F irst let’s make one point, many of the mainstream gins are labelled under the category of London Dry Gin which describes the way in which the gin has been made. For a fuller understanding of the history of gin and the distillation process refer to my article here.
The importance of this point is that London Dry Gins have firstly distilled to a clear alcohol and had water added to create volume, thereby they are rather tasteless, because only the alcohol has been created by distilling a fermented base. All distillation must start from fermented ingredients.
Let’s say you ferment some barley or potatoes, this means you are activating the natural sugars and turning them into alcohol. At this point the alcohol content is small and limited. You then distill it, so separating the alcohol from the fermented mix, and it is this process that magically strengthens the alcohol by doubling or trebling the amount. At this point you basically have pure ethanol and it is diluted with water to the desired strength, and this is known as a neutral spirit.
Many beverages start off from a neutral spirit, vodka is in essence just that, a neutral distillate which is distilled several times. Whiskies are fermented from corn or rye then distilled three times. When the neutral spirit is artrived at, it is at this stage that a flavour is added to gins.
Gin is a juniper flavoured spirit and with London Dry Gins it must be the predominant flavour no matter how many botanicals are included. After juniper the distiller is free to add any other botanicals they wish in order to achieve their desired taste.
It is the choice of these botanicals that define the final gin. Some may heavily rely on juniper and these are decribed as ‘juniper rich’ like Hendricks, and others may contain as many as twenty-eight botanicals. The neutral spirit is then distilled again allowing the captured vapours to pass through the mesh of selected botanicals and thereby flavouring the resulting gin. This is the process that creates a London Dry Gin.
So to clarify my point about London Dry Gins, the difference between them is a matter of flavouring. It’s not easy to add such complexity and subtlety of flavouring to alcohol and so it has become an art form.
As a beginning or experimenting gin taster it will seem like they all taste the same, and the joy of drinking gin becomes an exercise of differentiating the flavours.
The UK, has seen a 12% increase in volumes sold in the year up to June 2017, and a 32% rise in British gin exports in the past five years, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Happy tasting!
“This is a delightful gin. Some gins hit high citrus notes where others are herb based. It’s the camomile in Bloom that gives it a distinct floral base. Although most at home with an Indian tonic, gin has become of late taken simply over ice like a whisky. This gin it very much at home mixed with lemonade. In fact lemonade is a great second best to tonic and popular if you find the quinine glossiness of tonic a little overpowering. Indeed, Bloom have launched a perfectly blended Gin & Tonic Rose Lemonade in partnership with Fentiman’s. Additionally, Bloom is equally best served alongside fruit and strong cheese and its botanicals perfectly complement the sweetness of fresh strawberries. On the limit at 40% ABV from England’s oldest distillers.”
- ABV 40%
“Ophir sits on the shelf as a middle of the range priced gin alongside Bulldog and Portsmouth gins at around the £20 to £24 mark. Like Bombay Sapphire gin produced by Barcardi that associates itself with ancient India, Ophir claims a link to the old Chinese spice route. Very hard to capture the flavours of a dynasty with a few spices or herbs but the story goes a long way in enjoying a gin. For example, Tanqueray No10 went to great lengths to have the perfect art deco bottle designed for its flagship gin which the distiller aims to portray as the quintessential British tipple. Ophir in comparison is made by the G&J Distillery which also own the brands Greenall’s, Bloom, Berkeley Square and Thomas Dakin. So this gin is made under the watchful eye of head distiller Joanne Moore as mentioned in the outline above about Bloom and the connection of Ophir to the ancient world is in fairy tale only and because of the flavourings. While selecting the spices and botanicals to include in Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin it’s reassuring that the flavours of Asia were foremost in mind but it is a mix of flavours combined from the ports along the ancient route from Indonesia to England. Cubeb from Malaysia, black pepper, cardamom and ginger from India, cumin from Turkey, coriander seed from Morocco, bitter oranges from Spain, Juniper from Italy and Angelica from Germany and finally grapefruit peel from an unknown source. It is a delicately smooth mix despite the complexity of ingredients and keeps a pleasant nasal tone throughout the drinking. A bottle will not last long in your drinks store.”
