“Hand crafted” has become one of those go-to, catch-all terms; it’s a phrase so widely-used that it has rarely any meaning at all, because it pertains to all manner of production and all kinds of makers. Lancashire brand Batch Gin, however, are so involved in every step of their production that to call them anything other than small batch or hand crafted would be to do them a disservice.
From smelling the juniper to make sure it’s up to par, to weighing and measuring their botanicals, to sipping the first drop of gin to pour from the still to make sure it’s exactly how Batch Gin should taste, distiller Emma Coughlan and director Phil Whitwell have their hands on every bit of the process.
Phil Whitwell is yet another brewer who has made the step towards distilling after becoming inspired when on holiday in Madrid in 2012. Spain’s gin culture is a wild and pioneering one, with big, loud garnishes served alongside bigger, louder gins in huge Copa glasses. Whitwell was instantly enamoured, deciding almost right away that he needed to create a gin.
The brewer to distiller path, Whitwell says, is so well trodden because the skills involved hold the same appeal – that of a science that is “part art, part engineering.” Also, there was still room for a new gin: “We found that brewing was a saturated market,” Whitwell told us, “but at the time small gin companies were still reasonably rare.”
Whitwell’s impulsive nature, as observed in his sudden decision to make a gin, ended up driving the flavour profile of Batch Gin too. He was browsing his botanical supplier’s website for inspiration during December when he noticed that frankincense and myrrh had topped the charts of the most bought items. Curiosity peaked, he ordered some.
When developing his recipes, Whitwell macerates each botanical separately so he can have a good idea of their individual tastes to see how one would fit with another. In the case of his flagship gin, he fell for the highly perfumed, deep spice of frankincense and myrrh straight away. “Frankincense and myrrh gave this spicy note to the gin. It gave it a different edge, away from a London Dry; it had spicy notes that to me were familiar as gin, but gave it something else that you could pick out as definitely Batch, and that’s what we wanted. There’s no point going through the pain of handcrafting a gin if you’re going to produce something that’s the same as something a big distillery can make, so that’s what we wanted – to create something that was really good, but was also unique.”
The rest of the botanicals forming the Batch Gin line-up are juniper, coriander, angelica, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, lemongrass, dried orange peel and cardamom. With that recipe, the gin has no choice but to be one that carries a deep, warm spice, so the Christmas influence is felt all the way through.
To make Batch Gin, the botanicals are measured out and added to a gin basket above the boiler to be vapour infused. Initially, the gin production was spread across three 25-litre stills, but a premise move has lead to an upgrade, with Manchester Stills having created a bigger, yet still humble 165-litre stainless steel still for the team. Now, even though not running capacity each seven hour run – producing a gin of 91% ABV – creates enough liquid, once dialled down with water, to fill 120 70cl bottles.
Batch Gin to taste…
It’s immediately obvious to the nose that the Batch Gin team have lived up to their aim – to create a spirit that is recognisably gin, but totally, madly different from anything else on the market. It’s heavily, almost cloyingly perfumed, redolent of essential oils and Christmas candles. Despite (or maybe because of) the predominantly spiced recipe, the orange peel is loud and clean, while enough juniper has been used so that it plays its part dutifully, bringing a piny, forest feel.
To taste, the spices rush the mouth in a blur, though frankincense and myrrh stand out form the pack as something alien to the palate. The overall sensation is of crispness, with a heat that attacks the front. Here, though, is where we learn that piquancy doesn’t distil. Spiced, but not spicy and with a fresh, zesty orange and a thick, piny juniper, this is very much a gin drinker’s gin, albeit leaning in a direction you haven’t quite seen it venture before. The lingering piney finish helps carry the flavour long after the gin has disappeared too. It’s smooth enough to sip neat and so well balanced that you tend to forget about counting each individual botanical – rather this product is the offspring of their union, something altogether united and quite lovely.
The addition of tonic water changes the balance, with the sweetness highlighting the orange to make it one of the more dominant botanicals. Batch Gin suggests a swirl of lime peel and a crushed frozen raspberry as their G&T serve, which we can see working as both garnishes would highlight the sweet and citrus elements of the orange (which is fighting something of a lonely battle, with only lemongrass providing citrus back up). Obviously, the gin is more than just a winter treat but for our part, we’d find it hard to resist playing with the Christmas theme on this one – a handful of cranberries and some star anise, perhaps, or a clove studded orange for sheer festive indulgence.
The gin is bottled in a clear glass bottle, with a mandala-like flower printed directly onto the front and the botanicals sketched into the side. It’s inoffensive enough, but far from eye-grabbing when placed on any gin cabinet. Clear labels (or printing black writing directly onto glass) tend to make for an anonymous addition to the back bar, so this is one many will look over just because they can’t tell what it is. This is a shame, as the gin is tasty enough to capture our attention and while it’s local angle is a unique enough USP to help it sell well in the North West, it’s a spirit that deserves attention from much further afield. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to attain this unless Batch develops a stronger shelf presence.
Looks aren’t everything, of course, and the fact that Batch Gin are already scaling-up shows that their recipe and meticulous approach to distilling is being recognised by a far bigger audience than they’d initially dreamed of. It’s easy to forget that they are still a very young brand and learning fast, so with time they’ll continue to improve their offering. With full disclosure in mind – the review bottle we received was yellowing due to cork contamination and some sediment formation had occurred, most likely due to the bottle containing a little dust before filling. When we spoke to Whitwell about this he responded with diligence, taking the batch number from us so he could inspect the other bottles. This sort of due care is what will help the brand transform Batch from a good gin into a good all-round product.
These might sound like big errors but in reality they are minuscule and occur much more frequently than one might think within new distilling operations. It’s a reminder that “hand crafted” doesn’t always mean craftsman at work and that this ethos is the most important one to strive towards. From what we can see (and given how well-balanced the gin is) we’re confident that the future will see the Batch Brew team wear the craftsmen (and women) label comfortably.
Batch Brew is never going to strive to become an industrial-sized operation. The entire ethos behind the distillery is that it’s a business to be proud of for everyone involved; that it’s a place everybody loves to work in and that everyone wants to be part of. The happier you are, the harder you work, and the harder you work, the better your product. The Batch team are proof of this entirely, and should serve as an inspiration for anyone looking to enter the market.
Gin fans, seek this out. It’s decadent and delicious and everything you never knew you wanted – we were genuinely thrilled when we tasted it.
For more information about Batch Gin, visit their website: www.batchbrew.co.uk
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