London and gin, are, of course, synonymous, perhaps more than any other location on the planet: London is Gin and Gin is London. But other places lay strong claims to a place in gin history – the Dutch will tell you that jenever comes from their fine country and one of the most famous brands in juniper based drinks – BOLS – that has been perfecting jenever for over 440 years and even today employs one recipe that will soon be having its 200th birthday. There is also plenty of history within the UK outside of London – not least of all in Plymouth, and around Europe the French and Spanish have been making and perfecting gin for centuries. New York did the world a great favour by exploding the cocktail scene, and then during the prohibition era, exporting it to the rest of the world. But, as much as I’d like to be jetting off to Manhattan to drink cocktails, the real gin pilgrimage I would like to take is to Harry’s Bar in Venice, for a dry martini, knowing that I follow in the footsteps of Earnest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, Truman Capote and a whole host of other icons.
But it is not just in Venice that we find Italy’s gin connections – the Negroni was invented in Florence after all. The invention of the Martini is unclear, but to many minds all roads point, if not to Rome exactly, certainly to Italy. It is amazing then that they do not have a thriving gin distilling culture in Italy, but there simply isn’t one, and that is that. They exist, but the likes of Malfy and Sabatini are not easy to find, in the case of the latter you really need to find a specialist online retailer, or visit high end department stores like Fortnum & Masons.
In Italy itself Sabatini is far more popular, which is perhaps made all the more strange by the fact the distillation process happens right here in London. The Sabatini family have had the recipe for decades, and take the main botanicals all from the family farm in Tuscany, but the distillation takes place at Thames Distillers in the heart of London, and actually, for all the tradition in distilling that it brings, I find that fact rather disappointing.
My disappointment ends there however. The styling of the bottle is beautiful, clear glass with a greeny blue transparent label featuring a Tusacan landscape and simple clear lettering and cork lid. This is a drink that summer evenings were made for – on the nose, you get the floral, herby notes that come from the 9 botanicals brought from the family farm and that carries through in the drink. What you end up with is a 41.3% London Dry Gin – a very traditional juniper flavour is complimented by this wonderful blend of ingredients that naturally grow side by side on the land. The Gin & Tonic I started to sip as I wrote the first few words of this post, featured a sprig of thyme (one of the botanicals) and Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water. My glass is now empty, but the flavours linger long in the mouth and most pleasantly so.
I was interested to note that lavender is another of the Sabatini botanicals, and there is certainly a similarity at some level between this and the beautiful Pothecary gin I recommended earlier this month, which also boasts a lavender ingredient.
I expect Sabatini would make a wonderful Dry Martini, and will be attempting this at a later date, and perhaps even at Harry’s Bar – should I ever make the pilgrimage.
Sabatini Gin – £29 for 70cl, if you can find it (41.3%)
Gin & Tonic Rating – 4/5