There is something about new Belgian entry Clover Gin that reminds us of a Pinterest wedding board. It’s overtly twee and sweet, striking such a fine balance between professional and homemade that it looks as if it could only have been orchestrated by the most fearsome of bridezillas. Even its website wears that homemade but perfectly styled vibe, with cute drinks and pretty flowers filling the pages. There’s even a poem! A mad one… “Three lovely sisters like leaves on a clover, similar but not the same, have created a unique gin; exquisite like the morning dew, delicate like the clover flower.” Right you are…
Clover Gin’s name is taken from the three leaves of a clover flower and stands to represent the three sisters involved in this project, Ann-Sophie, Charlotte and Nanouck Ickroth. Ann-Sophie is the youngest of the siblings and fits in events work and social media in-between studying for a Masters in Law. Nanouck works as a Sales Manager within Duty Free, taking up the sales mantel for Clover Gin during her free time. It is the middle sister (always the middle child), Charlotte, who takes up the brunt, working at all events and in production, performing bottling, deliveries, sales and the general day-to-day that goes into building a gin brand.
Already ensconced in the booze industry, Nanouck was aware of the spirit’s popularity and was witnessing first-hand the breadth of producers emerging. The idea to create a one-off batch (or a “pop up” batch, as they endearingly refer to it) started to form, and with their mother working as a glass decorator, a real family story was able to be told.
Hence the clover. All three leaves, as the poem goes, are similar, but the small nuances amongst them result in something that is multi-dimensional, yet harmonious. The Ickroth sisters had to put all of their tastes and interests on the table and pick the ones that overlapped, like a Venn diagram of deliciousness. With no knowledge on how to make a gin, they paid a little visit to the Belgian Spirits Company.
Founded by the extraordinarily precocious Pieter-Jan Frooninckx, the Belgian Spirits Company is a craft maker that places great emphasis on local products. At 28-years-old, Frooninckx is responsible for a considerable amount of the gin that flows in his home country, producing a minimum of 70,000 litres each year. As well as as gin under his own name – PJ Gin – Frooninckx creates many spirits under contract, working with brands to create recipes that tell their story.
The recipe for Clover Gin took 10 months to develop. The sisters wanted something that told of their lives now and their pasts growing up in the countryside. Though all three flew the nest – the last in 2015 – their lives were still together, and the heathland of Kalmthoutse Heide remains an important part of who they are. Working on a base of coriander seed, cardamom and juniper, the trio began playing around with additional Belgian ingredients – ones that would help their gin to stand out from the crowd and tell their collective story.
Pear and lavender ended up joining the fold, the former adding a huge fruit sweetness and the latter bringing a delicate herbal perfume. They also brought in clover leaves – an ingredient that symbolised both the three sisters and the landscape that they grew up in – and added black pepper for weight. In total there are 14 botanicals, though Charlotte was incredibly secretive (perhaps understandably) about them when we spoke to her.
In fact, “family secret” came up a couple of times. When we tried to learn a little about the process behind it, she was very hush hush, though let us know that the botanicals were fractionally distilled, and that some underwent a maceration period whilst others were added to the still just before a run. The order of that is not too hard to work out, though; some botanicals – lavender and clover, for example – cannot undergo too much time in the tank as they’d just stew or disintegrate, whereas hard botanicals – coriander seeds, for example – need a little time to start releasing their oils.
What we do know is that a batch creates 400 50cl bottles, and each takes around three weeks to blend and bottle. The base spirit involved is a mixture of grain and sugar beat, and distillate is made to concentrate, and stretched further with neutral spirit before being cut to 40% ABV with water.
Clover Gin to taste…
An incredibly fragrant Pear Drop smell wafts out of the bottle, like boiled sweets and super-sweet, pre-teen perfume. It smells pink, if that’s a thing, like fairground candy floss and a spray of wedding flowers. Curious and inviting, Clover Gin certainly seems as though it’s going to be a liberal interpretation of what Gin is and could be, but it’s one we want to delve into none the less.
Neat, it tastes a lot greener than the nose would attest, and the black pepper delivers a solid anchor to the gin that allows the full spectrum of flavours their moment in the spotlight. The journey begins with a sweet pear flush, which makes a teasing appearance before being quickly usurped by a green, slightly bitter watercress taste (hello clover).
The full, rich nature of the liquid coats the mouth with a crisp, vegetal taste that acts as a springboard for a piny juniper/herbal lavender finish. It’s well balanced, with each botanical taking a spin in the spotlight so brief that it blurs into the next seamlessly. All the while, the pepper adds an enduring depth, especially to the finish. Overall, Clover Gin is a progressive interpretation of gin and certainly on the slightly juniper-shy side of affairs, but the flavour combination is quite unlike any other and it’s one that many would enjoy.
Clover Gin certainly makes for a sweet G&T, with tonic fizz bringing levity to an already bright situation. The individual flavours one is able to pull out neat are united as one great mass here, and there’s a very faint (and surprising) hint of curry (that’ll be the cardamom pods). Crisp and fruity, with that bitter green taste running through it, this is a genuinely mad gin. Albeit a mad genius.
The Ickroth sisters dress a Clover Gin G&T up with a handful of juniper berries, a couple of slices of ginger and some coriander leaf to serve. Juniper would help restore the G&T to more traditional territory, while the latter two would bring a bright green warmth, thus complimenting the odd curried nature of the G&T. For our part, we like the strange nature of this gin, so we’d just embrace it with a twist of lemon peel and accept that it’s going to be a G&T quite like no other.
Clover Gin is packaged in small, round glass bottles with a sage green clover drawn onto the side. Cute, whimsical and infinitely upcylcable, they perfectly convey the story behind the product, whilst doing a tremendous job of making one cross a crowded room to pick a bottle up and investigate. A happy accident? Perhaps, but we think the women behind this product are a lot savvier than their cutesy branding suggests, and this masterstroke is no coincidence.
As a brand, it the type of construct that would befit the team behind wellness poster child Deliciously Ella, who nailed a similar proposition in the UK. It’s almost as if a lifestyle blogger like @BlondeCoffee or @PellaHedeby took on the mantle of creating a gin brand. There is a clear style, vision and aesthetic in Clover Gin and as commentators and branding enthusiasts it’s great to finally see such a clarity of voice right off the bat. In doing so, not only is it ridiculously effective at creating social media shares and increasing brand exposure, but it is something visually unique and very engaging – both feats that are exceptionally difficult in such a crowded market.
When Clover Gin launched in November 2015, the Ickroth sisters had no inkling whatsoever as to how popular it would be. They weren’t building a brand, they were building a batch, but after realising what they – and it – were capable of, they started to think long term. Charlotte has trained as a distiller, and a variant is in the works. They’re also desperately seeking UK distribution, and we’re fairly confident that once this is secured, they’ll be flying. This is the whole package – a family made product with provenance, beautiful styling and heart. A new take on gin that doesn’t butcher old ideals, and a product that looks as good as it tastes. Sign us up!
For more information about Clover Gin, visit their website: clovergin.com
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