Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Martin Miller's Westbourne with Icelandic Sagas

The end of August has come a good week (maybe a day or two more) before the end of my gin collection which means I have much more gin than I realised and I'll have to wait for another suitable occasion to open those bottles. I'm finishing up with Martin Miller's Westbourne because they were kind enough to send me a bottle, and after one quick look at it, D made it clear that it wasn't going to be allowed to sit around undisturbed for very long. I couldn't argue, and given that Martin Miller's was the first gin I really fell in love with it's a good choice.

I've had fun doing this. I started out in the wine trade 17 years ago at a time when gin looked to be on its last legs, so it's been fascinating watching its current revival, learning the history, and enjoying the product. As it's always been my drink of choice there's a feeling of vindication too, and being able to share this particular enthusiasm is great - I really do wish I could gather together everyone who's commented here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter and share the gin. But I can't, some of you are far to far away, so I'll just have to settle for saying thank you, especially for the recommendation (both for books and other gins).

Westbourne is bottled at 45.2% which makes it noticably stronger than standard Martin Miller's and the recipe is slightly different too. Both gins use a blend of two distillates (not an unusual process) one of which places juniper front and centre, the other citrus. The reason for distilling separately is that it allows you to bring out the best in different botanicals - in this case it means the citrus retains a freshness which would be lost if everything went into the pot together. The extra alcohol makes the juniper more assertive and brings out the spicy notes at the beginning, before you get all that lovely citrus (and a hint of cucumber) at the back. It's a gorgeous gin in a G&T, and I'm told it's exceptionally good in a martini or a negroni as well.

We spent some time discussing suitable books for this one, I was leaning towards some Victorian doorstop of a book as being suitably epic to do it justice, but D said the Icelandic saga's, and that made sense (and not just because of the Icelandic connection, or that blogging everyday for a month around some busy times at work has felt like a saga of its own at times).

They're suitably large in scale, absorbing when you take the time to get into them, and reward the slight effort that takes. As every reader knows it's one of life's true pleasures to set aside an hour or so to sit down with a well made drink (from tea and coffee onwards) and a good book and just be able to lose yourself in both for a while. When I hit publish in this post I'll be doing just that with a glass of Westbourne and the 'Comic Sagas and Tales of Iceland'.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hayman's Old Tom Gin with How To Mix Drinks

Old Tom is a sweeter style of gin that's been resurrected over the last decade, initially it seems at the request of london's mixologists who wanted this historic style back so that they could recreate classic Jerry Thomas era cocktails.

The (abbreviated) story of Old Tom takes us right back to the 18th century gin craze. Distillation techniques were crude, and gin which wouldn't have been very good quality to begin with was commonly adulterated with turpentine (one way to get that juniper forward flavour, but not the one you want) and sulphuric acid. To make it something like palatable it was also common to add quite a lot of sugar. Over the years distillation and quality improved but the taste for sweet gin remained.

Why its called Old Tom is subject to speculation (it's worth reading what Gin Foundry have to say on the subject) but it's a style that seems to have remained popular through the golden age of cocktails, and up until the Second World War when an increasing preference for dryer drinks pushed it out of favour. By the 70's it had all but disappeared, and then Hayman's resurrected it (and good on them for doing so). These days there are a few around, but Hayman's, as well as being excellent, is the easiest to find (Waitrose sells it amongst others) .

It's a noticeably sweeter style than London gin, and whilst the usual citrus and juniper elements are there it's the sweetness provided by the sugar and liquorice that really come through. I'm sometimes asked for a sweet gin so I'm glad to have this to sell (Hayman's also do a gin liqueur which is worth investigating too, it has a lot more sugar and is great for playing around with cocktails) but I think it's fair to say that it doesn't really shine in a G&T - it's not bad, but I prefer something dryer.

Put it in a Tom Collins on the other hand and it's a different story. In a drink that's going to be sweetened anyway the softer, rounder, notes of Old Tom are perfect. Indeed, I'd use it for any gin cocktail that has any kind of sweetness to it, or where you feel a bit of sweetness might be wanted.

The book to have if you have a bottle of Old Tom to play with is 'How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion' by Jerry Thomas. Jerry Thomas was a New York icon and cocktail pioneer who toured America and Europe spreading the word about his creations with some impressive showmanship thrown in for good measure. 'How to Mix Drinks' is a seminal work, and whilst the instructions do seem to err on the side of brevity, and the quantities mentioned are often on an epic scale, it's an interesting book to browse through - especially if you want to know what people drank in the 1860's (I do, I really do). Hesperus reissued it a few years ago with charming illustrations - that's the copy I have - and it has plenty of useful suggestions for Old Tom...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Shetland Reel Gin with David Howarth's The Shetland Bus

I've been going through the gin in the wardrobe trying to decide which ones not to write about (it's not been an easy choice) but I couldn't miss out Shetland Reel gin.

Shetland Reel is the first gin to be made in Shetland, Blackwoods made claim to being a Shetland gin, and for a while the original company behind the brand had plans to open a whisky distillery there, but in truth all they ever did was source a couple of botanicals there and put a Viking ship on the label. Blackwoods is a decent gin, worth trying if you find it, but the use of the Shetland name has always curbed my enthusiasm for it.

Shetland Reel (the name explicitly references country dancing and music, but I wonder if they're making a point about provenance as well) is made in Unst (predictive text badly wants that to read aunts...) which is as far north as both Shetland, and Britain, goes. Being 'the most northerly' is a nice usp to have, but it comes with some interesting logistical considerations and expenses, so anything you make there needs to be good to justify the inevitable price tag (it's around £35 which puts it firmly in the premium range, but you can easily spend more).

Shetland Reel is good, it uses local apple mint, but it's nowhere near as pronounced as the mint in Daffy's, rather it presents as a fresh, green, note that balances out the juniper, both of which feel like a supporting act for citrus. Basically a good crisp gin, light and elegant, and beautifully balanced. I'm currently enjoying it in a G&T but I'd like to try it on something like an English Garden cocktail, and maybe with mint rather than cucumber.

I'm watching Reel gin with interest, I love the idea that someone can go to Shetland and make a living doing this, it's exciting to see for lots of reasons, and it's made Christmas presents for daughters very easy for my father for the last couple of years.

Book wise, David Howarth's extraordinary account of the sadly under told story of the 'Shetland Bus' is a must. As a navy man it seems safe to assume Howarth was a gin drinker, and by the end of the book you'll want to raise a glass of something in honour of the men who ran this 'bus'.

For those who don't know the story there's a comprehensive Wikipedia article Here, but basically it was a joint operation between the British and Norwegians during the war to get agents and supplies in and out of Norway. Initially they used fishing boats to cross the North Sea in, and then later got 3 submarine chasers - which were safer. To avoid detection they would sail as late into the winter as they could, often in horrendous conditions. Howarth was a junior navel officer who helped set up and operate the base in Shetland - his tone is very much the stiff upper lipped sort, which is charming in itself, add that to the bravery with which these sailors faced very real danger (there were some terrible losses) - well, as I said, it's a story that should be better known.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rock Rose with Hugh MacDiarmid's 'Scotland Small?'

D bought me my first bottle of Rock Rose, he's originally from Caithness so when he saw it he had to buy it. (In Fortnum and Mason's, they might not have the biggest gin selection in town, but I believe it still runs to over 100 bottles, the guys on the counter know their business, and they have tasting samples of almost all of them if you ask nicely.) For me it was like getting gin and flowers all in the same package, I was so delighted with it that it's set the bar for casual gifts ever since. Happily, when we've been in Scotland it's been easy to find so it's become something to look forward to on trips North.

It makes sense that so many good gins are coming out of Scotland at the moment; the well established whisky industry, especially the way that single malt took off from the 1970's onwards, is a great example of how to do it. (Conversely the English are getting in on the act, making single malt in distilleries that started off making gin, it'll be interesting to see how that pans out.)

With Rock Rose there are a handful of locally sourced botanicals (including rowan berries, sea buckthorn, blaeberries, and of course rock rose root) which tie the gin to the landscape it comes from. The ceramic bottle with its arts and crafts/Charles Rennie Mackintosh/Glasgow four overtones is strikingly attractive (serious shelf appeal), I love the way it references Scottish design history, its own namesake botanical, and a certain fin de siècle loucheness all at once.

