Pocketful of Stone Distillery’s Caspyn Gin is a wonderful and evocative celebration of the Cornish spring, yet – despite its sunny nature – it was born in a pub basement in Fitzrovia. The pub, The Lukin, is a former O’Neill’s that was taken on by enterprising South African Shaun Bebington around 10 years ago. Though it’s still under his management, Bebington’s heart very much belongs to Gin these days.
“Getting to make Gin was a bit of a progression really,” Bebington told us. “I first started out making beer in the pub’s kitchen. At the time my brother was in Australia, and when he got back to London he brought a still with him. We started tinkering with a few gin recipes, one thing led to another and we happened upon one that was ok… that’s when we thought we might actually be able to do this.”
The Bebington brothers grew up a stone’s throw from the beach in South Africa and have felt something of a tidal pull to be near the sea ever since. Cornwall was somewhere Shaun always ventured to when he needed a break from London, so when he decided to progress his gin plan, he knew that was the place to be.
Caspyn Gin is named for the Merry Maidens, a Neolithic stone circle near Bebington’s Long Rock home in Cornwall. The local myth is that nineteen (very possibly no longer merry) maidens were turned to stone as punishment for having a right little rave up one Sunday. Dancing on a Sunday, it seems, wasn’t cool with the powers that be, so they were turned to stone. The Pipers, two megaliths some distance north-east of the circle, are said to be the petrified remains of the musicians who played for the dancers. We’d all be granite table tops by now if that happened in modern-day London…
Bebington loved the area and its rich history, so with a little nod to Pocketful of Stone’s Cornish DNA he named his gin… incorrectly. It was only when Google threw up absolutely no results that he realised he’d gone awry. In fact, it wasn’t until he popped down to the outcrop that he saw the error of his ways: CASPN stood for the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network. The ‘y’ was a contrivance of his imagination, the name Caspyn was, well… fiction.
Shaun is an imposing man: he’s tall, loud, bearded and usually smiling. He looks like young Santa on holiday, gregarious and expressive. He’d been calling the rocks – and the gin – Caspyn without correction for so long that one has to wonder if anyone ever tried to whisper ‘Merry Maidens’ in his direction, or just let him get on with it for fear of crushing his spirits. Either way, the name – erroneous as it was – stuck.
It took two years and around 50 trials to get Caspyn Gin off the ground. Finding the recipe was a drawn out process, though Bebington always had an aim: to create a gin that was light and lemony. He also toyed with the idea of adding rooibos or fynbos to Caspyn Gin to bring in a South African angle, but in the end settles on hibiscus flowers, which reminded him of the Atlantic coast. Juniper, orris, lemon and orange peel, lemon verbena, Japanese tea and locally foraged ingredients, including gorse, make up the rest of the line-up.
All of the botanicals are added to an organic grain spirit and left to macerate overnight. The still is switched on first thing in the morning and runs for six hours, producing a grand total of 250 bottles worth of liquid. Once off the still, the gin is cut to 40% with Cornish water and left to rest for a couple of days before bottling.
Caspyn Gin to taste…
The verbena and Japanese tea floats to the top of the glass, bringing a sense of bedtime-tea calm with it. There’s a small flash of bitterness, as though it has stewed slightly, and a spiciness towards the back of the aroma that makes us suspect we may not have the full list of ingredients. This is followed swiftly by a soft, petal smell – a combination of gorse and hibiscus. The former adds a honeyed sweetness, while the latter bringing a red fruity note. The leafy calmness, though, is what reigns; breathing deep of Caspyn Gin is like delving, momentarily, into the bubbliest of bubble baths.
Lemon verbena is particularly bright here to taste; when distilled it becomes a waxy, oily thing that coats the tongue in a thick, sweet lemon sensation. It dominates, as it has a bit of a habit of doing, but this only makes the gin seem fresher, as though everything you were drinking was on the tree yesterday. There’s a juniper hit sitting at the base of Caspyn Gin. It’s not piny, but earthy, like you were drinking it straight out of the ground. This is joined by a bright, cassia-like spice and a floaty, almost soapy hit of florals that re-emerge towards the finish.
With tonic, the green tea and lemon verbena seem louder somehow – in fact, the latter takes on an exotic, lemongrass feel – like biting into the wrong bit of a Thai Green Curry. It’s incredibly refreshing with a real ebullience about it… In fact, there’s such a sensation of fizz that you half expect it to foam out of your mouth. Cucumber might be a good pair here, cooling the G&T down, but a handful of strawberries would work, bringing in a huge summer dessert vibe.
