It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to work out what Cucumber Gin is about, and even those who might struggle to fully comprehend its Ronseal-esque title will have their curiosity quashed the minute the lid comes off and the smell of cucumber wafts up, filling every inch of the air around it like a cloud.
Launched by the English Drinks Company in June 2016 (a good couple of years after founder Graham Carr-Smith first had the idea to create it), Cucumber Gin holds few surprises in its glass bottle. It’s as cucumber-y as they come, more a part of the cucurbit family than even the humble courgette. The gin was inspired by the success of The English Drinks Company’s soft drink Qcumber, which consumers had taken to mixing with gin. Carr-Smith and his wife were already big suppers of gin as as a spirit too, so it didn’t take much convincing for them to look into extending their range.
Cucumber Gin is a third party made product, distilled by Alcohols Ltd in Oldbury, Birmingham. There were no distilling skills to learn, nor HMRC to wrangle with, so those two years from inception to production were spent almost entirely on flavour development. “The cucumber flavour is the distinctive part of the drink and was the main factor in why it took two years to create,” Carr-Smith told us. “We wanted to create a gin that appealed to all palates, that could be drunk on its own and that could hold its own when mixed with tonic.”
Cucumber Gin to taste…
A bright, unmistakable cucumber smell rises to the top of the glass, It is as vivid as though you were crushing some slices between your palms, with the dark green bitterness of peel and the soft, fleshy fruit of the middle incredibly present. It’s very hard to gauge any other botanicals (perhaps lemon), though it would sort of make sense if this were made on a very basic juniper, coriander and angelica base. Cucumber, as it is wont to do, permeates everything, corrupting every millilitre of the gin with its wet, vegetal nature.
The initial taste to greet the tongue isn’t quite cucumber, but a deep spice – possibly coriander, cubeb or black pepper. It’s certainly less one dimensional than the nose would have you believe, and the spice provides a solid anchor from which the cucumber, inevitably, rises up to dominate, flushing the mouth with its lightly sweet, ultra-salad taste.
Tonic spreads the flavours out, allowing dusty spices a chance to rise to the top side by side with the cucumber. There is juniper present, but the cucumber soon takes a broom to proceedings and brushes everything out of the way, leaving only a faint hint of pepper and that crisp, vegetal taste.
Other gin’s, namely Hendrick’s, Martin Miller’s, Long Table and Conniption, have played with cucumber before, but none have come as close as this in conveying the flavour and the brightness of the humble fruit as is the case here, nor have they been as singular in their pursuit of it.
It is really, truly and in some ways the only thing this gin intends to do, and if that’s your thing, you’ll be very happy with it. The recommended G&T garnish is cucumber, coriander or mint, but we’d go for something like basil. It’s going to taste salad green no matter what you do with it, so you may as well steer into it.
Up until early 2017, Cucumber Gin came in a clear Oslo bottle, complete with a clear label. This rendered the drink almost entirely invisible both on shop shelves and on the back bar. When there are dozens of bottle staring back at you, you aren’t going to reach for the most boring one on the shelf. Carr-Smith and the team clocked this problem quickly, and have swapped the bottle out for a black glass one of a similar design. The effects have been palpable, with sales doubling since the transition.
Taste and aroma is just a factor when reviewing a gin. We love the story behind it, the work that goes into it. We enjoy revelling in the success of the people that have slogged to get their product to market and we appreciate the sense of time and place that each gin provides. For us, Cucumber Gin falls a little short on many of these factors. That’s not to say they haven’t earned their success, it’s just that there is less romanticism in a third party gin, and with no home or bar in which to hang its hat, there much less to get excited about.
To connect with a product, there needs to be visibility on the faces behind it, the provenance and the ideas that underpin it need to be communicated, and this is naturally harder to illustrate when a gin is made third party. Personally, we feel like we need to know what brands are doing to further the Gin category along, to take it one step closer to its pinnacle. We need assurance that they aren’t just hopping on the bandwagon, hoping to ride the coattails of the trailblazing makers who have revived the category to peak popularity.
The Cucumber Gin story just isn’t there for us yet. Sure, it’s unique, and Carr-Smith and the team are obviously enthusiastic, showing up to drinks events across the UK and manning the stand with gusto; but there’s been no back breaking here, no blood sweat and tears. Cucumber Gin tastes fine – it was made by an expert team, so it was always going to taste fine – but considering the lack of overheads for the English Drinks Company, £35 for a 70cl bottle is steep, especially when you stop to note that grain to glass outfits are selling for the same price (or less, in some cases) and that others commanding that price tag have far more evolved brand offerings and legitimate human stories to back their products.
If you love that air punching, all-permeating vegetal taste, you’ll have a lot of time for Cucumber Gin and a lot of room for it on your shelves. What it does well, it does very well: it’s a cooling, refreshing summer sipper that absolutely fills your mouth with the sensation of cucumber. That said, if you like your gins a bit more… well, ginny, you might want to keep appreciating it from a distance. Cucumber Gin will grow, and while the taste may not hold universal appeal, the brand will, with a bit of nurturing – eventually hold it’s own.
For more information about Cucumber Gin, visit their website: englishdrinkscompany.co.uk
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