Grape bases are unusual and often controversial for gins. The fruity undertones can put some fans off while others prefer the fuller mouthfeel the grape base adds to the gin. How then does this first British Gin to be made using a selection of grapes fare?
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, surrounded by woodland and steeped in thousands of years of history and tradition, lies the sleepy Sussex hamlet of Chilgrove. This beautiful corner of rural England is where Chilgrove Dry Gin takes its name.
Chilgrove Dry Gin uses eleven botanicals along with a base spirit that is distilled from grapes. It is this unusual base which gives Chilgrove Gin its unique character. Not many gins opt for anything other than a grain base and few are do it successfully. Talking to Christopher Beaumont-Hutchings, Chilgrove Gin’s Managing Director – we asked him why he chose to do it:
“There are numerous reasons why we chose to use the grape base but much like the story of gin itself it all started in Holland! Chilgrove is run by myself and my wife Celia who grew up in The Hague with a Dutch mother and an English father and was therefore exposed to both Jenever and Gin as she grew up. Her deep knowledge of both led us to dig into the history of the spirit as our starting point.
Whilst it is widely known that English gin as we know it today has its roots in 16th Century Holland and is derived from the Juniper-based drink Jenever, it’s a lesser known fact that Jenever was originally made using alcohol distilled from wine. The change to a cereal-base occurred as a result of a wine-shortage in Holland driven by the significant effects the ‘Little Ice Age’ had on European viticulture coupled with changes in the political landscape. Essentially economics drove the change rather than it being an improvement in the spirit.”
Given that the use of grapes as a base for the gin is unusual, it was only until the first trial distillation that the team began to understand what effects grapes were going to have. There was no manual nor ideal botanical ratios marked down from other gins to use as a starting point – even for their chosen distiller, Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillery, who now distils over 50 gins retailed the world over. They discovered that botanicals act differently in the grape base which led to a few substitutions early on in the development work. For example – the bitterness of grapefruit was amplified and lemon was slightly lost. Lime on the other hand, provided a clean citrus note that worked perfectly alongside the sweet and bitter orange.
Other than how botanicals play on the palate – they soon uncovered that the grape base also makes for a silky-smooth and slightly fuller bodied gin. For the vinologists out there, Chilgrove Gin uses a different base to G’Vine and SANTAMANÍA – they use three different types of grapes, Bobal, Airen and Tempranillo (two reds and a white).
After a few different line ups – they opted for 11 botanicals. Talking about his selection, Christopher mentions, “they are all what we consider to be traditional English gin botanicals, nothing weird or whacky.” How did they choose them then? Well old fashioned research (drinking), contemplation (the essential quiet moments the day after drinking no doubt) and trial and error! “The trial distillations were all about getting the ratios right between the clean pine notes of the juniper, the soft earthy warmth of our roots, the citrus fruit, the spice and the freshness of the savory working with the wild water mint.”
Surprisingly, the step from concept to finished article didn’t take long, only a matter of a few months. By the time Christopher and his wife Celia decided to approach Charles Maxwell for help with the recipe development, they had a very good idea of most aspects of the product design from how they wanted the gin to taste right down to the kind of cork stopper they wanted to use.
Childgrove Gin to taste…
The final line up consists of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, sweet orange, bitter orange, orris root, liquorice root, grains of paradise, fresh lime, savory and wild water mint. Smelling straight from the bottle, grape comes through – along with a little sweetness and soft juniper. The slightly floral aroma masks the three core flavours that come though when tasting; juniper, angelica and coriander. Piney and fresh mentholic notes underpin the gin and other than a slight berry flavour – it’s on the mouthfeel that the grape becomes apparent – it feels fuller and heavier than with most gins.
With a positive reaction to their gin launch the future looks promising for Chilgrove Gin. They have already had to bring both production and export timescales forward by several months. From a gin marketing perspective – it’s been nice to see the Chilgrove Gin team embrace the fact they are made at Thames Distillery. They’ve never been hoodwinking any consumers into thinking it was made in the village, nor by anyone else but Thames.
There’s nothing wrong with third party distilling as long as this fact is honestly represented and not masked by fake stories or dodged at every corner. There’s especially nothing wrong with it when the research into the origins, the development, the drive and the passion comes from both those who own it as well as the distiller they have chosen to make it. Chilgrove Gin very much seems to be a journey of two people who were fortunate enough to come across a distiller with the ability to translate their vision. They named it after a location where the brand ethos stems from and where the idea was originally conceived. It’s naming is genuine and not just a way to making it seem twee and country. Too many shy away from this, hoping to import provenance by pasting an ambiguous label and hoping no-one asks questions.
Chilgrove Gin is a remarkable achievement not just from a transparency point of view but also because the team have managed to create a unique gin that’s not just different to other competitors, but also adds to the wider category by diversifying it both from a flavour perspective and by the production methods it uses.
There is also talk of some exciting projects under development, from ‘Chilgrove Tonic Water’ using natural mineral water filtered through the very chalk in the South Downs which surround Chilgrove (the place) to other collaborations and new listings. We, for one, wish them the best of luck and will be keeping track on a gin which has its foundation set to stay on shelves for the foreseeable future.
For more information about Chilgrove Gin, visit their website: www.chilgrovespirits.com
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