Our new columnist, David Marsland, brings his well-respected drinks tasting notes to the pages of MM.
First up we have his round-up from yesterday’s Bombay Spirits Company Flavour Experience, hosted at Manchester’s favourite Champagne and cocktail bar, Epernay. Be prepared for a walk through the wondrous world of… gin!
Some of you may have heard of a category named ‘gin’. If you’ve ever decided to research into this category a bit more, you will probably learn the art of distillation, and the various forms around that can produce this versatile product.
But have you ever thought about categorising gin by aroma? When was the last time you had a gin over ice and took the opportunity to waft those botanicals through the nostrils? That’s the question that the Bombay Spirits Company has been asking as they’ve made their way around the UK with their Flavour Experience.
The production methods behind that gin in your hand
Sam Carter and Sean Ware, the Bombay Sapphire brand ambassadors, rolled into Epernay, Manchester today to teach us the understanding of the botanicals you can find not only in Bombay Sapphire, but in other gin brands as well. We would also explore the history of Bombay itself, as well as its production methods and iconic blue-bottle.
So with no hesitation needed, and to wet the whistle of the rather sizeable group of bartenders and industry figures, a round of Aviation’s were created whilst we made our way from the bar to Epernay’s rather grand setting of floor to ceiling windows, draped lighting and empty champagne bottles neatly dotted around for decoration.
Each table was set out to include an aroma kit, a book on Bombay Sapphire and 10 champagne flutes with samples of both clear and coloured liquids. The kits and samples would have to wait though as Sean and Sam talked about the gin category in general, the trends that bartenders have seen in the last few years and what consumers seem to look for when ordering both gin and a gin based cocktail.
Names of classic gin cocktails were shouted out, including Negroni, Tom Collins, Gin and Tonic and the Martini, whilst only the Bramble could be thought of as a more recent addition to the list, something Sean and Sam said that ultimately gave gin cocktails the perfect example of drinks that stand the test of time.
The aroma kit was then introduced. The creator of this unique idea was by a gentleman named Dr. George Dodd of the Aroma Academy, an aroma scientist and bio-chemist as well as a Master Perfumer, and he selected 24 different vials, each with a unique aroma, that gives the clearest indication to both bartenders and consumers what actually makes each gin so unique. Each vial is numbered 1-24 with a label displaying the botanical inside.
We started with the first four vials, each containing a different style of juniper. Using scent sticks, we dipped the ends into each and discussed the dominant aroma that hit the nose first. We were also asked to describe any trigger memory scents, for example, the second vial housed green juniper, yet it reminded me of fresh leather. With the nosing of the four juniper scents, we then worked out which of the two spirit samples from our tasting mat was created using juniper vapour, and which was created using juniper that was steeped and distilled.
Vials of violet, orange, forest floor and pepper were then nosed so we could get a better understanding of citrus, dry root, spice and floral, again trying to see if the aromas found triggered any memory scents (rather odd to find the scent of forest floor reminding me of a garden centre!).
We then nosed and tasted two more samples from our tasting mat, this time a blend of coriander, juniper, angelica and liquorice. Again we had to differentiate between a spirit that had been steeped and distilled or mixed after a vapour process. The results found that after being created using vapour, it had a clean, more bold flavour hit to the nose, compared to a smooth, buttery, creamy texture given from the steeped and distilled method.
The range of spirit samples
Our tasting mat also housed four different gin’s, where using our senses and new-found understanding of aromas, we had to pick out the flavours from each. Below you can find my tasting notes on each of the four -
1 – Beefeater – 40%
A light citrus creates a soft hit on the nose, with juniper following slowly after with a very light hint of spice. A long aftertaste after a more dominant hit of lemon citrus on the palate.
2. Bombay Original Dry - 40%
A slow nose of nutmeg and forest floor blend well whilst on the palate you get a slight hit of citrus that creates a very short soft, yet dry and subtle spice end.
3. Bombay Sapphire – 40%
A slight pepper, yet very light and floral mix on the nose, with a hint of harshness on the palate that evolves into a bold mix of juniper and citrus. Very smooth on the aftertaste though.
4. Hendrick’s – 41.4%
Small mixes of cucumber, rose and juniper on the nose whilst a clean and crisp hit of citrus and cucumber on the after-taste.
Our last aromas of the day were two samples, one was a juniper macerated (steeped) in alcohol for 6 hours, whilst the second was the same process, yet for 24 hours. Despite only 18 hours between them, the first sample had a nose of elderberries and a strong sweetness to it, yet the second was a lot more heavy with an intense elderberry aroma.
After a short break, we reconvened to hear from Sean and Sam the history of Bombay itself.
The Bombay Sapphire aroma kit
In 1761, Thomas Dakin of Warrington was born, where at the age of 24, purchased a site on Bridge Street with the passion to creating gin. With an ideal location between Liverpool and Manchester, the ease of transportation with the newly dug canals, as well as the A1 of London to Edinburgh, Thomas Dakin released what was then known as ‘Warrington Gin’.
Over the years, new technology was sought regularly, including in 1831 where a new copper pot still was purchased, resulting in one of the earliest Carterhead stills. A perforated basket created the process called Vapour Infused which was used to create a smooth and more refined spirit to rival the French imports of the time. The Dakin family distilled for nearly 100 years until 1860, where they passed on their expertise to two local brewers John and Gilbert Greenall.
Two hundred years after Thomas Dakin first created his gin, an American entrepreneur going by the name of Allan Subin saw the opportunity to develop an English gin into the growing American clientele. During his search of England, he discovered the 1761 recipe of Thomas Dakin and re-created using his method of Vapour Infusion and 8 botanicals.
Inspired by his English wife, he chose the image of Queen Victoria to grace each bottle (despite it being illegal to have royal figures on products, because it was exported, Allan Subin was able to get around the law), as well as the name Bombay to signify poise and elegance during the days of the British Raj. 1959 was the year The Bombay Spirits Company was created with the release of Bombay Original.
Gins popularity was waning by the end of the 1970′s, with the new interest of vodka taking over. Michel Roux, an American importer at the time, collaborated with The Bombay Spirits Company to try to re-invent Bombay and catapult it back into the hearts of drinkers. Working with Ian Hamilton (Master Distiller at the time) and using the same distillation method as Bombay Original, they added exotic spice notes which totalled the number of botanicals to 10.
Michel Roux also created the iconic blue-bottle that now houses the 1987 launched Bombay Sapphire. Continuing the use of Queen Victoria, he also added the striking picture of the 182 carat sapphire ‘Star of Bombay’ as well as a list of the botanicals used.
In case you’re wondering, the botanicals in Bombay Sapphire are – juniper, coriander, angelica, almonds, cubeb berries, lemon peel, orris, liquorice, cassia bark and grains of paradise.
So with our new-found noses and a history of Bombay itself, the bar beckoned where both Sam and Sean created some fantastic gin based cocktails to say thank you.
You can find all the cocktail recipes from the evening on Drinks Enthusiast's blog, ready for you to try at home, as well as photos of the finished products and pics from the event.