2018, Pushing Back Gin Boundaries
It’s been a funny old year, Gin has been almost as controversial as Brexit and agreeing a set of definitions or terms for either is proving equally tricky. Personally, it seems fairly straight-forward to me, if you have to go hunting among the rhubarb or the strawberry to try and find the juniper, then what you’re drinking is not really gin. You might not be a fan of Brockman’s or Cuckoo’s Sunshine Edition, but they are both certainly gin (for the record, I do quite like the former and very much like the latter). Tanqueray Sevilla is lovely, a really nice drink, but is it gin? No. It may well have started out in life distilled with a whole juniper bush, and the removal of that juniper would no-doubt change the drink, and you might lose something in that process, but that doesn’t mean it tastes, however vaguely, of the defining characteristic of gin, and so therefore it isn’t. Turncoat and Pothecary, among others, have proved that you don’t have to steam-roller a flavour all over juniper and crush it out of existence. Brexit means Brexit apparently, but no one really knows what that stands for.
Gin means Juniper, and that ought to be something we can all get behind. ‘Fake-Gin’ was shouted by one notable gin distiller, and although I don’t like the adoption of the word ‘fake’ and its Trumpesque connotations, it was pretty spot on, in fact, with all these tango-tan gins around it seemed to fit rather too well.
If 2017 year was the year of the *insert stupid flavour here* gin, then 2018 was definitely the start of the rebellion – Juniper Strikes Back. There was a certain pink tinge to rebellion, but at least the words ‘pink gin’ mean something. The clutching-at-straws nature of some of these gins – “We found an old recipe”; “There was an orange gin in 1942” etc all seem to forget that we had the term ‘gin’ legally defined in between times. It is the equivalent of telling the magistrate you didn’t wear your seatbelt because your grandad didn’t wear his. If you want a Lemon Cheesecake Gin infusion then fine, but call it that, don’t skip the word ‘infusion’. I doubt we’ll get any meaningful resolution any time soon, 2019 won’t be the year of the definition enforcement, but hopefully that day will come, and anything I can do to help speed it along a bit will be done, even if it means jumping into an X-Wing and blowing up the Death Star. I seem to have mixed my metaphors a little, but frankly Brexit, like Trump, is wearing me out.
On a happier note, I discovered some wonderful new editions this year, and I’ve picked a winner and some runners-up among those that were notable for me in 2018. I hasten to add that while some of these gins are new, others aren’t, but they are all new to me and so feature in this year’s round up. Anything that has appeared before can not return, but a reminder for those of you who never read my mind or my blog, previous notables at the end of the last couple of years were:
East London Batch #2 & Deaths Door
Pothecary Seville Orange
Pothecary & Garden Swift (then Garden Tiger)
Hope On Hopkins
Jensens Bermondsey Dry
This year I’m splitting them up a little, or rather, I’ve broken them down into sub-categories. There is some snobbery in certain quarters in regards to who distils the gin that is in the bottle, but I am not going to judge a gin by who makes it, it if it contracted out to Thames, Langleys or elsewhere then that is fine by me, as long as the gin delivers. Some brands have been defensive and secretive about where their distilling is done, which seems a shame and somehow disingenuous, but I feel it is up to them to make that decision, as long as they aren’t being deceitful then I make no quarrel.
Let me start with the basics: traditional strength and clearly juniper-strong gin, where the stand-outs for me this year were Brentingby, Twelve Keys, Brookies and the sublime Fishers Gin. There are too many others to mention as having been enjoyed, but I have rather liked the cold-distilled Unit 6, the Sherlock and Son’s Aromatic and Boutiquey’s Cucamellon, I am torn about where to put Six O’Clock Brunel edition, it is 50%, so hardly run-of the-mill, but it isn’t quite up there with the full Navy over-proofs. Anyway, consider it getting a mention in this year’s list. Talking of navy strengths, this year introduced me to so many good Navy strengths that it banished my past fear of them. Sherlock & Sons and Old Bakery both proved worthy runners-up, but making the list are the following tempting trio – Scapegrace Gold; Isle of Wight’s HMS Victory, and; Rock Rose Navy Strength. They all come in bang on 57% and are simply divine. Rock Rose was a particular surprise in this respect – if, like me, you have previous tried Rock Rose and thought it to be fine, but nothing to write home about, then don’t be put off, because their Navy is smooth and majestic.
