Pink Pepper Gin
Pink Pepper Gin, quite unsurprisingly, takes its name from the punchy, crunchy pink peppercorn – a berry which is plucked from the Brazilian pepper tree at the height of its ripeness and which lends an exotic, light peppery taste to proceedings.
The gin is made by Miko Abouaf and Ian Spink in Cognac, France, under the Audemus Spirits brand – a company founded by Abouaf in May 2013. Abouaf – who holds the title of Director of Capers – showed an interest in spirits from an early age, playing with maceration and liqueur recipes at home in Australia, before venturing into distilling at the age of eighteen.
Abouaf worked in finance and at non-profit organisations for several years, before landing a role as a distiller of Cognac for Martell and Courvoisier, where he worked until he established Audemus Spirits. In early 2014 he was joined by Ian Spink – under the title of Director of Doing – who had up until that point been working in the hotel industry. Spink’s focus is on the commercial and marketing element of the business (though he also holds the ever-so-enviable role of taste tester).
Audemus Spirits was initially established as a new kind of spirit company – more specifically, one that would create bespoke spirits for others. The duo designed Pink Pepper Gin in 2013 as a way of selling their services as a third party distiller – wanting to show others what could be made by their hands, with their equipment.
On the Audemus Spirits blog, Abouaf says “My aim is to create atypical and awesome spirits. This is all part of the same mentality of boosting the dynamism of the spirits industry, as well as working with the ‘Made in France’ label to make something which is contemporary, (but) built on traditions of the past.”
This is something that was achieved quickly – but rather than a surge of interest in their bespoke spirits, Audemus Spirits gained attention for their Pink Pepper Gin, which attained popularity at a rate of knots and became, in no time, their flagship offering.
France can be an incredibly difficult region for new distillers to set up in, so Abouaf decided not to use traditional methods of distilling, instead using a rotary evaporator, for which licenses are much easier to come by (much easier being a relative term here – it’s still France!).
The popularity of Pink Pepper Gin, however, meant that Abouaf had to scale up pretty quickly. Audemus Spirits now use a 25-litre vacuum still, which is similar to a rotary evaporator, but allows for a bigger glass unit. The gin is made fractionally, with each individual botanical element steeped and distilled separately in a neutral wheat spirit base, before being blended and proofed down to 44% ABV.
Pink Pepper Gin uses a unique botanical selection too; juniper is of course present, but coriander – the second most used botanical in Gin – is notably absent. There are nine botanicals in all, though only seven are named: juniper, black cardamom, pink peppercorns, cinnamon, honey, vanilla and tonka beans.
Pink Pepper Gin to taste…
To nose, citrus is dicernable (perhaps, even, accounting for the two missing botanicals. Bergamot peel and orange maybe?) and the pink peppercorns jump to the fore – spicy, but not overly piquant. They lend the tonka bean a helping hand, hefting it up somewhat. While typically reserved for the realms of perfume tastings, the word gourmand seems to be most appropriate here.
To taste, the gin is gorgeous. Complex and curious, the spicy and sweet elements play nicely together. The juniper is slightly herbal and underpins the spirit in a somewhat bossy manner, though towards the end each botanical takes over and its powers become akin to those of a supply teacher in a class full of deviants… The sip finishes on a spicy pink peppered note, but the sweet combination of vanilla, honey and tonka beans are what remain on the tongue long after it’s over.
The vanilla and tonka beans are incidentally, infused after distillation, bringing with them an added viscosity and a slight tint to the gin. The mouthfeel is rich and oily – this is one that would be just at home on ice as it would as part of a cocktail. One of our favourites uses for Pink Pepper Gin is in a Pink Gin cocktail – the bitters add a touch of warming cinnamon to the equation and the gin’s inherent softness provides a smooth finish.
Pink Pepper Gin is designed to age. According to Audemus Spirits, a young bottle will place the pink peppercorns, juniper and cardamom’s spicy notes at the fore, while an aged bottle will push the vanilla, tonka beans and honey to centre stage. The same effect takes place depending on how the drink is served – when diluted or cold, the spice takes hold, but when served warm or neat the sweeter elements stand out. This aspect alone makes the drink an interesting one to play with – we’d be very keen to try it in a heated G&T, for example.
