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How to build a gin collection

September 30, 2014

How to build a gin collection -  mycustardpie.comThe only spirits that arrived in our house, when I was growing up, was vodka of dubious provenance brought from Poland. It acted like a magic charm as all the men became slightly flushed and started wild dancing while the women looked bemused. My lexicon of spirits was severely limited; gin and tonic sounded like something horrible that old people would drink. I remember my first sip of this deliciously refreshing bitter, fragrant, citrus-scented drink even now. It was baptism into the intriguing, perfumed, beguiling, slightly dark and mysterious world of gin.

After years of big brand domination and being the poor relation to whisky and vodka, interesting, artisanal, quirky and premium gins are popping up all over the place. I resolved that this summer I would seek out as many unusual gins as possible and find out what made them different. I would transform myself into the Phileas Fogg of the gin … OK I’m getting carried away now. But let me assure you that this determination reaped rewards:

Wöden, Psychopomp, at Raffles Fine Wines, Nailsworth

“Mum, you like gin” This rather unsubtle phrase was uttered a bit too knowingly for my liking by veggie teen in the middle of Raffles Fine Wines in Nailsworth. But yes, the medicinal style bottle with a home-made parcel label did look interesting. Would I like a taste? A very pure herbal hit of juniper reminded me of Bathtub gin I’d enjoyed with my friend in Switzerland. The first addition to my excess baggage was secured.

Wöden: Psychopomp Micro-Distillery is a small, independent distillery in Bristol producing craft distilled gin in small batches and limited quantities. Wöden is their first gin and they produce limited edition, seasonal variations too.

Portobello Road at Crazy Eights (at 131 The Promenade)

Arriving at the hottest new place in Cheltenham a little too early, I propped up the bar and asked the barman which gin he’d recommend. After a grilling more thorough than some job interviews I’ve had, he suggested I make up my mind by sampling two. Martin Miller’s and Portobello Road gin. Both were right up my street with a bitterness and purity that makes me feel like I’m inhaling a perfumed iceberg. The Portobello Road just edged it. Why aren’t more bars like this?

Portobello Road: This was released by the award-wining Notting Hill bar, Portobello Star and home of the Ginsitute (still on my wish list). An Old-style London dry gin available direct from the bar plus a few other retailers. Sadly didn’t manage to bring one home.

Plymouth gin in Plymouth

No tasting involved during this quick visit but this is a gin we can get (and have got) in Dubai. The Barbican, once the setting for some fairly dodgy pubs and dodgier clientele is now charming without being twee. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with little shops and art galleries. The success story extends to Plymouth Gin too which house in what was once a Dominican Order monastery built in 1431, was rescued from the brink of collapse to become a treasured gin of great quality (and strength). Tours of this boutique distillery are run daily.

Plymouth gin: Is actually a PGI but The Black Friars Distillery is the only remaining gin distillery in Plymouth. Once the world’s largest volume brand of gin with 1000 cases a week going to New York alone in the 1900’s, it’s a full-flavoured serious gin, has a sweeter, earthier, smooth style which is not overly complicated.

Tarquin’s at Flavour Fest Plymouth

Gin made in Cornwall, of very limited quantities, at the tiny South West distillery, just had to be sampled. I’d seen it in Creber’s in Tavistock and wondered at the name. It turns out a young man called Tarquin makes it. At Flavour Fest Plymouth had a long chat with his very earnest and charming sister – clearly both siblings are passionate about what they are doing (they grow Devon violets specially to go in the gin for instance). If only another space could have been found in my bag for this one. It tasted lighter, more delicately perfumed than many gins, quite citrus in taste – was I imagining a slight hint of sea salt as I tasted this in Plymouth?

Tarquin’s gin: Only 300 bottles or less are made per batch in a pot still from wheat spirit using pure, local water from Boscastle. Tarquin makes Cornish pastis (as opposed to pasties) too.

