The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that tells of a dark and twisted sea voyage, complete with ghost ships, an encounter with death and the not-so-elegant execution of an albatross. Even those unfamiliar with Coleridge’s poem will have met the proverbial albatross at some point in their lives, so widely featured is it in the English language.
Roy Lewis of Hebridean Spirits & Liqueurs fell in love with the poem at a wintry fundraising event for the repair of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Helensburgh in 2008. The darkness of the church was muted only by the faint flicker of candlelight, while the silence was broken by someone reciting the Ancient Mariner rhyme from heart. Lewis found the experience so overwhelming that he couldn’t shake it, nor the poem, from his thoughts as he walked along the sea front the next day, somehow conjuring up the idea to build a brand around it through his reverie.
The idea evolved into three products over the next two years. Quite fittingly – given the sea fairing title of the brand – a gin and a rum were involved. As the idea took shape, Ancient Mariner Gin was designed to have a very traditional taste – Lewis sought to bottle a very dry, non-perfumed gin, as, he told us, “the new gins being launched were competing to create flavours that were some way from the original London style gin”.
He went to Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers, who suggested a very simple gin recipe using just four botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica and savory. Each batch, once cut down to its bottling strength of 50% ABV, produces over 1000-litres, enough liquid to create 2000 50cl bottles of Ancient Mariner Gin.
Ancient Mariner Gin to taste…
Ironically, given Lewis’ decision to create an un-perfumed gin, Ancient Mariner Gin has a fantastically pretty smell. It’s light and crisp, with a thick, sappy juniper cutting through, bringing a spiky, purplish pine smell to the nose.
In simple terms, it’s delicious to taste. Juniper forces its way ahead of the other three botanicals and leads throughout. Coriander seed joins with a bright, citrusy heat and angelica brings an oily sweetness. The savory doesn’t come through until the finish, wherein it brings a leafy, vegetal end.
When mixed with tonic, Ancient Mariner Gin changes form; the angelica sweetness dials down, while the juniper and savory gain depth, greeting the tongue together to create an altogether savoury experience. Lewis’ suggested serve is Schweppes tonic and rocket and we couldn’t think of much to beat that; the punchy, peppery nature of rocket would sit well alongside the grassy taste.
Ancient Mariner Gin comes in a broad, cube bottle made from thick cut glass. It isn’t designed to be pretty (although it does have a certain charm), rather it’s a practical item; the square base means it won’t fall over when taken on board a ship. With that in mind, it marches itself into excellent gift territory for the seafaring type. The label is dark green and fairly plain, clearly driving towards an older audience.
Brand presence doesn’t appear to have been established online – the website printed on the bottle goes nowhere, and there’s no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to speak of. With so many gins on the market, and with the makers of said gins doing their very best to get their faces out there and their voices heard, Ancient Mariner Gin is in danger of sailing by quite unnoticed.
Talking of marketing… interestingly enough, Lewis describes the gin as small batch. At 2000-bottles per run, from a distillery that tends to produce over 12,000 bottles in a batch if the still is fully charged… this brings a fairly important debate to the surface – what is small batch gin? The term is used so readily that it’s become somewhat redundant, with no cap in place to define it. Small batch is a nice selling point – it paints a picture and creates a sweet, local and twee angle, but perhaps in this case it’s a step too far.
Choosing to create a gin with no unusual twist whilst the category grows and mutates into something far more adventurous than ever before was a brave choice, even at the time and actually, quite commendable also. This is an excellent workhorse of a gin and would be utterly fantastic in classic cocktails. It’s no nonsense and as such would be suited to someone of the same disposition – it’s the gin you’d buy for your intimidatingly stern father-in-law.
With a bit of love, Ancient Mariner Gin could become something; there’s still a huge audience for a good, classic, ginny gin and this – so smooth at 50% – is ideal Martini fodder. That said – while it’s based on an epic story, one with rhythm, length and an evocative touch, the brand itself currently fails to capture the very idea of it.
At present, the gin doesn’t reflect any of the adventure nor haunting depictions of the poem. Establishing an engaging media strategy (from harnessing social platforms to some engaging imagery), gaining better bar presence and putting a face behind Ancient Mariner would elevate this brand. It is not quite a shipwreck but as it stands, it is currently on course for rocky shores and it is in desperate need of some wind to billow through its sails to take it back on course.
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