Master of Malt Origin

I say “Master of Malt Origin”, but their full title it “Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Cold Distilled Juniper” – grand but a little unwieldy for a title.

The story is a simple but sensible one. Ben Ellefsen, Sales Director of Master of Malt, had a notion that the origin of juniper in many gins played a smaller part in the botanical list than the origins of the other ingredients, in spite of it being the main ingredient. You can read the full account on the Master of Malt blog, here.

I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s all in that blog post but, in-short, Ben appealed to MoM blog readers for samples of Juniper from all over the world. After chasing down dozens of samples, around ten were selected as potential prospects and, as far as I know, four initial samples were selected for maceration and cold-distillation in a rotary vacuum still. Another three were added later to make seven.

This range of single estate origin juniper distillates are now available from Master of Malt for the somewhat princely sum of £34.95 per bottle. Each is bottled at 46% ABV and comes with a small vial of other gin botanical distillates so you can convert the bottle into a fully-fledged gin with a complex suite of botanicals. The full range can be found here.

A little while ago, a small box arrived at my door containing little sample bottles of four of these distillates. Tonight I tried them.

Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Juniper Distillates

Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Juniper Distillates

Each one comes in wax-sealed 30ml sample bottle. The wax is slightly rubbery and plasticy; an odd texture and not at all what I was expecting. Still, it sheared nicely when I applied brute force and unscrewed the cap with the wax still on.

In preparation for this little voyage of discovery, I had a G&T with a fairly simple gin and then cleansed my palate with unadulterated tonic water. I opened a new pack of shot glasses that we have had kicking around for an age and sat down with my notepad, far away from distractions like the TV, cats and my wife.

I then, excitedly, poured and sampled.

Arezzo, Italy

First-up was from Arezzo, Italy.

Nose: On the nose this distillate was soft and slightly creamy with a gentle resinous pine freshness with generic but gentle woody undertones.

Taste: In the mouth it had a sweet, creamy building attack. The middle-to-end palate has a nice bite of juniper but still remains soft and warming with a slight soapiness to it.

This was certainly the gentlest and smoothest of the four and would make a great Scottish-style gin.

Valbone, Albania

Nose: The Valbonian distillate was the mildest on the nose and the juniper notes were definitely harsher and raspy, but subdued.

Taste: This was a work of contradictions to me; it was definitely the mildest of the four in flavour but it was also the harshest – it caught the back of the throat with spicy pepper/chili heat that lingered. The sweetness of the attack is very short-lived and it quickly gives-way to biting ferocity.

Meppel, The Netherlands

There’s a pleasing symmetry here in that the juniper for this origin distillate came from The Netherlands, the birthplace of gin. I like symmetry (on a tangent, why is the word symmetry not palindromic?).

Nose: Sniffing this one rewarded the nose with a gentle earthiness and a deep, rich pine resin.

Taste: There is a characteristic sweet, creamy attack with a great underpinning warmth. This slowly gives way to a building crescendo of tart, biting juniper pine notes. After peaking, this slowly trails off into a long peppery finish that tingles and burns on the tongue for a long, long time.

This would make a staggering backbone to a big-juniper, forthright gin.

Veliki Preslav, Bulgaria

Nose: The aroma of this distillate was very fresh and turpentine-like. There’s a vegetative quality to it that is hard to pin down to specific plants – just a greenness, maybe cut grass (from a lawn with plenty of dandelions and other weeds).

Taste: This is a fresh juniper – it reminded me of the freshness of No.3 Gin. It’s a big, big juniper. It was the most alcoholic tasting of the four (odd seeing that they are all the same strength) and the sweetness of the attack was slight but it sustained throughout. There was a prickly, almost stabbing mouth-tingle at the end.

In all, very fresh and clean.

Thoughts and conclusions

These are all very different; they are all Juniperus communis and it’s only the soil and climate that differs – and what a difference that makes.

Some distilleries make a lot of the fact that they travel the World looking for the best juniper and I have always wondered how much of this was just marketing hype. However, these four juniper distillates have such different characters and qualities and it’s no wonder that gin can vary so much even when there is little difference in the botanicals.