The gin itself is great, there's a hint of rose on the nose, and the sea buckthorn adds a certain sharpness to the palate that works well with the juniper. It's a fairly classic gin, but with enough subtle twists to make it distinctive. Rock Rose recommend garnishing with rosemary, which I'll try next time. (I'm also very keen to try their navy strength gin, next time I see a bottle it's mine.)

When I was thinking of what to match it with my first thought was Neil M. Gunn's 'The Silver Darlings' - Gunn was from the right part of the world and it's definitely a gin that wants to celebrate where it's from, but I haven't yet managed to finish 'The Silver Darlings', and anyway it feels like more of a whisky book. My second though was Josaphine Tey (she was from Inverness) which just as swiftly reminded me that I want to read 'The Singing Sands' and haven't. Tey's books do suggest gin to me, but somehow not this one.

Then I thought of Hugh MacDiarmid. I don't read a lot of MacDiarmid, he can be heavy going, but his story is interesting (see Here for brief details) and 'Scotland Small?' Is a favourite poem for the way it celebrates a landscape that's certainly families to Caithness. It's obviously not a poem about gin, or the process of tasting it, but nevertheless it strongly reminds me of the discipline of tasting (as opposed to just drinking).

Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?
Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliché corner
To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’ where in September another
Sitting there and resting and gazing around
Sees not only the heather but blaeberries
With bright green leaves and leaves already turned scarlet,
Hiding ripe blue berries; and amongst the sage-green leaves
Of the bog-myrtle the golden flowers of the tormentil shining;
And on the small bare places, where the little Blackface sheep
Found grazing, milkworts blue as summer skies;
And down in neglected peat-hags, not worked
Within living memory, sphagnum moss in pastel shades
Of yellow, green, and pink; sundew and butterwort
Waiting with wide-open sticky leaves for their tiny winged prey;
And nodding harebells vying in their colour
With the blue butterflies that poise themselves delicately upon them;
And stunted rowans with harsh dry leaves of glorious colour.
‘Nothing but heather!’  ̶  How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Daffy's gin with Ian Fleming and James Bond

Daffy' is pretty new on the gin scene - launched at the tail end of 2014 after a couple of years intense development work - it also says a lot about where gin is going. It's a high quality product that conforms to a traditional gin flavour profile, but with an emphasis on a particular botanical - in this case Lebanese mint. It references gins history; Daffy is an old slang term for gin (it comes up in Dickens), though the label is pure 1960's martini glamour. The Daffy's gin people like to say it refers to the goddess of gin. Along with that back story the rest of the packaging is absolutely immaculate - it's all extreme polished, and it's paid off quickly with awards and a national distribution deal with Waitrose.

Daffy's is the brain child of an Edinburgh based couple (with a sound drinks background) and apparently partly inspired by whisky in so much as they wanted something that was recognisable in the same way (distinctly gin, but also distinctive), the Lebanese mint does the trick. It's a salad mint (I looked it up) so not harsh, the flavour is integrated, but unmistakable. The other thing Daffy's wanted was to be a gin which would drink well neat. Success again.

It works very well in a G&T, and that distinctive minty note makes it a good choice for cocktails that really allow the gin to shine through (Martini's, Gin Ricky's - that sort of thing).

The label design is what really stands out about this gin for me though. It is after all the first impression that you get of it, and it's also really distinctive. The label was designed by Robert McGinnis who's probably most famous for the James Bond posters in the 60's and 70's, and I've not really seen anything else like it, it certainly stands out. It's possibly also a love it or hate it label, I don't love it but I do admire a strong brand.

The Robert McGinnis connection makes James Bond an obvious choice, though when I think about Bond I think of the films rather than Ian Flemmings books, of which I've only read Casino Royale (the Modesty Blaise books would work too). I'm definitely thinking of Roger Moore as Bond, and a 70's jet set lifestyle. The origins of the botanicals - Belgium (angelica), the Balkans (juniper and coriander), Morocco (orris), Spain (orange and lemon), Malaysia (Cassia), and Lebanon (mint) certainly read like a set list for a Bond film (and some interesting holidays).

Finally a martini should be stirred, not shaken, and Ian Flemming knew it, there are a lot of theories as to why he specifies shaken (I've even heard it was to annoy his bartender, I would love it if that was true). The reason you should stir is mostly aesthetic, shaken martini's are likely to be cloudy, and some argue more dilute (but that's debatable). I've also read that when you shake gin it can 'bruise' it, bringing out a bitter note - though I've not tested that. Stirring takes longer, but the ritual of making a drink is important, if a things worth doing, it's worth doing properly.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Berkeley Square Gin with Nancy Mitford

Berkeley Square gin is another Joanne Moore creation (she's behind some great gins, though this one could maybe have been better marketed). I didn't try it until we stopped stocking it (it was reduced to clear and I love a bargain) if I'd known how good it was I'd have bought more.

Marketed as a gentleman's gin (Bloom is the feminine equivalent from the same stable) and inspired by the herbs in an English garden, what we get is a lovely fresh gin which explores the herbaceous notes of the traditional gin flavour profile. Which is precisely what makes Joanne Moore's gins so exciting - I love the way she takes an element that is in itself perfectly conventional within the gin flavour spectrum and then expands upon it. The result is something intriguingly different but still a traditional gin.

The idea of marketing gin by gender doesn't appeal to me at all - and perhaps explains why Berkeley Square wasn't as popular with our customers as it might have been. Bloom (which does have a particularly pretty bottle) does better, but Opihr has been a much bigger hit, and Thomas Dakin looks set to do better as well (they're all out if the same stable).

It's a shame because it really is a good gin, the sort that works in its own over ice, makes a really decent gin and tonic, and shines in cocktails (Gin foundry suggest something called The Last Word, sadly it involves Chartreuse which I really don't like, but I might give it a go anyway. Details Here).

The tag line 'effortlessly superior' and the Mayfair styling remind me of irrisistably of Nancy Mitford with her U and non U snobbery (which I've always assumed is a bit tongue in cheek - but then I guess the gin marketing is too). These days I like Mitford in small doses, I find she can be hard to take in any quantity - but sometimes nothing else will do.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Warner Edwards Rhubarb Gin with Miss Buncle's Book

I find it very hard to resist the idea of a flavoured gin - or any odd liqueur, it has led to some dreadful mistakes in the way of alcohol purchases. I fear I will never quite live down a really unpleasant, and very expensive, holly eau de vie - and yet I still don't learn. Last year at a gin festival I used a precious token, whilst still entirely sober, to try a Parma violet flavoured gin. It tasted exactly as you might expect, and didn't impress the friend I was sharing with (her choices were all impeccable). I can't resist the romance of the idea (I'd match Parma violet gin with something like Ethel. M. Dell's 'The Way of an Eagle', the gin wasn't bad - but a little went a long way. I imagine a good mixologist could make something witty and delicious out of it, maybe one day I'll find out. Ethel. M. Dell is hard going, but a phenomenon in her day which makes her interesting.)

Warner Edwards Rhubarb gin on the other hand is bloody marvellous, my bottle was a gift from someone who knows me well enough to have the gift giving thing nailed, and who also has the good taste to choose something delicious as well as vaguely novel. It's also a local gin to me, or local enough, it's made on the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire border.

The Warner Edwards story is a good one, their Harrington Dry gin which forms the base of this one is excellent, and all the ingredients for their flavoured gins have excellent local provenance. Warner Edwards do have a national presence (you can buy them in John Lewis of all places) but they're also a great local product. Not every gin can be a big selling brand name, but every good gin can make its mark locally, and there's something really satisfying about finding a product rooted in its landscape.

Thankfully though this gin is widely available because it's the perfect mix of sweet and tart. It makes a brilliant martini with a dash of orange bitters to bring out the citrus, and a very pink and summery long drink mixed with something like Crabbies rhubarb flavoured ginger beer. It feels pleasingly feminine - it's very pink - nostalgic in an English country garden sort of way, and is still a serious gin that deserves a bit of respect (that sugar is balanced with the sort of astringency that makes me think of Maggie Smith giving a withering set down in her best dowager countess mode).

