Created by Javier Domínguez, Ramón Morillo and Victor Fraile, SANTAMANÍA was launched in July 2014. Intended as a blend of tradition and progressive attitudes towards what both distilling in Spain and Spanish gin can be – the result is a unique distillery and a peculiar but delightful gin which places authenticity above industrialisation. Their journey to create SANTAMANÍA was not easy and began nearly three years ago back in 2011. The time between the first decision to go for it, all the way to when the first still run actually occurred took 761 days. To commemorate the lengthy process – the first batch was named: 761.
Surprisingly, despite the consumption of gin being one of the highest in the world, Spain has very few micro distilleries producing the spirit. While only just beginning its journey SANTAMANÍA can already comfortably claim to be one of the few distilleries in Spain to be specialised in the development of small batch spirits. You won’t find a bottle of SANTAMANÍA numbered higher than 330 as they insist on using a one shot distillation method to create each batch.
The team have even taken it one step further and allowed consumers to find out more details as to when their batch was distilled and what happened on the day. This is a nice touch which offers up a level of transparency that befits the brand’s small batch provenance.
Being one of the only micro distilleries in Spain goes a long way to explain why setting up the distillery took so long too. One must consider that it took them nearly 12 months just to get their licenses as they were the first urban distillery in Spain and much like Sipsmith had to do in the UK – they had to trail blaze their way into making it happen. Spanish authorities had to begin writing entire new sets of rules and forced the SANTAMANÍA team to go through lengthy procedures to satisfy all the different local authorities, industrial regulators, health & safety officers, tax department, environmental impact and more that all was in order.
The trial and error process to achieve the perfect recipe also took an impressive amount of attention to detail. The trio carefully developed 32 “commercial ready” recipes in their lab, from which 10 where taken forward and distilled in the new distillery. Spanning over two years – the final recipe was selected once their still was set up. It took a further three months of tests to ensure the perfect consistency and balance were achieved.
They decided upon a selection of Spanish botanicals to complement more traditional gin ingredients. Spain possesses one the largest surface area of vineyards in the world. SANTAMANÍA nods to this heritage with its spirits and incorporates this Spanish heritage and flavour by using grape as the base for all their spirits. It’s an unusual move for ginsmiths – presently only G’Vine Gin and Chilgrove Gin have released gins with neutral grape base spirit and it is by no means uncontroversial. While the Tempranillo grape base offers up smoothness and character, it also imparts it’s own identity on the rest of the botanicals. Regardless of how traditional the rest of the process is, the overall flavour of the gin will always be set apart – for better or for worse.
So, as for these botanicals… SANTAMANÍA use 14 in total, including plump juicy juniper berries, coriander seed, liquorice root, fresh Spanish lime and lemon, a touch of angelica and orris root. Spanish pistachio nuts are also added as well as raspberries – which compliments the fruit note inherent in the grape base. Last but not least, there is cinnamon, white pepper, dry ginger and rosemary.
The botanicals macerate in the spirit before being transferred to Vera, their custom made Christian Carl copper still. Interestingly, the team use the entire 280Ltr copper pot’s capacity and make their spirit pass through the kettle, helmet, infusion chamber and rectification column. Some distillers bypass certain elements as they are deemed unnecessary and too costly to run through given the additional energy required to operate them. Crucially from a botanical perspective, SANTAMANÍA macerate theirs for up to 24 hours which they then add to the pot as well as using the vapour chamber to infuse some of the botanicals into the gin during distillation. Once distilled, the gin is combined with water from the Canary Island sourced from deep inside the Teide volcano and left to rest for a 2 to 3 month period.
While it’s important to note that the amount of botanicals are not the be all and end all of gin, there are many great gins with less as well as more than 14 botanicals. In this case, they all play their part to create a complex gin where multiple nuanced flavours counterbalance the juniper.
