Old Tom is a sweet gin that was fashionable before distilling became more sophisticated, and added ingredients were relied upon to mask the poor quality of the spirit. As gin got better, tastes changed and London Dry became the all the rage.
Bartenders’ quests for authentic products is fueling innovation at craft distilleries all over the world and Old Tom is one gin style (for more gin styles read this post.) that is growing rapidly. Appreciation of it is not limited to our savvy bartenders either, at Junipalooza Melbourne 2016, Jensen’s Old Tom gin was one of the strongest sellers amongst attendees.
As you know, my tastes favour the drier end of the spectrum, but I do like Old Tom, particularly when I’m drinking a martinez, a gin sling or any other classic from the Savoy Cocktail book. Although, when I first clapped eyes on the Ransom Old Tom, my was first reaction was “oh no, surely that’s a whisky pretending to be a gin?”.
However, its possibly the most historically accurate Old Tom Gin, which is unsurprising given that it was produced in collaboration with historian and author David Wondrich.
Ransom Old Tom gin has a base of malted (85%) and unsalted (15%) barley which is unusual for a gin. Most begin with neutral grain spirit, using a malt base creates a flavour before any botanicals are added. I was intrigued as to whether the botanicals would be fighting against the malt!
The botanicals, as you’d expect are a very traditional list featuring: juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed, cardamom pods, and angelica root. Rather than going into the still, they are mixed with corn spirit and allowed to infuse. The infusion is blended with the malt base spirit and distilled. The gin is then aged in 100% used French oak wine barrels for six to twelve months.
As you’d expect the malted barley comes through on the nose. Pleasingly though citrus and juniper flavours are fully present on the palate, while licorice and oak notes add depth and length to the gin.
Ransom Old Tom Gin was the first US barrel aged and first Old Tom Gin to be released since Prohibition, and has been extremely well-received winning a gold medal in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The malt base and oak-aging will win over the some whisky lovers, but I love Ransom Old Tom for its unique character and place in the ever-expanding gin category.
I caught up with Darren when he came to Junipalooza Melbourne in October last year, where he was launching Kew Organic gin to the Australian gin-lovers. He told me when it came to collecting plants from around Kew, they were like kids in a candy store. Tony, the head gardener, “let us go loose”.
This probably explains how the gin came to have a whopping 44 botanicals. Darren told me he had brought it back from 48, saying “I was trying to get to 4”!
The team decided that creating a gin for Kew without using the incredible range of botanicals on offer would be a wasted opportunity. Of the 44 botanicals, 27 are from Kew. Six of those are different types of lavender, each with different flavor profiles, including cotton lavender which brings a saline character to the gin.
Darren explained the challenge of using so many botanicals to build flavour without having any one dominant note. They began by splitting the ingredients into different distillations. The final version was created by accident, using four different gins and blending them together to make Kew Organic Gin.
There are two types of organic Juniper (Bulgarian and Tuscan) used to make Kew Organic gin, alongside five different varieties of citrus: lemon, lime, pink grapefruit peel, orange peel and bergamot peel. The specially foraged botanicals from Kew Gardens include santolina, rosemary, lavender flower, galangal and passion-flower.
83gms of juniper per litre go into each of the gins produced by Dodd’s. For those of you who don’t like a punchy juniper style gin, don’t worry, Kew Organic gin is a masterclass in how balanced a gin should be. On the nose the pine and citrus notes are apparent. On the palate, juniper, citrus and coriander are at the fore with white pepper, spice and a hint of lavender coming through towards the end. It has an incredibly smooth and lengthy finish.
As usual, I tried Kew Organic Gin in a gin and tonic, a martini and a negroni. I could not fault it in any of the three drinks. The louching (cloudiness) of the gin and tonic is due to the high level of botanical oils in the gin. It makes a perfect martini. It’s ABV (it’s 46%) is able to stand up well to the vermouth and Campari to make a stellar negroni.
