Garden Swift Gin
Capreolus Distillery founder Barney Wilczak created his distillery and flagship Gin Garden Swift as a way to capture and retain those fleeting moments of nature, eternally preserving each season’s gains in alcohol so that they can be enjoyed for a great deal longer than the earth intended.
“Natural history has always been my first and foremost love,” Barney told us in 2016. “Living my whole life surrounded by beautiful, calcareous grasslands, rich with wild flowers and one of the best locations for wild and cultivated fruits in England, I was always enthralled.”
The distillery is based in Barney’s childhood home in Stratton, Gloucestershire and makes great use of its countryside surroundings, capturing local botanicals at their peak and pulling the flavours from them when they have the most to offer.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but we think that in the five years since its inception, Capreolus has become one of the most unique and impassioned distilleries in the UK, with the most relentless pursuit of perfection we have ever seen. The unequivocal and uncompromising stance on their craft is more like an act of devotion. It’s a dedication to the craft of capturing the very soul of the ingredients they come across, not just their flavours. Botanical martyrdom might sound odd as a concept, but here it is oddly appropriate.
This complete worship of the land is what led Barney to begin producing spirits. “The alchemy of distilling came to me as a way to capture those 1 -2 days of peak ripeness that so few of us have the opportunity to experience – hugely challenging to do well but with a wonderful reward,” he said.
Barney founded Capreolus Distillery back in 2014 with a view to creating a range of eaux de vie – each of which would pay homage to the land and its individual fruits. It took over two years of hard graft to reach the point in which products were bottled and ready to sell, with Barney seeking to have all of his products at the highest standard achievable. Once a distilling license was secured, Barney’s time was dedicated to experimentation and ironing out details, from when a botanical is at peak ripeness, to how it’s best used.
The dedication to Eaux de Vie’s proved a great challenge to begin with, as there is little literature on the matter written in English. Barney spent years studying texts and papers from Germany, Austria, France and Eastern Europe in order to bulk up his knowledge before beginning his still-based experiments.
Current challenges are all self made – Barney will accept nothing bur perfectly ripe fruit, processed by hand, using wild yeasts and carefully distilled. The Raspberry Eau de vie for example, takes a ludicrous 33kgs of fruit per bottle. That’s a 375ml bottle too, not the full sized version. The results speak for themselves though. The raspberry has all the notes of the fruit, from the clear juicy core, to the perfumed damask rose note and the minty undertones. It’s exquisite. The damson captures both the fruit and its winter spice just underneath.
Each eau de vie centres on a single fruit plucked at a specific time and magnifies it. There’s been blood orange, pear, elderberry andapple from an orchard with the kind of varieties that’ll have you embarrassed that you thought there was only a dozen types to pick from. There’s also a damson and plum in the range, as well as oak aged editions of some of the above.
Eau de vie, to gin and beyond
Working in such detail with each fruit gave Barney a great idea of their complexities and he began to consider other ways to use them. “The creation of a gin appealed to me as an artistic extension to this background and depth of experience. Where as eaux de vie are focusing on capturing that perfection found in one fruit, gin production provides a canvas to create an intricate layering of different botanicals. The two disciplines sit well together. In creating Garden Swift my task was to create effortless complexity with that same excitement and intricacy that I find in eaux de vie.”
It’s at this point that we should explain if you’ve searched for Garden Tiger Gin, or are wondering if it’s the same thing – the gin was indeed originally called Garden Tiger, but has since been changed to Garden Swift Gin. The liquid is the same (although has naturally shifted a little through the years).
In total, there are 34 botanicals used in Garden Swift – though when we tried to prise a list from Barney his lips were firmly sealed. “We hold our botanicals close to our chest but we can hint at a few. From native verbascum flowers, Tillia cordata (our native lime tree – not citrus) through to organic Sicillian Tarocco blood orange, our ingredients are traded, wild and grown in our gardens.” Juniper is a given and we know that wormwood and peppermint are in there too, as well as – as the label dictates – flowers, spice and drying resins.
Curry leaves we know about too, after we visited the distillery a couple of years ago. Barney had just completed a still run and was babbling with excitement. The curry leaves, he told us as he topped up all of our glasses, are so strong immediately after distillation that it dominates. By the time the gin has had a week or two to mellow, they completely disappear into the pack.
To make the gin, Barney hand crushes a selection of the botanicals and steeps them in a bought in neutral grain spirit for 40 hours. They are then transferred to Capreolus Distillery’s handmade 120-litre copper still. There is a botanical basket mounted within the helmet of the still, but this doesn’t quite have the capacity to deal with the vast number of botanicals used, so another bag of botanicals is placed above it – filling the upper sections of the still entirely.
The still is housed in a bain marie and heated by flame, creating a gentle and even transfer of warmth that ensures the ingredients are treated with the sensitivity they require. Each run produces around 270 bottles and takes between seven and eight hours, though this can be influenced by weather.
There is no chill filtering involved in the production process and the richness of the botanicals means that the spirit, when chilled or diluted, is likely to louche. Rest assured this doesn’t mean you’ve got hold of a dodgy batch, rather it’s that the botanicals have imparted so many of their oils that they react a little when mixed.
What does Garden Swift Gin taste like?
