Anno Kent Dry Gin
All distillers consider themselves to be chemists in some capacity. Theirs is a science of behaviour and matter; of which does what, when and why. To get that lovely gin pouring from their stills they combine heat, steam, flora and spirit, working long, mad hours to find that exact right blend. Anno founders Andy Reason & Normal Lewis (the An and No in Anno, since you asked so nicely), are perhaps the most qualified to wear the title though, having actually come to the gin world from the big pharma industry.
When their research and development site was shut as part of a global rationalisation programme in 2010, both opted to ditch the white coats and stay in Kent. Sharing a quiet passion for spirits they teamed up, along with Norman’s daughter Kim (another scientist, although one with an MA in Business!), to create Anno Distillers. Whisk(e)y was toyed with, but Norman is a loud and proud Gin obsessive so attention quickly turned towards the juniper based spirit.
Their first move was a trip to the British Library in London to look at the history of Gin and its botanicals. They made frequent trips, soaking up stories from the past few centuries of distilling. “This information, combined with a review of commercial gin botanicals, taught us a lot about the basis of the gin flavour and some common trends across many gins,” Kim said.
The Anno team selected a hundred botanicals to work from, distilling each on a 2-litre alembic still so that they could understands the flavours that they produced after steeping and distilling. From here they chose the smoothest distillates with the most appealing flavours. Explaining their methodology, Kim said: “We were left with a shortlist of twenty-five botanicals, which were divided into three distinct types. Blends of these were distilled to give us three distillates: a base gin, citrus and floral.
“To refine the recipe we then carried out a series of experiments where different proportions of the three key distillates were combined and tasted. With a lot of help from friends, family and professional tasters, followed by a little more tweaking, we reached the final recipe, which contains 16 of those 25 shortlisted botanicals.”
The sixteen botanicals are juniper, coriander, cassia, liquorice, angelica, orris, cubeb, bitter orange peel, lemon, kaffir lime leaves and chamomile, as well as locally grown hops, elderflower, rose hips, lavender and samphire foraged from the Kent coast.
To make Anno Kent Dry Gin, Andy, Norman and (now assistant distiller Mike) add a neutral grain spirit to their 300-litre Carl still, Patience (named for long journey it took to get Anno off the ground). The spirit is diluted with water, then the “hard” botanicals (roots, berries and barks) are added, warmed and stirred overnight. The next day the more delicate ingredients (like flowers) are added into a vapour basket before the still is heated.
The distillation run takes around six hours, with the hearts cut coming off the still at 90% ABV. This is then added to a 500-litre tank and blended down to 43% ABV with purified water. In total, 640 70cl bottles are produced per batch.
Anno Kent Dry Gin to taste…
Green, gorse-like sweetness pops at the nose; Kent is famously known as the Garden of England and the freshly plucked herbs and flowers are the loudest by far in Anno Gin. Lavender and juniper dominate the senses, with rootier botanicals like liquorice, angelica and orris root providing the impression of a thick, oily foundation underneath. It’s alluring and really conveys the idea of a Kentish, garden gin inspired by the rich bounty of their surroundings.
Tasted neat, sweet elderflower, a touch of cassia and samphire that greet the tongue first. It’s not a spiced gin, but the cubeb and cassia conspire to bring a savoury pinch of pepper to an otherwise floral spirit and help provide a lovely duality to the flavour. Once the tongue is hardened by a couple of sips, the leafier botanicals gain some noise. Elderflower flushes the mouth with a sweet floral gasp, while rose hips and Kaffir lime leaves hum quietly beneath. Juniper is present throughout, though never dominant – rather it sits alongside all of the other botanicals, pushing them forward like an over enthusiastic parent. Bottled at 43% ABV the impression is not of a spirity gin, quite the contrary – it’s thick, laden with flavour and smooth to finish.