Book wise it deserves a mix of romance and humour. Nothing too sensational, but with plenty of charm. D E Stevenson's 'Miss Buncle's Book' fits the bill for me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tanqueray Rangpur with Passage of Arms

August is disappearing faster than the list of gins I want to write about, how do I even go about choosing which ones to cut from the list, and which of the unopened, hoarded, bottles will stay that way until the next occasion to drink them finally comes along? It's a lot to think about on a Wednesday evening.

What I really haven't done yet though is fully share my enthusiasm for all things Tanqueray, high on the list of gins I want to try is their Old Tom, there's standard (not a word that does it justice) Tanqueray which is very much a favourite, the lavishly awarded Tanqueray Ten which really is phenomenally good, and then there's Tanqueray Rangpur.

Rangpur has its doubters, but I'm not one of them. Rangpur limes are apparently a bit special (extra juicy as far as I can tell) and here they're distilled along with the other botanicals to create a gin that really delivers on both the citrus and juniper fronts. Lime, lovely zesty lime, really dominates the nose but there's plenty of juniper punch in the palate - so basically my favourite style of gin (juniper forward) with a hefty dose of something else I really like (lime) for good measure in a crisp clean gin which makes an excellent G&T. A few customers have assured me that it's great with ginger as well but I like it so much with tonic that I've felt no need to explore further.

Tanqueray Ten does something sort of similar (and I accept that it might just do it with more finesse) with Mexican limes, and grapefruit, but Tanqueray Ten feels like the gin equivalent of a Bentley and sometimes a prefer the friskier Rangpur. In the end it comes down to personal taste, and this one ticks all the boxes for me. It's easy to recommend 'Ten', I never doubt its ability to live up to expectations, but I get enthusiastic about Rangpur in a different way, and just a little defensive when people say they don't see the point of it. Other gin drinkers will have to make up their own minds!

The book I would currently pair with it (I have happy recent memories of doing just that) is Eric Ambler's Passage of Arms. It's the extra lime that makes me think particularly of anywhere Eastern, and Tanqueray has been around long enough (even if this expression hasn't) to feel like it would have been quite at home in that post colonial world. It would be just the thing to cut through the sultry heat, would do well in a Singapore sling, and just looking at the bottle is making my fingers itch to reach for the next Ambler on the pile.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Audemus Pink Pepper Gin with Perfume: A Century of Scents

I've just been having a conversation on Twitter about drinking culture, and how much pressure there is to drink when perhaps you shouldn't, and drink more than you might want, so it seems like time to reiterate that I'm all about drinking sensibly. I have so much gin around the place only because I don't drink much (if I did most those bottles would have long gone to be recycled). I enjoy a drink but it's been a long time since it was in anything but moderation. I believe in quality over quantity every time, and whilst I'll happily encourage anybody to try a new gin (or similar) if I think they might like it, I hope I never put pressure on anybody to do so. A good gin and tonic is a beautiful thing, a hangover is not.

After which auspicious start it's on to Audemus Pink Pepper gin... This one's from France, Cognac to be specific, where they know a thing or two about distillation, but where I'm guessing there's no great tradition of gin making or drinking (I could be very wrong about that). The result is something that's definitely gin, but also quite distinctively different in its approach. It's worth reading this review Here from Gin foundry (they're my go to place for gin reviews and general information about distilleries).

The pepper element is front and centre with this gin, and the juniper is unmistakably there too. I was surprised to read that coriander doesn't feature mostly because it almost always does, and I associate it with citrus flavours in gin. There is citrus here though, even if it's not altogether clear where from. There's also the mention of honey, thinks beans, and vanilla, as well of those pink peppercorns - all of which remind me of perfume descriptions as much as they do a list of gin botanicals.

I was also interested to read that this is a gin that changes and develops with age - that's a new idea to me with spirits, and an intriguing one. It also lead me back to perfume again, hence the Lizzie Ostrom book.

When I talk about tasting drinks what I'm talking about specifically is a tasting process, one which relies heavily on the nose. The first step when you pour anything to taste is to asses it by eye - is it clear, a good colour, in any way distinctive (notes will be made). Next you nose it - approaching with caution if it's a spirit - sniff to deep and the alcohol will knock your nose out of shape and you'll get no useful information, then you taste. Even when you do actually have the liquid in your mouth it's the nose that's doing the bulk of the work - and you should be breathing in through the mouth out through the nose at this point.*

When you're nosing a drink you're assessing first of all if it smells clean (as opposed to faulty or unpleasant in some way) and then trying to identify different components from the whole. This might be to help describe it later, but it's more to do with helping you remember, define, and think about what you're drinking. Unless it's your job there's no need to take it to seriously, but I do think it's worth spending a few moments thinking about what you're drinking - it's more enjoyable when you do (at least it is when you're drinking something good, and really - there's no reason to drink anything which isn't good).

The nose matters, and this heady concoction of juniper, pink pepper, vanilla, honey, tonka, and citrus - which I'd wear with joy if I could - is a splendid reminder of that.

*If you want to know exactly how much work the nose does mix a little cinnamon and sugar together, hold your nose and think about what you can taste, then let go of your nose and see the difference.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hendrick's Gin with a bit of Victorian excess

I had to really think about writing about Hendrick's gin. I'm not that keen on it so it was tempting not to bother, but then it's been so influential that it seemed wrong not to. I don't think it's coincidence that I've really struggled to think of a book to match it.

Hendrick's was launched in 2001, its success, and it is successful, setting the template for modern gin branding. I've heard Hendrick's described as a good gin to start with if you're not sure you like gin - the juniper is there but it's held in check by the cucumber and Rose elements that are added after distillation - and that's precisely why I'm not very excited by it. It's a perfectly nice gin, I take no issue with the cucumber garnish (I wouldn't object if you wanted to stick a rose in it either), but it simply isn't juniper forward enough for me. That's an entirely personal response, a gin doesn't get to be as popular as Hendrick's through marketing alone, it's a very well made spirit that deserves its fan base.

Not that I want to undersell the marketing though, it is a triumph, and worth celebrating. 15 years down the line it's perhaps hard to remember how fresh Hendrick's looked. The bottle shape and colour, the Victorian style decoration, the humour, even the tea cups... Hendrick's basically persuaded a generation of drinkers that gin was cool again (it is, they were right). They keep making it fun, and I don't doubt for a moment that they'll continue to do so, and that in itself is more than enough to make me raise a glass to them.

Book wise I feel Hendrick's calls for something that really celebrates Victorian eccentricity and excess. If I knew much about steam punk (beyond that it's a thing) I'm pretty sure I could find something perfect, but it's not a genre I've read. I suspect Jules Verne or H. G. Wells in science fiction mode would be appropriate but I've only seen films so they would be cheating. Wilkie Collins at his most sensational might do (I'm thinking 'Poor Miss Finch' levels of plotting craziness) but then the gin is perhaps to serious for that (allusions to blue ruin notwithstanding). It's a reminder that I ought to read some Florence Marryat or, Sheridan Le Fanu, but as I haven't...

The obvious choice for me ends up being collections of Victorian ghost stories and Gothic tales. This is partly in recognition of the current Hendrick's box which references the Victorian fascination with spiritualism and raising spirits, but mostly because I love this kind of thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Caorunn Gin with George Mackay Brown

My first brush with Caorunn gin was in Aberdeen airport, my sister bought a bottle when we were en route to Shetland for a family visit. We drank it with enthusiasm, and on the way back I bought more, it's been a favourite ever since. (Which was helpful when we first got it at work, the rep was so pleased with my enthusiasm he gave me another bottle - he's a lovely man).

Caorunn is made in Scotland, specifically at the Balmenach distillery in the Cairngorms, where they can draw on a long history of distilling. The name is Gaelic for rowan berry - which is one of the botanicals, rowan's have all sorts of mythology and folklore attached to them (planted next to a house they're meant to keep witches and other evil spirits away). The five sided bottle is inspired by Scottish Art Nouveau, and the five pointed star shape on it references the five specifically Scottish botanicals which also include heather and bog myrtle. This is a product that celebrates its provenance, it's also really good.

