Bright Spirits Roots Gin
Bright Spirits is a brand new Scottish company with a focus on taste over provenance.
There are three gins in the range: Roots, Pips and Peels, each hugely different from the next, and all with a huge lean into the flavour groups their monikers represent. So far, we’ve only reviewed Roots Gin, but check back in the future to see what we think of the rest of the range as we’ll the tasting notes here.
There are two ways to tell the Bright Spirits story. The first is rather cynical: co-founders Sean McGlone and Iain McClune have been working in the retail side of the spirits industry for quite some time, with the latter founding Whisky Auctioneer in Perth, Scotland in 2013, and the former joining shortly thereafter. Whilst watching rare bottles of Scotch fetch some fine numbers, the duo couldn’t help but notice the clamour for Gin growing around their ears. Clamour equals sales, sales equal profit.
The more romantic version is that their stake in the industry meant they had a good contact book already, and seeing how bold and brilliant the world of Gin could be, they wanted in. In fact, creating their own range was always, at the back of their minds, part of the plan. In our opinion, the truth lies somewhere between the two and as with any ideas that are based on ideals, they would . never materialise unless there was a serious amount of business feasibility to ground it.
We had a sit down with McGlone at the tail end of summer 2019 to discuss Ginvent plans, taking the opportunity to grill him on the spirit company’s influences, and why – as a Whisk(e)y auction house – they made a Gin… “We focused on Gin initially because we felt there was a complete lack of transparency about what was going into bottles,” he explained.
“We had a couple of arguments about a couple of big brands about if they were artificially sweetened. We didn’t know what we were drinking, so we kind of got excited about making something that we could be very transparent about.”
That focus rings true – not only is every ingredient listed on the bottles, but the duo are upfront about outsourcing their distilling, with Taxi Spirits in London creating each gin on their 250-litre still. All of the ingredients used are natural, too, so there are no sneaky little syrups flooding the senses.
While it was always part of the plan to distil the spirits themselves, McGlone admits to a slight amount of terror when it actually came down to setting it all up. It was when McClune was studying Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Wat that he first heard of Moses Odong, a London black cab driver who was driving around the city by day and driving up to Scotland at night to learn how to distil.
“That insanity really appealed to us,” McGlone said, only half joking. “When we met Moses and saw what he was planning to do it very much became a quick, strong bond. His products are fantastic and we really like what he’s doing. We like his ethos.”
As far as the Bright Spirits duo were concerned, while Whisky was all about provenance, Gin was about flavour, yet the lines were becoming blurred. That’s why, when it came to designing their three-strong range, the focus was on what the botanicals brought to the gins, rather than where they came from.
“Shelves were full of products based on regionality or a name, as opposed to what was going on inside the bottle. We always had a dream of putting forward a range of products that were transparent and a hundred percent focused on flavour and character, as opposed to where it’s produced, or a brand name, or marketing… we wanted to make it about the liquid and the flavours,” McGlone told us.
Contract distilling is a tricky subject when it comes to building a recipe. The brand owners and the distillers each have their own goals in mind, so there’s often a fine tightrope involved. Odong is a chef, as well as a distiller, and his herbs and spices barbecue mix most certainly inspired the flavour of Roots Gin. The Bright Spirits duo made their mark, too. “It was a dance,” McGlone said. “It was a hugely collaborative process.
“I don’t know what other distillers would say, but the number of iterations of recipes we went through was astounding; it was a rollercoaster ride of different experimentations, different avenues, dead ends… so I’d say to begin with we knew we wanted a light, fruity summer gin (Pips) and a spicy earthy winter gin (Roots), and that’s essentially the core of where the two ideas came from.”
The decision to use natural ingredients came very early, and accidentally gave birth to the third gin – Peels. One of the earlier iterations was quite citrusy, despite it being predominantly berries, with pineapple and grapefruit leaping forth on the planet. That was the spark that ignited the third gin in the trio.
Our of the three Bright Spirits gin, Roots was the most straightforward to make. “We very quickly understood what we wanted from it and how it was going to work,” McGlone said. “It kind of solidified in the ingredients very quickly.”
The ingredients for Roots Gin are as follows: juniper, ginger, grains of paradise, galangal root, angelica root, coriander, cardamom, liquorice and orris root. These are no small players when it comes to botanical influence, so we went into this one expecting a face full of fire.
What Does Bright Spirits Roots Gin Taste Like?
A small hint of gingery citrus at first, and while we were expecting a big zingy whack of ginger based on the bottle to flourish, it only develops slightly as it’s the spice that grounds this gin’s aroma down. It’s intriguing and one of those smells that sits in. the glass – the kind you have to search for to truly uncover.
Tasted neat, once again it’s ginger and coriander seed that provide a warming citrus-laced hit, but juniper is confidently there standing in the centre ground, while grains of paradise make their fiery return on the finish, this time bolstered by the enduring rootier ginger notes of galangal.
On taste alone, Roots Gin biggest strength and most evident Achilles heel, is that despite being geared towards roots and boldly proclaiming the ginger on the bottle – it is made better and even defined by its use of spice. Grains of Paradise is clear throughout, arguably as much as ginger. The cardamom also adds a noted contribution (eucalyptus-like curried notes on the finish). The flavour is all the better for it as it adds complexity, yet it’s confusing too as this could equally have been named Spiced Gin. It’s possible some drinkers will be left somewhere between the reality of the flavours vs what they expected to come though, while others, like us, won’t care, as what matters is a balanced complex proposition in the glass. Serve with a wedge of orange in a G&T, or if you are feeling mightily fancy – kaffir lime leaves.
This is a young brand working with a confidence that belies its naivety; the team very much know what they’re doing – they had a very, very clear vision ahead of even beginning the Gin making process, which means that the products have a defined strength of character and a straight direction.
It’s also helped them navigate some potentially choppy waters too… Being based in Scotland but made in London has been a singularly troublesome fact for many contract distilled gins who find it hard to marry ideals of transparency with those of regionality and local advocacy. This is true for all gins made elsewhere, but Scotland has become known for bordering on hostile when it comes to the matter and many have needed to defensively state over and again that they are made elsewhere to avoid being accused of misleading drinkers. In doing so, it sounds like a negative thing, when it’s not and kills any momentum they can establish.
Here, this is taken off the table (or at least is trying to), by saying it’s not about being a Scottish Gin, or a London one, or about where it’s made or the area it’s inspired by – it’s a bout flavour and flavour alone.
By being flavour-led each will definitely find its own, specific fan group – not people looking for a name or a place within a gin, but looking for flavours that well and truly match their interests. While it solves one issue, it’s not without its own set of difficulties. Namely, the big question will be how they solve the age old conundrum of having something for everyone, but in order order to do that, having to polarise opinion around each gin. Too little in each flavour direction and drinkers don’t get what they signed up for, too much and it’s both unbalanced as a flavour and divisive.
They are less than a year old and are evolving all the time (they will need to as well, with Gin moving at the pace it does), and the next six months will reveal whether this will succeed in solving all of this. If it’s all about flavour – we suspect it won’t be long until they’re launching the anchor all over the flavour map, and then probably also consolidate around a please-all that hits all in unison. It’s what all of the others have done, from the huge minds Quintessential Group (Bloom / Opihr / Berkely Square), to Persie Distillery and there’s a reason for it.
If we could make some requests ahead of time, we’re ready for another herbal gin in this direction… Leaves Gin anyone? Whatever it may be, this range will be one to watch as it’ll be an exciting ride ahead.
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