Few people may know this, but while the Gin Foundry team are based in London, half of our roots are based in Switzerland. With family who used to distil kirsch, and other tinctures, on farms in the heart of the Swiss countryside running through our heritage – it’s been with huge interest that we’ve been following the journey of the up and coming nginious! Gin.
Oliver had been toying around the idea to produce a lemonade or a spirit for years but the dream only started to become a reality in 2013. Inspired by a trip to Plymouth distillery and the burgeoning gin scene across Europe, which they could see first hand by its continued popularity in their bar, the duo took a leap of faith and began developing their idea.
The first thing they did was to ask themselves what kind of Gin they wanted to produce. Following plenty of research they realised that whilst there were a few Swiss gins available, none had enjoyed enough popularity to be considered THE Swiss Gin. Equally it appeared that none of the gins had really been emblematic of the country botanically, nor any adopted as the “national gin” per se. They aimed to do exactly this: produce a gin that has typical herbal flavours and a freshness you would naturally associate with “Swissness”. For those of you who are thinking that they must have undertaken a brainstorm meeting with lots of gin samples and what emerged was a diagram of a gin version of a Swiss army knife: yes. That’s exactly what happened… (we hope).
So with the small task of making a gin that could be considered emblematic of an entire nation – the next challenge was to pick the botanical line up. The duo started to collect as many different botanicals as they could find. Making an initial list of a possible 100 ingredients, they took the infamous Swiss approach of no nonsense efficiency to whittle it down. Their process was simple and logical. They focused on each botanical one after another and made a simple and quick basic decision: yes or no. Botanical speed-dating you ask? Well yes, kind of.
After only a few hours, there were about 30 remaining botanicals on their shortlist which were separated into four general categories – and therein the next major decision. The duo decided that they were not going to produce a London Dry Gin, where all of the herbs are added to the pot before being distilled all together. They decided to make it in fractions and then blend a mix together afterwards.
They are not alone in doing this – Martin Miller’s Gin, Hendrick’s Gin and others have too but it’s an unusual technique and also quite labour intensive to do so. The first fraction they grouped together is loosely defined as Fruity. With juniper, barberry and laurel berries at the fore, this is the soul of the gin. The second batch is Citrus – besides the typical lemons, they use sweet orange peel and fresh grapefruit.
The herbal selection are what add that “Swiss element”, as Oliver and Ralph only used herbs native to Switzerland: hay flowers, clover blossoms, bee balm, verbena, hyssop, chamomile, blackcurrant leaves, iris and carline thistle root, as well as galingale.
The fourth could be largely grouped as Roots, with whole peeled cardamom being a definitive flavour alongside liquorice root. With their broad approach in place and a selection to work off, the pair began fine tuning the recipe. They tinkered over three months until they had their final botanical line up (and many distillations of the different groups with different compositions sitting on shelves having been evaluated).
Their initial problem were the roots. Rooty botanicals bring a lot of structure to the gin but don’t smell very pleasant independently. In the first stages they were distilling all four rooty botanicals in one batch. However, after several unsuccessful attempts at creating a harmonious mix once blended with the others, they decided to separate the liquorice from the other roots placing them instead in the more “herbal batch“ while distilling liquorice separately. That was the solution. A light sweetness and structure to complete the composition of the other 17 botanicals. It then took them a further 6 months until they completed the final recipe.
So, to recap – nginious! Gin has a final selection of 18 botanicals, separated and distilled in 4 separate batches which are then blended together afterwards to create a tasty Swiss Gin. Easy. But what about the distillery you ask? Where is it all made?
The production of nginious! Gin is overseen by Hans Erismann from the Brennerei Erismann in Eschenmosen. An experienced and renowned distiller, his raspberry schnapps was awarded the title of Best Swiss Schnapps in the 2013 edition of the Swiss Wine Journal. This might sound like local trivia, but take it from us, this is no mean feat and competition is fierce for the national accolade.
While Hans oversees the distilling, the recipe of the gin and most of the handy work is still done by Oliver. He prepares everything until the distillation starts and afterwards he reduces the alcohol and does the blending and bottling. The combination is a beautifully Swiss compromise as while Oliver and Ralph do not own the distillery, they have found a master distiller to help them oversee the technical aspects of the distilling and who is not simply interested in just distilling alcohol for financial remuneration. They all share the same values and ideas about how to make a gin using a blending method as opposed to a one shot London Dry. They are all enthusiastic about making the best possible gin and creating something memorable.
