Sabatini

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. sabatini

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

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Rock Rose

Something that never ceases to amaze me about the gin revival, is that some of the most amazing gins are so brand-spankingly-new. Brighton and Cotswolds are two such examples of gins that have gone from 0-100mph in astonishingly quick time, and I sit down and tuck into my bottle of Rock Rose I am flabbergasted to find that a mere 2 years and 1 month ago I could not have been writing anything about them, because they did not exist.

Rock Rose lends its name to more than one variety of gins distilled by this Scottish distillery, and the bottle I have is the standard bottle – a white glazed stoneware (I think) bottle with a blue design, which puts me in mind of another great Scot – Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Each bottle would appear to have a hand written date and initialling on the reverse, which lends to the ‘handcrafted’ description. rockrose

No shrinking violet or wallflower, this Rock Rose is 41.5% and is very punchy. You get a real flavour burst from the initial ‘on the nose’ floral notes, to the piney and citrus flavours that mingle in the mouth. It is distinct, without being too flowery or remotely harsh. The trick they have managed to pull off, is that it is also unmistakably a good juniper gin too. Not cheap, it is £33.65 at The Gin Box Shop, but worth every penny.

I experienced another gin this week – Saffron Gin from Gabriel Boudier in France, and it was almost the polar opposite – it was harsh, it was repellent on both the nose and as part of a gin and tonic. At a Forest Hill Gin Club event this weekend I sought the opinion of others, desperate to find someone who could add a positive note to a review for it, but I could find no one prepared to defend it more than to say it was ‘ok’. So I’m not even going to bother reviewing Saffron Gin, it is the closest thing to nail varnish remover I’ve had so far, and that is that.

In the 140 or so years that Saffron Gin has been going, they have missed a trick that Rock Rose has pulled off in under 2 years, and while I am sure people will continue, and perhaps even enjoy products like Saffron Gin, I’m going to be flying the flag for the new guys – vive la revolution!

Rock Rose  – £33.65 for 70cl

Gin & Tonic Rating – 4.5/5

 

(Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin  – £29 for 70cl  – Rating 0/5)

Daffy’s

I’m jumping off the usual format to review Daffy’s – heading into unchartered territory, so hold on to your hats. Usually I pour myself a glass of gin and tonic, add a garnish and write a review, but this time I am pouring myself… wait for it… two glasses of gin and tonic and writing a review. Tiny minds blown yet? No? Drat, ok, if that is not impressive enough, I can pretend I am travelling on a rocket to Mars if that helps.

The thing about a rocket trip to Mars is, it is rather boring, and long. You really need something to take your mind off the long, boring journey through the blackness of space as everything you love is left behind you. Fortunately I have a bottle of Daffy’s gin, and two glasses, so I’m as happy as larry.

The makers of Daffy’s, or, to give it its full title – Daffy’s Small Batch Premium Gin – will tell you that ‘Daffy’ is the goddess of gin. Daffy, their web site tells you, was first written about in the 1700’s. The story of who wrote what, where or how is then missing, which is a shame, but artist Robert McGinnis has done his best to capture her image on the bottle’s label. I’m guessing fashions in the 18th century were very similar to those in the early 1980’s as Daffy has the appearance of someone who is up for a leading part in Charlie’s Angels.daffys-gin

I digress, somewhere beyond the stratosphere, passing the moon at warp speed, I am sitting with two glasses of gin and tonic and I have failed to explain why. It is a question of mint. I don’t really like mint, be it chewing gum, sweets with holes, lamb on Sunday or freshly picked and popped into my gin. But Daffy’s recommends this as a course of action, so I have reluctantly agreed (which is more than I did for Brighton Gin and their stick-of-rock idea)  and am broadening my horizons. When you are in a space ship heading for mars, your horizons are certainly going to be widened.

Within the Botanicals of Daffy’s gin they boast Lebanese Mint, Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Lemon Peel, Cassia and Orris. The gin bottle itself is an elegant shape, with a cork lid and heavy bottom, an IWSC gold medal (2015) adorns the label. 70cl bottles at a robust 43.4% vol will set you back just under £35 from The Gin Box Shop. On the nose you get the traditional Juniper as well as coriander notes. They slow-distil this gin from French grain spirit in an old copper whisky still.