Caspyn Gin isn’t a lone ranger; Caspyn Midsummer Dry Gin and Cornish Summer Cup add width to the range. The former is the regular Caspyn Gin with a cucumber and flower post-infusion and the latter is a super sweet, delicious take on the fruit cup, rich with strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and given a kick with a glug of fortified Portuguese wine. There are also some other things in the work – Pocketful of Stones is developing an absinthe, as well as a Cape Edition Caspyn Gin, featuring a whole raft of South African fynbos (which is to South African distillers what bacon is to the mightily hungover – none seem to be able to resist the call for long). We had a chance to taste the other two gins side by side with the Cornish Dry, so – understandably – we got stuck in.
Caspyn Midsummer Dry Gin to taste…
It is genuinely astonishing to us the amount by which the cucumber post-infusion changes the profile. All of a sudden this is a darkly vegetal, almost ripe gin with a strange (due to its absence) black cardamom smokiness in the backdrop. It doesn’t smell or taste like the flesh of cucumber, but rather the peel, or perhaps even the remanence of the peel in a badly washed and still warm jar, with a bitterness and a coriander-like heat towards the back.
To taste, it’s strangely removed from other cucumber gins (like Cucumber Gin, Long Table, Hendricks etc), bringing not that loud, fresh sip of summer, but something that could get you through the winter months instead. The underlying gin comes through after a while, but the cucumber acts like a layer of brine on the surface, distorting the flavours beneath and leading you to view them in a slightly different light.
With tonic that peel/spice combination is accentuated; it’s a spiced G&T, with a layer of green so dark it’s as though you’re lost in a forest at night. It’s a bold interpretation of a summer gin, with cucumber dominating so much of the taste that the flower infusion barely gets to make a mark. It’s less singular than the lemon verbena-led Caspyn Gin, but despite that new found complexity we’d still opt for the original.
Cornish Summer Cup to taste…
Without wishing to indulge in too much hyperbole, we would confidently say that this is one of the most delicious summer cups we’ve ever had the good fortune to try. It smacks the nose with ripe red fruits, bringing swathes of summer berries to the senses and a sweetshop smell of lollipops so clear you instantly recall the click clack of sugar against your precious young teeth.
While the red fruits certainly greet the tongue loudly, they are quickly ushered aside by Caspyn Gin’s mysterious spice qualities, which burn hot, but very briefly, before being pushed out by the syrupy strawberry, blackberry and raspberry trio. Evocative of fruit cake and overripe figs, at 25% this is absolutely worthy of sipping neat, but it’s at its best in a big old fruit cup. We’d use tonic, rather than lemonade, along with a handful of mint, blueberries strawberries and orange wheels. Delicious!!
Caspyn Gin (both the Cornish Dry and the Midsummer) comes in the familiar “Oslo” bottle with a prescriptive paper label on the front, this dictating the batch number, date of distillation, ABV and a little detail about distillation. On the side of the label there’s a basking shark – a creature which seems to serve as something of an emblem for Cornish gins, as the snappy creatures show up on both of Tarquin’s bottle as well.
He may not be a Cornish man by birth, but Bebington has certainly taken the place to heart. Pocketful of Stones Distillery supports the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which in turn supports the wildlife and wild places in the area. The distillery also pledged its support to a campaign to bring beavers back to Cornwall recently, the act of which would make river water cleaner. He has a ‘think local’ attitude, and as such has taken a semi-slow approach since launching Caspyn Gin in August 2016, filling shelves across the region before moving towards more national expansion.
That Caspyn Gin will be well received is of no doubt, but it’s got a lot of competition to get past. The Cornish Gin scene is a growing one, and so far the gins that have emerged – Curio, Tarquin’s and Clotted Cream amongst them – have held wide appeal by experimenting with flavours whilst always staying true to that true juniper core. Pocketful of Stones has kept up that tradition, and with an ongoing commitment to supporting the local scene and using seasonal produce, there’s certainly an ethos that fits in well with the craft industry.
Caspyn Gin is not just a celebration of Cornwall, but a great representation of a shared world: Bebington is a South African immigrant who has set up home in the most southern tip of England. He’s breathing new life into an already vibrant area, seeing Cornwall the way others might not; all of that influences his drinks, and you can taste a story in every sip.
For more information about Pocketful of Stones, visit their website: caspyn.com
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