6 O’clock Gin
In the mid 1980s, Edward Bramley Kain and his partner, Penelope Gage, were fruit farmers who’d end up – more often than not – with a surplus of fruit at the end of each crop. To stop the spoils of their labour from going to waste, they began to create small batches of liqueurs in their kitchen, quickly realising that while a pound of strawberries might earn you pennies when plucked from the bush, the profits would stretch a lot, lot further when mixed with a splash of booze. With the seed of an idea sewn and a growing interest in translating the fruits of their labour into liquid form, they soon decided to abandon the farm, with liqueurs quickly becoming the family business.
Twenty or so years later, with Bramley & Gage now a prosperous distillery, Edward and Penelope started to look towards retirement. They considered selling the business but their son, Michael, couldn’t quite bear to see it go. Though fully immersed in a career that he loved, he took a brief sabbatical from and dipped his toes into the distilling water. Needless to say, he hasn’t looked back.
When, in 2007, Michael and his sister, Felicity, bought Bramley & Gage from their parents, they decided pretty instantly to make a gin. With a Sloe to the company’s name already, as well as a vast collection of deliciously fruity liqueurs, creating their own interpretation of that most positively, quintessentially English spirit seemed the next step.
Edward already had a gin recipe to his name; he’d been using it for years as the base for his Sloe Gin, but he never believed it to be good enough to be sold in its own right, hence Michael’s decision to create an all-new one. After all, with an abundance of hedgerow fruit surrounding the distillery, making a gin would be easy. Surely.
Not quite. Michael is the first to say that gin didn’t come to Bramley & Gage naturally. “Trial and error. Well, lots of error” he said, when describing how he and the team came up with the recipe for 6 O’clock Gin. “After a year or so we realised we needed help and turned to Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers.” Maxwell, who creates many thousands of litres of gin each year, was indeed the person to talk to. Using his decades of experience, he steered 6 O’clock Gin in the right direction, adding his go-to botanical – winter savory – to the mix.
It took two and a half years to develop the recipe overall, with the final botanical line up consisting of juniper, coriander, angelica, orris, savory, elderflower and orange peel. Elderflower is the only local botanical, and Bramley & Gage also use it to create a liqueur. It was the company’s history of liqueurs that helped guide the flavour of 6 O’clock Gin. “All of our liqueurs taste of their main ingredient,” Michael told us, “so it was natural to have a juniper led gin.”
6 O’clock Gin is distilled either by Edward, Michael or their distiller, Tom, on Bramley & Gage’s custom made Arnold Holstein still, Kathleen. The still was purchased via a £25,000 loan from peer-to-peer firm Funding Circle, and was bought to help Bramley & Gage keep up with demand for their gin.
Bramley & Gage’s still has a double sphere condenser, adding an extra cycle to the process (thus more copper contact) and creating an extra smooth spirit in turn. The still is charged with neutral spirit, with water and the botanicals loaded in thereafter. Once the juniper has soaked through, heat is added. Four hours later, enough 80% ABV spirit has come through Kathleen to create the equivalent of 1000 bottles of 6 O’clock Gin.
This spirit is left to rest, before bring dialled down to drinking strength – 43% – with water brought in from North Devon. The Tarka Springs water, according to Michael, makes all the difference. “It’s the least mineral heavy water in the UK,” he told us, “incredibly soft and ideal for gin, much better than RO or processed tap water.”
6 O’clock Gin to taste…
We let out an embarrassing “ooh” upon first sniff of this gin. In the bottle, a classic juniper aroma wafts to the top, but in the glass clean, green elderflower leaps forward, supported by a delightfully sweet and juicy orange.
This is a classic gin lover’s gin, for sure. There’s a loud coriander here, which emerges almost instantly, usurping the elderflower’s attempts at sweetness and carrying a warm citrus note right through to the finish. Juniper is present throughout, but never in a dominating capacity, rather it supports the entire flavour journey, leaving the mouth oscillating wildly between pine and citrus long after the sip is supped. It’s not a harsh gin – certainly given it’s ABV – but it’s not quite as cashmere as its ‘strikingly smooth’ branding implies.
