Theres nothing wrong at all with a standard London dry gin and tonic in summer — in fact, there's an awful lot right with it. Sometimes, though, you hanker after something more exotic, and Martin Fone and Toby Keel are here to take a look at some of the more intriguing prospects for sale today.
A bit of a mouthful to say, but thankfully not to drink, this new concoction from Cardona & Son is one of their range of flavoured gins (and also a spiced rum) made using raw honey from hives within a 10 mile radius of their base in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Borage is best-known as a garnish for a glass of Pimm’s, but has been used for thousands of years — something we wrote about just recently in fact — and indeed is thought to have inspired a line of Homer’s, talking about a herb that: ‘eased men’s pains and irritations, making them forget their troubles — a drink of this, once dipped in wine, would guarantee no man would let a tear fall on his cheek, not even if his father and his mother died.’
We can’t pretend that this gin had quite such an impact on us — that’s probably a good thing, on balance — but it’s a lovely tipple, the flavour elements handled with a subtle restraint that makes it ideal for a classic G&T.
Perfectly timed for Wimbledon fortnight is this new gin made with botanicals harvested from Wimbledon Common itself — mostly heather and gorse, and honey from hives kept on the Common. You can pick those out, but it’s the hint of lemon (presumably not grown natively in SW19…) that is the strongest flavour here, and that’s no bad thing as the gin is wonderfully balanced and makes an absolutely knockout G&T.
Of course, none of that really matters, because you’ve probably seen the gloriously 1930s-style ceramic bottle, and just gone ahead and ordered some anyway. We can’t say we blame you — it’s a lovely touch.
Wimbledon Garden Gin, £38.50 for 70cl from wimbledonbrewery.com
In the past couple of weeks, with the first seasonal strawberries on the shelves, we started buying regular punnets — and this year’s crop has been sensational so far. The children seem happy to say no to all other forms of sugar — chocolate, sweets — if they’re just able to get another few strawberries added to morning porridge / packed lunch boxes / evening desserts. It’s a joy each year to remember just how good fresh strawberries are. With Two Birds gin, you can drink them as well as eat them — sort of, anyway.
This strawberry and vanilla gin is unashamedly on the far end of the fruity and sweet spectrum. It’ll make the eyes water of anyone who prefers a classic London dry, but think of it less than a gin and more as a quick-mix cocktail and you’ll likely see the appeal.
Even better, though, is the same company’s Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate gin, with a superbly sweet-sour mix that induces the same sort of pleasurable wince as those rhubarb-and-custard sweets you had when you were a kid.
We were huge fans of this one, and while the strawberry and vanilla is a fun occasional tipple, this is one we can see ourselves returning to regularly. Beware, though — head to their site and you may well end up with a few of their other extraordinary flavours. Salted Caramel vodka, anyone…?
A gin named after the traditional Welsh tea loaf? What’s not to love about this magnificent concoction from the Snowdonia Spirit Company, whose flavours also include Love Spoon Wild Fruit Gin — which makes you wonder how long it’ll be before leek and daffodil flavours emerge from the same source.
This is no gimmick, though — well, not just a gimmick, for the familiar Barra Brith scent is easily discernible on the nose in this gin, with black tea, dried fruit and spices clearly coming through. Lovely — and all the lovelier if served with a slice of orange to help bring out the cake flavours.
£34.99 from Snowdonia Gin
Following the Barra Brith gin above, we have more Welsh gin, this time from the Eccentric Spirit Company, whose wares are all distilled at the In The Welsh Wind Distillery near Cardigan. And they don’t use the word ‘eccentric’ lightly: here, we have a cask-aged Limbeck gin (heavily flavoured with blue ginger, citrus and tarragon, Seville orange and orris), a classic dry gin dubbed Dewi Sant, with aniseed notes that make it almost impossible not to think of Liquorice Allsorts; a Pembrokeshire Pinky with a touch of cherry and lemongrass; and Madam Geneva Dry Gin, a straight-down-the-middle London Dry Gin.