Darren’s team will have access to wider selection of botanicals in the future, and there are plans to establish a dedicated gin garden at Kew. I cannot wait to see what they come up with next. Kew Organic is a very special gin indeed.
Late last year I met Susann from Windspiel Premium Dry gin who was visiting Melbourne as part of a German trade initiative. The beautiful details on the bottle caught my eye immediately, and I hoped that this was going to be matched by a quality spirit within. I wasn’t disappointed.
Windspiel Premium Dry gin was launched 2 years ago by four friends Sandra Wimmeler, Denis Lönnendonker, Rebecca Mertes, Tobias Schwoll and their master distiller Holger Borchers. Like Chase distillery in the UK, they are a paddock to bottle distillery, creating their spirit base from potatoes they grow themselves in the rich soil of the Volcanic Eifel region of Germany.
What’s in a name?
German King Frederick II was responsible for introducing the potato to Germany as an agricultural crop. His passion for greyhounds, ‘windspiel’ in German, was the inspiration for the name of the gin, and it’s why there is a greyhound on the label!
Juniper berries, lemon zest, coriander, lavender blossoms, ginger, cinnamon, plus a few other secret ingredients are macerated in alcohol to extract the most flavour. Each botanical is then distilled individually and stored for a few weeks, before being blended with the triple-distilled potato distillate.
Juniper is present on the nose and the palate, with lavender and cinnamon coming through towards the end. Hints of lemon were also detected. Windspiel has a very smooth mouth-feel and is very sippable neat, considering its higher than standard 47% ABV. It has the balanced, lengthy finish you’d expect from a quality gin.
In order to create their perfect gin and tonic, Windspiel have developed their own tonic water and it complements the gin very well, making a subtle g & t, but a delicious one! The gin shone in a 2:1 ration dry martini (I used Dolin) where the earthier notes of the gin brought out the botanicals of the vermouth fantastically well. In the Windspiel negroni, the juniper was a little subdued, but overall it was a decent enough drink.
Getting the base spirit right can be a headache for many distillers attempting to produce their own (which is why the majority choose to buy theirs in), but Windspiel have produced something very special and it’s a perfect canvas for their choice of botanicals. Unsurprisingly, Windspiel Premium Dry gin has won many awards including a Gold Medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition. A highly recommended addition to any gin cupboard!
Jinzu gin was created by British bartender, Dee Davies for Diageo’s Show Your Spirit competition in 2013. Named after a river in Japan, Jinzu is a British gin with a Japanese flavour. Cherry blossom and yuzu are used as botanical ingredients and then Junmai sake is blended with the finished gin.
I caught up with Dee who answered a few questions about how she came up with the idea for Jinzu.
What made you choose gin as your spirit for the competition?
I am a huge gin fan but it took me a little while to understand the complexities when I first tried drinking it. It’s my third favourite spirit after Scottish whiskey and tequila/mezcal. I chose to make a gin because you can push the boundaries further than you can with any other spirit. Also, I wanted to make a spirit which was a representation of myself, with its head in Britain and its heart in Japan.
How long did it take you to get the botanical recipe right?
Forever! We were working with very difficult and some unknown botanicals. So although we knew we were going to launch in summer 2013 it took until summer 2014 to perfect the recipe.
Why did you choose Junmai sake over other styles?
I chose Junmai as it is the premium of the two basic sake classifications. It would be such a shame to be using so fussy about all of the other ingredients in Jinzu and then just dump in a less than perfect sake. The particular sake we use I chose for its flavour profile, I wanted a sake which was strongly rice flavored.
Did you have a hand in the bottle design?
Yes I did. In fact I’ve had influence in every aspect of Jinzu. With the help of a couple of very talented designers we took the image in my head and turned it into the beautiful bottle we launched.
What’s your favourite way to drink Jinzu?