This has been a real eye-opener; a true education and a privilege.

If I were to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be the Arezzo from Italy; I love the gentle smoothness of it, but Meppel is a very close second. However, without trying each one, made-up with its other botanicals to make a full-blown gin, it’s going to be difficult to make a concrete choice.

There are three that I have yet to try, so watch this space – I may be adding to this in the coming weeks/months.

Finally, a map

For the academically interested (or, like me, the geographically retarded) below is a map with markers of the general locations of each juniper. I was struck by the latitudinal similarity of three of these but I suspect this is as much coincidence as anything significant. Saying that, Juniper likes well-drained, mountainous terrain and there is a lot of that in South-Europe.

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5 thoughts on “Master of Malt Origin

  • November 10, 2012 at 10:38 pm
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    My slight scepticism about this is well documented (on twitter) so perhaps here is a better forum for it.

    Am not sceptical that Terroir is important in Juniper – surely that is a no brainer? Any natural product varies surely according to climate, soil and the host of natural factors that growing outdoors provides.

    My problem is how does one use this information? With Agave, Grapes, Wheat, and many other things this is the sole flavour but with Gin Juniper is one of a multitude of ingredients so then those differences are far less easy to define/appreciate.

    Plus of course you now have a favourite Juniper (Tuscan I see – where Tanqueray have historically sourced theirs from – natch) but will you try and drink Gins that use that Juniper (please do.. see above comment)?

    Its nice and geeky but at the end of the day slightly (practically) useless – an as you say its a 35 quid – relating back to my Twitterverse outraging tweet: would you pay for a whole bottle?

    Nice tho…

    aw

    Reply
    • November 11, 2012 at 1:08 am
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      Hi Angus,

      I saw the argument on Twitter; I didn’t join-in as I knew that I wanted to try them and I knew that I couldn’t really comment until I had – if I did, I’d speculating and uninformed.

      Having tried these now, I sort-of agree and disagree with you at the same time.

      To some extent you’re right; on its own, the information gleaned from this isn’t that useful. Saying that, Terroir in wine isn’t that useful unless you get very specific. Grapes grown in that same soil, in the same valley, but on different facings will be different. So, unless you really know your stuff and get very specific, the information is of limited use. A head full of terroir information isn’t going to help you when popping down to Tesco. But, there are many, many more wines that there are gins, so it’s possible to be that choosy and specific with wine. You can’t really do that with gin.

      Gins are also so very different in other aspects (as you mention), in than the juniper has a much smaller impact on a gin than a grape does on a wine.

      If you view the whole range as one product, you can fine-tune the gin by selecting the juniper that best suits the botanical mix provided. It is expensive and I would be unlikely to buy each of them, but I can see myself buying a full-sized bottle of the Azerro. I have paid more for a gin.

      Also, I’m a great fan of the Sacred Open Source kits. These juniper distillates allow you to take the flexibility of these kits one step further and engage in home gin blending with a selection of juniper distillates as well as a range of other botanicals. With some investment, you can concoct your own gin that is perfectly matched to your tastes and you can also fiddle with the botanical balance and create endless variations for your amusement. By varying the juniper you can create gins with the softness of something like Darnley’s View, freshness of No.3 or the forthright honesty of Tanqueray – something you couldn’t really do before.

      I guess, for those trying to delve into gin (educationally) it’s a really useful thing. It has certainly made me think about sourcing juniper when I next try making my own gin in the kitchen. What I would really like to see though, is for MoM to create a sample kit for all of the juniper distillates so that they can all be tried side-by-side without huge financial outlay (possibly with samples of the made-up gin too). I think that is where the real value will come from; then people can sample all of them and pick a juniper and invest in a full bottle.

      Will I find the perfect gin and stop buying anything else? Hell, no. Tanqueray (Export and 10) probably grace my shelves more than any other and I can’t see that changing. Also, I think one of the things I really love about gin is the variation – I never get bored as there is so much market variance, but if these can help me understand this variance a little more and get a better understanding of a drink I love, there is value for me (but then, I’m a gin geek).