The result is a clean crisp gin in the London style with a nice balance between spice, citrus, and juniper. It makes an excellent G&T, and is a good all round cocktail gin - garnish wise Caorunn suggest red apples (apples are another botanical) and they also have This recipe for a winter toddy with apple juice, port, bitters, lemon juice, and sugar. It's one I'll be trying.

I think someone has just started making gin in Orkney, but until I get to try it, and despite gin not being the first drink I'd associate with George Mackay Brown (that would be whisky) the personality of Caorunn seems well suited to his work. He said of himself that "I sometimes see my task as poet and storyteller, to rescue the centuries treasure before it is to late. It is as though the past is a great ship that has gone ashore, and archivist and writer must gather as much of the rich squandered cargo as they can".

It's what he does time and again in his short story collections along with celebrating the landscape and the seasons. In its own way Caorunn does that too with all the ways it references its Scottish origins, along with the hint of ancient folklore tied up in those botanicals. Not that there's anything nostalgic about this gin - it's more a sense that it celebrates where it's come from. Anyway, it seems perfect, especially in toddy form, to enjoy with Mackay Brown's stories of Orkney life - especially when the wind blows and the rain chucks it down outside (as it is tonight).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

William Chase Seville Orange Gin with P G Wodehouse

Although they disappeared from off-licence and bar shelves something before my time, orange flavoured gins used to be popular. From what I've read I'm assuming they were fairly sweet and used mostly as a cocktail ingredient. William Chase's Seville Orange Gin is dry enough to satisfy the most traditional of gin drinkers (it certainly pleases me) but it too makes an excellent cocktail ingredient.

when I first tried it I was already familiar with, and a fan of, Chase's marmalade vodka, and that coupled with the glorious colour of this gin had led me to expect something aggressively orangey. It isn't at all, the orange flavour is there and it makes no bones about being the star of the show, but in many ways it's surprisingly subtle. The flavours are beautifully balanced and unmistakably gin like, albeit a citrus dominated gin, the end result was much more sophisticated than I expected and utterly contemporary - though the idea that it has a foot in gin history is pleasing too. 

It makes a brilliant gin and tonic, is excellent in a martini (I'd must try it in a breakfast martini* some day), and is worth trying in any citrus inclined gin cocktail - though it's such a good gin I don't like to mess around with it to much. It sings in a G&T and my cocktail making skills are limited.**

I'm not sure what Jeeves would make of this gin, I like to think it would be dry enough for him to approve of, but I'm certain that Bertie Wooster would love it, especially in a breakfast martini. That hint of marmalade could have been designed on purpose to compliment Wodehouse's world, a deckchair somewhere pleasant on a sunny afternoon with a glass of something involving this gin in one hand, and a book outlining why 'Aunts Aren't Gentleman' in the other, would be an afternoon well spent (and the stuff my dreams are made of). 

*which is in no way the same thing as having a martini for breakfast, that is something I have no intention of trying. Those days, if I ever had them, are long gone. 

** I've had occasional enthusiasms for trying to make cocktails at home, but experience has taught me to keep it simple and leave the business of serious cocktail making to professionals. It's less sticky that way. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Martin Miller's Gin with Gavin Maxwell

Martin Miller's gin is another ground breaker, and one I'm particularly fond of. It first saw the light of day in 1999 which was the same year I started working for Oddbins. One of the things I loved about being there was when we got new spirits to launch (in those days we would often be the first off licence to have them, and way ahead of supermarkets). I can't remember exactly when Martin Miller's hit the shelves, but I do remember trying it for the first time at a wine fair (neat, and it's still one of the few gins I find I could enjoy neat). I also remember the incentive scheme they ran to push sales. Every bottle sold was a point towards various prizes, sell 25 bottles and you got a magnum of Miller's. I got 3 magnums, one empty one is still doing duty as a toilet roll holder.

It's a great gin, and deserves a bit more shouting about then it gets. Martin Miller's was the first super premium gin to come along after Bombay Sapphire. The unique selling point was that after distillation the gin was shipped up to Iceland to have water added to bring it down to 40% abv, and then shipped back to the UK (hence the map on the bottle). The reason for this is that Iceland has the purest water in the world, and for whatever mysterious reason it apparently really does make a difference to the taste.

To drink it's quite citrusy, with the juniper coming in the middle of the palate, the finish is soft and clean, and there's a depth to the flavour that really underlines the quality of this gin. Of all the gins I've chosen for this project, this is the one that I'd urge people to try if they haven't already (and are inclined too. No hard sell here, I promise!). It's easy to find, it's not horribly expensive, and it's very, very, good.

It's the map on the label that puts me in mind of exploration and adventure, the shipping forecast, and a certain northern sense of romance. These are all things I associate with Gavin Maxwell's books, but in this case particularly 'Raven Seek Thy Brother' where he visits Iceland to research the possibility of farming Eider ducks for their down (predictably with Maxwell this was a failure, but it still made me want to go there - and one day I will).

I'm not clear if Maxwell was an alcoholic or not, it seems in questionable taste to pair his books with alcohol if he was. He certainly seems to have drunk a lot though that might have as much to do with the drinking culture of his time. Whatever the truth, amongst all the other things in his books there is a sense of martini drinking, a bottle of whisky stashed in the cabin of his shark fishing boats, or brandy in his club, along with a whiff of cigarette smoke, and fish oil, tar... A gin enjoyed responsibly is surely an appropriate accompaniment.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Darnley's View Spiced Gin with Walter Scott

If Sir Walter Scott had done gin marketing I'm pretty sure he'd have come up with something very like this:
“With renowned expertise for the production of fine wines and spirits, our gin is made from a family recipe and captures the moment in 1565 when Mary Queen of Scots spied her future husband, Lord Darnley, through the courtyard window at Wemyss Castle. From this marriage came a prince who later united the thrones of England and Scotland as James VI and Ist. We like to think of Darnley’s son, conceived through a union that began at Wemyss, as a symbol of our desire to combine the best of England and Scottish distilling to create a unique gin.” 
So it's appropriate that D bought me back this bottle from Scott country (if he will go to the Borders without me, a bottle of gin to return with is the least he can do...) I like to think that Scott himself would have enjoyed the cinnamon and nutmeg notes in this gin too, they're flavours that seem as at home in Sir Walter's time as they do in the sixteenth century.

For myself it's conformation that if it's not going to be all about the juniper, than a spice influenced gin will hit the spot (as far as personal taste goes I'm less keen on floral gins, subtlety is not apparently my thing in a drink). Dar let's View Spiced has an appropriately spice rack nose, is a pleasingly well balanced gin (quite smooth enough to drink nest, but good in a G&T, and apparently makes a very good negroni too, I've also seen it mentioned in connection to hot punches which will be something to explore in a month or two) and really follows through with its promises on the palate. The nutmeg and cinnamon are definitely there, not overwhelming, but unmistakably present, clove and ginger also play their part - overall the impression is of warm spiciness. It's a great addition to a gin collection - well made, and with something different to offer.

I think I'd drink this with just about any Walter Scott novel, not least because the descriptions of illicitly distilled whisky that I've read make it sound as much like gin as a modern day malt. The initial process of pot stilling is the same. Early moonshine type whisky wouldn't have had the years of ageing in oak casks which is where the colour and much of the flavour we now recognise comes from. But it seems it was flavoured in various ways to make it more palatable - though not with juniper, but still I think it would have been harder to tell the two spirits apart.

'Kenilworth' is the book that springs to mind, it's also the Scott I want to read next, but a hot gin punch would go just as well with 'Waverley', or indeed any of Scott's romantic presentations of Scottish history that I've read so far (and it seems safe to assume all the ones I haven't read too). Scott can be wordy, and slow going until you give in and decide to enjoy the pace he sets - which is probably why he's so unfashionable these days. Given the chance though he can also be deeply enjoyable to read, and he should be given the chance.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Opihr Gin with Breakfast With the Nikolides

Opihr gin is the work of Joanne Moore (she's also the distiller behind Thomas Dakin gin) and it's a great example of some of the exciting things that are happening with gin at the moment. Moore is in the enviable (and well deserved) position of master distiller for G&J Greenall (Britains second largest gin distillery) where she's proving, not that proof is really needed, that interesting gin isn't just the preserve of independent artisanal mavericks.