The pick of the bunch? For our money it’s the Limbeck Cask Aged, full of interesting notes. The makers suggest trying it in a cocktail with 50ml with 20ml of Grand Marnier, 20ml of lemon juice, 12.5ml of ginger syrup and a couple of dashes of orange bitters.
£31.95-£37.95 from Master of Malt
We’d never heard of CBA Gin before coming across these two strikingly good-looking bottles came to our attention. But we had, of course, heard of Silent Pool, who are the distillers who’ve brewed these two gins with former bar owners Peter Barney and Chris Stewart, who moved in to gin during the pandemic. The flavours themselves are pandemic-inspired as well, the message being that if you can’t get away, at least you can transport yourself there with a decent drink.
And decent drinks they are. The California Gin — made with Valencia oranges — has a real punch to it, almost bringing a Cointreau vibe to a G&T that we found really wonderful. The Marrakech variety is lemony and spicy (mint, coriander and turmeric are among the botanicals), and also worth a look. (By which we mean a taste.)
£38 (California Gin) and £37 (Marrakech Gin) from cba-gin.com
From California and Marrakech to Ireland, now, with a gin made in the Emerald Isle and named after Grace O’Malley, referred to on the bottle as the ‘Irish Pirate Queen’ — though that’s quite the simplification of the extraordinary life and times of Grace (often known as Gráinne) O’Malley, one of the most powerful women in 16th century Europe.
A strong leader of the area that’s now Co Mayo, O’Malley was both a powerful local leader and a skilled negotiator, quite happy to face down Elizabeth I when they met in person in Greenwich in 1593 — an interview said to have been conducted in Latin, since neither spoke the other’s mother tongue. Appropriately, then, this gin (flavoured with heather as well as thyme, red clover, blackthorn, bilberry, and rock samphire) is powerful, subtle and elegant — and will no doubt lead to some fascinating stories to tell as well.
£29.95 from Master of Malt
Atom Brands do not beat about the juniper bush, writes Martin Fone. ‘We make and select liquids that are the best they can possibly be, and package them in a way that is awesome’ is their bold claim. The Tonbridge-based company, whose stable includes the rather clunkily named That Boutique-y Gin Company brand, have certainly set about adding some pizzazz into the gin drinker’s world, if their Retro Gin Fridge Tin is anything to go by.
The presentational pack is eye-catching, consisting of a turquoise-coloured tin, shaped like a retro fridge that you may remember from half a century ago, nestling inside of which are eight 50ml miniature bottles, each containing a different gin from the company’s range, all with an ABV of 46%. It makes for an attractive gift for the gin lover in your life as well as offering a fun way to explore a range of unusual gins.
The quirkiest in the collection is literally and metaphorically out of this world. Moonshot Gin’s claim to fame is that all of its botanicals have been sent into the stratosphere at an altitude of at least 20 kilometres. Random, if not eccentric, as this criterion for botanical selection may seem, they are classic ingredients for a London Dry Gin, although including a piece of rock from a lunar meteorite is a bit out there. It was a well-balanced spirit, with a curiously sherbet texture.
The other seven showcase an individual botanical, but even the standards are given an unusual twist. It was a bold move to combine strawberry with Aceto di Balsamico tradizionale di Modena DOP, a vinegar made from cooked Trebbiano grapes and aged in wooden casks, to make a deep, tawny red Strawberry and Balsamico Gin.
Rhubarb Triangle Gin pays homage to West Yorkshire’s famous early forced rhubarb growing area with a spirit that is like my favourite pudding, rhubarb crumble, in a glass, adroitly mixing the tartness of the rhubarb with the sweetness of the citrus elements. If the smell of a well-seasoned Christmas cake is more to your taste, their Cherry Gin, a dark red fruit gin using sweet and sour Mascara cherries distilled in the finest sloe gin tradition, is a must.
A twist on the familiar tastes of rosemary and pineapple, the latter all the rage as a gin in the 1920s, is to set them on fire to bring out a smokier flavour. Smoked Rosemary Gin is quite a floral, herbaceous gin while Spit-roasted Pineapple Gin, the fruit caramelised with demerara sugar, is a riot of syrupy sweetness. The Pineapple Gin is prone to produce a sediment, a natural result of the interaction between the fruit and the spirit. Simply give the bottle a good shake and it disperses.
