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Here’s a fact for you. Technically, gin could be described as juniper-flavoured Vodka. Gin purists will be baying for my blood for saying that – understandably, because gin is so much more complex and exciting than that – but in the meanest terms it’s true.
There are several ways you can make gin. All start with the same thing – a neutral spirit (which is, essentially, what vodka is). You can then make basic gin by adding essences or flavourings to this. It might not be particularly complex, smooth or deep, but if it tastes of juniper it’s a gin.
Thankfully, there are better ways to make gin. A more advanced method is creating a cold-compound gin by steeping neutral spirit in botanicals to infuse the spirit. This method produces gins ranging from the simple to the exceptional. An excellent example to try is Prof. Cornelius Ampleforth’s Bathtub Gin. The name is apt – this method of cold-compounding harks back to the days of prohibition and rum-runners, making dodgy spirits palatable by soaking botanicals in a bathtub. And fret not – this is as far from dodgy as you can get!
Distilled gin is where you take the cold-compounding concept one step further by putting all the botanicals and spirit into a still and firing it up, redistilling the neutral spirit with botanicals to infuse and bind the flavours.
Variants of this include vapour-infusion, the distiller hangs a basket of botanicals in the swan’s neck of the still so that the vaporised spirit passes through, infusing as it does. Williams Chase, Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks all use this method.
If you stop here, you can call it a London Dry Gin – such as Sipsmith. If you add something to the gin after distillation (other than cutting it to strength with distilled water) then it ceases to be a London Dry and is instead a Distilled Gin.
It’s easy to think that means London Dry is the best quality of Gin, but that’s a trap. It’s simply a style. Hendricks add cucumber distillate and rose petal essence after distillation, so it’s not a London Dry. Gordon’s gin adds nothing after distillation so it is a London Dry. Tanqueray 10 blends a distillate of citrus separately from the other botanicals, so it isn’t.
Oh, and London Dry gins can be made anywhere. Unlike Plymouth gins, which can only be made in Plymouth – and there’s only the one, the eponymous Plymouth Gin. And then there’s Old Tom – more on that later.
Many gin makers have decided that the London Dry category is too restrictive for their creativity and passion to craft the best, most interesting, and enjoyable gin they can.
First up to our new line of craft gins is Rokeby’s Half Crown gin. This is a London Dry style, distilled in small batches in a traditional copper pot still. At 40.6% ABV it carries a huge whack of piney juniper, with fresh citrus notes and some coriander seed spice. Attractively priced, it’s a craft spirit you can take to a party and be proud of your choice.
Brecon Botanicals Gin weighs in at a premium 43% ABV. This little number comes from the award winning Penderyn Distillery, and uses water from the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. It’s got a really spicy cinnamon note on the finish, but as you’d hope the real punch comes from juniper, supported by coriander, nutmeg, licorice and angelica with a citrussy twist. For me, this is a Martini Vodka – and it’s smooth enough to enjoy neat with a few ice cubes!
A personal favourite of mine comes from a wee distillery around the back of The Royal Dick at Summerhall in Edinburgh. Pickering’s Gin is a small batch gin based on an old 1947 recipe. Summerhall Distillery is home to Gert, a small 500 litre still, and has a unique, custom-designed bain-marie heating system. This evens out the heat so the botanicals get a gentle treatment, coaxing out all their subtle flavours.
The result is a phenomenally silky gin, loaded with piney, earthy, and herbacious wonderment. I love the huge whack of citrus and clove that hits after the juniper, and a gentle caress of lavender on the finish rounds off what is an unquestionably excellent gin. Plus it’s from Edinburgh, so I get to taste a little bit of home every time I take a sip.
Finally, a bartender’s delight: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Old Tom styles are the predecessor to Dry Gin styles, and are slightly sweeter in style. It’s smooth and full-flavoured, with a rounder and far softer character than Dry Gins. Using a recipe from the 1870s, Hayman’s has a wonderful lick of ginger spice and orange zest with echoes of violets, rosewater and star anise behind pine-tree juniper. This is the gin to go to for a Tom Collins.
Interestingly for the drinks historian (or geek), the original Martini cocktail would have been made with an Old Tom style of gin. The origin of the Dry Martini is nothing to do with the amount of vermouth in the drink, but the style of gin used – a London Dry rather than an Old Tom.
You can find our range of Gins on majestic.co.uk – many of our stores stock gins made locally, and there’s often a bottle or two open to try!
Craft Spirits: Gin
It’s fair to say that most of the Majestic family rather enjoy a good quality drink. Wine, we adore. Beer, we’re fascinated by. Spirits? We do. And you know, we’ve done them a while. Basics, really. The odd interesting or local bottle. But mostly the basics.
But something changed, and for the better. It began last year with an infusion of brilliant whiskies and rums, a few really crazy vodkas and a gin that blew my mind with its piney beauty.