It depends on the weather. In the summer of course a Jinzu and tonic. I use Fever-tree tonic and a slice of green apple. In the winter try it in this cocktail a mix of Jinzu, almond, amaro, orange flower water and rice milk.
Juniper, coriander and angelica are macerated in the pot still before cherry blossom and Yuzu are added.
There is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar with Jinzu. On the one hand, juniper is still present (thank goodness) so we know it’s gin, but on the other, the unfamiliar (to me) earthiness of the Junmai sake gives a different finish. On the nose citrus from the yuzu together with juniper are evident. On the palate a good juniper and citrus flavour gives way to some floral notes from the cherry blossom. There is some warmth towards the end and it’s here that the sake comes through to create a smooth finish.
How to drink
As usual, I tried Jinzu neat, in a G&T, in a saketini and a negroni. Neat, it’s very smooth and easy to drink. Nothing overwhelming about the spirit at all. It makes decent G&T.
It was brilliant in the saketini, with the addition of more junmai sake in place of vermouth, Jinzu really shone. The only drink where it fell a little flat for me was a Negroni. I think the ratios would have to be changed a little, as the usual 30ml of each ingredient nuked the delicate flavour of the Jinzu gin.
If you are looking for a contemporary gin to experiment with then Jinzu is a great choice.
At the beginning of the year I was chatting to Jesse from Poor Toms and he was quizzing me on my favourite overproof gin. Generally, I try not to play favourites. Asking me to pick my favourite gin is like asking someone to choose between their children. However, we both agreed that Sipsmith VJOP is as close to heaven in a glass as you can get. Jesse revealed that he and Griff had plans to create an overproof (not Navy strength) gin at the request of bartenders who like a little more oomph to their gin as it stands up better against other ingredients in cocktails.
After lots of R&D, Poor Toms Fool Strength (Poor Tom is a crazy man in Shakespeare’s King Lear, so it seems appropriate) was born, cloaked in one of the best gin labels I’ve ever seen. Designed by the same designers who created the original label, it continues on the theme of the Garden of Earthly Delights, this one even takes a swipe at “Casino” Mike Baird.
Fancy packaging aside, it’s the flavour that counts, and Poor Toms Fool Proof is right up my juniper-loving street.
I chatted with Griff to find out more about how they created their new gin, “When we blended our original dry gin to 50% we realised it wasn’t going to do the job. The botanical array was simply not suitable for an overproof. So we went back to the drawing board”.
Going back to the start involved sampling lots of gins in their original and overproof forms. Griff went on, “The ones we preferred had significantly changed their botanical mix, rather than using the same gin at a higher ABV. A higher ABV changes all the flavour profiles in the botanicals, essentially making a different gin, so we thought why not make something specifically for the ABV we wanted.”
Griff and Jesse put aside every ingredient they’d used in the original (gone are chamomile, granny smith apples, lemon myrtle and strawberry gum leaf) and went back to a classic base of juniper, coriander, green cardamom, cubeb pepper and angelica. Liquorice root was added to provide richness. Griff explained that it wasn’t a conscious decision to exclude Australian natives from their list of botanicals, but that nothing they tried gave the desired result.
Both of them were really happy with the results using the 6 botanicals, but felt the gin lacked a final something. Griff told me “Mitch from the Gin Palace in Melbourne was visiting and thought it needed citrus and suggested grapefruit peel. And he was so right!”, so grapefruit became the final botanical.
Aside from creating a completely different gin from scratch, they Poor Toms team have used a different process in making the gin. Juniper, cardamom and cubeb are steeped in alcohol in the still overnight. They then add additional juniper with the other ingredients before distillation commences. The juniper and grapefruit peel are also vapour infused to give additional depth of flavour.
There is plenty of juniper and coriander on the nose, while on the palate I got delicious piney juniper and citrus with a little spicy kick from the cubeb. It’s a very well-balanced gin with a smooth mouthfeel.
Poor Toms Fool Strength makes a robust, but not overpowering, gin and tonic, but it really shines in cocktails. I tried it in a Gibson martini and a Last Word and both were outstanding.
