Black Tomato Gin
Black tomatoes are funny old things; they look like the stuff of fairy tales – something the wicked old spinster witch uses to poison the prince on his wedding day. Some still bear a hint of red, but others are as black as midnight in a moonless sky. Intriguing and enchanting, we’d never heard of the fruit before starting this review, so it’s no real surprise that Dutch-made Black Tomato Gin is the first to use it in a gin.
Black Tomato Gin was created by Leon Meijers and Alfred Sandee in 2014. Both founders are entrepreneurs who have come to the booze industry from madly different fields: Meijers sold socks, whilst Sandee was in the peanut game. Black Tomato Gin came about as a combination of both of their interests. Some people collect stamps, some go fishing, some play board games… Meijers breeds black tomatoes as a hobby, whilst Sandee shares interests a little closer to ours: he drinks gin.
Black Tomato Gin is distilled by Meinderd Kampen at the grain-to-glass Kampen Distillery in Zeeland, Holland. The distillery’s coastal location has inspired the overall gin, which features the namesake tomatoes, alongside juniper berries, fresh and purified salt water and one secret botanical. Actually, there are a lot of secrets here… when we were asked the batch size we were told that such information is “classified,” (although the bottle we had was from batch three, and numbered 1750/3700, meaning they have either a 3700 bottle batch, or a 1200(ish) bottle batch).
Meijers and Sandee grow the tomatoes for Black Tomato Gin in the southernmost part of Sicily, Italy. According to the duo, the groundwater there is much saltier than in Holland and, when combined with the climate, produces extremely flavoursome fruits.
To make the gin, the tomatoes are plucked from the bushes and smashed with neutral spirit. The liquid is then filtered and distilled. Juniper and the secret botanical are also processed as separate distillates, and the three spirits are combined before the purified salt water is added. This concentrate is stretched with grain alcohol, then cut down to 42.3% ABV with purified water.
Black Tomato Gin to taste…
Tomato greets the nose loudly and boldly, but it’s not the fleshy, fruit taste you might imagine, rather the crisp green of an overburdened vine, one that’s been sweating it out in a greenhouse all summer long. There is nary a hint of juniper and that third mystery botanical is more elusive than a politician with a conscience, leaving the black tomatoes to dominate.
Sipped neat, saline bids a brief hello but is quickly forced aside by the tomatoes, which brings a sweet, extremely fresh taste. To be honest, to taste the juniper does not put in much of an appearance in its own right, if at all. Arguably juniper can be noticed through its impact on the flavour of the tomato, which has more depth as a result of its presence.
There’s also a hint of something else in this mysterious third botanical that sends us spiralling in a fit of curiosity. In the end, and after a lot of debating, we head towards guessing that it might be a dried flower; one that sits very, very close to marigold in terms of genetics (with the suspicion that if not that, it could well be honey). It doesn’t give a floral taste, but soft, almost buttery hints of hay and wood.
With tonic, Black Tomato Gin become the liquid equivalent of La Tomatina – the insane tomato tossing festival in Valencia that sees 175 tonnes of the fruit destroyed during an hour long food fight. Tomato fills the mouth like expanding foam. Its sensory invasion are much like the first wafts when stepping through the door of a greenhouse, entirely dominating the senses and pushing everything else – including the salt – out of the way. It’s an incredibly unginny gin, but we’re still quite taken by it. It’s sweet and admirably well made and its softness entirely belies its ABV, letting it glide down like wine.
This is not our ideal G&T material, although adding a sliver of chilli made for an fun combination and the brand’s call for a basil garnish is indeed an appropriate suggestion. Black Tomato Gin does work well elsewhere however. Given the star of the show is tomato, lazy assumptions drift towards using it in a Red Snapper, but this doesn’t work particularity well as the gin component in the cocktail needs to provide a anchor point and not over accentuate the tomato juice. We felt that it made an especially smooth, savoury Martini.
Black Tomato Gin is packaged in a short, stout 50cl glass bottle, which has a matte black coating and an almost ceramic appearance. A stamp certifying its organic nature sits at the back, alongside the tongue in cheek assurance that the gin is 100% vegetarian. Those with a penchant for beef spirits best look elsewhere…
The bottle is unusual, but very easily damaged and gets scuffed quickly with handling. By the time ours went through a couple of nights on the home bar, it was scratched and mottled to the extent that we felt almost sorry for it. The look is certainly striking but perhaps it would be more effective if it were more durable. Perhaps either black glass or real ceramic is needed for Black Tomato Gin to appear as super premium as it would like to.
Visitors to Black Tomato Gin’s website are in for a treat; as soon as one lands on their home page, a video begins to play. In it, we see a red-clad woman gliding down a pair of stairs and into a bar, wherein she seductively orders a Black Tomato Gin & Tonic before exploding in a (deeply uncomfortable to watch) fit of satisfaction. It’s like a Robert Palmer video that should never have left the 1980s. It’s also utterly bizarre and poses a question as to quite who the target audience is. The advert is one that seems tailored to middle-aged men, but Black Tomato Gin – with its progressive stance, was surely designed for a modern audience.
Hey – maybe they’re being clever; they’ve fully embraced social media, sharing pictures and posts and communicating with their audience well. They’ve got an adventurous proposition and a memorable USP to offer. It could well be that they’re using these channels to engage with a younger audience and saving the website for older drinkers. Either way, branding is strong, if far from conventional – much like the gin’s taste.
It’s in this challenging duality and in seeing both the intention and the endeavour behind it that we can really sum up our experience of Black Tomato Gin. While it may not be to our personal tastes, we find ourselves a little transfixed by the gin as well as wanting to keep it at arms length. Guilty pleasure? Perhaps.
We’d certainly advise trying Black Tomato Gin. It’s curious and risky, but there’s plenty of room for it in an overwhelmingly saturated market, as it’s one quite like no other. Meijers and Sandee have boldly embraced the strange, and Black Tomato Gin is proof that risk brings reward.
For more information about Black Tomato Gin, visit the website: black-tomato-gin.com/
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