Copper House Gin

Five years ago I decided to surprise my other half by booking us a weekend away. I’d read something in one of the Sunday supplements about Southwold and The Swan Hotel, so rang them up and booked us in. We had a most wonderful weekend, and we fell in love with the town and the Adnams brewery that dominates not only this lovely little costal village, but also much of the surrounding area. We have returned many times to Adnams and stayed at various places (none of which have beaten the Swan as yet) but it was only on our last visit that we tried the two dry gins they offer: Copper House and First Rate.

Both of these gins are distilled in Southwold within the complex of buildings that make up the vast sprawling fantastic Adnams brewery. We were, on this most recent trip, staying with family in ‘The Brewer’s House’ right next to one of the oldest parts of the brewery at the back of the Swan Hotel. Unfortunately for us, at the time they were doing some building work in the brewery, so we could not go on one of their famous tours, but we’ll rectify that one day.

We tried the Copper House first, and then the First Rate; and immediately decided that, as nice as it was, the First Rate was second rate when it came to the two products. The First Rate is a lovely gin and taken in isolation I have no doubt we’d have been suitably happy with it, but when you have had the perfection of Copper House then it is very hard to favourably compare anything else to it. We bought a bottle from the Adnams shop before returning home, and were lucky enough to get a gift set of Copper House, First Rate and Sloe for Christmas from my sister. And now I have bought another bottle, specifically to see if still compares so favourably, and, more importantly, because it is on special offer at Waitrose.

Like First Rate, Copper House has won awards –  it has won a bronze at San Francisco in 2014 and it is a regular medal winner at the International Wine & Spirit Awards, including picking up the very top award in 2013. In my humble opinion, these judges have made absolutely the right choice. Copper House is one of the finest gins I have ever had the pleasure to mix with ice and tonic. Copper House is made with six botanicals: Juniper Berries, Orris Root, Coriander Seed, Cardamom Pod, Sweet Orange Peel and Hibiscus Flower – with this final ingredient being the one that Adnams declare as the dimension that sets it apart. These botanicals are steeped in a mash made purely from East Anglian malted barley.adnams copper house

If I am going to find fault anywhere then I have to say that I am not keen on the packaging. Generally you can spot an Adnams product from a mile away, and as a marketing graduate I would like to pat their marketing department on the back – the recent revival of the brand can be in no small part down to the excellent and consistent quality of the branding. But I think they have got it wrong with some of the spirits, and Copper House is no exception to that. A bottle, 70cl at 40%, will generally set you back around £27 – which is a fairly premium price, but the branding does not say ‘this is a premium gin, an award winning gin’ it says ‘gin, from Adnams, made by the seaside’. Adnams describe it as a ‘vibrant new design’, which it may well be, but I don’t think it does them any favours.

Ginventory recommends Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic water, Ginto recommends Schweppes Orange Blossom & Lavender tonic, Q Tonic or the Spanish tonic water named Indi (that I have to confess I’d never heard of until today). I have tried Copper House with several tonics and prefer either the Fever Tree Indian tonic or the Fever Tree Elderflower, which I find really brings out the hibiscus.

It is an incredibly smooth gin, you never lose the traditional juniper taste, but you also get a sweet floral overtone that just sets it above so many of its competitors. In short, top notch. Don’t let the branding put you off, buy a bottle.

Adnams Copper House Dry Gin – £27 for 70cl

Gin & Tonic Rating: 5/5

 

 

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Brockmans Gin

Brockmans (no apostrophe it would seem), is a division gin: you’ll either like it, or you won’t. Amazon reviews demonstrate the breadth of feeling, from “This is horrible. Seriously… it tastes so sweet that it is undrinkable” and ” I do not think it should be classed as gin” to “One of the finest gins I’ve had the pleasure of drinking”. And I have to say I fall in with the latter group, yes this gin is sweet, yes it is different, but I love it.brockmans

I do have a sweet tooth, I’ll happily drink a bottle of Gewurztraminer, or eat a packet of skittles – although probably not at the same time. So if you like your white wines very dry, then you will probably want to get a second opinion on Brockmans, but you really don’t need a sweet tooth to appreciate it. The other half, with her superior palate, likened the taste to Wham Bars, the pink chewey bar with candy rocks dotted through it, and I can see where she is coming from, however she is also a big fan – and she can’t stand Gewurztraminer. Her mother likened the taste to vanilla, and did not approve; all in all I’ve enticed half a dozen people into having a glass, and, similarly to the Amazon buyers, reviews are ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’, with the majority in the love camp.