      For the mass market, this isn’t going to be a hugely popular product but given that Master of Malt can pretty-much create this stuff on demand and that they have significant other core business, I don’t think that really matters. It’s part of a very different business model from the mass-market distilleries and they can afford for it not to be a huge market winner. It just serves to reinforce their building image of an innovative producer of new products and educators in the field – in some ways, it is a great marketing tack.

      Also, if this product range helps inspire and inform half a dozen people to become future master distillers and bring quality new products to the market, is that not a good thing?

      Dug

      Reply
  • November 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm
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    Alright Fellas,

    To answer both questions and veer off on a massive tangent:

    Angus first – let me try and explain the reason I wanted to do this (briefly) without putting my foot in my mouth too much on account of the fact that I’m not a bartender, just a humble mug with a rotavap: This entire project is about allowing people who are curious about the way that Juniper varies across national borders the ability to explore those differences. Nothing more. There’s no sinister endgame here. None of the Juniper is in any way genetically engineered for mind-control, and anyone who says it is – just give me their name, address and Social Security number and we’ll send them a bouquet of flowers. Yes. That.

    As for what one does with that information once one has explored? A few ideas off the top of my head:

    Maybe a more robust, earthy Juniper could help the gin to shine through in a Negroni with a powerful vermouth such as Antica Formula?

    Perhaps the more sweet, linear, clean delivery of the Bulgarian Juniper would make for an interesting base to a Tom Collins?

    Maybe another interesting serve would be to offer a tasting flight of Martinis, all prepared in the same way, but using a few different Gins from the Origin range.

    Like I said, I’m no bartender (as you can probably tell from the ramblings above), but it seems to me that more information (on pretty much any subject) can only be a good thing – that’s what we’re doing here. Providing information. I guess what you’re taking exception to is the price of finding out that information – or to phrase it another way – the cost of entry into the discussion? If so – I whole-heartedly agree with you. £35 a bottle is absolutely bloody outrageous if you’ve got to buy 7 different bottles as a consumer just to try the buggers. £35 a bottle for something which you’ve tried, like, and want to drink in a Martini probably isn’t that outrageous if that bottle is at 46%, completely cold-distilled by hand using painstakingly sourced juniper, and is also supplied with a supplementary bottle of cold-distilled other botanicals for you to add in should you wish. Maybe. Or maybe it is. Value’s an awfully subjective thing.

    Which leads me on to my next point:

    Dug (directly) and Angus (obliquely) – yes – your point about the lack of availability of samples is a very, very good one. It’s frankly ridiculous that we haven’t made 3cl samples of all 7 of the gins with and without the adjunct botanicals available given that the Drinks by the Dram program is one of our most important developments. I apologise for this. For what it’s worth, the reason is that it was a reasonably large technical challenge to get 2 different drams to appear on one page.

    This said, I’ve (literally) just had a conversation with our MD and technical director, and despite the fact that it’s Christmas already, and we’re selling more Ginvent Calendars than there are people in the world, we’re going to implement a solution straight away – we’re going to list the Juniper gin only straight away (wihin a couple of days) and follow the ‘botanicalled’ gin on when we get the tech. dev. done.

    This’ll mean that everyone will be able to try all 7 gins for a shade under £25.

    Sound more reasonable?

    Reply
    • November 13, 2012 at 12:01 am
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      Hi Ben,

      Many thanks for taking the time to post this. It’s awesome news that these will be available in sample form and the pricing sounds about right. A complete set of samples would make an excellent gift for any gin enthusiast.

      I shouldn’t laugh but I do find it amusing that it’s been website capability that’s held this back. My background is in online marketing & web development and it is such a common thing that website capability is the slowest-evolving part of a business; where technology is supposed to be this agile enabler, it is so often the bottleneck.

      Dug

      Reply
  • November 13, 2012 at 11:29 am
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    Don’t get me started.

    Anyway – I’ve spoken to our production manager this morning, and the samples will (with 90-something percent certainty) be live on the site by COP tomorrow.

    Cheers all,

    Ben.

    Reply

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