As Autumn sets in and the rains start, what better way to spend a Saturday evening than cooking and drinking with good friends in a cosy, warm, apartment. With the cost of living rising and drinking in bars becoming increasingly pricey, this idea seemed even more apt last weekend when my closest friends and I chose a night in over a night out. To mix things up, for Bespoke Black Book, I’ve decided to write a series of reviews for things to do (mainly drinking delicious drinks) to save on going on. So, this Saturday, we decided to do a cook off and gin tasting together, with each friend bringing a dish that they would prepare on the night whilst I sourced some of the most exciting up and coming gins for us to taste. Who says a night in can’t be fancy?
For the gins, I decided to stock up on Aviation Gin, Manchester Gin, Kings Hill Gin, Mermaid Zest Gin, Jaisalmer Indian Gin and Amarula Gin. Each gin I offered to my guests with a slice of lime, slimline tonic, and glass of water to cleanse the palate, to ensure a fair tasting and review. What with the cook off happening in the background, this night was already beginning to feel like a rival to any night out on the town.
We began with the Aviation Gin, an American Gin co-owned by Canadian star Ryan Reynolds (who, fun fact, is from Vancouver, where I actually use to live for a long time). Aviation Gin, made in neighbouring Portland, Oregon, is infused with cardamom, coriander, French lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla, juniper and two kinds of orange peel, is suspended in a neutral grain spirit for 18 hours in macerating tanks. It is distilled over 7 hours and the ‘heart cut’ is at 142 proof. This is then transferred to a blending tank where pure water is added, and the gin is brought to the desired 84 proof. The taste is fresh, and unusual,with a medley of botanical flavour. Unlike most gins, this one is not dominated by juniper, but instead earthy, spicy, and weighty, There is an orange and anise juiciness and almost a woody fresh finish that reminded me of the Pacific Northwest evergreens. A beautiful gin to start, and delicious with tonic.
The second gin we had was the Manchester Gin, made literally in Manchester UK by duo Seb and Jen. They began by distilling gin from their own dining room at 60 litres a time, with an ambitious vision of making 800 bottles a year, distilling day and night, labeling and selling by day. Quite probably the most home-grown gin I’ve tried yet, it’s amazing that these two went on to make 25,000 bottles from their dining room and won a Gold at the Spirit Masters for micro-distillery. Now they own the Spirit of Manchester Distillery, a state-of-the-art distillery making over a million bottles a year. Made with 12 botanicals, including seasonal orange and lemon, dandelion and burdock root, it is balanced and smooth. Upon tasting it with the tonic, I felt a twist of orange peel or grapefruit would have made a more welcome addition than your average lime, positioning this gin as an interesting one well worth trying again.
The third gin was the Mermaid Zest Gin, which, full disclaimer, went on to become my favourite. Since I’ve hosted that night I’ve single handedly made my way through a healthy amount of it – it is delicious. Made on the Isle of Wight, and founded by Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett in 2014, this is the only distillery on the island. Inspired by the stunning landscape of the island, this gin is made sustainably, minimising waste and using ethically sourced and local ingredients. It uses Rock Samphire foraged from the island’s shoreline, Boadicea hops harvested from Ventnor Botanic Gardens and elderflower handpicked from local fields. The strawberries (yes, this gin has strawberry notes), are grown in the local Arreton Valley. The gin’s taste is smooth, complex, with a lovely fresh lemon zestiness. There is a peppery note and almost a saltiness from the fragrant rock samphire. Very different and dangerously moreish, this gin is truly delicious!
Jaimara Indian Gin, the next gin on our tasting, is a craft gin from India, handcrafted in a time-honoured way from the ancient Indian knowledge of herbs. Made with 7 hand-picked Indian botanicals, sourced from all corners of India, it features Coriander and Vetiver, a complex spice with intriguing peppery notes from the Jaisalmer fields in Northern India. Other botanicals include Cubeb Berries, Lemon Grass from Southern India, Darjeeling Green Tea leaves from Eastern India, Lemon Peel from Western India, and Sweet orange peel from Central India. Paying homage to its origins, the flavours of this gin traverse across all four corners of India and make a well-rounded, luscious gin. Super unique.
The final gin we tried was Amarula Gin, hailing from South Africa. Made with the delicious Marula fruit, and blended with gentle juniper notes, subtle orange blossom, and peppery Ghanaian grains. Amarula is better known for its delicious liquor, so seeing a gin come from the brand is a welcome development. This gin took many years to make, and is steeped for 24 hours before being distilled in a pot still. The taste, much like the fruit, is complex and refreshing, with a lovely sweet orange flourish and a slight spice. This would work well with an Indian tonic, and a slice of grapefruit rather than lime, making an interestingly exotic G&T.
Tasting all of these gins was a wonderful way to wile away the evening. Each G&T we had was refreshingly different, and each gin offered its own unique expression that paired well with different foods and energies. We absolutely loved them all and it’s safe to say, I’ll be glad to keep trying these over more cosy nights in.