On Friday the 5th August, I had the pleasure and privilge of attending the Gin in Camden event hosted by Ian Hart, co-founder of Sacred Spirits. It being near my Mother’s birthday, I dragged her along too, as she is also a great appreciator of gin.
On arrival we were greeted with the site of Ian chilling martini glasses with liqud nitrogen. Shortly after, we were presented with a dry martini comprising of Sacred Gin and home-made vermouth (not yet on sale). I tried some of the neat Sacred Gin as well, but my palette was already swimming with martini, so other than it being very obviously smooth and warming, I wasn’t best placed to think about it in any depth.
A short amount of mingling and some rather tasty nibbles later, we were seated at tables and the fun began.
Ian obviously has an incredible passion for creating gin and this comes across in the slightly nervous, yet terribly enthusiastic presentation of each botanical. Individual botanicals in Sacred gin are distilled separately and these distilates are then blended to create Sacred Gin; the theory being that certain elements of the chemical makeup of each flavour can inhibit, or absorb, elements of other flavours. By distilling the botanicals separately, there is no interference between them and the whole flavour of each can shine through unadultered.
Also, Sacred Gin is distilled under partial vaccum and only heated to 35-40OC; this prevents the botanicals from cooking and preserves the flavours as we would expect from raw ingredients. The is epsecially true of citrus flavours which can develop a “marmalady” flavour though heating.
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Below is a list of the individual distilates sampled and my notes on each.
The very foundation of gin and the flavour that everyone recognises as gin. Or do they? Apparently, much of what people assume to be juniper is a combination of flavours from other botanicals. It turns out I am no different.
Juniper on its own was pine-fresh and slightly soapy in taste. Very nice, but a far cry from what I assumed it to be. It was very recognisable as the core of gin, but it really bought home how important the other botanicals are.
I expected this to taste, well, like citrus I suppose. Again I was wrong; it was nothing like I expected. There were hints of what you might expect when sniffing and orange or a lemon, but the overall taste was a warm and slightly spicy flavour with quite sweet overtones. I quickly realised that this is one of those components I had assumed was all part of the juniper.
This was a very subtle distilate with sweet, slightly earthy qualities. There was a vague hint of crystalised angelica but a stronger hint of something akin to sasparilla.
According to Ian, this is one othe stand-out flavours of Gordon’s gin. Drinking this was like inhaling from a freshly opened bag of coriander seed; it captures the essesnce of the whole spice perfectly. Spicy and refreshing with strong hints or orange and a vague aftertaste of liquorice or aniseed.
Green Cardmom Pods
With my experimentations into cardamom bitters recently, I was looking forward to this and it didn’t disapoint. Like coriander, the cardamom distilate prefectly captured the essence of the whole spice – a truly divine drink that I would consider drinking neat.
Apparently used extensively in Old Tom gins, this botanical adds sweetness the the overall gin, and like all roots, provides and earthy fixative quality. Ian mentioned that some people find this licorice sweet and others don’t; well, I fell into the “don’t camp”. Tasting it was like the very first whiff of licorice after biting on a licorice root, before your saliva has got into it and worked out the bulk of the flavour. It has a faint reminicence of Baileys about it – not what I was expecting.
I love pink grapefruit and this distilate didn’t deliver to my expectations (which isn’t to say my expectations weren’t utterly wrong).
The distillate had a faint scent of grapefruit about it but the taste was very neutral. It left my tongue tingling, just like eating grapefruit, but the flavour was very, very mild and had a harsh quality to it.
Another root, I was expecting “earthy”, but beyond this, had little expectation. Ian said that it reminds him of Parma Violets, but I could detect nothing along those lines. Its aroma reminded me a little of methylated spirit and the flavour was slippery and indistinct – it was a definite and recognisable component of gin, but I can’t really describe it in words.
Star anise is a great flavour, but a very powerful one. We were warned, that if we were going to use this in our final blended gin, that only a drop of two were needed otherwise it runs the risk of completely overpowering the other flavours.
This distilate just sits in the mouth screaming “STAR ANISE” at top volume and the echoes of it still reverberate long after swallowing. I would consider buying this as a stand-alone drink.
Another spice, I was expecting this to be more like the coriander and cardamom – i.e., a pure rendition of the whole spice. I was surprised by its subtlty and delicacy. It had a slightly vegetative flavour and was surprisingly sweet.
Like nutmeg, this was another whole spice that didn’t taste as expected.It was nothing like the cassia bark I use in cookery, but was a very mild, sweet and creamy flavour with a slight peppery quality. Ian was surprised by this as his perception of this distillate is that it is exactly like the whole spice; now, maybe my tastebuds had been deadened to the specifics of this distillate by the barrage of flavours leading to this point, but there was something amiss.
One of the things that became obvious during this whole distillate tasting experience was the wildly differing taste perceptions of everyone around the room. Each distillate bought out a barrage of differing, and often conflicting, opinion from the attendees.
Now that we had tasted the individual distillates, it was time to start mixing them to produce our own concoctions.
I like gins with a hefty load of juniper, so the starting point was a big pile of Juniper distillate. Then citrus; I went with the mixed citrus rather than the pink grapefruit.
This made what was obviously the foundation of gin. It was simple and fresh but lacked the complexity and smoothed roundness that one expects from a gin.
Adding Orris & Angelica grounded the gin with a greater depth of earthy flavours and rounded the gin out a bit.
Adding a little dash of Cardamom freshened the gin, lifting the flavours with bright notes.
Next came Cassia, which added a warm, spicy note and calmed the gin down a little.
A little dash of Licorice sweetened the gin and smoothed it some more. This was a surprise as I didn’t find the licorice to be sweet on its own.
The neat gin was getting quite sweet and earthy at this point; still very nice but it needed a little pick-up, so I dropped a little more citrus into the mix, which lifted the fresher elements, particularly the cardamom.
I was very happy with the end-result of this mixing experiment and drinking this neat was a pleasure. But it was now time to add some Fever-Tree tonic water.
We were supplied with Fever-Tree Naturally Light tonic water, which has a subtler flavour then the normal variety, and has less inherent sweetness. This should allow more of the gin to shine through in the finished G&T, but the result was that the gin was a bit lost in the final drink.
Time to remedy this – I added another slug of juniper; this brought the gin into the fore of the drink and lifted it, making it sweeter (another surprise) and fresher.
We then, on Ian’s recommendation, floated a little Cardamom on the surface of the G&T. This filled the nose with cardamom on approach and gave an initial cardamom-heavy blast, much like adding some Cardamom and Saffron bitters to a G&T, but it only lasted for a few sips. This gave the drink layers (like an onion, or parfait – everybody love parfait) and an interesting depth.
All-in-all, this was a fantastic experience. I learned a lot about the various botanical flavours and how they combine in the finished product. To recreate this kind of experience at home would cost a small fortune though, as we tried each of the eleven botanicals that make up Sacred’s Open Sauce ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ gin making kits. At £87.50 per kit though, this would set you back a whopping £175. Many of the individual distillates would last an age, but the juniper would probably need replacing several times before you finish any other bottle.
I wanted to buy a bottle of Sacred Gin on the night, to take home to sample at my leisure, but there weren’t any; a missed opportunity in my opinion, but there may have been licensing issues that prevented this.
If this sort of experience gets repeated, either at Made in Camden or elsewhere, I would heartily recommend it. It was very educational and gave me a very different perspective on gin. A great night.