Last week, someone gave me a bottle of Caorunn gin. I have heard some good things about Caorunn and the gift of gin is always a joyous occasion, so it really made my week to open up that box and pull out (in a shower of green polystyrene packing chips) a rather spiffing bottle sloshing with the good stuff.
Caorrun gin is made from pure grain spirit in the Balmenach Distillery at the heart of Speyside. The distillery is traditionally a malt whisky distillery and Caorunn was conceived when Simon Buley, one of the distillers, toyed with the idea of creating a Scottish gin using local water and botanicals.
The botanicals themselves are vapour-infused in the “Berry Chamber”, a horizontal copper cylinder holding four trays on which the botanicals are spread. Caorunn gin uses six traditional gin botanicals and five “Celtic” botanicals; these are…
- Juniper berries
- Corriander seed
- Lemon peel
- Orange peel
- Angelica root
- Cassia bark
- Rowan berries
- Coul Blush apple
- Dandelion leaf
- Bog Myrtle
What quite makes these last five “Celtic” I don’t quite know; four are common across the UK and have been around long before, and in use long since, the Celts were around. The Coul Blush apple has its origins in 1827 and is about as far from the Celts and the steam locomotive. They might be trying to say that they are “Scottish”, but this ignores the fact that the Celts were everywhere in the UK, not just Scotland; the cynical part of me is screaming “marketing gimmick”.
Irrespective of whether this is just a marketing gimmick, Caorunn is fabulously presented in a wide-necked, five-sided bottle (representing those five Celtic botanical). The label is clean and minimal, with mildly pleasing designs that seem to fuse Celtic knot-work with art nouveau vine-work. There is also a bright red asterisk on the bottle (another five botanicals reference) that gives it a slightly soviet look – at first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that Caorunn was actually a vodka.
The bottom of the bottle has a stubby five-pointed star within a more pointy five-pointed star (yes, we know there are five celtic botanicals) and the (five-pointed) asterisk is repeated on the top, being carved into the wooden top of the oversized cork stopper.
I was building the impression that five is fairly important to these guys, but I was left a little jaded after regarding the bottle for more than a few seconds.
Uncorking the bottle of Caorunn was slightly dissapointing. While the cork rewarded me with a deep and resonant pop, there was no associated squeak that I usually expect from a cork. I doubt many would care, but it detracted from the experience in my book.
The smell of the gin was rather pleasing. It was light on the juniper but has a slightly fruity and sweet smoothness to it. There was an underlying alcohol smell that is hard to get rid of, but it wasn’t obtrusive like it would be in a cheap gin.
Sampling Caorunn neat didn’t disappoint either. The flavours are very well balanced and while there is an alcohol taste there, it is not harsh at all – just a gentle reminder that you are drinking something that is 41.8% by volume. The gin is fairly sweet and full of very subtle flavours; there is definitely a spicy warmth to it and there are fruity undertones. The citrus is understated and the juniper is quite shy, but definitely there.
I tried a little experiment at this point and instead of adding a dash of cold water, I added a dash of hot water (from the kettle). This not only mobilised more of the flavours but gave it quite a heady fruity nose. All-in-all, this is quite a good sipping gin.
In a classic gin & tonic (Fever-Tree and a wedge of lime), it was a pleasant, but not overly distinctive drink. The delicate flavours are overpowered, to an extent, by the aggressive lime, but it still had unique character.
This is where the experimentation began.
The Caorrun bottle suggests making a G&T with a 50/50 mix of gin and tonic, which I dully tried. Egads, that was one strong G&T! I can’t personally recommend this – I was thinking that this might deliver the best of both worlds; the character of the gin and the crisp refreshing bite of the G&T. However, to my mouth, if just washed out the subtly of the gin and made a harshly alcoholic G&T – not good.
It also suggests adding a thin wedge of red apple to the G&T instead of the traditional lime. I was asked via twitter (by @TheGinisIn) if apple was the new cucumber, so was keen to try this. I made up a normal strength G&T (well, normal for my house: 50ml gin, 200ml tonic) and added a wedge of apple. This didn’t really impart much in the way of apple flavour, so I whipped it out and added five (yes, I know, five!) very thin slices (1 mm) of apple and stirred it with the knife. This produced a rather top-class gin and tonic that preserved (or replicated, or complimented, or something) some of the character of the neat gin.
I am not normally a great fan of strange fruit substitutions (I don’t put cucumber in my Hendrick’s gin, for example), however, the apple really makes the Caorunn come alive in tonic.
As a USP, or flavoured gin (see my rather ham-fisted attempt at gin classifications) Caorunn is pretty damn good. The flavours of its USP botanicals don’t dominate the drink like the chamomile in Tanqueray No. 10; it is a very complex and subtle gin and quite spectacularly good when nipped neat. Adding too many other flavours would see a lot of this subtlety washed away – it you do mix into cocktails, I would caution restraint – keep it simple.
Edit (02/08/2011): I would like to point out that this was a gift from a friend, not a gift from someone trying to promot the gin – hence the lack of the standard disclaimer.