Brockmans is made by steeping the botanicals in pure grain spirit for several hours, then distilling in a traditional copper still. Juniper and ten other botanicals are used and it is perhaps the blueberries and blackberries that carry most weight from these and translate into the final flavour. If making this at home then I always add blueberries to my glass of ice and Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water. I’ve also tried it with Mediterranean Tonic, but on balance think the Indian adds a note of tradition that perhaps this particular gin needs. The makers also advise a twist of grapefruit peel, perhaps to neutralise some of the sweetness, but I’ve not yet had a grapefruit handy.

I love the packaging: the heavy round black glass bottle, the gothic typeface and limited white and red palette. A 70cl bottle will set you back about £32 and it is the usual 40% vol – so not cheap for a gin, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it is a good investment for your folding money. Some purists may be displeased with the dominance of fruit flavours over juniper, but make no mistake, this is certainly gin. Do beware that you may hate it, but hopefully you may, like me, just love it.

Brockmans Intensely Smooth Premium Gin – £31.50 for 70cl

Gin & Tonic Rating: 4.5/5

Purchase Brockmans a The Gin Box Shop

Prices correct at time of review.

 

Ginvestigation – Blackheath

Last night I took to the streets of Blackheath in south-east London with the excuse of investigating the gin content of each of the public houses. I enlisted my friend Jason, a long time gin-drinker and appreciator of the finer things in life – football, beer, short skirts, fine wines and good music. We lamented the loss of Prince and Victoria Wood, of bad days at Charlton Athletic and working hard for little reward.

We talked a great deal about gin – about production, bottles, brands and prices. Jason had recently purchased a bottle of Beefeater Crown Jewels special edition gin as a gift for a family member, and had received, again as a gift, a bottle of Monkey 47 and a crate of 1724 tonic. I decided that I need to get myself closer into his family circle.

Our plan was, within sight of the start of the London Marathon, to make our way, Marathon style, from The Crown, to The Hare and Billet, then across to the Princess of Wales, down to The Railway, then perhaps a couple of the wine bars. But, best laid plans of mice and men etc, we were hampered by rain, and by the heath itself being divided up by metal partitions for herding Marathon runners – we were doing this two days before the great race.

At our starting point in The Crown, the gin list was uninspiring – Gordon’s, Sipsmith and Bombay Sapphire – so we had a pint instead then headed up to The Hare & Billet. In recent years the Hare & Billet, a famous old pub on the outskirts of The Village, has come under new ownership and they do a fantastic range of beers. I wasn’t sure that they would have much in the way of gin at all, but I was pleased to discover they had a total of eleven different gins to choose from including Whitley Neil, Hoxton, No.3, Tanqueray, Haymans, Martin Millers, Gin Mare and Boodles. The only tonic they had was Schweppes, which was a great shame considering the extent of the Gin range, but this is essentially just a good boozer, so I wasn’t about to complain!

I’d recently had a No.3 and was keen for Jason to see if he liked it as much as I had, and he went for the Boodles. The No.3 was as excellent as I remembered and Jason concurred; the Boodles was, on the other hand, disappointing. Jason wanted to try one of their guest bitters, so he had that while I had my first Gin Mare – and it certainly won’t be my last as I very much enjoyed it. I’m not keen on reviewing anything I’ve only had one glass of, among several other drinks, without a good tonic, so that is all I will say on the subject for now.

The rain came down as we left the Hare & Billet and so we took an unplanned turn into O’Neals – an Irish-theme-chain that was for a while, 18 years ago, our pub of choice in Blackheath. Now, a sorry shadow of its former self, we stayed for one lager then left. For the sake of this blog piece I will tell you that they had Gordon’s, three different types of Gordon’s at that, and Bombay Sapphire. Still raining, we headed down to The Railway Tavern, which was packed. They had a four-gin choice of Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Sipsmith and Opihr, but at least they had Fever Tree to mix it with.

