Serious botanicals

14 April, 2014

Sticking to 40% abv but playing on the juniper character, Two Birds launched a cocktail gin with a “more intense juniper flavour” at the end of 2013. 

Mark Gamble – who has an engineering background and built his copper still ‘Gerard’ from scratch – says: “Being independent craft distillers, we have the flexibility to experiment with new products and different flavour profiles as well as alcohol levels.”

But Gamble feels the gap was for stronger juniper, rather than stronger abv. “After discussions with friends working in the drinks industry we saw there was a gap in the market for a stronger gin but not at an overproof level. So we set about creating the perfect gin for cocktails; using exactly the same botanicals used in our London Dry gin but altering our distilling profile to bring out the individual flavours. We believe that the Two Birds Cocktail makes for a strong juniper-led London Dry style gin while still at a moderate 40% abv.”

Both higher abv and more intense juniper seem to be geared towards cocktail culture. Ian Hart from Sacred Distillery in Highgate says: “Martini dilution is important to consider. If you don’t pour your Martini straight from the freezer, like at The Duke’s Hotel, higher abvs help avoid too much dilution.”

Sacred has launched a range of what Hart calls ‘botanically-focused’ gins. This is an interesting term and one that makes more sense than ‘flavoured gins’ for this particular type of tipple. Sacred’s regular gin contains 12 botanicals and the six botanically focused blends contain all the regular botanicals, but the headline ingredient – for example cardamom – is dialled up to about 90%.

Parts of Hart’s family home and garden in Hampstead are dedicated to his and his partner Hilary Whitney’s gin business and in the room where his boyhood chemistry set was once a feature, there is now a larger, altogether more grown-up chemistry set in the form of a vacuum still. 

Glasses, pipes, taps and tubes exist in a set-up that has taken Hart five years to perfect, though it’s still evolving, he adds. Large white tubs of various macerations lay around the place and Hart tells me he spent hours preparing 330 pink grapefruits for his pink grapefruit maceration ahead of the botanically-focused gin. 

Hart describes the plethora of new distillers as a ‘groundswell’. “It’s great for the industry.” 

Five years is a long time to work on a project in your own living room. The Oxley vacuum still took eight years to perfect - and that was with the backing of Bacardi. Although Hart isn’t backed by a global drinks giant, he does have the support of his partner and co-founder of the business, Whitney.

When it comes to botanicals, Sacred is organic and although that means paying a premium, Hart decided on the direction “because we use a lot of peel and pesticides are sprayed on the peel”. Makes sense. The gin is in 14 markets and growth is up 5,000 bottles to 23,000 in 2013. 

Still in London, Jake Burger and Ged Feltham’s Portobello Road gin, which is distilled at Thames Distillers, is enjoying much larger volumes, springing from 15,000 bottles in year one to 60,000 in year two. 

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