From what I've read, her baseline approach was to develop a gin flavour wheel (like this one Here) and look for gaps in the market on it which could then be coupled with other sources of inspiration. In the case of Opihr gin the inspiration is the spice route. There's a distinct hit of cardamom on the nose, and the finish is defined by the cubeb peppers - they're not overwhelming, but like the horseradish in the Thomas Dakin, it's a distinctive element. The packaging is equally distinctive and very much picks up on the story behind the gin.

I have a particular fondness for Opihr because it's a gin that allowed me to prove a point. It makes a perfectly good gin and tonic, but it goes particularly well with ginger ale (a gin buck). When we first had it open for customer tastings at work that's what I paired it with - and that's how I got a lot of people to realise that when they thought they didn't like gin and tonic, what they really didn't like was tonic. It was a wonderful afternoon of being able to say 'told you so'.

The other thing I really like about Opihr is that at around £22 it's a very reasonably priced premium gin. It's good to know there are interesting bottles out there for considerably less than the £30+ I'm starting to get used to paying for favourites.

Book wise it's has to be something which captures the exotic imagery of the spice route, but something that avoids too many associations with the Raj. It's altogether too easy to think of gin in terms of a vehicle to down quinine in a palatable form in the days of empire, but Ophir doesn't taste traditional enough for that. It's the botanicals that matter in this bottle and I feel they're telling a different sort of story.

Rumer Godden's spikey, uncomfortable, tales of Europeans trying to make a life in pre partition India are a different thing altogether. She celebrates the country and its indigenous culture all the while using it to highlight the tension caused by the inevitable clash with European ideas and customs. Everything is always on the cusp of change, and that seems right for such an individual sort of gin.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gin Mare with Barcelona Shadows

I don't know why it came as a surprise to me to learn that gin was a huge thing in Spain, but it turns out they're Europes biggest gin drinkers (bigger than Britain which was specifically what surprised me) and they're serious about their tonic too. With that in mind, not having a Spanish gin around the place would be seriously remiss.

The easily available, and excellent, if slightly extravagent option is Gin Mare. It's a gin that pushes the boundaries of what gin is with rosemary, thyme, olive, and basil amongst the botanicals. It's deeply rooted in the area it comes from (just outside of Barcelona) and the history of Spanish gin. It's distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd - it really does taste distinctly Mediterranean in character and has a certain savoury quality about it that makes it an acceptable match with tapas. It's also a splendid excuse to go all Spanish with the garnishes (there's more to this than the choice between lemon or lime)...
I know almost as much about Spanish literature as I do Spanish gin (which is at least an invitation to drink and read more widely on my part) but even if I'm selecting from a very small choice 'Barcelona Shadows' by Marc Pastor is an attractive option. Warm August nights are not the worst time to be reading darkly gothic horror, or drinking well iced gin-tonic. Maybe it's the contrast between sultry air and well iced gin, dark subject matter and a clean crisp spirit, it certainly helps that the flavours in the gin echo the culinary produce of the region. It's just faintly exotic and that too, in its way feeds back into the book.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sipsmith Gin with The Crimson Petal and the White

Sipsmith is the gin that makes so many of the current crop of artisanal craft gins possible, it's hard to overstate what a game changer it's been, and it all started with two men who had grown up as friends and both gone into the drinks industry. Sam Galsworthy, and Fairfax Hall.

Somewhere along the line they decided they wanted to make their own gin, and do roughly a decade ago that's what they set out to do. And instantly hit a huge HMRC shaped stumbling block. The problem was that they were proposing to produce under 300 litres at a time (Chase got around a similar problem by buying a bigger still) which would technically have classed their gin as moonshine. After a couple of years wrangling, and selling their houses to fund the project, the law was changed and a licence was granted. The first licence for a copper pot still based in London to be granted for over 180 years. Its still on the wall in the now expanded distillery premises in Chiswick, partly handwritten, because there was no dedicated form to fill in at the time.

With the help of distiller Jared Brown, and a still called Prudence (named after Gordon Brown's speech about fiscal prudence) they went into production in what had been whisky writer, Michael Jackson's garage (it had also been a micro brewery at one time; a garage with a serious drinks pedigree) and don't seem to have looked back since.

Sipsmith was the first gin distillery I visited, and after any number of whisky distillers it came as quite a surprise. Prudence looked tiny, she wouldn't even need a big garage, suddenly going into gin production seemed eminently possible...

Sipsmith's is a traditional London dry gin, has a nice balance between citrus and juniper, is well rounded and smooth, and is altogether a classic in the making. They continue to innovate, have a particularly good website (See here) where I've found some brilliant cocktail recipes*, and generally do a very, very, good job indeed whilst looking like they're having a great time in the process.

I've chosen 'The Crimson Petal and the White' to go with Sipsmith's because I feel they both demonstrate where craft meets art. Both pay homage to a certain Victorian can do spirit, neither get bogged down in nostalgia or historical trappings. Mostly though, it's the feeling that both book and gin are so very well crafted that makes me want to associate them with each other.

*It was on a Sipsmith label that I found a recipe for something called White Cargo. It's provenance goes back to the '20's, it's roughly equal amounts of gin and good quality vanilla ice cream, shaken until smooth. I can't say I personally loved it, but it's always been ridiculously popular at customer tastings, so it's worth a try - the ice cream means no need to mess around with ice, and it has the beauty of being simple. It's also where I found The Bee's Hot Knees - which is far more to my taste.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Williams Great British Gin with The Age of Uncertainty

Chase are an interesting distillery (I'm told they do an excellent tour if your ever in Herefordshire). The story goes something like this, William Chase started as a potato farmer who wanted more out of what he was doing, so he founded Tyrells crisps, and then somewhere along the line started thinking about vodka - it's the other obvious thing to do with potatoes. From vodka it's but a small step to gin (vodka is basically a neutral spirit, gin is what happens when you flavour it with juniper and a few other choice botanicals) and they've created some really interesting ones. My favourite of these might actually be the Seville orange gin, but the Great British Extra Dry gives it a close run.

The Chase philosophy is a 'from field to bottle' one, these are single estate products (not really a concept that gin is associated with) with impeccable provenance. They have the Chase name all over them, which rightly demonstrates a pride in the product - drinking it shows that that pride is fully justified.

GB is a classic gin (lots of juniper, a nice hint of spice, as dry as you like) which makes a particularly satisfying G&T. Potato based vodkas have a creaminess about the mouthfeel that's quite distinctive, and whilst I'm not claiming I can detect that in this potato based gin I like to think it's there in the smoothness of the spirit and something about the way the botanicals work in it.

I'd been trying to think of just the right book to go with GB for a while when I read this - I've been following The Age of Uncertainty since I started blogging, 7 years ago, and I'm going to miss it. Happily I can still follow its creator on Instagram and Twitter, and hope that he finds something he wants to write about and share again.

Until that time it seems fitting to raise a glass to toast what has been a stand out blog - and one that I think reflects the excellent qualities of the gin (though I make no claims for it being especially junipery). It's not precisely a book recommendation, but it is a bookseller recommendation.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bombay London Dry - the cookbook gin

As August speeds past (where is the time going?) it's time to consider bottling last years damson gin and start thinking about this years preserving options. For the last few years I've really gone overboard with this (I think I might have bought something like 300 jam jars/bottles etc, so this year I'm thinking I might really need to dial it back a bit and have a clear out of the cupboards. Against that is how oddly compelling preserving is, I find it a deeply satisfying process to make jam, or to look at the jars of maturing damson gin (under the bed, I need a pantry - or at least I dream of a life that has a pantry and a good cellar in it).

Part of the considering process involves laying in some raw ingredients, and gin is one of them. For the last couple of years I've used Bombay London dry, it comes in a clear bottle, has fewer botanicals than its sister, and has been on special offer in Sainsbury's at just the right time (around £16 a litre which compares well with supermarket own labels). 