Yuzu, a citrus fruit from East Asia, has a knobbly, uneven skin and is tart and fragrant with a taste not unlike a blend of grapefruit and mandarin orange. It is a botanical favoured by distillers of Japanese style gins, usually to be found in the background, adding texture. In Yuzu Gin, though, it takes centre stage, and its intense citric flavours interact well with the spicier, peppery juniper to produce a well-balanced, moreish London Dry style gin.
“What makes it so special are the pastel-coloured, pearl-like citrus bubbles inside its tube-shaped fruit, which pop like caviar”
A botanical I had not encountered before in my gin-drinking odyssey is Citrus australasica or finger lime. Its fortunes have transformed from being gourmet bush tucker, hailing from the rain forests bordering Queensland and New South Wales, to become one of the trendiest of culinary flavours. What makes it so special are the pastel-coloured, pearl-like citrus bubbles inside its tube-shaped fruit, which pop like caviar.
Finger Lime Gin is a celebration of this fruit in spirit form and the result is wonderfully refreshing drink, ideal for a warm summer’s evening and my personal favourite.
The Retro Gin Fridge tin has allowed me to make new discoveries and to challenge preconceptions. Inevitably, some were not to my taste, but that is the joy of a taster pack, a voyage of discovery which takes you out of your comfort zone. This impressively quirky offering from That Boutique-y Gin Company did just that.
French distiller Audemus are based in the heart of Cognac country, yet have turned their hands to distilling some flavoured gins — with rather unusual results, as they’ve gone full-on savoury rather than the usual sweet/fruity path. Kudos to them for trying something different.
Most eye-catching are these two, their pink pepper and umami gins. The former is the one that first made their name in Britain, and is flavoured with — as you might have guessed — pink peppercorns, but also honey, vanilla and cardamom. All of them combine well to make a genuinely unusual and interesting drink, though its one that is really at its best as part of a cocktail. If you’re serving it in a simple G&T the makers recommend mixing it with Fever Tree’s aromatic tonic water — and it really did make a quite outstanding combination, though perhaps not for everyone. One of our testers loved it; the other couldn’t even finish the glass. (The former happily did the honours, naturally.)
Audemus’s newer effort is the Umami gin, which is made — and we swear we’re mot making this up — with Parmesan cheese and capers. It’s a bold and unusual combo, for sure, and if you see it being served in a gin bar then we’d heartily recommend having a taste. It’s definitely best to have that taste before taking the plunge and buying a full bottle. Over at Spirit Kiosk they say it ‘sounds bonkers’ but that ‘it’s also delicious’. Will you agree? It’ll certainly be entertaining finding out.
‘Please can you send me the link? Will buy INSTANTLY’ was the immediate reaction from one of the Country Life staff on being told of the existence of this gin. Since those days, it’s become a real best-selling favourite: there are vodka and rum equivalents, but for our money the gin version is still the best.
Shockingly, not everybody gets quite as excited as we do. Those people are wrong. How could you possibly not love a gin distilled with oranges, fresh orange peel, cocoa powder and real-life Jaffa Cakes?
‘Hand-made in Herefordshire’ reads the label on the bottle of this delicate, floral gin which has a strong whack of gin’s traditional juniper notes — not something that you can say of all the gins on this page. Elderflower is a lovely taste that seems perfect for the season as we head into Spring, and the fact that this comes in a pretty and hugely tasteful bottle is an extra bonus.
‘We wanted to create something to celebrate the English spring,’ says the eponymous Tarquin, aka Tarquin Leadbetter, who runs this small distillery near Padstow. It’s a beautifully elegant gin with a lovely balance of floral and fruity notes — and for something a bit different, it makes a fun fruity cocktail. 50ml of the gin with 25ml of lemon juice and a teaspoon of strawberry jam, shaken with ice, strained into a jam jar and topped with a splash of pink bubbly. Okay, perhaps this recipe is a bit more hen party than mother’s day, but it’s certainly different.
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