Gin tasting at John Gordons, Cheltenham

My visit to John Gordons is another post entirely.  I expected a quiet Sunday afternoon tasting gin, the comprehensive march through history while drinking gin led to me walking back to my Mum’s house rather than catching the bus so I could, er, ‘clear my head’. I learned so much fascinating stuff from Dean from the origins of gin as Dutch Genever through Victorian times and Old Tom styles to modern-day artisanal distilleries (Cotswold gin was released this month). Thank goodness I took copious notes. If you are in Cheltenham do check out this brilliant independent wine bar and merchant’s excellent range of wine, whisky and, naturally, gin. My favourite of the day was Sloane’s (not yet in my collection)…

Sloane’s Dry Gin: A Dutch gin voted the World’s Best Gin, Best White Spirit, and awarded a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirit Competition as well as many other accolades. Sloane’s process differs as they make several different single botanical gins and blend them together.

Harrington Dry Gin at Tivoli wines, Cheltenham

As a PS to the last paragraph, as I wavered past this gem of an independent wine merchant I felt compelled to wander in. The lady behind the counter ignored any slur in my speech (and believe me, I’m sure there was one) and we set to discussing wine and then got onto the topic of the afternoon’s tasting. She enthusiastically urged me to try Harrington Dry Gin . Tasting more gin was probably not the most advisable thing to do and actually I was feeling a bit ginned-out. The delicious aromas of lavender and spicy aromatic flavours made this a real pleasure though. I must have been mad not to buy this.

Harrington Dry Gin: Made by Warner Edwards, a couple of friends and craft distillers, at Falls Farm in Northamptonshire. Based on barley spirit flavoured with eleven botanicals sourced from farms in Wales and England.

Sacred gin, Le Clos, Dubai Airport

When dropping an email to Le Clos to buy some duty free bottles (never underestimate the delight of having someone meet you at the airport with a bag of wine), for some reason they mentioned their new stock of Sacred gin. Would I like to order some?

Sacred Gin: The Sacred Spirits Company is a craft distillery in Highgate, North London and made by Ian! Similar method to Sloane’s as they use twelve organically sourced botanicals which are macerated with the high quality English grain spirit and then distilled separately in glassware under vacuum and blended together.

How to build a gin collection -

My gin collection

I was a bit bashful about telling KP quite how much gin I had accumulated but he was quite taken with the idea of a collection (even though he never touches the stuff). Other bottles in our cupboard include:

Hendrick’s Gin: A triumph of quirky marketing, Hendrick’s started the conversation about craft distilling and unusual botanicals. Owned by William Grant’s, a Scottish distiller usually know for whisky, its heavy, medicinal style, opaque bottle houses a gin heavy with juniper but also Bulgarian rose and cucumber (which is recommended as an accompaniment rather than lemon in a Hendrick’s G&T).

No 3 London Dry Gin: The proprietary recipe of London’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd. Traditional, pure, stylish and focused on juniper.

Sipsmith London Dry Gin: The first copper-pot based distillery to start up in London in 189 years, located in a small, residential street (can you imagine being neighbours!) although it has recently moved. As well as a traditional London Dry gin they make one called A Very Junipery Over Proof gin.

Wish list

I was astonished how many people make gin now (on my recent travels I noticed Bath gin and Edinburgh gin among others). Gins still on my tasting wish list include The Botanist (made of botanicals only sourced on Islay), Cotswolds Dry gin (from Cotswold Distillery), Chase gin (from a distillery started by the people who make Tyrell’s crisps as something to do with their potato peelings), Hoxton gin (this cocktail and review from Tinned Tomatoes whetted my appetite) and Monkey 47 which I spotted at Hakkasan, Dubai for over 200 AED a shot (over 30 GBP), albeit a double measure.

The more exotic gins put my old bottles of Gordons and Beefeater in the shade (they are flavoured with juniper oil apparently – thanks Dean) so here’s some ways to use them up:

Is gin your preferred tipple? Do you have a drinks collection? Is this a bit obsessive? (actually don’t answer that question)

  1. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    September 30, 2014 5:14 pm

    We are regular partakers of the old Hendricks and cucumber in this house it has to be said! and it is Scottish after all. Great review Sally I will share it with the husband he loves a good Gin and Tonic, thank you

    • September 30, 2014 5:35 pm

      You don’t think I’m completely mad then? 🙂 Cheers GA

  2. September 30, 2014 5:22 pm

    Yay! I love gin! I am a very proud member of the London Gin Club in Soho 🙂 my favourite however has to be Monkey 47 closely followed by Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Bath Tub Gin (Navy Strength if you dare!)