- ABV 40%
“Another Gin brand from G&J Distillery (Greenall’s, Ophir, Bloom et al). Labelled as a small batch gin from Manchester and made in a copper pot still, it boasts eleven botanicals including juniper, orange peel, coriander, angelica, cubebs, grapefruit and liquorice. This is an example of a high quality English gin, as opposed to a London Dry Gin and the copper pot process allows for the development of a fuller flavour that gets closer to the base flavours. It is also infused with red cole, a horserashish, that was mixed in cordials to refresh travellers in the 18th Century and which the label claims adds an ‘exceptional taste’. All in all it is a crisp but pleasant gin with citrus notes that stands proudly alonside any reasonably priced bottle at the £24 to £30 mark. It is also an overproof gin at 42% ABV.”
- ABV 42%
“A London Dry Gin hitting the £20 to £22 mark. It has poppy, dragon eye, lotus leaves, citrus, almond and lavender; altogether 12 all-natural botanicals from 8 different countries. It’s made from wheat, on the proof limit at 40% ABV and distilled from 100% grain neutral spirit unlike the 96% that is the norm. Its perfumed aromas and deeper flavours of cassia and coriander makes the taste, for me, similar to Ophir. However, although the branding may suggest a new age modern British fad gin that has done well to get alongside the likes of Ophir and Portsmouth gins, Bulldog is hand crafted by an English distillery that has been making the highest quality gin for over 250 years. One could describe it as a balanced gin which is a generic term meaning it has been well blended, rather like a fine whisky. My first impression of Bulldog gin was that I enjoyed it very much and got through a few bottles before moving on to try something else.”
- ABV 40%
“A London Dry Gin from Aldi at £9.97 for a 70cl bottle. It’s been in the news recently for receiving a top award, leaving people bewildered at a supermarket gin coming anywhere close to traditional more established gins and lending to statements that Oliver Cromwell was officially voted the best gin in the world.
In fact in 2017, Judges at one of the most prestigious competitions of its type, the International Spirits Challenge, awarded Oliver Cromwell a silver medal. It doesn’t mean it came second in the competition, there were 9 gold awards and no less than 61 silver medals. But it does put it ahead of brands like Beefeater’s Burrough’s Reserve Gin which sells for a staggering £63.35 for the same-size 70cl bottle.
Waitrose Premium London Dry also received silver as did Tesco Finest Aromatic Gin, Marks and Spencer London Dry Gin and Castelgy London Dry Gin – Lidl Ireland. Indeed Tesco Finest London Dry Gin was one of the 9 awarded a gold.
Probably most notable is not so much the gin but the distiller. Oliver Cromwell is produced by the Essential Drinks Company, an alcohol manufacturer from Warrington in the North, and the same distiller behind gold winner Tesco Finest London Dry Gin. It’s also worth noting that these competitions are held yearly and therefore results differ and so it is not really a test of the best gins from best to worse but a certificate of merit awarded to gins of distinction.
For example, a big brand but standard London Dry Gin is Tanqueray produced by Diageo which won a gold medal, as did another Diageo brand Gordon’s London Dry Gin. But Tanqueray’s coveted No Ten regarded as a far superior gin was only awarded a silver.
The talk about Oliver Cromwell was more to do with its price which is down to Aldi UK having licence to produce it. In this context Oliver Cromwell from the Essential Drinks Company and from Aldi UK both received a silver medal, albeit one is cheaper than the other. It is because the Aldi bottle is below a tenner that it has received notoriety. Consider another product by Aldi UK, Topaz Blue Premium Gin which also received a silver medal but retails at £13.99 and did not receive half the applause.
However as far as quality goes, it has positioned itself alongside other silver award gins such as Beefeater, Bloom, Bathtub Gin, and Plymouth Gin. The International Spirits Challenge is nonetheless a respected competition due to the rigorous judging process and awards are coveted by distillers. Of Oliver Cromwell the experts opinion was that it had a ripe citrus aroma and a clear and crisp flavour.
