Capreolus Distillery founder Barney Wilczak created Garden Tiger 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. “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.
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 Capreolus seeking to have all of its 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 this particular spirit proved a great challenge, 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 experimentations.
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 Tiger my task was to create effortless complexity with that same excitement and intricacy that I find in eaux de vie.”
In total, there are 34 botanicals used in Garden Tiger – 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 is in there too, as well as – as the label dictates – flowers, spice and drying resins.
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 heated by flame while also housed within a bain marie so as to create 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.
Garden Tiger to taste…
To nose, a booming orange leaps up out of the glass, followed by an almost 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. There’s no spice cupboard dustiness, rather the smell of freshly pulled spice – a hand crushed roasted coriander seed feel, if you will.
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 a massive cardamom – especially when served in a G&T) come through strongly, combining with the orange to create something of a festive feel. Other ripe fruits add depth too and whichever the fruity 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 fullness to the flavour. Though nothing has been named, there’s a vague hint of nutmeg and cinnamon to the finish, which brings a nip to the sip and a warmth to the chest.
You could drive yourself crazy trying to work out what the 34 botanicals that form Garden Tiger’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. It’s undoubtedly delicious and so well made that it’s a dream to sip at 47%, but the requisite botanical is certainly shy here, only really showing as an identifiable element up in the aftertaste.
In terms of a G&T, we’d serve this with East Imperial’s Burma Tonic, which designed to be paired with a citrus forward gin (and which is without doubt one of our favourites). That and a dried orange wheel or a dehydrated pear would complement the leading botanicals in Garden Tiger and will make for an utterly delightful drink, perfectly suited to those looking for a warming citrus hit.
Garden Tiger is named for the garden tiger moth – a spotty, colourful day moth that counts amongst yet more of Britain’s beautiful natural wonders. 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 Tiger 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.
As ingredients are sourced in a relatively organic manner, batches will vary from year to year, though the ingredients will stay the same. In terms of variants – there is a mulberry aged version in existence and plans for other woods at some point in the future. These will first be used to age Capreolus’ eaux de vie, before then being used to age Garden Tiger, thus imparting a wood softness and a fruit flavour to the spirit.
We happened to catch a sip of the mulberry aged Garden Tiger gin and were really quite enamoured. The blood orange come through even stronger on the smell although this time combined with a mellow, caramelised pear note. The wood has softened the spices, the mouthfeel is richer, however the sippability – at room temperature, at least – is not as accessible as it is in the regular edition. It’s definitely one to hold on to for a cold December and would make for a lovely choice in a Gin Old Fashioned. For those who like an more summery serve – try this to boost an Aperol Spritz. It adds to the depth of flavour, and comes to life with some fizz.
There is real nerdiness going on here, which we – as uber gin geeks – can’t help but love. 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. Gin may not have been Capreolus Distillery’s first love, but they’re putting as much effort and care into their 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 Tiger, visit their website: capreolusdistillery.co.uk
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