For SANTAMANÍA the combination amounts to a gin where the grape base is crystal clear to smell. There is a soft citrus and a slight jammy note too. To taste, grape and citrus notes announce themselves with a spark, but are soon rounded off by juniper, cardamom and coriander seed. It leaves a rather fleshy fruit, sweet note to finish with raspberry and grape once again intertwined. It’s smooth too, but at only 37.5% ABV we’d expect nothing else. It’s certainly not a Dry Gin in classical terms, but the botanicals are well balanced and the gin works well in a G&T. We would recommend the signature serve to be a Bramble cocktail or a French 75 as the red fruit note and grape undertones would make either cocktail an interesting experience of its own. At £32, the gin might be a little on the pricey side, but it’s craft distilled and imported so that has to be taken into account – small batch does not come cheap, especially for those who are first to market.
Flavour aside, SANTAMANÍA impresses most when it comes to their bottle design with crazy and fun graphics printed straight onto the bottle. It gives the bottle that manic feel but manages to remain organised. It’s a great doodle in it’s own right, but doing it on a frosted bottle really makes it pop. They’ve also added a nice touch with the red colouring on the base of the bottle which first of all differentiates it from their vodka but also gives it that devil-like red tint and highlights some details found on the rest of the bottle. If they keep with this theme and are strict with their identity, in our opinion they will have a really solid creative base to build on. The clear downside of their more adventurous design is the lack of “pop” in bars, but we feel it’s outweighed by how tactile it is for those buying for domestic consumption.
SANTAMANÍA should be applauded for creating a micro distillery in what is without doubt the home of the G&T. Gin is so huge in Spain and in particular Madrid, that it’s great to finally see craft distilleries emerging out there and doing so with such pride and passion. The team have clearly taken a leaf or two out of the Sipsmith playbook and adapted it to fit their own identity. However, in doing so, the best bits have continued on – transparency, integrity and passion – and it’s been done with a Spanish twist.
SANTAMANÍA may taste quite different for strict classical gin lovers – the grape base is pronounced and slightly juniper subdued – but in equal measure it’s a good addition to the gin market. While the juniper may be subdued it is still clearly discernible to taste and the overall spirit is smooth. The result is discernibly gin yet it’s different and so SANTAMANÍA is worth seeking out for something new and is another interesting contribution to the category As gin lovers, we would urged them to push their gin to a higher strength as their initial release at 37.5% ABV got a little lost once added with a mixer. Well, unless of course you are pouring those infamous “Spanish” measures (at least 50ml a time…)! Thankfully, with others also calling for it too, the team increased it 41% and now the gin’s mellow tones and distinct nose carries well in cocktails.
In early 2015, the team released SANTAMANÍA Reserva, a barrel aged variant which we have reviewed separately (HERE) and at the time of writing, have just announced a third gin using a grain base. They have also grown in scale, moving to a new premises and adding a new still named Lola to assist with the increased demand as well as adding a visitor experience to enable guests to see the gin making process. Perhaps more unique in the terms of a craft distillery, in an increasingly crowded arena instead of looking at others as the competition, SANTAMANÍA have deliberately gone out to collaborate instead. They dedicate 25% of their time to research & development. One of these collaborations (due for release in 2016) was with Australian distillery Four Pillars – more on this soon! Suffice it to say, exciting times lay ahead for the Spanish Ginsmiths and with such a progressive and co-operative attitude towards what is possible and how far they can push the category; they deserve a lot of recognition and support.
One can only hope that they fast become a success story so that others can follow in their wake and bring some of the excitement and small batch passion we’ve been seeing envelop the US and the UK for the past couple of years. If SANTAMANÍA shows one thing alone it’s that the gin market isn’t saturated for producers with authenticity – simply that there is glut of soulless brands seeking to hoodwink consumers into believing they are different. As their namesake and their gin might suggest – with a little attention to detail and a good dose of obsession – it is still possible to create something genuinely different and worthy of capturing our attention.
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