Fifth Spire Gin
While most of us turn our spare room into an extended wardrobe (or a gym disguised as an extended wardrobe. Nothing says ‘hey, I tried’ like a treadmill laden with laundry), there are some who chase the thread of a mad idea down the rabbit hole, transforming that extra space into a games room, a bar or, in the case of Fifth Spire Gin co-founder Tom Lindsey, a nano-distillery.
Teaming up with his best friend, Rory McKerell, Lindsey decided to turn his spare room into a distillery after developing something of a passion for gin following several trips north of the border to visit Scotch whisky distilleries. Scotland, being as it is home to dozens and dozens of excellent gin brands, ensured that their passion soon gave way to the juniper spirit, so after witnessing the rise of matchstick box sized operations like Pothecary and Sacred, they decided it would probably be a good to make their own…
Fifth Spire Gin is named for the view that Lindsey and McKerell’s distillery affords over its hometown of Lichfield. In the distance there’s a three spired cathedral, and between that and the house two rogue spires. There’s rarely a sight so typically English as churches and smoking chimneys fogging the horizon, so the name fits: this is a very traditional gin.
There’s a reason for this. As Lindsey explains: “The norm of late seems to be to go out and find some obscure flower only found on the top of a mountain in a place no-one has ever heard of, then use trace amounts of it and champion it as the botanical that was always meant to be paired with juniper. We haven’t done this. Instead we set out to create a solid classic gin recipe with a rich mouth feel and try to preserve as much of the freshness of the citrus element as possible whilst still using copper pot stills. Essentially, we created a no-nonsense punchy citrus gin that works as well as a Dry Martini as it does with tonic.”
Fifth Spire Gin to taste…
The citrus-y element is so strong as to almost overwhelm the aroma, initially bringing a quick flush of key lime pie to the nose. It’s green and bushy beneath, however, with each breath conjuring images of verdant mountains, the sorts that have dinosaurs running amok amongst them in Jurassic Park. While juniper isn’t noticeable on the nose, the cassia and pink peppercorns hum beneath the surface, crouched as if ready to attack.
And attack they do! After the burst of citrus the mouth is filled with bright pink fire as the peppercorns and cassia explode across the tongue, bringing with them a loud, lemony heat that completely overwhelms the senses. Juniper rises up on the swallow, leaving your breath with a fresh pine tree crunch, as though you were snacking on Christmas trees in between sips. There are four citruses here – lime, lemon, orange and pink grapefruit – three of which are distilled separately (to preserve their zest as much as possible). This is evident with every sip, as a loud, Limoncello-esque sherberty citrus lashes at the throat.
With tonic, it’s a far, far more complex affair. The citrus assault is still present (exacerbated, in fact, by the quinine), but with more space to swim, the other, more traditional, botanicals rise to the top. There’s a bitter almond taste, a warm coriander and a thick, rooty orris/liquorice singsong. It’s as though there are two gins here: one is a no-nonsense affair, whilst the other is very much the rebellious younger sibling. The one with dyed hair and a pierced nose. It’s great stuff – superbly summery G&T fodder and a perfect Negroni accompaniment.
The duality of this gin its down to its production methods. Lindsey and McKerell have given careful consideration to what how certain botanicals cook and have separated their botanicals into two pots. “As many gin producers start out nowadays, we created many different distillates of individual botanicals to allow us to blend a recipe together,” Lindsey said. “We quickly learned that some of the dry botanicals needed a low and slow distillation process, however the fresh zests benefitted from a shorter run time to maintain the crisp citrus taste. This is how we came to the decision to create the gin in two parts.”
To make the gin, the duo perform one run comprising juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris, liquorice, cassia, pink peppercorns, almond and Seville orange peel, and another with fresh lime, lemons and white grapefruit zest. The first run takes around seven hours, the second four. Both spirits are blended, with more wheat spirit added in after, then cut down to bottling strength of 47%. Each batch yields around 160 70cl bottles.
Talking of bottles… We must admit, the packaging for Fifth Spire Gin is not going to do Lindsey and McKerell many favours. It’s clear, and while there’s a nice illustration of a juniper bush printed directly onto the bottle, you’re just not going to see it unless it’s in your hands, and the chances of it being in your hands in a bar setting is slim (slimmer, when you consider the exciting shapes and colours on other bottles. If you don’t see the bottle in the first place, you won’t ask for a closer look!).
That’s not to say the bottle isn’t well considered! It is; the lid has the batch and bottle number etched into it directly, and the fact that they’re printing onto glass means there’s obviously a bit of budget behind it – it really does look good once it’s in hand. The branding represents the gin well: it’s classic, no nonsense stuff, but when every other gin out there is shouting to be heard, you have to dive into the mosh pit and embrace the madness or you’ll be very much left behind. It’s no coincidence that when Cucumber and 6 O’clock Gin changed their bottles to black and blue respectively, their sales doubled overnight… Clear bottles are, unfortunately, anonymous when in a line up on a shelf
That said, sales aren’t the be all and end all for this duo. For them, it’s about two friends starting their own business, making something they can truly be proud of and enjoying themselves along the way. “It is,” said Lindsey, “about no-nonsense products that speak for themselves. If we can make others happy too, and garner a bit of recognition for our efforts, then that’s awesome.”
Fifth Spire Gin is a great spirit in an OK bottle selling at an above average price (£42 on Ice and a Slice, £46 on Master of Malt). These three factors will make it hit and miss in today’s bustling gin scene and to ensure success – especially at that price – the reality is that the brand assets, imagery, presence and footprint need to kick up a gear before Fifth Spire hits any real sort of traction. Perhaps, this is the new element of inspiration the duo will take from the likes of Pothecary and Sacred – that their success arrived not just once they created tasty gins, but once they had consolidated their wider offerings.
With this in mind, we’re sure there will be some tweaks along the way, after all it only launched in November 2016. Gins tend to go through a few face lifts, price finessing and wider brand developments before they evolve into their absolute selves – but so far, so interesting. This is one we’ll keep on the shelf and reach for often, and we reckon if you try it, you will too. We’ll certainly be keeping track of their progress…
For more information about Fifth Spire Gin, visit the website: fifthspire.com
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