The great news is that the results for the International Spirits Challenge 2018 are due to be published on 30th March 2018 on their website. If Oliver Cromwell is still on that list of winners then it will demonstrate this is a gin with legs.
As for my opinion of it. A bottle of Oliver Cromwell was given to me by a work colleague, thank you Ashley Osborne for such a great gift, I enjoyed every drop. Yes I would buy a bottle when next in Aldi which is the first question answered. I certainly will need another bottle to get a better appreciation of it as I thought there were some good and some not so good points.
Firstly, that sharp alcohol hit at the back of your throat that makes you go “arghhhh” when you knock it back straight, is not there in Oliver Cromwell. Because you don’t feel like you’re drinking fire water, you get the impression it’s not as potent as typical more established London Drys. This is a plus for me because the fire burn is what prevents me sampling gins straight, rather as you might with rums.
A negative point for me was that I struggled to taste the base flavours and only had that in the after taste. In this regard it’s a gin to drink simply just with lemonade. Indian tonic may overpower the delicacy with the quinine masking the base flavour. Don’t add a lemon slice or other garnish, as the citrus tones struggle to get through the gin in the first place, perhaps if any garnish then only cucumber may work. And finally if you’re making a martini or other cocktail, leave out the vermouth for the same reasons already mentioned.
In short, I thought this gin was delightful if kept simple, just add a base mixer for thinning and bubbles, don’t even add ice unless they are artificial plastic frozen cubes. How refreshing this would be on a hot day, but it takes discipline to keep it simple and the slightest error in preparation will mask the heart of this gin. In other words I felt the gin was perfect for a hot day if prepared in an exact way, otherwise my overall opinion is that it lacks complexity and guts, despite gin experts having awarding it such accolade, it would get 7 out of 10 from me because it’s too fragile, too delicate and possibly too cheap.
- ABV 37.5%
J. J. WHITLEY ELDERFLOWER GIN
“This gin is a delightful addition to the Tesco spirits shelf, sitting among the £20 range, however today I picked a bottle up for just £15 (70cl), Bulldog too was reduced to just £15 and Tanqueray No10 down to £26, whatever next! I decided to try this nicely bottled creation from J.J. Whitley partly down to the nice bottle and partly due to the decent price.
The JJ range is a new brand from Johnny Neill, the producer of Whitley Neill Gin. His grandmother’s family company was Greenall Whitley – originally behind the G&J Greenalls distillery and breweries. JJ Whitley was Johnny’s great grandfather and Managing Director of Greenall’s. This is where the JJ range takes its inspiration, unlike Whitley Neill Gins that follow Johnny’s wife’s South African heritage.
Whitley’s have been distilling for eight generations so they know a thing or too about it so the first notation on this gin is that it is made in a copper pot still, which as you know means it’s therefore not a London Dry Gin. Being that copper stills retain more of the base flavour it’s the next point to note that the gin has a hint of yellow colour to it unlike the customary clearness of London Drys.
The two points mentioned above would suggest a well-made, well-blended and well-thought-out batch of gin. Indeed for the elderflower to keep its prominence, it sits atop soft scents of juniper, coriander and cinnamon which the distillers say gives a sweet velvety sensation and a fresh floral bouquet.
In all there are eight botanicals, presumably one in acknowledgement for every generation of distiller. This lends a variety of taste sensation from notes of honey to grassiness and orange blossom. When popping the cork you take in wonderful summery notes. The botanicals have been balanced perfectly to give the nose and palate the sensation of summer. It can take a slice of lemon and is equally well at home mixed with a sparkling wine or a tonic.
It’s an elderflower gin with a complexity that keeps the elderflower above the other botanicals and you can imagine drinking it whilst also enjoying a bowl of strawberries. I can think of no other that would make the perfect entry gin for someone tasting gin for the first time, and just a tad of tonic brings out the incredible floral notes. I’m not sure what cocktails bartenders will come up with but it’s possibly a gin where ice and a splash are the only additions needed. It gets a 9 out of 10 from me because it has a floral complexity that I understand and it makes its presence felt. It’s a gin you will remember and want to get again.”
- ABV 36.8%