If navy strength gins aren’t your thing, but you want a gin that is bolder than most and has great versatility, Poor Toms Fool Strength is an excellent choice.
Father’s Day is looming in Australia and unless your Dad has specifically asked for socks or undies, let’s try to use a little more imagination shall we? I’ve put together a collection of gifts for the gin-loving Dad that will let your him know that he definitely raised you right.
Poor Toms Fool Strength Gin
You know already that I am a big fan of Griff and Jesse’s work at Poor Toms in Sydney and when they told me a few months ago that they were planning an over-proof gin, I was really excited. 8 months on and they’ve finally released Poor Tom’s Fool Strength gin and it was definitely worth the wait!
At 52% ABV, it has a bolder a juniper flavour but is still of the same quality and smoothness that you get in the original.
Santamanìa Reserva is a barrel-aged gin from the first urban distillery in Madrid. Using french oak that previously held Rioja, the team have adjusted the botanicals so that the gin flavour is retained, but with a hint of spice and a little vanilla. Delicious over ice or in a Negroni.
You’ll have to give Dad an I.O.U for this one as it’s not released until 1st October, but I promise it will be worth it. Luke has unearthed sixty of Australia’s best spirits and covers the history, creation, tasting notes and serving suggestions. There is even a handy price guide included.
If you’ve already shared the Four Pillars gin love with your Dad, then why not give him one of these great looking T-shirts? Designed by Australian illustrator Rohan Cain, this limited edition features Wilma, the first Four Pillars still.
East London Liquor Company was one of several distilleries I managed to pack in to my week in London last year. I was really impressed by their set up in East London, which is the first vodka, gin and whisky distillery to open there in 100 years.
Founded by Alex Wolpert and housed in a former glue factory, East London Liquor company combines a working distillery with a fantastic bar setting, and is a little reminiscent of Archie Rose in Sydney, which does the same.
The overarching aim of the distillery is produce spirits that are “accessible in flavour and price” and East London Liquor Company Dry Gin certainly achieves that.
The botanicals: Juniper, coriander, fresh lemon and grapefruit peel, angelica root, cubeb berries, and cardamom.
On the nose there is plenty of cardamom and citrus, but taste wise it’s incredibly well-balanced with a good juniper flavour and a little spice and warmth from the cubeb at the end. It is beautifully smooth with a long finish.
The great thing about a well-balanced classic style gin is it’s versatility. As expected it makes a great gin and tonic, but you could use this gin in pretty much every cocktail, which was the aim in its creation. Many bars use this as their ‘house pour’ and it would serve you well in your home bar. I went with a White Lady (sans egg) as my other trial cocktail and wasn’t disappointed.
In addition to their Dry gin, East London Liquor Company also produces two premium gins with a higher ABV. Batch No. 1 features Darjeeling tea and Batch No. 2 which is more savory, has bay, fennel and sage as key botanicals. In 2016 they also launched an experimental barrel-aged gin program.
None of other variations these are available in Australia yet, but I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed. In the mean time I’ve going to enjoy this East London Liquor Company Dry gin. As the saying goes…a gin in my hand….
It’s been almost 3 weeks since I returned from my first Tales of the Cocktail and some days it’s hard to believe I was really there. I packed so much in to the week, but there was so much more I could have done!
Why did I want to go?
Living in Australia we don’t always get to see many of the industry heavy hitters visiting that often. This was a great opportunity for me to catch up with lots of international people who I’d been dying to meet or interview as well as get some serious learning in at the seminars.
I was planning to make it to Tales last year so had spent lots of time talking to friends who’d been and learning as much as I could about the event, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the event!
I didn’t see as much as I would have liked, but I fell in love with the architecture, the weather (aside from the humidity!), the bars and the vibe.
