Southwestern Distillery: Tarquin’s Gins 2017
Given that he quietly put one of the most respected distillers in the industry, former Bombay maker Nick Fordham, under his employ, you might assume that the eponymous maker of the Tarquin’s Gin range is some sort of wise old juniper guru, bedecked with a grey beard and mad scientist hair. You’d assume wrong, though. Tarquin Leadbetter is 30. Just. How’s that for existential-crisis-invitingly precocious?
Tarquin is a tiringly tireless sort; a real force of gin-making energy all wrapped up in a laid-back, Devon-meets-Cornwall surfer package. He’s always thinking; always working; always trying to what work out what could go where to make something that doesn’t quite exist on the busy gin market yet. The results are almost always good too – barely a month goes by in the Gin Foundry office when one of us doesn’t have a quick scroll through the news and shout “cor, have you seen the new gin from Tarquin?”
Furnished with a seemingly relentless desire to create and collaborate, and unyielding to the desire most of us have every now and then to just.sit.down, Tarquin has seen dozens and dozens of limited edition expressions hop on out of Southwestern Distillery’s doors over the psst couple of years, making his one of the biggest small (a paradox, if ever we heard one) brands to have emerged from the recent Gin craze, and one of the most inventive, too.
Of all of the Tarquin’s Gin to have emerged this year, two in particular caught our attention: First up, the elderflower and grapefruit-led brewery collaboration Yeghes Da Gin, then the loud as a whistle, no lights no limits, do not pass go full-timer Brilliant British Blackberry Gin.
Yeghes Da means bottoms up, cheers and good health in that most superfluous of languages, Cornish (sorry Cornwall, but…). “I think we actually started with the name first, as this was going to be a joint venture between two Cornish booze producers” Tarquin explained. The collaborator was St. Austell Brewery, a family run company based just down the road from Southwestern Distillery.
To make the gin, Tarquin uses the flagship Tarquin’s Gin recipe as the base (though with a few tweaks, including the omission of orange and lemon zest to allow the grapefruit to shine), adding elderflower and pink grapefruit in to the mix. “Given the seasonal nature of business down here in Cornwall, with the ebb and flow or tourists, we were both after something wonderful and summery. Something that would really capture the Cornish sunshine and be, perhaps, a little bit more flamboyant than our flagship Cornish Dry Gin,” he explained.
As Yeghes Da was created during the off season, the gin was made with dried elderflowers. These make the overall recipe more consistent, though Tarquin argues that it’s a bit of a shame they can’t use foraged ingredients (though a handful of token picked elderflowers are chucked into the pot ahead of distillation) given the abundance of crop that Cornwall has to offer.
Yeghes Da Gin to taste…
The cinnamon from the flagship darts up the nose with mischief in its sights, waking up the senses and paving the way for a so-loud-its-almost-rude elderflower assault. A hint of fresh linen bursts across the senses before giving into the bright, fruity grapefruit. Lovely!
Those spices are angrier on the tongue, heating up the mouth and chest with a fiery fury before the elderflower explodes like a flower bomb. Tonic does soften the spices, increasing the flower power to an almost soapy level and delivering an overall warmth to the chest. It’s an unusual G&T and miles removed from the other gins that have tumbled out of Tarquin’s stills – the juniper is way shyer than you’d expect and it’s not as multi-dimensional as the rest of the range. It’s no real wonder that it’s been polarising audiences since its release, with passionate advocates both sides of the love it, hate it divide.
Tarquin’s ultimate serve for this is Spanish Gintonica style, in a giant balloon glass with lashings of ice, a light tonic and a huge slice of pink grapefruit. It’s a light hearted, unserious gin so it deserves to be served as such. For our part, we’d put it in a French 75 (perhaps with a twist, using freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, instead of lemon…).
Yeghes Da isn’t Southwestern Distillery’s first collaboration and it definitely won’t be the last. There’s something very exciting in the works with Cornish chef Rick Stein, and Tarquin has some big ideas about working with artists on packaging concepts. “We’ve got a limited edition handmade clay bottle coming out, working with incredible local potter Chris Prindl, and I would love to collaborate on a label with a local artist, so hopefully one day this will come out too,” he revealed.
The limited editions and madcap one-offs will never cease. “Experimenting is the best part of the job!” Tarquin said, evidently a little horror struck that we’d even mentioned scaling back. “There will be limited editions for years and years to come. And some might get re-born, like a phoenix from the ashes.”
Talking of re-born, some don’t even make it out of the womb. On his way to creating the Brilliant British Blackberry Gin, Tarquin and the Southwestern Distillery team got stuck early on in the development and still have a 2,000-litre tub of gin and blackberries sitting idle. This will eventually be re-distilled into another mad cap, fruity gin, and given the way the market is looking, perhaps it’s time for a step towards liqueur. A blackberry and apple crumble liqueur, perhaps. We’re happy to wait…
The initial sniff, we must admit, enticed an excited expletive or two out of our filthy mouths. Brilliant British Blackberry Gin is just so inviting, with an initial syrupy hit of gloopy red gummy sweets giving way to a bright floral honey and, eventually, the brutish spices of the flagship recipe. It all blends into a hurricane blur, as if a sweetshop and a spice merchant had melted into one strange, delicious mix.
The taste has all of this, but at a faster (and slightly more aggressive pace). The honey bids you a warm hello and the rich, red fruit blinks in and out of existence as the loud, bright coriander from the flagship warms up the mouth. It doesn’t feel like a 38% ABV gin, but it’s not quite soft enough to trick you into calling it a liqueur… it sits somewhere between: thick, spiced and quite alive.
With tonic (we drank it with The London Essence Co.’s Classic), the earthy nature of Tarquin’s Dry Gin shines through a little more profoundly, with the woody juniper and sherbet lemon-esque coriander fizzing loudly in the glass. The berries are a little toned down by the quinine, so while the eyes may lead the senses a bit here (it’s a bright, bright pink), it’s not the sweetest or fruitiest of fruit gins out there. We reckon it’d make a killer Bramble, though…
To make British Blackberry Gin, Southwestern Distillery adds pressed blackberries and local honey to the flagship gin. The honey comes from the Porteath Bee Centre, which collects its nectar from hives dotted around the north coast. Tarquin is a big fan of honey, dousing his tea, his breakfasts and just about anything else he can get away with in the stuff. As for blackberries? Well, they’re an irresistibly English ingredient (and nostalgic, too: you’ll meet very few South Westerners who don’t bear the scars of childhood blackberry bush attacks).
Southwestern Distillery’s success is down to a cosmic mix of luck, skill and enthusiasm. Tarquin began at the right time and worked hard enough to make it all work. When he began, four years ago, he’d spend days driving his gins across Cornwall in a bid to sell them in to bars and shops. Nowadays, his is widely recognised as one of the best distilleries around, and everything released is met with open arms (and an empty glass). The future, as ever, is bright.
For more information about Tarquin’s Gin, visit their website: www.southwesterndistillery.com
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