And you loved them. We decided we’d add more.
Thing is, we all get trained to WSET Level 3 standard. That’s the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. But though spirits are on the syllabus, they’re not a core element. If they come up in the exam, they’re a few questions out of fifty in the multiple choice section. For most of us, our spirits knowledge is hard-earned through going to tastings and trying as many as we can afford.
I cheated. I was an avid cocktailian bartender before I joined Majestic. Spirits are my love.
So when our Spirits-buyer Chris announced he was shaking up the range even more with a focus on craft and boutique spirits, I slyly inveigled myself into the tasting sessions.
Over two days, and 160 spirits later, we shortlisted, then reviewed, and finally picked out our favourites. Gin with style. Vodka with actual character. Forgotten whiskies that begged for rediscovery. Rums. Bourbons. And some utterly exceptional cognacs. The best part? All fantastic.
There are two new vodkas joining the range this winter. The first is our riposte to the Smirnoffs of this world. A triple-distilled grain spirit that’s pure, clean, smooth and with a hint of maltiness. Red Griffin. We wanted something great value that would taste great, mix well, and drink beautifully. We got it.
It’s filtered through English Oak Charcoal for a patriotic, homegrown sense of smoothness.
Now, vodka by definition can be made from anything you can ferment. Sugar. Wheat. Barley. Corn. Potato starch. Milk.
Milk? Oh yes.
In a time when dairy farmers are squeezed hard by the supermarkets, one man finally had enough. Jason Barber wanted to diversify the produce from his 250-strong dairy herd in Dorset. He separated the curds and whey from his fresh whole milk. The curds went to making truly exceptional cheeses – Barber’s 1833 and Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar. The whey he fermented into a beer using a special yeast culture. The beer he distilled into a high quality spirit, triple filtered for purity before bottling.
Black Cow Vodka is smooth, as creamy as you’d expect, and utterly, utterly delicious. It is also, paradoxically, lactose free. That’s distillation for you. For best results, seek out some Black Cow Cheddar and try them together.
Alongside these are some excellent spirits added last winter. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is briefly oak-aged and so has a tinge of colour alongside woody notes and the merest hint of caramel. Blackwood’s Botanical Vodka is five-times distilled and then infused with hand-picked Shetland botanicals including Meadow Sweet, Sea Pink, Angelica and Marsh Marigold.
You can browse our range of spirits and craft spirits online here. Next up, gin!
Craft Spirits – The Cream of Vodkas
Through a sparkling glass we gaze. Champagne is one of the most joyous wines we know. We’re making some pretty superb wine in the style of champagne in England now, but that doesn’t mean we’ve fallen out of love with the French.
There are few wines as evocative as champagne. Here are our favourite 11 quotes about this magical, frothing liquid.
1. John Maynard Keynes – Reportedly spoken from his deathbed, and as regrets go, one we can sympathise with.
2. Dorothy Parker – Socialite Dorothy Parker was a famous member of the Algonquin Club in Boston. She coined quite a few phrases in her life, but this one has a certain swing to it!
3. Mme. Lily Bollinger – This champagne quote came from Lily Bollinger on a trip to London in 1961 for the launch of Bollinger RD 1952. In an interview with the Daily Mail she was asked when she drank Champagne. This was her – rather fabulous – response.
4. James Bond – Reknowned Champagne enthusiast, Bond tried quite a few in the books; Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon, Krug, Pommery and Taittinger all feature – though Bond himself remarks that “Taittinger was just a phase of mine”. In the movies, Dom Perignon and Bollinger are his wines of choice. The story goes that Christian Bizot of Bollinger became good friends with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, and it has appeared in 14 Bond movies since Moonraker in 1979.
5. Noel Coward – Coward was a superb actor and playwright, and his masterpiece ‘Private Lives’ is a superb, almost quixotic play about champagne-fuelled, cocktail-sipping hedonists.
6. Marlena Dietrich – Pop on a Dietrich song, pour yourself a glass of champagne and we challenge you not to agree.
8. Mark Twain – American author and required reading at most transatlantic schools. Forget Huckleberry Finn, this quote is our favourite of Twain’s work.
9. Samuel Johnson – Essayist, literary critic, biographer, moralist and poet. Also a man who understood the things that make life worth living.
10. Sir Winston Churchill – A lifelong fan of Pol Roger, the champagne house named their prestige label Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill in his honour. After France was liberated in 1944, he became close friends with Odette Pol Roger – every year on his birthday they sent him a case. On his death in 1965, Pol Roger placed a black border around its labels for that year.
11. Coco Chanel – With echoes of Madame Bollinger, and perhaps more succinctly, Coco Chanel’s quote on champagne is perhaps the last word for all lovers.
You can browse our range of champagne online here!
The 11 Best Champagne Quotes
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