Most people think that Tales is one long party (and there is plenty of partying), but the seminar program is an incredibly important part of the week. Philip Duff, the Director of Education for Tales oversees the whole schedule and this year there were 84 sessions to choose from. These ranged from informal tastings to 2 hour seminars on anything from bar management, history, cocktails, cocktail trends, ingredients, culture, all with formidable panels eager to share their wisdom.
Bartending is not a stop-gap job while you make up your mind what you really want to do. It’s a career worth investing in and hundreds of bartenders save up all year to attend these seminars and learn from the best.
It simply wasn’t possible for me to attend every single one, but the ones I did attend were fantastic. My highlights were:
A Great British Discussion on Gin with Ian Griffiths (Dandelyan/White Lyan), Dave Broom (celebrated author of the Gin Manual) and Duncan Macrae (Hendrick’s Global Brand Ambassador)
A lovely informal chat over some delicious Hendrick’s cocktails and plenty of opportunities to ask questions about where the gin boom is heading.
It was really interesting to hear from such a wide variety of distillers. The similarities regardless of scale was illuminating. This seminar will run again (with a different panel) as part of Sydney Bar week.
Why do Cocktail Cultures Develop or Don’t with Mikey Enright, Audrey Fort and George Nemec.
Bespoke Gin & Collaborative Distilling with Cameron Mackenzie from Four Pillars and Emile and Olivier from Gin Foundry.
A great seminar showing all the different ways people are involved in distilling, often without owning a distillery themselves. You can read the seminar here.
Juniper Ascending Parts 2& 3 with Jared Brown (Sipsmith), Desmond Payne (Beefeater), Simon Ford (Fords Gin), Alexandre Gabriel (Citadelle Gin), Arne Hillesland (Distillery 209) and Christian Krogstad (Aviation Gin)
Juniper Ascending was actually a 3 part seminar that ran most of the day. Moderated by Keli River from Whitechapel in San Francisco it was a fascinating journey through the history of gin.
500 years of Juniper Distillation – How Genever changed the way we are drinking today presented by Rutte Distillers with Myriam Hendrickx (Master Distiller), Keli Rivers (Whitechapel San Francisco), Joaquin Simo (Pouring Ribbons NYC) and moderated by Simon Difford (Difford’s Guide).
I wasn’t a fan of Genever until this seminar, having experienced a style made with more malt than botanicals. While not converted away from gin, I gained a better understanding and a new appreciation.
New Orleans is home to some of the most famous cocktails. The Sazerac, The Ramos Gin Fizz, The French 75, Hurricane, Grasshopper, Vieux Carre and more were all invented in New Orleans so I had to visit The Roosevelt for a Ramos Gin Fizz and Arnauld’s French 75 Bar for a French 75 didn’t I?
My first Ramos Gin Fizz had to be at the bar where it was invented yes?
Other highlights included a delightful Dante New York pop-up, Alibi (if you are ever lost at Tales, head here as this is where everyone ends up), and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – do what I did and sing yourself hoarse around the piano with your buddies.
There are parties galore all week and if you are lucky enough to score invitations, GO! I was lucky to receive lots of invites, but you have to see Tales as a marathon, not a sprint, so I picked two, the William Grant ‘Party on your Palate’ and the Bacardi Block Party. Both epic. The 200 voice gospel choir at William Grant gave me goosebumps while the sheer scale (a different ‘house’ for each brand) of the Bacardi party blew my mind.
The sense of community around the world of bartending and hospitality is like no other. And nowhere did I feel this so keenly as I did at Tales. Thousands of the industry’s finest; bartenders, distillers, brand ambassadors, brand owners and media descend on New Orleans and it feels like the friendliest place on earth. It’s a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends from all over the world, share ideas and sometimes even come up with ideas to work together.
Even though everyone is on a hectic schedule, people still made time for me. I was thrilled to be able to meet and interview Desmond Payne (Master Distiller Beefeater Gin), Charlotte Voisey (Head of Advocacy at William Grant and Son), Simon Ford (Fords Gin), and Myriam Hendrickx (Master Distiller at Rutte).
