Wight Mermaids Gin
The Isle of Wight is a picturesque island sitting four miles from the south coast of England. It’s a proud little pocket of the country, with beautiful beaches, lush green fields and salty air accompanying a vague time-machine feel. The most notorious export until recently has been garlic, but Islanders (and Island visitors) can rejoice, for the Wight now has a distillery tucked away in a corner of Ryde, which produces the very delightful Wight Mermaids Gin.
The Isle of Wight distillery was founded by friends Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett (the former a brewer, the latter involved in wine production), both of whom had spent a long time mulling the possibility. This time was nothing compared to the somewhat nail biting period it took to get the project off the ground once they decided to press ahead – after getting their still commissioned and ready to go, the duo were met by a wall of bureaucracy, with it taking two years for the distilling licenses to be finalised.
The decision to make gin was simple enough; the flavour combinations possible with the spirit are an exciting challenge and the abundance of locally growing botanicals would allow the distillery to add a strong Isle of Wight accent.
Talking of which, the local botanicals involved in the gin’s production are elderflower, hand picked rock samphire and Boadicea hops, plucked from the Ventnor Botanic Garden. The other botanicals forming the line-up are juniper, coriander, fresh lemon zest, grains of paradise, angelica root, liquorice root and orris root.
Xavier, coming from a brewing background, was very familiar with recipe creation and told us that when he began he already had a good idea of how to create a gin that would come close to their shared vision: that of a “light, smooth, citrusy spirit with peppery notes and a hint of the Isle of Wight.”
To make Isle of Wight Mermaids Gin, Xavier adds all of the botanicals into a neutral grain spirit and leaves them to macerate for 24 hours. This is a one shot gin, so everything is distilled at once in the Isle of Wight Distillery’s 300 litre still. Each distillation run takes a full day, producing up to 450 bottles per run once blended down to its bottling strength of 42% with Isle of Wight spring water.
Wight Mermaids Gin to taste…
Hops are an unusual – though far from unused – botanical. They dominate the nose, bringing a savoury, cereal-like smell with them. The grains of paradise are present on the nose too, adding a fiery, musty undercurrent. Juniper is there too, but quiet and quite medicinal in quality.
Wight Mermaids Gin is refreshingly mild to taste. The bitter, citrusy hops underpin the whole flavour journey, carrying an almost bitter wheatiness with them. There is a hint of liquorice sweetness, though when sipped straight the grains of paradise drown out the rest of the pack. A splash of tonic lessens the spice’s strengths, bringing out the sweetness of the elderflower and the roots. Juniper comes through on the finish, flooding the mouth with pine and coating the tongue entirely.
Wight Mermaids Gin works well in a G&T – we tried it with Merchant’s Heart Pink Peppercorn tonic which added a nice levity to the grain spiciness. A citrus garnish, like lemon peel, would do well to accentuate the citrus botanicals, but something sweet and fresh, like a slice or two of apple, would tone down the more savoury aspect of the gin and heighten the elderflower sweetness.
There is also a navy strength edition of the gin, HMS Victory. At 57%, it’s similar to nose, though the higher strength brings a certain spiritiness. To taste, the hops and grains of paradise are dialled down, allowing the sweeter botanicals the same prominence as the warming ones. Juniper, again, dominates the finish, allowing the gin a chance to explore new territory but ultimately returning it to its roots. In a strange twist, as usually higher proof gins accentuate the spice, this is, in our opinion, actually better balanced than the original gin.
HMS Victory would do very well in a Gimlet – it’s rich and tasty and the malty taste of the hops feels like a hark back to days of yore (when those Naval genii decided to prevent scurvy by drinking such a snappy, citrusy concoction).
Having gone through some incarnations to evolve into what it is today, the brand’s packaging game is strong, with the island radiating from the bottles in waves. The flagship comes in a clear glass bottle with a white and gold wrap. An Isle of Wight shaped hole occupies a vast area of the front of the label, through which one can catch a glimpse of the eponymous mermaid. The nautical theme carries throughout, with the gold gilding around the edge designed to look like rope.
HMS Victory, is packaged similarly though navy blue replaces the white and the mermaid has swum away, replaced by the HMS Victory herself. HMS Victory Gin is evidence of their brand’s speedy growth, with the Isle of Wight Distillery already earning itself a place of trust having teamed up with The National Museum of the Royal Navy to produce this drink. Xavier himself mentions this particular backing received as the highlight of the journey so far.
There’s also a limited edition of HMS Victory Gin being produced – it will be aged in oak barrels alongside some oak from the infamous and historic boat itself, thus allowing fans a glimpse of how a sea-stored navy strength might have tasted. This not only further demonstrates the great ties that Xavier and Conrad have forged within a year, but also their capacity to take ideas and marry them with real authenticity. Many have created Navy Gins, many have created barrel aged gins. None have ever worked with a national museum to create one using actual wood from, possibly, the most famous war ship their has ever been. History in a glass is an understatement and we’re very keen to try it once it’s out.
There are plans for other variants a little further down the line and given that they’ve achieved so much in a year, we wouldn’t be surprised if this happens quite quickly (a sloe in time for Christmas, maybe?). As regular Isle of Wight visitors, we’re particularly excited that it has its own distillery and as gin fans we’re excited that it’s producing genuine and unique liquid.
They have already evolved and grown since their launch, so this is clearly just the start of the journey. Expect more in the future and expect it to be tasty!
For more information about Isle of Wight Distillery, visit their website: www.isleofwightdistillery.com
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