I avoided buying Hoxton Gin for a long time. It seemed to me to be a very divisive gin which has attracted a lot of criticism and courted controversy. In the gentlemanly world of gin, there appeared to be a disruptive lout in the reading-room who, in spite of plenty of tutting and shaking of heads, has, so far, refused to go away.
I knew I would have to try Hoxton eventually and relegated it to the buy-when-on-sale list. However, a couple of weeks ago, Sainsbury’s had it on offer and I could refuse no more; to do so would have been to breach some sort of unspoken code-of-conduct I have constructed in my head. Leaving it on the shelf would have been an admission of prejudice and of a closed-mind. So smiling at the 20% discount and the opportunity to sample something new, I picked and purchased, happy that I would be giving it a “fair trial”.
The full list of botanicals is difficult to find. Most sources only list the following…
I’d be interested to know which part of the plant the “iris” refers to. Likely the flowers, but orris root is the root from the same genus of plants, and I wonder if this is just a way of making a normal gin botanical sound more exotic. Cynical, me?
I love tarragon (well, cooking with it at least) and I love ginger. I guess my love of juniper is pretty evident.
These botanicals are macerated for five days in French summer wheat alcohol before being distilled in 150 year-old copper pot stills. The gin is then filtered and rested for two months. Another curiosity is the filtering – what does this achieve at this late stage? Maybe there is too much oil in the distilled spirit. The finished product is then bottled at 43% ABV.
Hoxton Gin makes some significant departures from tradition; the label reads, quite brashly, “Warning, Coconut and Grapefruit” and has a very contemporary feel (almost ’60s retro contemporary). The bottle itself is a rounded square that you quite commonly find in Whiskeys (Bushmills for example) and the brand is emblazoned in black and white, with yellow accents.
This contemporary feel is reflected on the website which is peppered with border-line hipsters having fun with grapefruit. The site has pictures of graffiti and makes mention of Banksy, Damien Hurst and Pete Doherty. There is definitely an association being drawn between Hoxton Gin and trendy British creativity. The whole image is a little bit Brit-pop, a little bit Mod-era
Determined not to let all of this cloud my judgment, I opened the screw-cap and took a sniff. Well, what can I say? Coconut is pretty dominant. Somewhere under that big pile of coconut are strong hints of grapefruit and what might be juniper and some reclusive spice. The scent is very creamy but how much of that is from traditional gin botanicals and how much is from the coconut, I wouldn’t like to say.
Sampled neat, the coconut is even more dominant. It is thick and heavy from the initial attack, all the way through to a cloying, fume-heavy aftertaste. For several breaths afterwards, I am left with the feeling that I am breathing-out a cloud of coconut vapour – it is quite breath-taking (in that I found it hard to breathe).
Once I had got over the initial shock and took a few more sips, there is definitely an underlying layer of grapefruit and pineapple (which is not among the botanicals). Crowded away at the periphery are some hints of juniper but it is like they are calling weakly from the bottom of a well; difficult to make out, indistinct and probably dying.
Adding a small dash of water only seemed to intensify the coconut and tame the alcohol bite, making it even more cloying.
Mixing Hoxton Gin into a G&T (3:1 w/Fever-Tree) was an interesting experience. Initially, the additional bite of the tonic water and dilution seemed to tame the beast and resulted in a fairly pleasing experience. It was still heavy on the coconut in the attack and finish but more of the citrus and shy spice very evident in the middle. Adding a big ol’ wedge of lime (partly squeezed into the drink) also complimented it well; it added a lush citrus twang with the acidity cutting through some more of that coconut. However, after about half a glass, it seemed like the coconut was just biding its time and building in intensity; by the end, I was back to the gasping overload of coconut that trampled over every aspect of the drink. It was like someone had garnished the poor G&T with a dollop of sun-cream or hair conditioner. I was practically gagging by the end.
Where vodka-gins are argued to be a bridge, to the world of gin, for vodka drinkers, maybe Hoxton is a bridge for Malibu drinkers.
Determined not to waste most of a bottle of gin, I set out trying to find ways to make Hoxton enjoyable. There had to be a play-mate out there that would not be overshadowed by this monster.
Gin & Ting (3:1)
A Gin & Ting is not a drink I especially enjoy. It is pleasant enough but I find the Ting a little too sweet and overpowering with most gins, so I thought that this might make a good partner for Hoxton.
I really hit gold with this one, although if it were handed to me blind, I would never have guessed it contained gin. The coconut from the gin and the grapefruit from the Ting balance very well. It is a drink I can imagine being served in a pineapple with all manner of umbrellas, straws and other accoutrements, but it was enjoyable nevertheless. A little on the sweet-side, but nothing a healthy dash of bitters or a good squeeze of lime can’t remedy.
I thought that the forceful flavours of the mighty negroni should be able to tame the coconut beast and I wasn’t wrong.
The blunt bitterness of the negroni takes away a lot of the cloying nastiness of the Hoxton, leaving a soft creamy coconut dimension to the otherwise harsh flavours of this traditional drink.
Given that Hoxton works pretty well in a Gin & Ting, I thought that going straight for the source and mixing with pure grapefruit juice might be a good idea.
Originally, I was amazed at how the salty dog managed to tame both the grapefruit and the gin and make a surprisingly subtle drink. Well, it does the same to Hoxton Gin; the resulting drink is a beautifully subtle with just the barest hint of coconut.
This is a bad puppy that needs to be handled properly. It’s unrecognizable as a gin (juniper is far from being the predominant flavour) and traditionalists are likely to turn their noses up. However, there are drinks that it works well in, so to write-it-off completely would be unfair. Just bear in mind that the bottle does come with warnings for a reason.