I also got to spend time with some of my favourite Aussie bar people on the same side of the bar for a change!
Where to stay
I stayed at the Hotel Monteleone which is where all the Tales of the Cocktail action happens. It is slap bang in the middle of the French quarter and The Carousel bar (yes the bar rotates) is another one of the places most people hang out.
The staff are excellent and really friendly, but if you prefer something a little hectic (the elevators get crazy busy during peak seminar times) then the Royal Sonesta is close by and less frantic. I also went to the newly opened Ace Hotel for a couple of meetings, it’s a little bit further away from the main Tales of the Cocktail action and super-chilled.
Things I’ll do differently next year (if I’m lucky enough to go again!)
Make it out of the French Quarter and take a swamp tour and a river cruise
The prestigious International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) has announced the 2016 medal winners, and while several Australian gins have followed up their success in San Francisco, disappointingly none were awarded Gold medals this year.
What is the IWSC
The International Wine & Spirit Competition was founded by wine chemist Anton Massel as ‘Club Oenologique’ in 1969. Massel wanted to create a wine and spirit competition which relied not just on the palates of judges, but also by putting the entries through chemical analysis. The name was changed to the ‘International Wine & Spirit Competition’ in 1978.
The original aim of the Competition was to award excellence to wines and spirits worldwide and this aim remains the same today, with entries received from almost 90 countries.
The Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions and has a dedicated tasting premises and over 400 global experts judging products for 7 months of the year.
The Weaver gin is the latest expression from Loch Brewery & Distillery in Victoria. At their beautiful cellar door (a converted bank building), Craig and wife Mel, are creating English style ales, distilling beautiful gin as well as putting their new-make whisky into barrels (launching 2017/18).
Craig has already impressed with his Loch gin, which is based on a classic London Dry recipe, but he was keen to use some Australian native botanicals in a new higher proof gin.
A self-confessed perfectionist (he grinds all the botanicals he uses by hand in a pestle and mortar) painstaking research went into choosing the botanicals. He could have released The Weaver at the end of 2015, but he wasn’t happy with it, so delayed the launch to tweak it some more.
Botanicals in The Weaver gin
Cinnamon myrtle, anise myrtle, lemon myrtle, strawberry gum and wattleseed were eventually selected (Craig uses locally sourced and sustainably harvested ingredients) and added to juniper, coriander, cassia, nutmeg and mace. If you aren’t familiar with Australian natives, check out my guide here.
Casting your eye over the list you’ll see a heavy lean towards warmer, earthier side of gin botanical spectrum, but this gin is anything but another hot spicy number.
On the nose there are juniper and citrus coriander aromas with hints of nutmeg and cassia. On the palate it’s fresh and astringent with a little anise to begin with. Then, warm, savoury notes with some lemon as the flavour builds, before a lengthy finish with a little heat. It has a pleasant mouthfeel and a smoothness belying it’s ABV.
Drinking The Weaver
Craig and Mel describe The Weaver as “a big Gin” (and at 50% ABV it certainly is in strength) but I think they’ve achieved a subtle, nuanced gin with great flavour and none of the brashness that can sometimes occur when using native botanicals.
As you’d imagine, The Weaver makes a wonderful gin and tonic, fresh but with a good kick of booze, but it would have been remiss of me not to experiment with some of Craig’s ales and The Weaver to make some old fashioned Purl, a wonderful winter warmer.
However, I think it’s shines brightest in a martini. With an olive it’s sublime and a lemon twist brings out those coriander and lemon myrtle notes. Try with Maidenii Classic or Castagna vermouth, if you want your martini Aussie style. If you can’t get your hands on these, Dolin is also an excellent choice.
If you are looking for a top quality Australian gin then I’d highly recommend The Weaver as a worthy additional to your collection.
Please note I as gifted a bottle of the Weaver for review. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.