The bottle is short and round with a cork topper. The paper label gives an older look, but Pink Pepper Gin is written in big, bold red letters and brings the bottle right up to date. (Keep an eye out for upcoming changes here, they’ve been working on some amends to continue developing it and take it to the next level). The batch number and name is stamped onto the side – a nice touch, as each batch of Pink Pepper Gin is named after people (and animals) Abouaf and Spink know.
Though their initial product was a hit, Abouaf and Spink didn’t rest on their laurels; Audemus Spirits also produce a vodka – Umami – and limited runs of other gins, including an aged version of the Pink Pepper Gin – Old Ma. To make Old Ma, Abouaf took 200 litres of the original Pink Pepper Gin and rested it in an old port barrel for five months. Another edition is Hoppy, a gin that fuses the craft worlds, using French beer brand Deck & Donohue’s Indigo IPA as a base botanical.
One edition that looks set to stick around is the evocatively titled Dive Bar Gin, released in late 2016. With its botanical DNA and sublime packaging, the gin is a standout product, travelling to the past and the future at breakneck speed.
The past comes from the botanicals. With ambrette seed, lapsang souchong, cubeb and juniper as the four named ingredients, the gin is a smoky, soulful affair, inspired by the jazz bars Miko visited when living in Sydney. The gin aims to transport you to the hazy, seedy days in which jazz bars were de rigueur, filling your mind with tunes, your nose with smoke and your shoulders with rhythm.
Dive Bar Gin to taste…
That lapsang smokiness rises up out of the glass, enveloping the nose in a dark, bitter smog. It’s aromatic and perfumed, with stewed tea notes ringing out. Juniper isn’t typically famed for its fruitiness, but when pitted against the acerbic spiced nature of the other ingredients it lives up to the berry part of its name, bringing a gentle hint of sweetness to the tongue. There’s a violet-y muskiness upfront, which is quickly surpassed by the cubeb and lapsang, the former providing a quick, peppery bite and the latter bringing a rising smoke taste, one that develops in the mouth and leaves the taste of yesterday’s bonfire ash on the tongue.
Dive Bar Gin is incredibly sippable and utterly curious, causing us to reach for the glass and again as if to soak up the mystery. In a G&T it’s a little odd – as though someone had set fire to your drink whilst you weren’t looking, leaving only the ghost of smoke behind them. If you are determined to try it in G&T form, it’s worth bearing in mind that Abouaf reccommends a red pepper to garnish. A G&T may be a no for us, but in something like an Old Fashioned it would shine, and it would certainly leave an impression on a Negroni.
The future is where Dive Bar slightly falls apart for us. Packaged in a mind bogglingly beautiful white bottle crafted from fine bone china and created by Reiko Kaneko, Dive Bar Gin is as limited as it is collectable. The very nature of being stored in such a unique piece of art, though, means that Dive Bar Gin is very possibly one of the most expensive we’ve every witnessed. On sale at Harvey Nichols for £49 for a 350ml bottle, Dive Bar comes out at £14 per 100ml. When you figure that the average gin bottle is twice that size… well, you’re going to have to really want that bottle in your life to part with the cash.
Spink clearly has a great marketing mind and there have been many interesting, outside-the-box collaborations to date, for example: Pink Pepper Gin was the only gin served at the Young Vic during the premier of its play The Trial in summer 2015. The brand has a heightened social media presence, too, regularly posting candid pictures and updates across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Give them a follow as their journey is an interesting one to see unfold.
This marketing prowess combined with the quality of the liquid and an obvious vigour for experimentation suggests a long, busy future for Audemus Spirits. With their flagship offering having gained such notoriety, it’ll be interesting to see if this open up more doors for creating third party gins as per their original plan. We certainly hope so, as the duo have a knack of producing distinct gins worthy of they attention they have received. They’re already paving the way for new ideas, preparing to take on bigger premises in the coming months… in the mean time, we look on in hopeful anticipation!
For more information about Audemus Spirits, visit their website: www.audemus-spirits.com
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