30 years! 30 years! Where did it all go, Tanita? Where did the years all go?
Pull yourself together, Man, you’ve got a Gin review to write! This is no time for a mid-life (I’d be lucky) crisis… *slaps self across face*… Moving on…
I had been looking for an excuse to visit the rather pleasant and gin-friendly Rowbarge, a riverside pub between Reading and Newbury, and it’s ever-growing gin list since their gin festival last year and, just before Easter, that excuse arrived in the contorted shape of a distiller-lead tasting of Twisting Spirits gin, a local gin but one which had yet to cross my taste-buds.
Twisting Spirits* was launched last year (2017) by husband and wife team: Mary and Richard Bateman who, for reasons I’m sure we’ll all struggle to comprehend, thought creating some innovative gins might be a tad more stimulating than continuing their careers in the IT industry. This was one of an astonishing 49 new distillery openings in the UK last year, all crying out for attention in an already crowded market.
And if you’re going to get that attention you either need a lot of money to throw at marketing, or you’re going to have to be a little different and find an angle, a twist if you will, that people will buy into. When the Batemans walked away from the 9-5 they quickly realised this, but what is the twist they have brought to the gin world?
When you first see the mini, abstract-expressionist, works of art that the bottles are, with each band of colour representing a botanical and it’s contribution to the final flavour, you may well say: ‘Ahh, that’s the twist!’ And these will certainly stand out on a busy back-bar.
…but that’s not the twist!
When I tell you the flavours of the three gins released so far are ‘Douglas Fir’, ‘Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass’ and ‘Earl Grey’ you may, not unreasonably, conclude: that’s the twist! Well, we’re getting warmer…
…but that’s not the (full) twist!
Now, if I was to set up a distillery I’d get myself a nice little copper still and start experimenting by throwing a few choice botanicals into some neutral spirit and fire it up. After a while, I may even discover that I can get better results with some botanicals by using vapour infusion: hanging them up in the neck of the still, and I may even try a combination of the two once I had a bit more experience under my belt.
If I was scientifically knowledgeable I may eschew these tried and tested traditional distillation processes, which account for over 99% of gins currently on the market, and experiment with some vacuum techniques to distil at a much lower temperature which, again, will elicit different properties from the botanicals. Sacred Spirits are perhaps the best known proponents of this but Griffiths Brothers, another distillery in the Chilterns have used a similar method.
What I definitely WOULD NOT do is decide that, first, I’ll create a base gin using a traditional still AND THEN produce a second, cold-distilled gin in a rotary evaporator before, WARNING: spoiler alert, ‘twisting’ them together to form the final gin, and …
… THAT’s the ‘twist’!
You or I may have gone for a bit of common-or-garden ‘blending’, ‘combining’ or even ‘mixing’ but, considering all the bonkers methodology which went into getting things this far, I think we’ll just let Richard and Mary call it whatever they like, and ‘twisting’ feels suitably appropriate here.
I would have loved the chance to try that base spirit as all three of their current gins are unquestionably of a very high standard indeed; the liquid is very smooth however, as with any gins with such distinct flavour profiles, whether or not you’ll enjoy your time with these spirits is likely to come down to your personal taste and what you are looking for in a gin.
As it was a tasting I’ve not had the luxury of exploring too deep but my first impressions were very good, so running through in order of which they were presented to us:
Certainly not the only Earl Grey gin out there but quite possibly my favourite. I really enjoyed this. There’s a good, strong flavour with plenty going on: A mixture of floral and citric aromatics, a smoky, earthy depth and a pleasant spiciness on the palate made this an intoxicating brew. The juniper is light and fresh, but isn’t overwhelmed; it stands up and underpins the fancy botanicals well without causing a big fight that neither side could afford to lose. I can see this making a long, refreshing G&T and a distinctly different martini, but you probably wouldn’t want to do too much to it or you would lose some of the nuance that the tea brings and risk losing that fine balance.
Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass
To be succinct I’d say this comes in strong on lime and goes out long on lemongrass. This is their best-selling gin and the favourite among the group at The Rowbarge tonight. With its distinctive flavours, I can see why it is a bit of a crowd pleaser; It’s soft and silky smooth drinking with the kaffir lime giving a big, beautiful citric aroma and hitting your palette hard from the off. The lemongrass and other botanicals follow on to pick up the pieces and add a bit of depth to proceedings.
I enjoyed this but not as much as the others. The lime and lemongrass created associations in my mind which left my tongue hungry for a bit of heat; it has spice but I craved more! The suggested serves of jalapeno or ginger might well solve this, but what may be a little harder to rectify is that, nice drink as it is, I want a bit more of a juniper hit from my gin than this delivers. However, I suspect upping the juniper would mean losing a lot of what people clearly really enjoy here and, given the amount of fine-tuning these gins have gone through, I’d be confident I’m not telling distiller, Richard something he doesn’t already know.
This was the one I was most looking forward to, and I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe a little surprisingly, the fir came on like the fruitiest juniper you’ve ever tried, with grapefruit and nectarine notes that certainly aren’t anywhere else in the botanical mix. This tasted distinct, but fully balanced and the fir supported the juniper to give it a flavour profile that both modernists and traditionalists should find enticing; I sit with a cheek in both camps, so it’s a double thumbs up and a big smile from me! ; )
Despite being the closest working distillery from Reading, I’m not expecting to be organising a distillery tour trip there anytime soon. They really do put the ‘small’ into small-batch. Their two traditional stills are a tiny, 30 litres each, and it’s all housed in a domestic garage located half-way between Goring & Wallingford; a true micro-distillery.
Post-tasting, Richard was eager to chat all things gin and it was clear he’s bubbling over with ideas and an eagerness to constantly refine his techniques and recipes. Richard has set himself a high bar from the off, but it’s clear he’s already looking to raise it while he keeps searching for new flavours and continue to firmly nudge the envelope of what you can do with a ‘gin’.
He may well lose some traditionalists along the way, but I suspect where Twisting Spirits leads, others may quickly follow and I’m sure he’ll find plenty of new disciples happy to join him on what I’m sure will be a most interesting journey.
The Gen on the Gin
A.B.V.:- All Twisting Spirits Gins come out at 41.5%
Base botanicals, present in all gins:- Juniper, Coriander, Almonds (no allergens carry forward in the distillation), Liquorice, Cubeb berries, Angelica Root, Cassia, Sarsaparilla, Orris.
Feature botanicals, cold distilled and ‘twisted’ in with the base
Earl Grey:- Earl Grey Tea leaves from the Wallingford Tea & Coffee Company.
Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass:- Kaffir Lime Leaves, Lemongrass, Lavender, Tonka Bean, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Pink Peppercorn.
Douglas-Fir:- Douglas-Fir needles from a selection of chosen trees in Oxfordshire.
*Not to be confused with the Twisted Nose spirits from The Winchester Distillery