McQueen Gin burst onto the scene on 3rd June 2016 with something of an anarchic air. There’s so much gin, they said, let’s make something bonkers, something different… Their range of four flavoured spirits was created on the premise that gin, especially when mixed with tonic, tastes like… gin. In their opinion, the market place for ginsmiths is so crowded that it can be hard to stand out, so rather than create a regular dry gin, they made Chocolate Mint Gin, Sweet Citrus Gin, Mocha Gin and Smokey Chilli Gin.
Dale and Vicky McQueen founded their Trossach’s Distillery in Callander, Scotland in July 2015, leaving a life of corporate software sales behind for something that required a little more derring-do. Though completely new to the alcohol industry, they had such a huge interest and fascination in distilling that it was almost an obvious choice for them. Gin, too, was obvious, especially for those who are trained to think in terms of sales – as Dale told us, it’s not hard to see that it’s a strong market right now.
McQueen Gin released the four gins on the 3rd June 2016, following over 100 trial recipes and feedback from over 3000 tasters, provided by Heriot-Watt University and Gin Club Scotland. Their software background came in handy here, with the McQueen’s collating all of the feedback on a spreadsheet to create data that helped them to identify strong themes. This is when they were struck by the “blinding” realisation that in order to succeed, they’d need to have not just a slight differentiation, but a huge one.
All four McQueen Gins begin life steeping in neutral grain spirit. For each gin, the botanicals are left to macerate in the hot spirit overnight before their Arnold Holstein still is switched on. Some ingredients are also placed to vapour infuse during the 10 hour run as well, thus allowing a greater depth of flavour. Once off the still, the spirit is blended to just above bottling strength and left to rest for between two and four weeks.
After this, the spirits are cut to their final bottling strength of 42% ABV (the same for 4 expressions in the portfolio) and bottled, corked and labelled by hand. Each run produces around 300 50cl bottles.
Each gin has an understandably different botanical line up, though Dale is particularly secretive about this part of the production process – allowing us to name just four of five from each spirit (one of which, naturally, is locally picked juniper…).
The Chocolate Mint Gin uses juniper, liquorice, vanilla, mint and oven roasted cocoa nibs to form the core part of its line-up. Given Liquorice root and vanilla are forcefully sweet as botanicals, we expected the spirit to follow but clearly there are some nefarious spices at work here, balancing the gin.
To nose, alcohol comes through – it’s not harsh or spirity, but it carries a vague rice wine hint. Sweetness comes through too with the vanilla and cocoa conspiring to bring an earthy, chocolate like backdrop while Juniper and mint add a surprisingly savoury finish to the nose.
To taste, an initial sweetness rushes the tongue, the liquorice dominating initially, before giving way to the cooling mint. The chocolate works again more as an undertone here, but mint and juniper tend to combine into something altogether savoury, so while it is a unique and interesting gin, it’s not quite the dessert treat we were expecting, instead leaving a woody, piney taste in the mouth. In our opinion – this is a good thing, it’s not as wacky as the tag might have you believe and all the better for it. Chocolate Mint Gin sounds like it’s either going to be someone heaven or someone’s hell (for us it was the latter as we love big juniper gin) but thankfully, this is first and foremost a gin and the use of both mint and chocolate are as botanicals, not as an overriding flavour.
We’d try this in a cocktail requiring crème de menthe and in the spirit of dessert, would probably aim down a particularly gluttonous route, using it in something like a more modern version of Alexander’s Sister (30ml gin, 20ml Crème de Menthe, 20ml heavy cream, shaken to within an inch of its life). Dale’s suggestion for a G&T garnish is a Matchmaker – a mint-heavy chocolate stick. This shows the twinkle in the eye behind the brand – no one is taking themselves too seriously here, which is a welcome direction. For those who like the savoury tones of the gin neat and aren’t partial to adding a bar, consider a basil leaf as a G&T garnish.
The Sweet Citrus Gin has grapefruit, lime, lemongrass and kaffir lime amongst its botanical line up, meaning that it has no choice but to bow down to its tangy overlords. Lemongrass is the first to hit the nose, as strong as though you’d just bitten into a fresh chunk whilst feasting on a Thai green curry. There is a faint warm, caramelised smell, suggesting their are possibly some dried peels as well as fresh ingredients. It’s very green and clean smelling, with the lemongrass and grapefruit peel bringing real levity.
To taste, all four of the botanicals above rush forward at once, each initially indiscernible from one another. The lemongrass once more dominates, bringing a bright, fresh, hay-like taste. Juniper isn’t overly identifiable here, but it subtly underpins proceedings and helps the spirit transition into a finish which tips between lemongrass and lime, along with an oddly floral taste left on the tongue.
