along with that I also went to a Beefeater Gin evening at the Juniper Society (turning Graphic into a bit of a regular haunt), including some cocktail making as well as a talk through the creation of Beefeater with master distiller Desmond Payne. All three of Beefeater’s gins that I tasted (as well as the five above) are distilled gins, meant that the botanicals are added to neutral spirit before redistillation, rather than the cheaper cold compound method of having flavourings added to neutral spirit without redistilling. London Dry Gin has recently been defined as ‘a type of distilled gin’ in a similar fashion to Plymouth, although with a larger number of producers than the single distiller of the latter style.

  • Beefeater London Dry Gin – The botanicals in this are fairly traditional – juniper, Seville orange peel, coriander, angelica root and seed, almonds, oris root and ground liquorice root. Beefeater’s other trademark is that the botanicals are steeped in the alcohol for 24 hours before distillation to allow for greater infusion. The nose started with bitter orange and finished with some spicy coriander and liquorice. To taste it had a fruity juniper middle and some sweet liquorice at the end.
  • Beefeater 24 – A new premium gin recipe put together by Desmond, in comparison to the regular London Dry recipe which hasn’t changed significantly since the distillery’s opening in 1820. The secret ingredients in 24 are tea, both Chinese green tea and Japanese sencha, as well as a bit of grapefruit in with the other peels. It was inspired by the lack of quinine sources in Japan, leading to the use of green tea as a gin mixer rather than tonic water. The nose started off grassy with a big citrus middle. The taste was less sweet than the London Dry, with some bitter wood and a hint of tannin.
  • Beefeater Winter Gin – a special edition gin put out last Christmas, this added nutmeg, cinnamon, and lime and orange peels to the mix. While the London dry and 24 were noticeably different but similar, this was a total change – a nose of Christmas spice and a taste of almost gingerbread. Luckily it seems that there are a few bottles of this around still, although my urge to drink it neat might well lead to destruction.

On top of those two events I also had a couple of miniatures of gin knocking around that I’ve been meaning to taste for a while:

  • GinFirst up, I was sent through some samples of Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin. This is distilled and bottled in London and is mainly a distilled gin, although with pomegranate added afterwards to give it a distinctively pink colour. Botanicals-wise this has juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, sweet orange peel, cassia bark and nutmeg. The idea seems to have come, according to the bottle neck tag bumph, from the old idea of pink gin (gin with a dash of bitters, turning it pinkish, rather than the long drink of that with lemonade that you will normally find these days) but taking it in a slightly different direction. On the nose it has quite a lot of juniper, with some spiciness that I suspect is from the coriander and nutmeg. To taste it’s quite sweet, with a burst of fruit (it might be sweetened pomegranate, but that could be my expectations), orange and a quite flat finish with some sour woodiness. Most of all though, it is very pink indeed.
  • Lastly is Hayman’s Old Tom, which came in my goody bag from the previously mentioned LCS Christmas party. Old Tom is an, appropriately, old style of gin that is currently being revived by a few manufacturers, including Hayman’s. It’s similar to a London dry gin but, earning the former it’s ‘dry’ tag, is slightly sweetened. Hayman’s is a new gin with history, using a recipe from James Burrough’s recipe books (the founder of Beefeater and great grandfather of Christopher Hayman, current Hayman’s chairman) from the 1860/70s, and it seems to have kickstarted the rebirth of the style as a commercial proposition. On the nose it has quite a bit of juniper (which is slightly redundant when talking about traditional gins) and a little bit of sweetness. To taste it is noticeably sweet, with a hit of sugar syrup, which helps bring out lemony flavours. Mainly it’s overpowered by the sweetness.

So, that’s a gin roundup for now, and I didn’t even include the genever tasting I went to at the most recent Juniper Society. But as we were told several times on that evening – Genever is not Gin.

Many thanks to the LCS for putting on events and giving me goody bags, Sarah and Adam at Graphic for feeding me gin on Mondays, and Daisy at Ian Scott for sorting me out some samples of Edgerton’s. Also thanks to James Hayman who pinged me a mail telling me what I’d got wrong about the history of his family’s gin.

Hendrick’s Gin
Distilled gin, 41.4%. ~£25

Sipsmith London Dry Gin
London dry gin, 41.6%. ~£30

Bombay Sapphire
London dry gin, 40%. ~£20

No 3 Gin
London dry gin, 46%. ~£35

Tanqueray 10
Distilled gin, 47.3%. ~£35

Beefeater London Dry Gin
London dry gin, 40%. ~£15

Beefeater 24
Distilled gin, 45%. ~£25

Beefeater Winter Gin
Distilled gin, 40%. ~£20

Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin
Distilled gin with pomagranate, 47%. ~£30

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
Old Tom gin, 40%. ~£20