Half a millennium ago, give or take a couple of decades, Bishop John Ponet of Winchester was kicking up all sorts of fuss. He was a resistance theorist who dedicated himself to fighting the divine right of kings. He was a political thinker and staunchly anti-monarchy, sort of like the Morrissey of the 1500s… Bishop’s Gin is a tribute to this maverick, aiming to capture his character in spirit form and unleash it on the world.
The gin is owned by Ponet Spirits, which in turn is owned by Thierry Ponet, an ancestor of John Ponet. In 2014, after spending 15 years fully ensconced in London’s financial industry, Thierry headed home to Belgium. Keen to restore his family’s ancestry of distilling Genever, but influenced heavily by his time in London, Thierry decided to create a gin.
To do this, he teamed up with Matthieu Chaumont, owner of Brussels cocktail bar Hortense – an institution that played a big part in bringing cocktail culture to Belgium. Together they worked on the concept of the gin, which influenced and ultimately drove the flavour profile. John Ponet wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, but he was also a man of tradition. Bishop’s Gin channels this, roaming around strict juniper territory, but joined by new and provocative ingredients.
Core to all of Ponet Spirits’ aims was the desire to build a collection of genuinely excellent spirits. This began by Thierry and Matthieu connecting with the best local makers and sourcing the finest ingredients from across the world.
Once they had a good idea of what they wanted Bishop’s Gin to be, the duo went to Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers. As many of you readers will know well, Charles is an incredibly experienced distiller with well over thirty years experience of gin making behind him. He has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of botanicals and the way that they work together, so once a concept is delivered into his capable hands he is able to work up a recipe in good time.
Charles helped Thierry and Matthieu to select and fine tune Bishop’s Gin’s final botanical line up, which is formed of juniper, nasturtium, lemongrass, angelica, iris, almond, liquorice and lemon. The gin is made to a London Dry specification – so all ingredients are macerated and distilled together and as with all Thames-made gins, made in concentrate form, then have NGS added before being cut to bottling strength, in this case 40.7% ABV.
Bishop’s Gin to taste…
Nasturtium is the most unusual ingredient here; it’s a bright, oily flower that carries a huge floral bouquet and a hint of watercress to taste. In Bishop’s Gin, it brings flowers to the nose, with hints of an almost honey-like sweetness. Perfumed and delicate, the gin’s aroma gives little hint at what’s to come, and what’s to come – we’re happy to say – is juniper.
To taste, liquorice envelops the tongue almost instantly, coating it in a sweet film upon which the nasturtium flower sits. Lemon brings a fresh burst of citrus, while lemongrass brings its tangy warmth, before juniper sweeps everything out of the way to reign, dominating the finish and roaring with gusto. The lasting taste is one of pine and of flowers, with the watercress elements of the nasturtium creeping in, but ultimately being dominated by its sweeter side.
That watercress bitterness is much, much louder in a G&T, with the quinine proving a fine wingman. The sweetness is still there, but it’s lessened, with a more savoury gin emerging. It shows the complexity of the spirit at hand – the flavour journey is interesting and involved.
Thierry’s recommended G&T garnish is lemon and basil, which we can see working quite well. Lemon would help to accentuate Bishop’s Gin’s flush of citrus, while basil would help to coax out and complement the more watercress-like elements of nasturtium. To that end, lavender would also serve the gin well – its flavour straddles the divide between herbal and floral, thus highlighting those elements within the gin. That said, if you’ve a sweet tooth, dress it up with strawberries and enjoy.
Its flowers would sit nicely in a French 75 and its sweetness would suit a Clover Club, while the heavy juniper finish places it nicely in a Martini. What we’re saying it this: if you happen upon this gin, play with it. It’ll make for a great adventure.
The branding behind Bishop’s Gin is quite exquisite. The gin is contained in a tall glass bottle, which is dressed with an almost eerie cartoon re-imagining of John Ponet standing both behind and in front of (we did say eerie) the wrought iron bars of a church window. There are three hands on show, and two of them almost certainly aren’t his. One clutches a nasturtium flower, the other a wedding ring. The ring is a significant part of the Bishop’s Gin tail (and it’s overarching theme of duality); John Ponet defied rules by marrying whilst he was a part of the clergy, thus rebelling whilst embracing tradition.
The bottle does a good job of bridging the gap between the story of John Ponet and the interests of people today; it’s sleek and cool, making abundantly clear that its namesake was a man of two halves and demonstrating that the gin, in turn, is a spirit of two halves – one is sensible, traditional and everything you’d expect, whilst the other challenges your expectations and plays with heritage.
The gin is currently available in the UK, Belgium and France, but Ponet Spirit is seeking expansion. The concept is well thought out and the resulting spirit is a lovely liquid, giving off just the right blend of classic and modern flavours. There’s no reason for it not to do well, even in this crowded market and hey – we could all do with a little bit of rebellion every now and then, right?
For more information about Ponet Spirits, visit the website: bishopsgin.com
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