With tonic, the botanicals swirl together in a magical way, with the excessive fizz of a particularly well-carbonated mixer (we’re drinking it with Merchant’s Heart) bringing an almost fantastical feel to the G&T… Perhaps a little too whimsical here but bare with us – it’s what we imagine walking in the vapour trails of a glitter strewn unicorn would taste like. Yes we went there. Unicorns. It’s just that with tonic, it’s hugely sweet, with a big bouquet of flowers sprouting on the tongue and furnishing the mouth with an abundant sense of the garden, and when combined with fizz popping and effervescing – it’s quite surreal. Whether you seeing imaginary beasts or just as smitten as we are – we’ll sure you’ll agree that Anno Kent Dry Gin makes for a delectable G&T.
We’d also be tempted to play with the sweet nature and try it in a White Cargo (60ml gin, 1 scoop ice cream, a tablespoon white wine). Go full dessert with this… why not?
Anno Kent Dry Gin comes beautifully presented in a box worthy of gifting too. The bottle itself is formed of thick, clear tapered glass. The front has the Anno logo written in shiny copper, and the sides are decorated with handwritten font, thus pushing the ‘craft’ element of the gin. Unfortunately, given the transparent nature of the majority of the bottle design, it’s a little anonymous on the shelf once the box has gone and it gets lost next to the dozens of other gins competing for attention – a small niggle in an otherwise well considered package however.
As well as delivering distillery tours, the Anno team has been working on educating drinkers by talking at conferences and shows about the molecular structure of botanicals, trying to fix widely held misconceptions about gin flavourings.
Kim explains: “Geekier consumers are aware of the variety of botanicals found in gins, but most are typically unaware that each botanical will have hundreds of individual flavouring compounds making up the composite flavour that they associate with a particular botanical. Gins therefore have many hundreds of different compounds which provide the characteristic taste and aroma of each spirit.” Their insight into this area and willingness to share it in such forums has already created ripples and triggered further research that can be seen amongst the distilling community already; a feat very few can claim to have accomplished.
The Anno Gin portfolio is steadily growing. There’s a cranberry and a sloe gin, and Anno 60 Squared Gin – a 60% ABV edition released to celebrate Andy and Norman’s 60th birthdays. The limited edition is a spiced affair, with hops and woods joining more traditional gin botanicals to form an altogether earthier profile.
Anno 60 Squared Gin to taste…
Hints of vanilla claw at the nose, though this is joined by a spirity spice that slightly singes the nostrils. There’s a surprising sweetness given the 60% ABV, and vague hints of wood and hay.
To taste, obviously – there is a numbing spiritiness but for those habituated to higher proof offerings, there’s a clear sugar that coats the tongue, bringing a green floral sweetness that can only be likened to caramelised grass. Not that we’re in the habit of eating grass… There’s freshness to the fore, though this is tinged by the dry, almost citrus quality of hops. The hard botanicals – spices, roots, and wood – dominate the back end of the sip, filling the mouth with an electric fire.
With tonic, the gin louches greatly, so when your glass clouds up it’s not a faulty batch – just an abundance of oils. The sweetness remains, but the woody botanicals encourage a dry, bitter finish. It’s similar to the flagship offering, but the spices elements carry a little stronger and add a certain depth that anchors the flavours. It makes for a lovely and complex G&T and is surprisingly easy to sip neat despite the huge ABV.
So, what next?
Further expansion to the range is inevitable: “As scientists we love to experiment and always have ideas for new products – more than we have time to fully develop, in fact,” Kim explains. “However, we do plan to increase our range, but the choice of products to pursue has not been finalised, so you’ll have to stay tuned.”
From unicorns vapour to dry vanilla, the Anno gin range is a promising one, with truly tasty expressions. The flagship offering is a particularly Kentish example, plucking the drinker from reality and dropping them straight into the countryside. It’s one to seek out and serve when the sun is high in the sky and all you want is a drop of something sweet and light. As distillers, they are artisans and alchemists quietly working away in the English countryside and are perhaps, one of this new generation of British Gin makers’ best kept secrets. We suspect that will not be for long…
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