To nose, a booming orange leaps up out of the glass, followed by an almost perfumed floral sweetness, though with a dominant citrus undertone. At 47%, it’s inevitable that a slight spirity smell comes through, carrying with it a fresh alcoholic piquancy. Underneath that fruity, round nose there’s the smell of freshly pulled spice – a hand crushed roasted coriander seed feel, if you will.
In the gin’s earlier days, the tasting notes read a little something like this: Tillia brings a honey-like sweetness to the initial sip, followed by a rush of blood orange which coats the tongue instantly. The flavours of the underlying spices (mainly something cardamom-like although we are reliably told that has never been used), especially when served in a G&T, come through strongly, combining with the orange to create something of a festive feel.
Today, the gin is more rounded to taste, somewhat fruitier with rowan and other ripe fruits more prominent. Whichever botanical is adding the gin’s juicy heart (elderberries or soft pears perhaps, although it could just be the multifaceted nature of blood orange) – there is a luscious fullness to the flavour. There’s a vague hint of cinnamon to the finish, which brings a warmth to the chest. Overall, the gin is better than it was when first conceived.
You could drive yourself crazy trying to work out what the 34 botanicals that form Garden Swift’s botanical line up are, but we feel the aftertaste carries a strong hint of rhubarb – that watery, red-fruit taste – and carries with it a vague pine from the juniper. Talking of which… it’s not a particularly ginny gin and more of a contemporary profile that puts it at the centre of a diverse, changing journey.
In terms of a G&T, we’d serve this with an orange wheel to complement the leading notes in Garden Swift. It will make for an utterly delightful drink, perfectly suited to those looking for a warming citrus hit.
Originally named after the garden tiger moth – a spotty, colourful day moth that counts amongst Britain’s beautiful natural wonders, the change in name doesn’t represent too much of a leap, with the swift also being a type of moth. A gold print of the moth even features on the label, which is placed neatly on a dark, brown bottle.
The design work for the bottle was created by Get it Sorted, a business run by Barney’s father and brother. Continuing the family theme, the letterpress labels are then printed by Andrew Morrison, Barney’s other half’s father. Each bottle is hand filled, labelled and corked (the corks, incidentally, are taken from cork forests in Portugal) using a porous wood, which creates a breathable barrier that encourages evolution within the bottle. Overall the bottle and design work form to create a formidable package that makes Garden Swift Gin a fantastic choice for those looking to buy a gin as a gift – it really impresses and the little touches add a lovely tactile feel too.
In terms of variants – a few cask aged versions of the gin exist. The casks are always unusual and heavily flavoured, having been first used to age Capreolus’ eaux de vie, thus imparting a wood softness and a fruit flavour to the spirit. If you can find it, the 2017 edition Chestnut oak barrel is just superb. Golden hued and almost sticky in its sweetness, with oak and the ghost of Apple Eau De Vie swirling together to create one of the stand out cask aged offerings. There was also a limited edition cask aged gin made for Hedonism wines, and others in the works so keep your eyes peeled.
HART & DART GIN
The first mulberry cask aged version of Garden Swift was created in 2016 and while not intended as a permanent release, Barney kept returning to it. So much so that in 2018, Hart & Dart was launched as a constant member of the family, with barrels being released one after the next as single casks and each slightly unique.
Red amber glows in the glass and to nose, the blood orange comes through even stronger on the smell, although this time combined with a mellow, caramelised pear note. The wood has softened the spices on the aroma, adding raisin-like tones to the fruit, while the mouthfeel is richer.
To taste, it’s rich and while the fruity tanic nature of the barrel drives through, there’s still a clear sequence with which the gin moves from citrus, to herbs and onto spice. The finish is understandably different and just as wormwood dries out the mouth, the barrel leaps in to add a depth of flavour and enduring dried fruit. The 47% ABV is almost a shock, given just how smooth this is.
It’s definitely one to hold on to for winter nights and would make for a lovely choice in a Gin Old Fashioned. If you have to, add soda to lengthen it into a highball, but spare the tonic for another day, this is a sipper of a gin.
There is real nerdiness going on here and a dedication to distilling in its fullest sense. It’s more than flavour, it’s about the challenge, the journey, responding to seasonality and the ephemeral nature of capturing quintessence. It’s an art.
As uber gin geeks and as impassioned spirit drinkers – we can’t help but love everything about ut. Both the way it is made and the package that surrounds it has been well considered and showcases what it takes to stand out in today’s crowded market. It tells us that a whisper can be heard and that what matters is integrity and an honesty to the pursuit.
The name, seemingly strange at first, starts to make more sense the more you understand the disrtillery’s intent and attitude. Capreolus comes from the latin name of the roe deer, Capreolus Capreolus. Delicate, and discrete, yet uniquely mesmerising when you see it, this animal is a constant sight in the countryside surrounding the distillery and a reminder of the fleeting nature of what they are trying to preserve and the way they go about their craft.
Gin may not have been Capreolus Distillery’s first love, but Barney is putting as much effort and care into his product as any proud ginsmith has done to date and should be applauded for doing so.
Go and discover it yourselves as we’re sure you will not be disappointed.
For more information about Garden Swift, visit their website: capreolusdistillery.co.uk
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