    • September 30, 2014 5:35 pm

      Now that’s one club I’d love to join. Hope to taste the Monkey 47 soon and loved Bath Tub when shared with a friend in Switzerland – and absolute hum dinger.

      • September 30, 2014 10:48 pm

        Monkey 47 is a bit of an acquired taste, I’d say – my brother brought a bottle over from Germany on his last visit. I do like it but drinking it reminds me a bit of a single malt in that it really stops you in your tracks for a second.
        I am quite partial to Hendricks myself, and not just with cucumber …

  3. September 30, 2014 5:29 pm

    What a fabulous review Sally. I haven’t enjoyed a good G&T for quite a while, think its time to get the old bottle of Tanqueray out.
    Have a super day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    • September 30, 2014 5:33 pm

      Golly – didn’t even mention Tanqueray. What a lovely drop that is.

  4. September 30, 2014 6:00 pm

    A lovely collection! I love making cocktails with gin.



    • October 5, 2014 10:05 am

      I don’t often make cocktails with gin but after a gorgeous Tom Collins with Marascino I’m going to try.

  5. September 30, 2014 6:10 pm

    WOW! Actually to be honest, long before my first vino sip or S’s penchant for whiskey, it was gin and vodka that became our affordable tipples. Just remembered the brand – Blue Riband… oh please don’t do any research on it!!! I have a collection of liqueurs while S loves his whiskey.

  6. daver001 permalink
    September 30, 2014 7:18 pm

    Before moving to Dubai, I couldn’t stand gin – I would rather have gone an evening dry that have to suffer a G&T. I was a whisky man buying cask strength from the Scotch Whisky Society. Or, on occasions, making a couple of glasses of Armagnac last an evening. Arrival in Dubai and – bang! – gin was my drink. I moved quickly from the Gordon’s and Beefeater i remember my mother enjoying, via an unsatisfying dalliance with Tanqueray, to settle on Bombay Sapphire as my everyday gin of choice, with lime not lemon. The discovery of Hendricks (cucumber, of course) was a turning point and every subsequent trip back to the UK has seen me seek out unusual gins. Is there a collection? Yes, there’s a shelf of empties in my house on Dartmoor… Discovery a few weeks ago was Jensen’s Bermondsey gin, available in London style and sweeter Old Tom variant. There’s a tiny distillery just off Maltby Street – the new hot London food destination now Borough Market has been overrun by tourists. The market has another couple of small gin houses (Little Bird and Sparrow’s) and my next trip back to the UK will see me being more organised with space to source a few bottles… What chance of a gin bar in Dubai? Well, we can dream.

    • October 5, 2014 10:07 am

      There’s a gin bar in Bath which is on my list to visit. Love the story of your conversion to gin Dave. I tried the Old Tom style this summer and learned about the history and why it tastes that way.

  7. daver001 permalink
    September 30, 2014 7:20 pm

    A quick summary of the London scene:

    • October 5, 2014 10:08 am

      Great link – thanks for sharing

  8. September 30, 2014 8:16 pm

    I love your gin collection and your tasting notes on each of the gins you tried this summer, wondering if I can find space in my small flat to start my own collection!

    • October 5, 2014 10:09 am

      Sounds like a sensible plan indeed

  9. September 30, 2014 8:24 pm

    Golly what a collection you have! I must admit to being fairly inexperienced when it comes to gin consumption but I am rather partial to a gin and tonic. I should switch to this instead of prosecco for a while!

    • October 5, 2014 10:10 am

      It’s my end of the week, Thursday night (Friday, Saturday weekend here) treat. Loads of ice, good tonic (not diet), a slice of lime, lemon or cucumber depending on my mood and then the only decision is which gin…..

  10. September 30, 2014 10:10 pm

    Wow, that’s some collection! I am not a fan of gin though saying that I haven’t drunk it in years so really must try it again to see if it’s more acceptable to me now.

    • October 5, 2014 10:12 am

      People who don’t like gin often have a very sweet tooth and don’t like the bitterness. Do give it a try though – if you like beautiful, herbal aromas you’ll be rewarded by these craft gins.

  11. September 30, 2014 10:52 pm

    💜💚💙!! I’m a relatively new convert to the Cult of Gin, and I can’t seem to stop acquiring it! My favorite so far is absolutely Hendrick’s. Though I do love Tanqueray No. 10, as well. Monkey 47 is also yummy. This reminds me, I’m overdue for a gin & tonic . . . Cheers!!