After introducing Jason to Opihr we decided to abandon the Marathon and take ourselves back to our respective homes, slightly tipsy to say the least. So, it was not a great success, we had a great time and laughed a lot, I found a new gin to buy in Gin Mare, and reinforced my view that No.3 should also be added to my collection; but we missed several pubs & bars and were largely unimpressed with what we did find – please publicans take note: there is nothing wrong with Bombay Sapphire or Gordon’s, but a bit of choice would be lovely – and ‘choice’ does not mean that you buy a couple of bottles of Sipsmith!

Blackwoods Vintage Gin

Last night I attended an event with a local business forum at a pub. I say pub, they describe themselves as a ‘bar’ I think. Anyway, it’s a nice place, the guy who owns it has been there for well over a decade and is still as enthusiastic today as he was when he first opened up. They have their own brand IPA and a pretty good wine list; the food they laid on was excellent and a good evening was had by all. When I first arrived, and I arrived first, I took a look at their gins – Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Opihr, Hendricks and Bombay Sapphire. I ordered a Hendricks, but it turned out the bottle was empty, so I attempted the word Opihr but it was apparent as I hit the first syllable that it too, was just a bottle. My choices were, in fact, Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, although they did have some Gordon’s Sloe gin, enough for about one glass. My Tanqueray came in a highball with some ice and a bottle of Schweppes, not so much as a slice of lemon, but at least he didn’t pour the tonic in for me. I subsequently switched to lager for my second drink of the night..

My frustrations at perception and reality being in stark contrast did not ruin my evening – the food and the company was more than good enough to make up for my lack of a decent G n T, but I do get annoyed when you are lead to believe you are getting melons when you are getting chicken fillets, or vice versa, if indeed that is even possible. (I don’t think it is, this is a bad analogy – looked promising, feel let down? Ok so now you get it.)

Blackwoods (they don’t care for the apostrophe, so I’m omitting it) Dry Gin is, according to their press: the world’s first vintage gin (note they do have an apostrophe there, so I’m guessing the name is non-apostrophe deliberate). This is explained by way of the harvesting of botanicals, which may change from year to year, but is done when the botanicals, in Shetland, are perfectly ready for harvesting. These botanicals are then steeped in natural mineral water with juniper, coriander, limes and ‘other botanicals’. So, in other words, they use lots of botanicals, some of which are harvested locally in Shetland, and those bits are tied to the vintage, but none of the others necessarily are. Which is probably true of pretty much every gin imaginable. But I suppose it is a good way of labelling that one years Blackwoods may taste different to the next. I am, for the sake of full disclosure, drinking the 2012 vintage. So far, despite a wide search of various online retailers and indeed their own web site, I can only find images of, and references to, the 2012 vintage. Draw your own conclusions.

It’s nice though, don’t get me wrong. I like it, it is rather distinctive – I’m sure I am actually getting the limes and citrus notes, which is more than can be said for most of the botanical claims one gets with gin. It is only about £22 a bottle – which is pretty reasonable for a 70cl – and it is the standard 40% strength. I think if you like your Gin with a distinctly citrus vibe, then you’ll love it.Blackwoods_Gin_2012

It has won awards – in 2013 a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Spirits awards and a double gold medal at the same event in 2009 – proving there was life before 2012. This ‘vintage’ business still bothers me however; like the bar with the pretend bottles of gin on the shelves, no matter how good the food was, I don’t see the point of keeping the empty bottles to taunt the gin-drinking public anymore than I see the point in vintage gin.

Nice gin though, I’m now approaching the bottom of my second bottle and will buy a third, hopefully now we’re in 2016, it might be a newer vintage.

Blackwoods 2012 Vintage Gin – £22 for 75cl

Gin & Tonic Rating  – 3.5/5

 

Caorunn Gin

Caorunn is pronounced Ka-roon according to the label on the strange-shaped bottle, and it is eminently drinkable.