The flavour holds up well in tonic, with the elderflower a little more prominent and the juniper louder, staining the mouth with resinous pine. The coriander seed’s heat is muted and instead the citrus comes from a bright, fresh orange. It’s a lovely G&T, one just crying out for a classic lemon wedge garnish. Applied to other drinks such as a Negroni or even an English Garden (Apple Juice, Elderflower Liqueur and lemon juice), it’s not the individual flavours of 6 O’clock that really shine, but it’s ability to punch through a range of other mixers and ensure the cocktail retains a proper dose of gin. With this in mind, it’s easy to say that it makes a great mixing gin and can be applied across a variety of drinks.
6 O’clock Gin comes in an eye-catching bottle, which shares the same shade of blue as many Victorian-era medicine containers. It’s visually striking, and the logo – a silver ‘6’ patterned with clockwork – strikes a fine balance between simple and intricate. Of course, being the snobs we are, we wish this had been printed onto the bottle rather than applied via sticker, but it does the job well and on a shelf it’s certainly noticeable. Newbie brands take heed – since the launch of their blue bottle sales have doubled, showing the sheer power of good shelf appeal.
Bramley & Gage hit the market just ahead of the gin boom that has taken the UK by storm. When Michael decided to make 6 O’clock Gin, it was nothing to do with an oncoming trend and everything to do with his own tastes. He’d grown up with gin; the name 6 O’clock comes from a family tradition started by his great Grandfather, a seafaring gentleman who’d take his dose of quinine at 6pm daily. This tradition evolved quietly, until one day – during a fairly hectic liqueur production run – Michael’s mother exclaimed “oh! It’s 6 o’clock! I can have a gin and tonic.”
Bramley & Gage could never have predicted that the distilling market would become so crowded, nor that gin would become as popular as it is, but Michael has welcomed the competition, especially as 6 O’clock Gin has maintained its success, not only proliferating pub shelves across the South West, but selling well across the UK and even venturing into Spain.
6 O’clock Gin has a series of medals to its name and an ever expanding range of accompanying products, from tonics to vermouths. Their sister gins, a Sloe and a Damson are quite impressive too.
The Damson Gin in particular is worth seeking out. While describing something as a fruitier, somewhat plumier alternative to Sloe Gin might sound daft, as Sloe Gins can be both plumy and rich, fruity affairs. However, that’s the case with 6 O’clock Damson Gin. Read our reviews of them, and their Navy Strength edition, here.
The namesake tonic shares similar packaging to the gin and was created to suit its citrusy profile. To design it, Michael bought himself a Soda Stream and got busy playing around with ingredients. While we think it is a bit of a dangerous game to create products that might not be seen as stand alone (for example, if the tonic needed their specific gin, or the gin needed their specific tonic to deliver a great in glass combination as opposed to having something a little less tailored), we hold a lot of admiration for his commitment to experimentation and improvement. With it – and we mean this in as complimentary a way as possible – he reminds us of a four legged (and therefor no armed) animal. The sort that investigates everything nose first and with absolute enthusiasm.
Perhaps the most interesting thing for us about reviewing 6 O’clock Gin is how our own perception has changed with time. When we first tried it a good few years ago the noticeable citrus dose put it on the more progressive side of the map. We now live in the age of weird and wonderful gins, with provenance and locality a driving force in flavour creation and often, unusual botanicals distracting from the core juniper driven soul of gin. In 2017, 6 O’clock Gin is pretty damn classic. It’s pretty tasty, too.
For more information about Bramley & Gage, visit their website: bramleyandgage.com
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Discover them and Meet the Makers at Junipalooza Hamburg on September 21st and 22nd 2018!
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