    • October 5, 2014 10:14 am

      There’s bar terrace in Dubai called Calabar which has a great view of the Dubai Fountains. They do an excellent g & t with Tanqueray no 10. Really want to try Monkey 47…

  12. talkavino permalink
    September 30, 2014 11:15 pm

    Well, you will need to tour Eastern US to greatly enhance your Gin collection. The stuff which is produced in New York and other states is simply outstanding. As you can imagine, it really doesn’t get distributed…

    • October 5, 2014 10:15 am

      Sounds like as good a reason as any to plan a trip…. 🙂 If the artisan gins are as high quality as the craft beers they will be well worth tasting.

  13. September 30, 2014 11:34 pm

    The Botanist is very good. My second favourite after Millers. Having seen your collection I now feel mine is somewhat lacking. That said, my daughter makes commercial Sloe Gin and sometimes I get to accompany her to the distillery that makes the base gin for her where we pick up an IBC containing 1,000 litres of gin. That’s what I call gin shopping.

    • October 5, 2014 10:17 am

      I must discuss future career choices with my daughter! I really like Martin Millers… kicking myself for not picking up a bottle at Heathrow.

  14. September 30, 2014 11:40 pm

    My introduction to and fondness for gin began because my parents had a few bottles of gin that they never drank. Which created it as the target for stealing a drink or two unnoticed while a teen.
    I find that people either love it or hate it. I began with Gordons, moved to Tanqueray, and then on to Beefeaters. Now, Hendricks and Sapphire are my regulars. But, while in Ireland this year, I bought a bottle of Dingle Gin. I dutifully saved it for the cottage vacation fully intending to take notes and report to the world. Unfortunately, it kind of disappeared amid much fun and sun. I do remember many guests enjoying immensely and refilling their gin “straight ups” or tonics. Because, it’s the cottage and we don’t stand on ceremony. A reminder that the ‘good stuff’ needs to stay hidden.
    Thanks for the review of some of the UK efforts. I will look up when I’m back over the pond. The Sipsmith sounds particularly up my alley.

    • October 5, 2014 10:18 am

      I opened the Sipsmith for a crowd this weekend and it went down a storm. Luckily I did manage to snaffle some (unlike the Bandol which disappeared in a flash).

  15. October 1, 2014 1:16 am

    No 3 and chase we have been drinking since christmas both get thumbs up… Harringtons (east of here and cotswold (slightly to the south west) are on the to buy list

    Hendricks is classed as ‘never again” someone described it as like grandma, after you dug her up !

    Sloanes was just so so

    I wouls however suggest as something you might want to try as No 10

    Also surprisingly good for a cheap and everywhere gin… Greenalls

    A lot of the artisnal gins though, if mixed as tonic I think are not worth the mark up…

    • October 5, 2014 10:20 am

      Love the description of Hendricks – I do know what you mean… it’s a riot of perfume… maybe that’s why you weren’t so keen on the Sloanes either.

  16. October 1, 2014 1:58 am

    My niece is a gin aficionado like yourself – the saying amongst my friends when I was growing up was that “gin makes you sad” (maybe related to drinking too much of it as a teenager?!) so I have not really explored it much. I LOVE all those gorgeous bottles you have in your post though – I use my (empty) black Hendricks bottle as a vase

    • October 5, 2014 10:23 am

      Not sure I’m an afficianado but I am a fan. Love your niece’s site – I didn’t know there was so much interesting gin in Australia.

  17. October 1, 2014 2:09 am

    You’re a girl after my own heart Sal! While Tanqueray & Bombay Sapphire are mainstream duty free pick ups, and Hendrickson’s a favourite, it’s local quirky gins that are a special treat. “South” from New Zealand you may be able to procure, it’s amazingly crisp and fresh but my other is only made in tiny batches, Bass and Flinders from Melbourne. It’s very smooth with the lively bite of juniper, best as a G&T 3 parts gin, 1 part tonic, with lime. They also make a lemongrass and ginger gin, but it doesn’t excite me. I rather like Plymouth Sloe gin neat with lots of ice too.