A large part of Hans distillery business is to distil fruits for other people – that has been a long tradition in his family. A truck actually remains from when he used to travel around the country, farm by farm in order to distil the fruits for various people. He actually did this until 2013! Today Hans still uses the stills on the truck although he has 3 other new copper pot stills inside the distillery itself.
Nginious! Gin is never created in more than 100-120 litres at the same time in one still. They do this to achieve the best possible extraction and not heating the mix for too long. The herbs for instance are distilled in smaller copper stills in the distillery whereas the juniper is mostly distilled in the bigger, older (and formerly mobile) ones.
Taking a small batch method as well as having multiple stills to select from allows them to achieve the desired extractions. Each batch of botanicals is macerated for 6 to 10 hours. It then takes between 3 and 4 hours to distil around 100 litres. It’s also worth noting how much attention has gone into all the preparation elements too. Their method is complicated, but much like that other iconic Swiss export, handcrafted watches – it works to perfection. For example directly before the maceration process, the juniper and laurel berries are gently hand-milled with a mortar and pestle to ensure that skins were broken, while the barberries are sliced. The little things might seem like an over complication, but they add up to create a uniquely crafted gin.
After all of the portions are distilled and controlled they are carefully blended together. Despite its 45% ABV, nginious! Gin is remarkably smooth. Citrus fruits and sweet blackcurrant leaves emerge on the nose. Chamomile and juniper burst when tasted neat and other leafy herbs (verbena in particular) come through when laced with ice and tonic. The citrus is zesty and adds to the mix while cardamom combines with juniper to underpin the gin. Heat develops with the finish but the ensemble remains fresh and bright. Overall, it is a lovely, fresh sweeping gin where no one botanical dominates, rather the overall gin is much more than the sum of its parts.
Inspired to create a perfect gin for a Martini, the second release from the distillery was a barrel aged variant. Nginious! Cocchi Vermouth Cask is aged in Torrino, in barrique barrels (around 225lt for you coopering enthusiasts out there). The casks they use were first used to age Barolo, then Cocchi Vermouth and finally, filled with gin.
Never content with making life easy on themselves… they fill the barrel twice. The initial filling of the first cask is very short and lasts only one week. This is because the cask is soaked with vermouth and if left any longer, the vermouth would over power the gin. The second filling is much higher in alcohol and lasts around 7 weeks. The final bottling is a blend of the two fillings and is reduced to 43% ABV.
This may well be the world’s first vermouth cask finished gin, but take out firsts and seconds in the annals of history for a second – it’s also a very tasty barrel-aged Martini in its own right and when served over ice (or as a bone dry Martini), it makes for a flavoursome concoction. Tasted neat, the Cocchi Vermouth Cask makes its presence known, not just with the influence on the colour, having turned the gin from clear to a pale hue, but also transforming the nose to become both resinous and woody. To taste the mouth-feel is silky and the juniper is more prominent, both are attributes that combine well for a Martini. Cardamom is also stronger and extends the finish. As an aged gin, this is on the lighter end of the sub-category, partly because what has been added in terms of flavour are the woody notes from a barrel, in addition to elements of the previous occupant – Cocchi Vermouth. The added vegetal notes from the vermouth as well as the delicate citrus are a noticeable addition making the unusual combination one that would have many ordering more in quick succession!
Each nginious! Cocchi Vermouth Cask finished bottle is wrapped in goat leather and the logo is marked, making each bottle unique. Other than the visual impact – the wrap is a nice link back to the farms and countryside of Switzerland and a reminder of the heritage behind the gin.
As soon as it’s poured, wisps of smoke that dance their way up from the gin, resting hazily in the glass. It’s not a peated aroma, nor a dense smoke, more the remanence of a chimney fire the morning after. The juniper isn’t evident on the nose, but there is a distinct touch of citrus hinting at what might be being masked by the fog.
The salt announces itself quite firmly to taste, working alongside bitter orange and a fiery ginger that grows with time. Juniper is never obvious as a specific flavour in its own right, but remains omnipresent, providing a piney backdrop.
Smoke lingers on the finish too, ever diminishing in its intensity while the salt, ginger and orange cling on. Many have described this gin as reminding them of a bonfire, but we found it to be more like the passing breeze on a coastal walk, with perhaps a bonfire in the far distance. It’s not the up close and pungent aroma you get standing next to a smokey inferno, nor the saline flavour in your mouth after a plunge in the sea. It is more like the moments after, where smoke, salt, tastes and memories cling to your senses in less vivid and more opaque ways.
It’s interesting, if quite an unusual departure for a gin and for that reason, probably quite polarising.
With a new distillery set to open in the new year, we expect many more, mad expressions from the nginious! team.
For more information about Nginious, visit their website: www.nginious.ch
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