So then, if you like gin but you’re not so keen on the heavy juniper, or you like something a little sweeter than a London dry style, then I recommend the following to you without hesitation or reservation – Cuckoo Sunshine edition; Turncoat ‘Our Man in Sicily’; Wrecking Coast ‘Clotted Cream’ edition, and; Sacred’s Old Tom. Other notable also-rans in this category – Adnams Rising Sun and Foxhole, both distilled from an unusual base spirit that really makes a difference to the final product and really ought to end the ‘it’s just flavoured vodka’ rubbish that gets bandied about by those who ought to know better. Finally, I have a new favourite Martini gin – Rambsury – do try it, thoroughly worthwhile.
I’m tempted to give an inaugural ‘Distiller of the Year’ award to of Hayman’s, who ought to win it for being bold. People say that releasing a ‘Prawn Cocktail’ flavour gin is bold, frankly it is just stupid. Yes you might sell more Rhubarb or Balsamic gin than you do London Dry, and if it is, as some argue, a gateway to get more people drinking gin then fine, but at least have the decency to call them ‘gin infusions’, or move them down in strength and make them gin liqueurs or the equivalent of Sloe Gin. Do you not think Hayman’s could come up with an exotic mango mix and call it gin and turn a wild profit if they wanted to? Of course they could, but they don’t, and they are right not to. I think they need to be careful not to look too po-faced about it, but hopefully others will now take up the mantle. That all said, I am going to get off politics and back to gin; I’m going to go with a smaller firm and award Distiller of 2018 to Turncoat, for a range of gin that is diverse, tasty and crafted with love, dedication and hard work. Every bottle in the Turncoat range would grace any distiller’s range, and if you’re still shopping and looking to buy someone a gin this Christmas, then get them a Turncoat.
My favourite gin of year is once again tied, this year between Rock Rose Navy Strength Gin and Fisher’s Gin.
Hall of Fame
People often ask me what my favourite gin is, and, while I find it increasingly difficult to recall names, I do realise that those I am recalling are those that stand out. I can not give you a single favourite, but over the past three years I have judged gin against two standards. Firstly Tanqueray (not the Number 10 edition that is often raved about, I prefer the original) and I won’t recommend anything unless is compares favourably to Tanqueray. My second standard is Monkey 47, which was the first of the new breed to really grab me and make me fall in love with gin and start down this long and winding gin highway. The following gins, to me, have to hit or exceed the Tanqueray and Monkey 47 test; in no particular order then, my “Club Captain’s Hall of Fame” opens today, and, along with Tanqueray and Monkey 47 are these, my eight highest recommendations:
East London’s Batch #2 Gin
Copper Rivet’s Dockyard Gin
Rock Rose’s Navy Strength Gin
Garden Swift Gin
Death’s Door Gin
Bertha’s Revenge Irish Milk Gin
The above was written before several end of year events and some final tastings that will be making their way to my collection soon and, in the case of Gin Eva and Salcombe, fine additions that I expect, on first taste, will feature in my 2019 round-up. Also X-Gin, that makes for a wonderful Clover Club cocktail. I’ve recently spent two very productive days, the first at the Gin Foundry, where I learned a great deal about distilling from one of the gin industry’s brightest players, Olivier Ward; and then a second day at East London Liquor Company learning about spirit production; with level 1 out of the way I look forward to level 2 in the spring!
If you’re still reading this, and even if you’re not, then I wish you a stocking full of bottles of your favourite gin, a very merry Christmas, and a happy 2019.