Whatever culinary purpose you're putting alcohol to, the one basic rule to follow is this; never use something you wouldn't drink by itself. I have nothing particular against supermarket gins (Aldi's gets particularly good reviews, when I get a chance I'll try it) but I wouldn't buy them to make a G&T when there are so many other interesting things around, and for the time and trouble it takes to make a sloe or damson gin I don't see the point of skimping on ingredients. For me a grain gin is preferable. If it is a grain gin it will generally state it on the label because it's a selling point, cheap gin is often made from a molasses base - just like rum - and the botanicals will possibly be added in the form of concentrates. There's nothing wrong with any of that but it's like the difference between the cheapest tea bags and good quality loose leaf tea...

It may also be that you want gin infusions for cocktails (lavender flavoured gin is particularly good), or to splash into the damson jam, or to give an edge to a sauce - same rule, only use something you'd ordinarily be happy to drink (maybe not the best gin, but still something you genuinely like). 

And then, modest gin in hand, it's time to sit back and browse for inspiration whilst drinking a toast to the end of summer and preparing to meet autumn with equinamity. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bath Gin with The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

The sole reason I bought Bath gin was for the label; I found it utterly irresistible - and even months later a winking Jane Austen still amuses me. It might be a silly joke, but it makes me laugh. I held on to my bottle for a while though, unsure that the gin could live up to the promise of that label.

Post flood (charming electricians - they really were charming - came and fixed all the lights on Wednesday, it's brilliant being able to see things again) I felt in need of some of the right kind of excitement. The right kind of excitement turned out to be the Bath gin, it didn't disappoint.

The botanical that had put me off opening it was wormwood (I don't care for absinthe) but if it's particularly detectable it's in a dryness on the finish, and maybe something underlying the juniper character (it is another juniper forward gin). I liked it so much I'm planning on visiting Bath - not just to buy more gin, but it's undeniably an extra draw. I see it as everything that's good about modern gin making; it acknowledges the history of both gin itself, and the specific location it's from, it's a high quality product, it's beautifully packaged, and there's a sense of humour to it as well. All of those things make it stand out in an increasingly crowded market, but the quality will ensure repeat purchases.

I think that wink means the obvious book to enjoy with this one is the 1811 dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. I bought this as a student for a module on Georgian art, but have mostly used it to cross reference slang in Georgette Heyer. Underused as its been it's a fascinating book to dip in and out of, and an equally good gin to do the same with.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Botanist Gin with Robert Atkinson's Island Going

The Botanist gin is a product of Bruichladdich distillery - whisky fans will know that it's one of Islay's 8 working distilleries and was rescued by a private consortium in 2001. It had been in danger of being mothballed. It's a great whisky with a reputation for innovation - in the early 2000's the new owners played with seemingly endless bottlings of old stock to keep the cash glowing whilst they waited for their new spirit to mature. Somewhere along the line they also realised that their Lomond still (Ugly Betty, who is apparently the last working Lomond still around) could be used to make an excellent gin, and with gin taking off the maths must have been obvious.

Whisky isn't officially whisky until it's been maturing for 3 years and a day, a single malt generally needs somewhat longer to be ready, so it's a huge capital investment to have tied up. The Botanist might be relatively slow to distill (17 hours) but then it's pretty much good to go. It's something more and more distilleries seem to be doing, and for anyone looking to start up a new whisky distillery starting with a gin is now common sense.

The Botanist also offers a great opportunity to think about botanicals - the botanicals are simply the herbs, spices, and fruits used to give gin its flavour. One of them has to be juniper (or it's not gin), coriander is another core ingredient, as is angelica. I read something really interesting the other day about how they work together - coriander gives a citrus flavour, juniper is self explanatory, and there was something else that tied those more volatile flavours down and stabilised them - I can't remember  what it was or where I found the piece - which is annoying. The point I'm getting to though is that it's perfectly possible to make an excellent gin with only 4 botanicals (Tanqueray is rumoured to use only 4, No.3 uses just 6). The Botanist uses 31. That's 9 core, traditional botanicals, and 22 foraged from around Islay many of which are less traditional.

The Botanist is a lovely gin, floral but with a distinctive juniper edge, well balanced, and full of interesting, but always well integrated, hints from all those elements. Essentially it's a beautifully crafted gin made by people who know their business, but I think it's important to say again that more botanicals is a choice not a neccesity, and not in itself a guarantee of quality.

Meanwhile I've been meaning to read Robert Atkinson's 'Island Going' for years now, I've certainly had a copy for a while, and having seen it in Slightly Foxed recently, and again on Kate McDonald's blog it's moved to the top of my list. It's the story of 2 young men setting off to the Western Isles in search of Leach's Fork-tailed Petrel's and all the other things they found there. What could be better to enjoy side by side with that than a gin which celebrates the flora of another of the western isles? Nothing. Nothing could be better, so I'm saving this bottle for the day I open the book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Plymouth Gin with Patrick O'Brian

Plymouth gin has had a bit of a chequered history but it's current owners (Pernod Ricard) seem to appreciate what they've got. It's been around for a long time (the bottle says established in 1798) has been based in the same distillery for all of that time, and is the only gin in the country to have protected geographical origin status. Plymouth gin has to come from Plymouth (unlike London gin, which is a style) since the 1880's when they (and possibly other Plymouth based distillers) took legal action against London based distilleries who were using the name.

By this time it'll come as no surprise (when I'm describing a gin I really like) to hear that Plymouth is quite juniper forward - and smooth with it. I've seen it described as less crisp, or more earthy, than London gin and can think of no better way of defining it than that so will stick with it. It's a classic, and despite sometimes wavering fortunes, has had some famous fans (Winston Churchill and Alfred Hitchcock were both keen it seems) and is specifically named several times in the Savoy cocktail book (from the 1930's). It also has a long history with the British Navy - by 1850 they were apparently buying a 1000 barrels a year.

Rum might have been the spirit dolled out to the rank and file of the navy, but gin was what the officers had (with a dash of Angostura bitters for that old standby - a pink gin, though fever tree now do an angostura bark infused tonic which is handy). It's an association that seems miles away from the 'drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence, clean straw for free' imagery of the gin craze of the 18th century, or the Mrs Gamp style Victorian tipplers that Dickens gave us - or even the tawdry glamour of the gin palaces. The truth may not have been so very different back in the early part of the 19th century but I want to dream of adventure on the high seas Patrick O'Brian style, though if this was gin and films it would be 'In Which we Serve' with Noel Coward, and if I find myself reading any WW2 boat based thriller it would have to be Plymouth gin with that too.

I bet Jane Austen's Captain Wentworth liked a Plymouth gin as well...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thomas Dakin gin with Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South

By naming a gin Thomas Dakin you're raising certain expectations. Dakin was a key figure in eighteenth century distilling and something of a pioneer. When he was still only in his mid twenties he founded a distillery in Warrington (well placed on the canal system for travel to Manchester and Liverpool) the original Bombay Sapphire recipe is linked to him as is Greenall's gin (which is a sister brand to Thomas Dakin gin). At the time he was doing this gin still had a decidedly down market (think Hogarthian) image, and yet he marketed, successfully, to affluent customers...

Joanne Moore is the master distiller behind 'Thomas Dakin' (and a few other very good gins), she's more than met expectations. The something extra for Thomas Dakin is "red coal" - that's horseradish to you and me. It's presence is subtle enough, but also unmistakable, and mixed with cubebs (which make there presence felt on the finish) it's an intriguingly spicy gin that still manages to be juniper forward and have a good citrusy kick. I really, really, like this one.

It's not a resurrection of an old recipe but it's obviously taking inspiration from the past from botanicals through to packaging. It manages to be distinctive whilst maintaining an excellent balance between the different flavours, and not feeling in any way like its striving for novelty. Its definitely one to look out for (Moore is also behind Bloom, Berkeley Square, and Ophir gins, which is a pretty impressive track record).

Most of the old gin brands (Gordon's, Beefeater, Tanqueray) are associated with London, so there's something pleasing to me about finding one (Greenall's) which is so firmly tied to the (relative) north.  Maybe it's because so often the history of gin seems to be inextricably tied to the capital when really it's a bigger story than that.

