Saturday, December 7, 2019

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie and Hepple’s Douglas Fir Vodka

A new Kathleen Jamie book is something to get excited about, and ‘Surfacing’ hasn’t disappointed me. It’s also another beautifully produced object. My reading/book buying life started around the very end of the 1970’s with the Famous Five, it still sometimes surprises me as much as it delights me, how much more beautiful books have become in the last decade or so.

If you don’t already know Jamie’s essay collections ‘Surfacing’ is the third in a loose trilogy that also includes ‘Sightlines’ and ‘Findings’. She writes about nature, family, archeology, history, travels and more with knife sharp insight. I think of ‘Findings’, the 1st in the trilogy, as my favourite but it’s been 7 years since I read the earlier books, and I’m wondering if I re read them now if I’d still feel the same. They are all absolutely worth seeking out.

I read about Hepple’s Douglas Fir vodka in Jack Bevan’s Vermouth book and Immediately wanted to try it because I’m an absolute sucker for the kind of thing (there was a terrible experience with some holly eau de vie which should have taught me a lesson, but didn’t). It’s available online for around £35 for a 50cl bottle which makes it an expensive vodka, especially if you have to add delivery costs on top of that, but unlike the holly eau de vie it’s good so I don’t regret the cost.

I’ve seen it suggested as a gin alternative, and certainly the Douglas fir flavour has something in common with gin’s piney juniper notes, but I think it’s to subtle to treat in the same way. The back label declares that Hepple’s renowned ‘Triple Technique’ is able to capture the cold breath of the forest - and honestly, it feels like it does just that.

It’s a beautifully smooth vodka with a distinctive pine wood (or for wood) nose, and an almost menthol freshness about it. It’s very good neat over ice and in a vodka martini. I haven’t tried it in any cocktails yet, but if I do they’re going to be the very pared back simple kind that allow that cold breath of fresh air feel to shine through. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk anything so evocative of a certain type of landscape before (it’s undoubtedly the vodka talking, but if I close my eyes whilst tasting it I can see the small stand of Douglas firs near my dad's place in the Borders, frost on the ground, stars blazing... all of it). Definitely worth a look if you’re after something interesting on the spirit front.

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