That could pretty much be the size of it, but if one is going to commit to reviewing a product I suppose one should say something more. The other half, a girl with “a better palate” than me said, and I am going to quote her here, because I get in trouble when I forget to, “It tastes like gin” and I can not argue with that, it does, there is no mistaking the Juniper.

You get the sense they put a fair amount of effort into the thing, it is ‘small batch Scottish gin’ from a distillery that has been going since 1824. The bottle is unique, a peculiar shape but not displeasingly so. Very fairly priced – I paid under £28 for my 70cl bottle, it is 41.8%. Apparently it is available in larger branches of Sainsburys and some Waitrose stores too, and if you have one of those to hand then I certainly recommend giving this a go, and buy some red apples while you are there, because they are a recommended as a garnish to your Gin and Tonic, advise which I followed and with which I heartily concur. If you don’t have a decent outlet nearby then I’ve found the chaps at The Gin Box to be good, and they have it at the same price I paid. (disclaimer – neither The Gin Box, Sainsbury’s nor Waitrose have paid me as much as a penny to plug them!)

The Caorunn web site is stylish and informative, telling you about distiller, process (quadruple distilled apparently) and botanicals. I find out from one of my Gin bibles that the owners of Caorunn are a multi-brand, multi-national American firm, which is not a bad thing, but sort of takes the edge off the small old Scottish distillery angle.

caorunn

But I return to the beginning – added apple or not, it comes in an odd shaped bottle and is eminently drinkable, and really, that’s all you need to know. If the other half comes up with anything more profound, then I’ll update this entry, but don’t hold your breath, she’s too busy drinking Blackwoods and talking about her superior palate.

Which reminds me, next review – Blackwoods. But in the meantime…

 

Caorunn Small Batch Gin – £28 for 75cl

Gin & Tonic Rating (With 3 slices of red apple) – 3.5/5

Buy Caorunn online at The Gin Box

Prices correct at time of review

Silent Pool Gin

Now, to date the reviews have followed a pattern: Pre-tasting thoughts on design and bottle, opening and inhaling, tasting neat, tasting with tonic, tasting a bit more, rambling, final assessment. However this one is going to be a little different as I come to write this review having nearly finished the bottle.

So what I have learned between bottle purchase and bottle consumption? That I like it, I’d certainly buy it again, but you have to get your head around it, and your balance right. Most Gin n Tonic is ok if you over-tonic it, some gin and tonic is ok if you under-tonic it, but in my experience you really need to get this one just so. I will need to buy another bottle to tell you the exact mix I prefer, but I think it is roughly 50/50, maybe slightly more gin than tonic. Or maybe a need a lighter tonic? The Surrey based distiller is remarkably mute on recommending a tonic, or garnish, or telling us about the botanicals, of which there are many. We can learn that they use a multi-level distillation process involving macerating some of the botanicals in the base spirit then using vapour infusion in a column still in the final process rather than steeping. Ginventory and Ginto both match it with Fever-Tree Indian however so that is what I used – but as mentioned, you really need to get the balance right in order to bring out the best in this particular Gin, but when you get it right, then this is a fabulous drink.silent pool

The bottle is great – a fantastic light blue colour with gold pattern design (presumably of the botanicals used) in a 360 wrap. The only writing (besides the 70cl 43% indicators) says “Silent Pool – Intricately Realised – Gin” which is my least favourite thing about the whole brand. Intricately Realised – really? How off-puttingly sickly. But I can live with this sole error on an otherwise lovely bottle – the glass stopper is a nice touch, although it can prove particularly sticky.

A smooth and subtle gin, floral but not overpoweringly so. I want to try it with other tonics, so I may just have to buy another bottle, and at around the £35 mark, it is not so cheap. If I were buying a bottle of gin as a gift for someone then this would be up the top end of my list.