North and South has to be my choice to go with Thomas Dakin (it was also the first 'classic' I read thanks to my love of Georgette Heyer - having read my way through all of her work I was desperate to find something to fill the gap.) it's far to long since I last read it. Sitting here in the dark (hopefully the electrician coming tomorrow will be able to restore some lights) I can think of nothing better than reading one and drinking the other, whilst contemplating the continued differences between North and South.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beefeater Gin with Georgette Heyer

It has been a long and exceptionally trying day, one that started with being woken at 4.20 am by the sound of a lot of water hitting the floor somewhere in my flat. It turned out to be in the hall, the bathroom, the kitchen, and my bedroom because upstairs neighbour had fallen asleep in the bath. With the taps running. At 4 in the morning. He seemed reluctant to wake up and answer his door (probably because he knew who was on the other side of it) and had no adaquate explanation why, for the 3rd Monday in a row, there was water coming into my flat, through the light fittings, and frying the electrics in the process. Again. By 5 when the water had stopped pouring down and I'd run out of towels I decided just to go to work early - where there would be working lights.

Back home again I'm still not particularly happy (tired makes me grumpy) and very much in need of comfort. Or comforting thoughts.

Beefeater isn't the gin I was going to write about tonight (I'm still debating the relative merits of a nice cup of tea, or a gin - if it is a gin I think it's going to be the Bath gin with winking Jane Austen on the label) but I am sure that as soon as I've finished this I'm heading to bed with a Georgette Heyer - one of the funnier ones - for a couple of hours of glorious escapism. Even if I do have to use a torch to read by (which I will, dammit.)

No Heyer heroine, at least not one of her regency/historical ones (with the possible exception of Barbara from An Infamous Army) would have touched it, but Heyer herself did. It seems she fuelled late night writing sessions with a mix of gin and barbiturates, and chances are those gins would have been Gordon's or Beefeater.

Because it's both ubiquitous and relatively cheap Beefeater is often over looked but it's an excellent gin. It's history goes back to the 1860's, it's still bottles at 40% abv, and it's generally accepted as the definative dry London gin. The one against which all others are measured. If it's better than Beefeater it's something really special. And yet it still gets over looked and I'm as guilty of that as anybody, being far to often distracted, tempted, or otherwise seduced by something new.

As you might expect there's plenty of juniper both on the nose and the palate, where it's nicely balanced by citrus. It's exactly what a conservative type like Heyer would drift towards (I think she'd find my Bath gin vulgar, and might find winking Jane an insult) appreciating it for both its quality and the way it gets the job done (making an excellent gin and tonic). Nothing else feels appropriate for her.

It would also be an excellent base for a homemade fruit cup (mix with vermouth, triple sec, and a dash of bitters to get something very much like Pimm's, or just add to Pimm's to give it a bit more punch) and I can think of no better way to spend a summer afternoon than with just some such concoction whilst enjoying a re read of 'Devil's Cub' (or maybe 'Sylvester', or perhaps 'The Talisman Ring') it would be pure self indulgence.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Star of Bombay gin with The Moonstone

The very first bottle of gin I remember buying was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire when it was just about the smartest thing around. It was 1992, I was on a first year art visit to the Scottish national gallery, and found myself in Justerini and Brooks on George St (sadly no longer there after rents climbed sky high) dazzled by the blue bottle. It would have been a huge extravagance back then and is probably, in hindsight, one of those moments which set me on a path. Blue ruin indeed. And what was I even doing in Justerini and Brooks?

Bombay Sapphire was a game changer for the gin market, when it came along in the late 1980's gin's popularity and fortunes were at low ebb - dark days - but Bombay did two important things. One they created a lighter, crisper, more floral product - something that both tasted fresh, and was more likely to appeal to vodka drinkers, and made a damn good job of it too. Secondly they really went to town on the design aspect, creating an iconic bottle in the process - appearances do sometimes matter.

Truthfully Bombay is a lighter, more floral, gin than I generally prefer (I drift towards the more juniper forward styles for preference) but Star of Bombay, a newish addition to the range, is something else. The bottle is a thing of beauty, still that pretty blue, but also managing to simultaneously suggest a Victorian grandeur and jazz age elegance - maybe it's the suggestion of cut gem stones about it?

The gin inside is bottled at a healthy 47.5% (broadly speaking, higher alcohol content means better flavour delivery, especially when a mixer has been added). The idea was to create a gin where all the botanicals were fully integrated (there are 2 more than in standard Bombay) rather than it being a twist on the old recipe. It works for me. The best way I can describe it is as intense, rich, and perfectly balanced. It's a lovely gin to drink, one that absolutely feels like a treat to pour, and something to be savoured.

Beyond its flavour one of the things that attracts me to gin is its history. It's a drink that keeps cropping up, from Georgian gin shops, to Victorian gin palaces, into the cocktail shakers of the bright young things, and into the current boom there's no shortage of imagery to play with (a gift that marketing teams rightall make the most of).

The perfectly constructed quality of Star of Bombay Seems Victorian in its ambitions to me though (if Isambard Kingdom Brunel made gin...) and though the Star of Bombay was a sapphire, and The Moonstone was a diamond it's close enough. There's just something that feels right about the combination of a very good gin with a sensation novel, especially one by Wilkie Collins - maybe it's the sense that neither have always been quite as respectable as they are now.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

6 O'Clock Gin with Alice in Wonderland

Of all the gins I've met I think the current bottle for Bramley and Gage's 6 O'Clock gin has to be the prettiest. It's a smooth gin, with plenty of juniper upfront (which is how I like it) and a pleasing citrus edge to it as well. I'm currently sipping one with fever trees lemon tonic which is entirely satisfactory and may be helping me believe in the detectable presence of elderflower as a botanical. Or that could be me getting carried away in the moment. There is a 6 O'Clock tonic to, ive not tried it myself, and not been encouraged to by anyone I know who has, but the attention to detail is impressive, and if I see some I'll pick it up and see for myself what it's like.

Either way 6 O'Clock is a very satisfactory gin that more than lives up to its packaging, I've seen it described as 'summery' in a few places, which is an intriguing idea (are there seasonal gins? I suppose there might be) but as I first fell for it in winter m not setting much store by that.

Bramley and Gage, who might be better known for there excellent fruit liquors are a Bristol based company which may be why they've decided to embrace blue glass. I love the apothecarys shop feel of it, complete to the glass stopper. It's much better than the old clear bottle with a sticky blue label on it. (The labels peel off so eventually I'll end up with a useful, pretty, label free, bottle which is another bonus). The whole thing says drink me...

With that and the clockwork/time theme it's hard not to think of Alice in Wonderland (although if I was better acquainted with steam punk as a genre I might have some other ideas). Certainly as I continue to sip my glass as the last of the twilight fades into a sultry August night, and the bats come out, it seems like an appropriate time for fantastic tales - and maybe Chinese lanterns, silk cushions, oriental rugs to lounge on in scent filled gardens (though I suppose that leans more towards Oscar Wilde or someone equally decadent, and none of it reflects the actual state of my flat.)

The 'drink me' feel of the bottle also has me thinking of what to serve my gin in. If it was a mad hatters gin party than tea cups would be de rigueur. I'm currently using a copa glass (Increasingly popular in the UK), it could easily have been a tumbler. The advantage of a copa is that you hold the stem which means your hand can't warm the contents of the glass, the disadvantage is that it's huge so it's to easy to pour a much larger than intended drink, and after a larger than intended drink they're easier to knock over. Tumblers are fine, but it's worth remembering that one of the key things with any cocktail is generally to keep it cold, and icy tumblers leave wet rings on everything (these are real, if not very serious, problems). Tea cups, as long as they're not clumsy mugs, are on consideration quite a practical way to drink gin. They're not to big, the handles stop you getting the drink warm, or if it's a toddy type drink stop you burning your hands, and they're pretty. Jam jars might make an acceptable makeshift cocktail shaker, but drinking out of them is basically wrong. A good drink deserves a bit more ceremony and respect than a jam jar can provide.

Friday, August 5, 2016

No3 Gin with Dorothy L. Sayers

or more specifically, Lord Peter Wimsey, who sounds like rather more fun to share a drink with than his creator might have been. 

If I had a favourite gin (it's really to soon to tell when there are so many yet to try) I would be tempted to say it's No.3 from Berry Bros & Rudd. In contrast to yesterday's gin from the City of London distillery which wasn't a London dry, this one is a London dry gin made in Holland. There's something pleasingly circular about it all.

