Thirty organic botanicals infused with Schiefer Riesling constitutes the basis for this very interesting gin range from Germany.
Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin owes its name to the royal Prussian District Forester Ferdinand Geltz, the historical figure who also co-founded the VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Zilliken estate, one of Germany’s finest vineyards. The vineyard is located on the grand Saarburger Rausch site, which is widely known for its rich mineral soil, believed to make each botanical really shine through in this gin. If provenance matters to you, the traceability of this gin is impeccable as the majority of the botanicals are locally sourced.
The makers behind Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin are Andreas Vallendar and his Avadis Distillery in Wincheringen, Dorothee Zilliken from the VDP Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken estate in Saarburg and the marketing company Capulet & Montague in Saarbrucken. If your reading this and wondering how to pronounce any of these names – we’re with you!
All three partners, through their varied educational backgrounds in different disciplines, came together to create a gin that reflected their home region, as well as a spirit that epitomised quality. The VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer family-run business has been producing award-winning wines for more than 270 years. The fruity and sweet Rieslings produced in this 11 hectare vineyard are entirely matured in wooden casks, stored three storeys below ground. Given the family know-how in wine making and the Avadis Distillery history – this unusual combination of wine and spirit seemed like a perfect match. We’ll come back to the wine and this unusual marriage in a minute… Firstly, time to talk distilling.
Andreas Vallendar, the Master Distiller, uses an astonishing 30 organic botanicals grown locally on the estate to create the gin. The only other gin that we know of to have surpassed this botanically hungry mix, and still produce a high quality gin, is Monkey 47. Balancing so many ingredients without drowning each individual botanical is a very difficult feat to accomplish. However, the Vallendar family have been distilling spirits for several generations on their estate, founded in 1824 in Wincheringen, so there is generations of knowledge behind them.
Andreas starts the distillation process by creating his own base spirit from their own harvested grain. This spirit, probably reaching 90-95% ABV after several distillations, is cut with water (to reduce the ABV a little) and has a selection of 30 of their own hand-picked herbs, spices and fruits added in for maceration before the gin can be made. The 30 botanicals include lavender straight from the fallow vineyards in the Konzer Talchen valley, garden grown lemon-scented thyme, juniper, sloe, rose hip, angelica, hop blossom and rose. Also worthy of note – other botanicals included that help round-off the gin are almond shell, coriander and ginger, which imparts a fair share of spice.
Not content with using just one method of distillation, not only do the team opt to charge the still with the botanicals steeped in the spirit, but they also stack the vapour infusion chamber to help infuse the final product with some of the lighter aromatics, that might otherwise get lost. It’s all done in one distillation but the combination of making use of both the pot still and the infusion chamber is quite unique and not many distillers do both at the same time.
Now – back to the wine. This is when things get even more interesting and where the gin makes its mark as being truly different. Once the distillation is over, Andreas finally rounds-off the spirit with a precise measure of Schiefer Riesling. The semi-sweet Rieslings from the Saar are noted for their elegance and fruity radiance and in time, these qualities come through in the gin. Having been left to rest for a period of four weeks, Ferdinand’s is set to a drinking strength of 44% ABV using demineralised water, then filled into nostalgic-looking wine bottles and enclosed with a natural cork sealed in beeswax.
On the nose, Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin has floral and grassy lemon notes. The grapes are recognisable too along with soft juniper. To taste, the gin really comes to life with lavender and rose coming to the fore and huge Riesling flavours in the mix. The juniper doesn’t quite play second fiddle, but it’s much more subtle in this botanically intense gin. With a profile reminiscent of G’Vine Floraison but – dare we say it – better balanced, the grape makes Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin stand out as something truly unique. It’s different and because of this, perhaps not for the gin purist. If you like your conventions challenged and are searching for something unusual however, this is a gin for you. It makes for a tasty Martinez cocktail but with the floral top notes, Riesling body and a teasing ginger nip to end – we felt it was at it’s best in a French 75.
One of the elements that have set the Capulet and Montague team (the people behind Ferdinand’s Saar) apart is that much of their innovation and development stems from their crossover into wine. During 2015, they have not just added a couple of additional gins to their portfolio but complimentary products to accentuate them once mixed as well (they have two tonics and a vermouth). All are underpinned by what is possible to grow locally – making the most of their unusual grape hybrid – and in doing so are firmly rooted with provenance and authenticity.
In an increasingly global world, where references and inspiration come from all areas and products are increasingly mirrored like for like by producers in other markets – Capulet and Montague have instead interpreted trends in their own way and created new expressions based on what is within their vicinity; doing so with a truly unique twist and with great panache.
For example, rather than make another Sloe Gin they instead decided to pay their own form of regional homage to the sub-category and use freshly harvested quinces, grown next to the distillery. Unlike their Dry Gin, which uses a different Riesling, once they have infused their dry gin with quinces, they then cut the spirit down to bottling strength with a special 2011 Rausch Kabinett wine which suits the fruity tones of the quince. Bottled at 30% ABV, Ferdinand’s Saar Quince Gin has had many in the bar industry turning towards it for its distinctive nature – perfect for twists on the Breakfast Martini and a delicious alternative for summer Gin & Tonics.
Ferdinand’s Saar Gin is light and fruity on the nose. Perfectly balanced to be deliciously sweet but not sickly in any way. To taste, delicate rose-like florals emerge alongside the juicy, caramelised fruit tones of the quince. Both the wine and gin’s complexity reveals itself thereafter with layers of subtle spice, sharper citrus and a resinous underbelly all intermingled with the minerality of Rausch Kabinett.
Served chilled on its own, this Quince Gin is an ideal replacement for desert wines, especially if paired with apple crumble alongside a cheese board (Manchego especially). Because it is not technically a Gin (it’s not over 37.5% ABV) expect to see some name changes to comply with regulation, but whatever the final name written on the bottle is, seek this out – it is well worth it!
Taking this wine and spirit matching one step further – they also used an exquisite Auslese 2010 wine (famed in its own right) to create a limited batch Gold Cap edition of their Saar Dry Gin, released to much applause. Without a doubt a step up in class, the Gold Cap was our (and many others) gin of the year in 2015. It is so smooth that it is best served neat and so aromatic and complex, it will have you treating it like a vintage Cognac before you know it!
All their items are underpinned with authentic reasoning and real provenance and the cross proliferation of two drinks categories is both exciting and unique. It is a rare feat when such a perfect synergy is formed and one that many other distilleries will be looking to emulate in 2016/17. One thing is for sure – their gin will be on many back bars, cabinets and wine racks and we for one, will be keeping a bottle or two on hand to celebrate their progress.
For more information about Ferdinand’s Saar, visit their website: www.saar-gin.de
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