I batter my mint a little (something I learned from the good folk at Pinkster Gin – give the mint a smack first) and, with no small pang of worry, place something I really do not like, into a glass of something I really really do like. The result, I report happily, is a lovely product that is not at all diminished by the mint. Somewhere on the roof of my mouth and the back of my gums, there is a minty freshness left after my glass is drained, but that is the extent of the minty feeling. It reminds me that there is an occasion where I do like mint – I like that zingy feeling you get from mint extract shower gel. I don’t want to compare Daffy’s to a bath product, but they are both things that I really like, so lets go with it. Meanwhile, my second glass, sans mint, is perfectly acceptable – this time garnished with Blueberries, as recommended by the Ginventory app.

Scottish Gins are really rather marvellous I’ve decided, there has yet to be one that I haven’t enjoyed. Perhaps it is something in the distilling tradition, but they really seem to nail a good gin north of the border. Daffy’s is a fine example of a Scottish craft gin, and I’m quite prepared to embrace the mint and recommend you give it a go, if only I could brush my teeth with it, I’d be set for life.

Daffy’s Small Batch Premium Gin – £34.60 for 70cl

Gin & Tonic Rating – 4/5

Buy Daffy’s at The Gin Box Shop

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Pothecary Gin

At Junipalooza this year there were plenty of stands with distillers that stood out – you can’t help but remember the gin that changed colour, the pink gin, the gin that came in a faux leather bottle. But I can not recall what any of these gins tasted like.

The Pothecary Stand came with no whistles or bells, just some very large containers filled with botanicals and some very friendly and helpful representatives. By the time we visited Pothecary we had consumed a fair few drinks, some sublime, some so-so, and we were getting desperate for something a little different that was not a gimmick. Thankfully Pothecary provided us with just that.

When I think about Lavender I think about my maiden aunt, or bushes full of bees that grew out from unkempt gardens on my way to school. Scented soaps for grandmothers seemed, to my mind, to be the correct remit for lavender, and certainly not something to infuse gin with. But the Pothecary stand beckoned us, and like sailors answering the call of the Siren we went dangerously close to the lavender. I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but I do remember tasting the mix and being amazed that although I could certainly get a note of lavender, it was extremely subtle, and very pleasant.

Some months passed between this initial taste and a bottle landing upon my desk – a short stubby 50cl bottle with a cork lid and pale blue label embossed in gold and black lettering – and I didn’t waste much time clearing my workload and racing home to see if the memory could be matched.

As well as the dreaded lavender, my main memory from those giant jars of botanicals was that of black mulberries – and I was glad to see that they get a mention on the label as well. ‘Organic Black Mulberries’ the label reads, along with ‘Wild Foraged Tilia Flowers’ and ‘Organic Lemon Peel’ as well as the standard juniper and the aforementioned lavender. A whopping 44.8% strength pushes the value up somewhat (and you’ll note I say value and not price – the latter is also true at £40 for a 50cl bottle, but at least you can see why).pothecary5

There is no doubt that this is a distinct gin, you certainly get the juniper that should dominate a gin, but you also get a really unique and complex floral array to tantalise those taste-buds. Charlotte mixed us a couple of gin and tonics with Fever-Tree Indian, orange peel and rosemary, then I had a cheeky second that omitted the rosemary sprig.

Rarely do Charlotte and I quarrel over the gin – we have similar tastes and although she has occasion to frown at my final scoring of a gin, we never come to an actual stand-off. Until now that is. You see I think this gin is excellent, Charlotte however, thinks it exceptional. I wanted to score it 4/5 – she wasn’t going to be happy unless I went all Spinal Tap and turned the dial up to 11 – or 6 at any rate. So for the sake of household harmony we are settling in the middle. Having won a couple of gongs at the 2016 IWSC and a very impressive double-gold at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, I feel sure they do not need any further endorsement this year from Charlotte or me. And anyway, an argument over the degree of fabulousness seems like hard work, and who wants to work when there is Pothecary to be drunk? If you like your gins on the floral side of the spectrum, (and you have £40 burning a hole in your pocket) then I can find nothing better to recommend than this memorable-for-all-the-right-reasons gin.

Pothecary Gin – £39 for 50cl 

Gin & Tonic Rating – 4.5/5

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