Silent Pool Gin – circa £35 for 70cl

Gin & Tonic Rating – 4/5

Martin Miller’s Gin

If you’re going to put your own name on something, then you want to be pretty sure that it is good. Sir Clive Sinclair invented some great things but is known for an electric car that bore his name and famously failed. Martin Miller, like Sinclair was already a successful entrepreneur before the gin came along. He was an antiques cataloguer and collector, a hotelier, an author, photographer and educator. It was his quest for the perfect Martini that lead him to try his hand at creating a better gin, and he went to no little effort or distance to do so.

The label is reminiscent of a nautical theme, the bottle shape rather like a Martin-Millersskyscraper – heavy base that narrows to the neck, which is, like the main barrel of the bottle, taller than most. I can’t say that I warm to the design at all, but it is instantly recognisable in this regard and I was well aware of its existence long before I ever poured it into a glass. First reactions – I don’t think a great deal of it on the nose or neat. I was feeling at this point rather like my money was wasted and I wished I’d invested in something else. However, this is where the negatives end and things take, with tonic, an upturn.

The U.S.P. of the brand is the Icelandic link. Iceland is heavily featured in map form and with the national flag both emblazoned upon the bottle – perhaps so we are not temped to confuse the country with the low-value supermarket chain. The water in Iceland is the purest on the face of the planet apparently, and only this water is used in the making of Martin Miller’s Gin – “Distilled in England & blended with Icelandic water for artic clarity” says the legend, just above the 40% notification.

The text on the reverse is so small that I strain to read it even in good light, but the one phrase I can make out among the elfin words is ‘trademark softness’ and as I continue to imbibe my gin & tonic I have to say I can not dispute that. I am beginning, despite everything up to this point, to rather enjoy my drink. I try and decipher some botanicals from the text, but either they have written them in even smaller text that is impossible to read, or they are omitted.

I visit the web site for more information. Like the packaging, there is plenty to look at, plenty to read – lots of information on cocktails, the company story, about cocktail events, staff outings, and a four and a half minute video. You’re not short on information here, but it is not an easy site to navigate – the gin may well be smooth, but the web site is far from. Eventually I find what I am looking for, or don’t exactly, it is all a bit vague. The botanicals are steeped, rather than using a carterhead, there are citrus peels involved and ‘other botanicals’. I’m really none the wiser. I consult my various publications, apps and gin bibles. Everybody is quite deferential to Martin Miller and his gin, and eventually I find mention of cucumber as one of ten botanicals and that makes perfect sense now I take another taste.

Cucumber, of course, means Hendricks, the two go hand in hand to the point where many barmen will throw a slice or two of cucumber into any old gin and ruin it because Hendricks is generally the highlight of a pub’s gin selection, and they’ve been instructed to add cucumber to that. I usually refrain from joining them, but with Martin Miller’s it seems to make sense, so I try adding some to my gin & tonic and it suddenly zings into life. None of the smoothness is lost, but the thing that has been hiding inside of this gin is now drawn forth. Cucumber and pine notes now permeate and this has become a great drink.

There is an incredible amount of effort and thought that has gone into making Martin Miller’s gin. The great man himself died a month after his 67th birthday at the end of 2013, an interesting character who has left behind a gin that bears his name, and is of equally interesting and unique character. The Gin Foundry entry for Martin Miller’s begs the question as to why isn’t Martin Miller’s bigger?

I ponder this, looking again at the bottle as I enjoy the remains of my glass. It is at this point I find, right at the base at the rear of the bottle, a list of six botanicals used, although still no mention of cucumber. I wonder if perhaps the world of Marin Miller’s gin is not just a little too confusing – the towering bottle and tiny words that say so much but at the same time so very little. The Icelandic trip that sounds wonderful and admirable, but over which I become concerned about the purity value in the fuel used to make the trip. Other wonderful gins are made without the need to travel 3000 miles to fetch water. The result is that I am confused, and perhaps I’m not the only one. For all the suggestions of cocktails and other wealth of information, perhaps a simple direction to put it in a glass with good tonic, ice and a couple of slices of cucumber would do it more favours. Maybe not, maybe I’m just not the target market.

Martin Miller’s Gin – £27.50 for 70cl

Gin & Tonic Rating – 3/5

Buy Martin Miller’s Gin at The Gin Box Shop (at time of writing, under £26!)