When I heard about the Gin 1495 project last year I was intrigued. Juniper has been used in medicine and drinks since the 13th century, but no recipes had been recorded. The discovery of a recipe from 1495 was extremely exciting, but there was talk of limited bottles and only a few people in the world being offered a taste. I crossed my fingers and hoped that a bottle would wing its way to Australia and that I might have an opportunity to taste a little history. Thanks to my friends at G’Vine gin an invitation found its way to me.
The Gin 1495 tasting event was held at Juniper Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Sydney and home to a former English distiller, Robert Cooper, who had been transported to Australia as a convict!
Only 40 guests were invited along to hear Philip Duffy, drinks historian and gin expert, talk us through this extraordinary venture.
Phil first came across the reference to a gin recipe in an out of print book on Jenever. His interest piqued, he began investigating its origin and discovered that the text came from a 1495 cookbook from a merchant’s house in East Netherlands and was part of a collection of Sir Hans Sloane (founder of the British Museum) and that the collection was housed in the British Library.
What do you do when you discover an ancient recipe? Well, in Philip’s case you gather some of the foremost drinks historians: David Wondrich, Gaz Regan and Dave Broom together with Jean-Sébastien Robicquet (owner and founder of Eurowinegate and G’vine gin creator) and recreate it.
The botanicals listed in the recipe were nutmeg (at that time was worth more than its weight in gold), ginger, galangal (similar to ginger), grains of paradise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, sage, and juniper. The recipe states to use one part botanicals to nine parts wine distillate.
Wine was used as the base as opposed to grain spirit because it was easier to come by. It’s worth remembering that this predates the East India Company being founded, so these spices would have been brought across the silk route, probably by a lone merchant.
Two versions of gin were created from the recipe Verbatim is the exact recipe, while Interpretatio is the same recipe but with the inclusion of some of the more familiar gin botanicals used today that were unavailable then.
Verbatim (42% ABV)
On tasting this screamed “NUTMEG”. It was bold and herbaceous and very spicy. I felt warmed to my toes. One can only imagine the response when the merchant brought this out for his dinner guests. It would have tasted like nothing they had ever tasted before!
Interpretatio (45% ABV)
This version was made with more juniper, citrus and some angelica root. The resulting liquid is very different to Verbatim and more familiar as a gin, with the juniper more noticeable. It’s fresher, but still with herb and spice notes evident.
Only 100 sets of the gins have been produced. They will not be on general sale, but instead have been donated to various museums, spirits collections, archives, and gin institutions around the world. Some of them will also be auctioned off for charity.
It was an experience of a lifetime to taste something so unique and I love that this passion project is such an altruistic one.
In Australia the auction will be raising funds for Wine to Water a A movement dedicated to providing clean water and sanitation to people in need around the world.
If you would like to make a bid to become one of the owners for these rare gins, you can do so here (auction closes on Friday Jul 31st, 7:30pm AEST)
For more information on Gin 1495 click here.
When you say “wine” was used as opposed to grain spirit, I take it you mean grape spirit (eau de vie)?
Did the recipe state in what quantity each of the botanicals should be used? I’m just wondering about the nutmeg “punch” coming through so strongly – especially alongside the other very strong hitters!
Grape spirit, not eau de vie was used. Nutmeg was the predominant botanical used.
I’m surprised, then! Given it’s high price, back then, would the other botanicals not have been added in greater quantity – providing, perhaps, a more balanced tipple? Surely the recipe stated in what quantity each of the botanicals should be used?
It did give quantities, hence they were able to recreate the recipe so faithfully. Phil said it would have been a way for the merchant to show off his wealth. Bear in mind this was a home cook’s recipe, not produced on any scale for commercial purposes.
Aha: that – now – makes sense! Given the current trend to use a middle-of-the-road gin to which ones own choice of botanicals may be added as an infusion, I think I might have a wee dabble! I was confused by “grains of paradise” – but find that this is just another name for alligator pepper, which I have tried.
Thank you for such an informative article!
No worries Michael, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment 🙂
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