In the absence of the wine wordsmith that is Ian Abrahams, I thought I would update Bristol Tasting Circle members about this month’s gin tasting at Great Western Wines. Of their huge range of over 100 gins, we could only cope with 8 in one sitting. Our host was the irrepressible Tristan Darby who exuded enthusiasm for his subject from every pore. He even let us sniff a few extra gins – such as the incredible Orkney Old Tom Rhubarb!
I am more of an aged spirits girl than a gin fan, so what appealed to me might not be gintastic to gin lovers. But I hope these notes give you the gist of it.
Our tutorial began with an introduction to botanicals (including squidging juniper berries to fix the pinelike aromas in our minds), and instructions on nosing – start with the glass at chin level and note how the aromas change as you move the glass towards your nose – floral and citrus, then herbs, then juniper. No swirling! Add tonic gradually until your perfect serve is attained – 1:4 is usually far too much tonic.
We sipped neat, then with ice, then tasted our chosen mixer, then added it to the gin, and finally, added garnish in skinny slivers, as we were tasting, not drinking.
Hayman’s Old Tom Gin 40% abv
This family distiller from Balham is now in its 5th generation, having begun its operations 150 years ago. I met Christopher Hayman at the Worshipful Company of Distillers Luncheon last month (more of this in another blog) so it was a happy coincidence that Hayman’s kicked off the tasting. This is made to a family recipe from 1870. We tasted this neat, though with ginger ale it can become a Ginger Tom. A quality sip – silky and mellow with a mouthcoating of subtle sweetness facilitating appreciation of its complexity. Impeccably balanced, it went down well with many – an essential for any Old Tom based cocktail but equally enjoyable all by itself.
Broker’s London Dry Gin 40% abv
From Langley’s distillery. This dapper chap with bowler hat cap was admired by my gin loving friend Heather, who already has a taste for Langley’s own label. She appreciated its classic gin character. Sipped neat it was citric and bitter; ice released juniper notes. I found it too bitter with Fevertree Premium Indian Tonic but with lime peel (hold skin side down and twist before dropping it in) this serve became perfectly balanced. Dave Broom says “It’s long and considerably more serious a proposition than the bottle suggests” (Gin – The Manual). Classic G&T and good value.
Hepple Gin 45% abv
Production of this Northumbrian creation sounded rather involved and futuristic in a Heston Blumenthal fashion – a vacuum still, a heated still and CO2 extraction were used. Neat, the nose was fresh, clean pine. With ice, floral lavender and spicy notes were released. With Fevertree Naturally Light Tonic it seemed sweeter, and I quite liked it but reactions around the room were mixed. I might have overdone the lemon peel squeeze as I couldn’t then taste the gin!
Sipsmith VJOP Gin 57.7% (VJOP = Very Junipery Over Proof – apparently)
Though determined to hate it, there is credible intent here. The idea is to use juniper in three ways – maceration for 3 days, adding just before distillation, and then vapour infusion hung in a basket, to get different juniper notes. Nosing was interesting; the order of botanicals seemed reversed as my glass edged towards my nose – pine first, citrus last. Neat, the weight and length of finish set this gin apart. With ice it was fresh, with notes of pine, lavender and spice. Despite it needing dilution as it is overpoof, tonic ruined it for me though with lime peel it was better. Plenty of admirers in the room.
Ramsbury Single Estate Gin 40% abv
Almost everything is from their estate in Wiltshire. They aren’t organic but adopt sustainable practices. They began as brewers so the grain used for the beer makes the base spirit – which adds another £40k to their investment costs so was it worth it? It is aromatic and fruity with notes of grain. The palate is rounded and long, with baked orange, cherry and quince paste flavours (fresh quince is one of the botanicals) becoming more savoury with tonic. I could taste quality here – I sat back and savoured it. The pear garnish topped it off nicely.
Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin 45.2% abv (bolder strength for mixing)
Made in the West Midlands and conveyed to Iceland where pure water is added. Bready and rich on the nose, fruitier when ice added. Fevertree Aromatic Tonic, flavoured with angostura bark, brought out pine notes and balanced it. The strawberry slice looked inviting with the pinky tinge from the tonic. Successful mixer gin.
Nordès Atlantic Galician Gin 41.8% abv
Fashioned from Albariño grape spirit, this breezy coastal influenced gin from Green Spain has aromas of stone fruits, sea, herbs and wine becoming more pronounced with ice. It has a long finish, even with tonic and a garnish of sliced grapes (I have also used 3 grapes on a cocktail stick). Gin meets wine!
What else did I learn?
Bertha’s Revenge, an Irish Milk Gin with spicy notes I enjoyed at The Wine Shop Winscombe gin tasting, apparently makes excellent Martini.
And the winners are…..
Hayman’s Old Tom and Ramsbury Single Estate – I could quite literally taste craftsmanship in every sip of these gins. But I know everyone had their own favourites. There is undoubtedly a gin for everyone these days.
With many thanks to Great Western Wines, Tristan Darby and Graeme Ewins for this eye-opening tasting experience.