Today, my Ruster friends, a departure.
Earlier this week I took the unique step of calling Algy Belville – whom I had previously only met at The Rust’s editorial two-day summer party in August on board the 120 foot super-yacht of ‘mine host’ Bob Tickler in the Brighton marina, a veritable case of “Abandon hope (and decorum) all ye who enter here” – in order to gain permission, as it were, to tread upon his territory as the master of all liquids alcoholic.
This, I am delighted to report, he gave with a Bertie Wooster-style encouragement of “What ho – go for it, old chap!” and thus I consider myself ‘cleared for landing’ as regards reporting from the fashionable world of artisan gin.
We all have a history with alcoholic beverages and personally – similar also applying to my tastes in music – I’m happy to admit belonging to the Philistine (“I don’t know about quality, but I know what I like”) contingent of the human race.
In short, except upon special occasions such as rugby trips – when all normal restraints are parked at the door and ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ – I’ve never been a heavy drinker, a habitual daily imbiber of an evening snifter at home or indeed couple of pints down the pub to unwind after work, or even a receiver of ‘free passes’ for the odd night out with the lads.
One year, three or more decades ago on a whim of a New Year’s Eve, I gave myself a challenge to go 12 months totally without booze and managed it without either noticing the difference and/or feeling the slightest pang or regret.
Vodka has never done it for me. At one time I used to down red wine and port like there was no tomorrow and later had a period of getting interested in whiskies – strangely, particularly Irish ones – but then grew out of it and these days only (and rarely) drink the wimp’s favourite from Scotland (Dalwhinnie). I’ve never had more than a passing hankering for other, more exotic alcohol drinks like brandies or sherries.
By background my tastes – picked up from my parents – were conservative: Gordon’s, Bombay Sapphire, Plymouth (because of my father’s connection with the Navy) and occasionally Tanqueray. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the one and the other but didn’t care.
There was always something about relaxing on a sun-drenched holiday terrace of an evening before dinner, taking in a majestic view, nursing a double tot of iced-gin, an ice cube, a slug of fizzy tonic water – garnished with a slice of a lemon you’d just plucked from a tree in the orchard below the villa – plus (if you really had to) a cocktail stick or glass stirrer to give it all a whirl … with maybe the occasional Cuban cigar as accompaniment.
At Christmas-time ten months ago, staying with my daughter and her partner’s family, I was gifted a bottle of Oxford Toad – an item of which I’d never heard. And so embarked upon a practice of trying a so-far endless procession of similar products.
[Before I commence my speedy fly-past of reviews, a word or two about how I take my gin – and clearly this aspect is ever a matter of personal taste. My father and his pals quite often went for pink gin – via the appliance of slugs of Angostura bitters – and indeed one of their number (known to all as ‘Mack’) was an extremer in this respect, his preference being virtually a tumbler of Angostura just about leavened by the merest drop of gin.
I’ve had gin with cucumber, grapefruit, lemon or lime slices in my time but my current choice of recipe is iced gin; a slice and then a heavy additional (pith and all) squeeze of lime; Angostura bitters, two small ice cubes and tonic water (Schweppes, not Fever-Tree).]
And so to the task of the day – and please note that most of the following cost somewhere between £32 and £48 per bottle:
As mentioned above, this was my first encounter with artisan gin.
I was immediately struck by and loved the tang & taste of the herb-infused liquid. That said (to be brutally honest) I last drank it long enough ago that today I can recall nothing particular about it!
This one surprised me.
It was recommended to me by my local CAMRA real ale shop and really impressed with its strong combination of citrus and other ‘je ne sais pas’ flavours. I cannot lie, I very nearly became hooked on it.
These boys were both herb-infused and good to the taste.
However, overall – compared to several others in this list – they were also unremarkable.
I was attracted this one from Northern Ireland by its nautical connections (see above) and loved its taste – so much so that after finishing the first bottle I then immediately bought two more in succession before, in furtherance of my research project and with some reluctance, moving on to other things.
On the Master of Malt website it is described as produced from wheat spirit infused with sweet gale, angelica, lemon, orris, liquorice root and juniper – the customer reviews uniformly give it five stars out of five and I couldn’t argue with that.
At the time I chose this one to try at random, the staffer at my local CAMRA real ale shop told me it comes out of Leeds. It was so pungent and strong to the taste that I shan’t be returning to it.
Another randomly-chosen variety I plucked from a shelf of which frankly I expected not a great deal, but which came as a seriously pleasant novelty. It was distinctive, quirky and packed a kick that I shall undoubtedly be returning to one day.
The Whisky Exchange website states this recent addition to the world of gin is made from red winter wheat on Washington Island and particularly strong – its customer reviews average at 4.5 stars.
This one – which I laughingly describe as looking like paraffin courtesy of its blue tint – is outstanding.
The Master of Malt website describes it as ‘a beautiful quadruple-distilled gin from Charles Maxwell in London, flavoured with cinnamon, angelica, bergamot and gardenia’. Without exception its customer reviews were five stars out of five.
Difficult to argue with that.
There’ll be more to come from me as and when …