Berry Bros & Rudd have been established at No. 3 St James since 1698, there is still a Mr Berry, and they are an institution. When I first visited, maybe 15 years ago, they didn't really do anything as vulgar as display wine (a smart looking assistant was sent to fetch bottles for your approval) but more recently that's changed (it's far less intimidating now for the casual shopper) and in 2010 they released this gin on the world.

Predictably, this being Berry Bros & Rudd, it's both very traditional and very good. They only use 6 botanicals (more is not neccesarilly better, allegedly Tanqueray only uses 4) it's a classic juniper forward gin, it's bottled at a healthy 46% abv, and everything about it - including the bottle based on an 18th century shape, and the key modelled on that for the shop parlour - is classy.

London gin is a style that isn't tied to London, there is a technical (and dryer than gin) explanation Here but I'm not sure it makes things much clearer, the idea of this one being made in Holland amuses me though, and I like to think Lord Peter would appreciate the joke. I don't doubt that he favoured Berry Bros with his custom, and I can't imagine a more fitting or elegant gin for Bunter to whip up a martini with (if only they were still around.

For me the specific book would be 'The Unpleasantness at The Bellona Club', because it's the only one of the set I haven't read, and as brand new reissued copies are in the offing (are they already out?) this might well be my plan for late Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Christopher Wren Gin with The Diary of John Evelyn

I'm not really making this gin journey in a very logical order, but I bought my bottle of 'Christopher Wren Gin' on the same day I got the 'Bloomsbury', it's the creation of the same master distiller, and it seems obvious to continue with it.

I went to the City of London distillery to buy it (again, it's easy enough to buy online, but I'd never actually been up close to St Paul's cathedral so it seemed worth making the trip). Until Sipsmiths changed the game in 2009 by getting the first licence to open a new distillery in London since 1820 (they had to change the law to do it) there was nothing like this happening. Now distilleries are opening up everywhere and the first thing to appreciate is how small they can be. Basically all you need is enough space for a good sized garden shed, so having a distillery in a basement bar below St Bride's (just of Fleet Street which somehow seems extra appropriate) is no problem at all. Having a distillery in the heart of the city again is an appealing idea, so it's maybe ironic that the gin I've chosen from doesn't actually seem to be a London gin style (I don't care).

We got gin from the Dutch, it became popular here after William and Mary came over in 1688, though if you haven't tried it, it's worth noting that Dutch genever is quite different in style to London dry. At that point it was a reasonably respectable sort of drink (not yet the low quality, flavoured with turpentine, gut rot, that Hogarth would immortalise - though that happened pretty quickly) so I assume that Wren would have indulged.

It was also at the City of London Distillery that I met Tom Nichol (master distiller) who told me it was far to expensive (and very honest man). It was £42 and the gin to share with my architect/architectural historian partner, that the bottle echoes the dome of St Paul's made it more perfect and worth at least £5 of that £42 to me. It is expensive, there's no need to spend as much to get a good gin, but I'm a sucker for shelf appeal - and I'm happy to pay for it (within reason) because the beauty of the bottle is part of the fun.

Meanwhile what to read with a gin like this? Pepys would be one obvious answer, but I don't have his diaries (does listening to bits of them on radio 4 count?). I do have John Evelyn's diaries though (not well read unfortunately - either by me, or generally, he's been totally overshadowed by Pepys) but he seems to have been friendly with Wren and it's the perfect sort of book for dipping in and out of whilst enjoying a good gin and tonic of an evening. There's nothing especially authentic about that combination, except that when I look at the bottle I'm reminded of that visit to the city and the history that stretches back to Evelyn and Wren's day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tanqueray's Bloomsbury Gin with Charles Dickens

I don't think I discovered Tanqueray gin until I found myself working for Oddbins (17 years ago today, it was a blessed escape from working with a crazy woman in a bookshop, she tried - honest to god - to curse me, it seemed to be a constant disappointment to her that I never got hit by a bus or similar. It was not a happy working environment) but it's the gin that made me passionate about gin.

Straight Tanqueray remains a favourite, and should probably be the one I wrote about tonight, but I've chosen their limited edition 'Bloomsbury' because I had such a good time buying it.

The Tanqueray available almost everywhere is now bottled at 43.7% abv, it used to be a generous 47.3% and if you ever see a bottle of that, get it, and if what I read is true they're still using the same basic recipe they came up with in around 1830. It's a very juniper forward, dry, gin and I love it.

'Bloomsbury' is a recreation of a recipe from the 1880's, so technically it's a bit late for Dickens, but the original distillery was in Bloomsbury (it got bombed out in the Second World War) and it seems likely that Dickens could have bought the local product. His characters are certainly no stranger to gin, or its evils.

It's perfectly easy to find 'Bloomsbury' online, but I got my bottles first from the famous Gerry's on Old Compton Street in Soho, and secondly from Beervana in Lerwick (Shetland, where I was surprised and delighted to find it). Spending quite a lot of money (around £50 for a litre bottle) for something to turn up in the post lacks a certain romance compared to the thrill of a hunt around Soho, or the serendipitous find in a tiny Scottish town. The day I bought that first bottle in London I also managed to bump into the distiller (Tom Nichol, now sort of retired, responsible for some great gins) in a bar/shop. It was a memorable day out, armchair click to collecting is dull by comparison.

It's a traditional juniper led gin, very smooth - so perfect for a martini, and it would also be a great background for a hot gin punch - something like These  (I see no reason to use Hendrick's). It also makes a brilliant G&T.

I admit a hot punch isn't the most summery of drinks, but then depending on where you are in the UK August isn't always as summery as one might hope for, and it's always something to look forward to for winter. Meanwhile Dickens is the sort of author who seems ideally suited to being accompanied by some sort of beverage. Something to drown the sorrows of the sad bits, to raise appreciatively when he's more convivial, and truly - the whiff of gin does pervade his books.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gordon's Gin with Gin and Murder

Much as I love an exciting new gin - something with a smart label in a pretty bottle, with an option on an amusing name, excellent artisanal credentials, and a price tag to match - I'm not a snob about it.

I am a snob about tonic water, I loathe diet versions, and have no truck with supermarket brands. Schweppes if you must, Fever Tree for preference (they have an increasing range of flavours which makes things interesting). A good tonic, plenty of ice, and a wedge of lime, should make any but a truly awful gin taste pretty damn good, and who am I to judge someone else's gin preference (tonic yes, gin no). Never cut corners when it comes to mixers.

Some people do get sniffy about Gordon's, but (and I know I've said this before) for anyone much over 30, and for quite a lot under, Gordon's will likely have been the first gin you met. To me it's the benchmark, and yes it might not be particularly exciting, and it's definitely a shame the abv was lowered to 37.5%. Also, no, I don't have a bottle around the place - but I'd never turn my nose up at it elsewhere.

It's a gin with history (around 225 years of it) and I find that green bottle iconic. It's the gin that I associate as much with the dark days when it was considered a drink fit only for golf clubs and old ladies, as I do the Jazz age, or even the lost (if tawdry) glamour of the great Victorian gin palaces.

Josephine Pullein -Thompson's 'Gin and Murder' is a fascinating book. (Annoyingly I've lost my copy, as soon as I've written this I need to bite the bullet and order another one from Greyladies books). Admittedly it feels in questionable taste to recommend a book that centres around an alcoholic to read with gin - truthfully you might feel more inclined to have a cup of tea instead by the end of the first chapter - but it's no bad thing to be reminded of why drinking to much is such a bad idea. It's also such a very good title that it's hard to resist.

I could almost here the bottles of Gordon's clinking together when I read this one. It's a good murder mystery (clever solution to a chilling scenario) but it's really remarkable as a portrait of a certain moment and class in English society. It's an upper middle class hunting set sometime in the late 1950's. They all drink a bit to much, all are recognisable types, most are struggling to maintain appearances and it's all done with an amount of compassion and sympathy that makes the book memorable. Should you be lucky enough to find a cheap copy grab it, all I can say is that it appealed to me so much I'm willing to spend another £13 on a replacement copy.