    • October 5, 2014 10:37 am

      3 parts gin, 1 part tonic – woah! Through these comments I realise there are some amazing gins to be tasted in the Southern Hemisphere. I never really got into Bombay Sapphire – maybe too clove driven for me… just didn’t grab me. One day I will make my own sloe gin again… it’s an autumn ritual I miss…along with the smell of woodsmoke and crunchy autumn leaves underfoot.

  18. October 1, 2014 8:42 am

    I have a friend who lives in Abu Dhabi who has an amazing collection of gin so we regularly do gin tastings in the comfort of his home. I am delighted that we can buy Sacred here now! (Is it in the normal duty free or does one have to order it ahead?) It’s always a favorite, followed closely by Sipsmith’s. I am going to pass this link on to him since he’ll be back in the UK next week. There may be a few he’d like to, ahem, acquire.

    • October 5, 2014 10:39 am

      I like the sound of your friend in AD! Sacred is at Le Clos not the regular duty free. You can visit on the way out and they deliver it to you when you step off the plane …. or if less organised (like me) drop them an email a day or two before your return.

  19. October 1, 2014 10:19 am

    So happy to know that Le Clos also sells Sacred Gins! Thanks for that Sally. When I’m not drinking wine it’s Gin… And with a taste of monkey 47 in Berlin- it’s been on my shopping list everytime I travel.
    One thing you should try and you can get it with your booze order or any MMI store is the Saffron gin.
    Heard a lot about Hoxtons gin. Hope to try that soon.

    • October 5, 2014 10:39 am

      Not sure the heady scent of saffron is too off piste for me…. but well worth a try.

  20. kstienemeier permalink
    October 1, 2014 11:00 am

    A post to my husband’s liking he is a big G&T fan. It is amazing that Gin is becoming “the drink” among the cool and hip young professionals in Europe. Spain boasts 200 brands and Germany now also produces (quite expensive) regional gins in funky bottles such as Schwarzwald gin, Saarland gin etc. We recently spoke to a distiller of classic fruit schnapps at a fair who now also produces his own special gin in the midst of the Pfalz wine country. Great collection you have and definitely worth more fascinating research ;D

    • October 5, 2014 10:41 am

      Spanish gins are whole different ball game. The ones on Menorca are still made to an old English recipe and they drink it with lemon juice. I can still remember the taste from decades ago. Thanks for this really interesting comment and info Karin.

  21. October 1, 2014 2:46 pm

    Bloomin heck I never realised there were so many types to choose from.

  22. October 2, 2014 12:23 am

    Absolutely love Hendricks with cucumber! Bombay tends to be my standard. Love a bit of tanqueray too. I’ve had delicious Chase vodka so imagine the gin would be divine too!

    If you like flavoured gin I highly
    recommend Slamseys sloe or raspberry!

  23. October 2, 2014 6:57 am

    The labels alone make me so want to like it. (Alas, not. But my husband does. So maybe I can at least enjoy the designs!)

  24. October 3, 2014 4:28 am

    Inspirational! What is it about the idea of building a gin collection that makes me feel so absurdly happy?

    • October 5, 2014 10:42 am

      I know…. I have a smile on my face every time I look at mine 🙂

  25. October 3, 2014 8:38 pm

    Amazing, just wow. Now I must start my Polish vodka collection – ours too was of “dubious provenance brought from Poland!” xxx Love Hendricks personally but now there are so many more I want to try.

  26. October 5, 2014 10:43 am

    Do you remember…. the bottles were fairly anonymous and the strength was ridiculous?

  27. October 8, 2014 3:00 pm

    For years I avoided gin because I too thought it was for the old and fuddy-duddy. Also, so many people went on and on about how depressed it made you, so as well as not wanting to smell of old lady prematurely, neither did I want to suddenly become clinically depressed, all from drinking one measure of the stuff.
    However, sense prevailed and a G&T is my favourite tipple. Current bottle on the go is Williams Chase Seville Orange Gin – delicious! And for days when mixing is beyond me – a ready made bottle of Bloom gin with Fentimans tonic water.
    I spend ages gazing at the bottles in Waitrose, working out which one I want to try next. Also, so many of the bottles are pretty!

    • October 8, 2014 10:03 pm

      That Chase gin sounds very festive. I love the bottles too. Need to try Bloom. Love your blog btw – glad to have found it.

  28. October 9, 2014 3:06 pm

    What a brilliant and fun collection! I should start my own!


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