Dale’s suggested G&T garnish for this is strawberries and we can certainly see why – teaming the gin up with a classic tonic like Fever Tree and a handful of chopped strawberries will make for a delightfully sweet, tart and complex drink that would go down an absolute treat in the summer months. For winter, a clove studded orange may work well here.
Juniper, grapefruit, vanilla, cocoa nibs and coffee are the listed botanicals for this gin, which has an overall quite stern feel about it. The coffee is evident to nose and offset against the dusty, bitter nature of cocoa nibs, accentuates an almost smoky quality. Juniper comes through on the nose here, too, bringing a secret, medicinal depth that is only uncovered via a deep inhale.
Coffee dominates the sip initially, with a vague hint of over-roasted beans. Juniper follows (if a little timidly), with the vanilla and cocoa nibs bringing up the rear, followed once again by the coffee as it circles back round. The vanilla adds a real sweetness too, helping add a welcome dimension to the spirit and this particular gin is easily the smoothest spirit of their portfolio – eminently sippable, even at room temperature.
This is perfect Espresso Martini fodder; the drink has so far belonged strictly in the realm of vodka, but the coffee infusion here is too strong to resist making a gin interpretation. In terms of a G&T, Dale recommends coffee beans as a garnish, but we’d go for something that would bring it back into more traditional territory, like an orange wheel.
The named botanicals in this one are juniper, chipotle chilli, smoked chilli and chilli, but spice rejectors need not cower in fear; piquancy doesn’t distil, so chilli instead brings a rich, ripe fruitiness and a touch of smoke.
To nose, a vague smoke smell does indeed rise out of the glass, entirely reminiscent of black cardamom. The chipotle is in full effect adding it’s depth of character. That medicinal juniper is there too, accompanied by a fresh and lively fruity pepper smell.
To taste, a rich sweetness envelopes the tongue and grabs hold, transforming in the mouth into something warm and fiery. There is a thick, full mouthfeel and a juniper undertone, but this is all about the chili -without the tongue tingling scoville induced heat of course. This is a drink yearning to be mixed with tomato juice and some cracked black pepper and served up in a Red Snapper, although Dale’s suggestion of a G&T with some fresh chilli slivers also appeals.
None of the four gins are a permanent fixture in the McQueen Gin catalogue – much like when they used a spreadsheet to calculate how best to create the flavour areas in their gins initially, Dale and Vicky are building mechanisms to help them receive and process customer feedback. The retention of each product will be driven by sales, and suggestions for new flavours will be heard.
We were pleasantly surprised about their collection and ideas to date. It would be all too easy to read the names of four off-beat recipes, created with the aids of spreadsheets and assume it’s a ploy to tap into a hot market in a calculated manner. This is not what McQueen Gin is about. There’s a lot of soul here and an enthusiasm to create something new and be different. To create curious spirits for those with a curious mind so to speak. They might be quite far “out there” as gins, but they are much closer to dry gin than many of the extremes currently in the category, which are more like flavoured vodkas than anything juniper centred. The way the signature botanicals have been used in all four of the McQueen Gin offers something new and fun, while also remains sympathetic to the category it embosses onto each bottle.
Talking of which, the gins are packaged in beautiful blue, glossy, 50cl ceramic bottles, each with the words ‘craft gin’ and a picture of a still embossed on the front. They’re very classic, harking back to the days where ceramic was all the rage. This traditional look is in striking contrast to the progressive liquid inside, but does give the product an overall handmade feel. That said, via photography and digital marketing it’s difficult to fully appreciate the crafted nature and for many, the bottles will appear more “artisanal’ than “premium”. A pedantic point perhaps, but with so many of you emailing in to ask about great gift gins, we feel it helps explain that this range is great for those who want that handmade feel.
With a steadily growing stockist list and a distiller coming aboard in the next month, McQueen Gin looks all but set for growth. The distiller, incidentally, will be paid for in part by the £10,000 funding that McQueen Gin secured when they won a Wild Card prize at the Scottish Edge Awards.
The fact that the gins are so unique will go one of two ways for the brand. They are a fringe offering and will flourish or perish because of this. Dale informs us that working as a husband and wife team has been “vital” to their achievements so far, saying “Vicky and I equate to 1+1 = 3.” We’re hoping this is true for the maths around their gins too. There is cocktail potential within them, they are well made by nice people and we are hopeful that this amounts to long term success.
For more information about McQueen Gin, visit their website: mcqueengin.co.uk
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