Scents can be powerfully evocative, plunging you deep inside a memory you didn’t even know you had at the merest appearance. A spilled bottle of PVA glue can transport you right back to primary school, while a passing whiff of violet all at once whisks you into that magical feeling of being at your granny’s house, surrounded by toys and love and filled with hope that she may yet shove a tenner into your hand.
We designed Ginvent Gin with that in mind, aiming to create a spirit that would instantly take you back to Christmas morning and to that feeling of peeling back the foil on a chocolate coin and scoffing the chocolate liqueurs from your parents stockings. Christmas is nostalgia in its dearest, most sincere form, and we wanted to encapsulate and express that feeling the best way we know how: gin.
We considered going down the mince pie route – blending currant, raisin, apple, nutmeg and orange peel distillates with juniper. We even looked into literally throwing christmas cake into our rotovap, and while that sounded delicious as a concept, it didn’t sound like anything particularly novel.
We began with that chocolate coin notion, leaving both raw cacao nibs and organic cocoa powder to macerate separately a week at a time in a neutral grain spirit. Both forms of chocolate were distilled in the rotovap and yielded surprisingly different results. Though recognisably chocolate, the cacao nibs had a far silkier mouthfeel, whilst the cocoa powder brought a drying, bitter element.
All three batches of Ginvent Gin that were made (only the last batched was bottled – the rest are inside the calendars) have different methods of maceration (including varying blends and rest times) and different botanicals within them. All share the same fundamental core however: sweet chocolate and red fruits surround a strong juniper heart, with a sharp, kaffir lime citrus bringing brightness, liquorice bringing sweetness and star anise, cinnamon, cassia and cloves bringing a warm, festive tingle to the finish.
The fruits used vary from batch to batch, though all contain a strong helping of elderberries, which are sweet, dark fruits that grow in abundance across the United Kingdom. Once distilled, the berries retain their tart flavour, but bring jam-like tones and a rich depth to gin, pairing especially well with sappy juniper.
Ginvent Gin to taste…
The varying batches all take on slightly different nuances, with the evolution of the project marked by the changing seasons, which saw us switch from blackberries to cranberries as we gained a clearer picture of what we were driving towards. While the botanicals and idea remained true, creating them at different times of year meant that the very notion of what one associates with Christmas evolved as well. From a distant haze to the clear, visceral reality of dark nights, cold commutes and the indescribable feeling of joy about spending time loafing around on couches with the family.
Those who are drinking Ginvent Gin from a Ginvent Calendar will be tasting either our first or our second batch. The first has a much louder spice and citrus, while the second is much more chocolate led – softer on the tongue with a big, booming juniper at the back.
The bottled edition – batch three – is a far more balanced affair. Chocolate is the first smell to greet the nose, though this is supported by a distinct elderberry sweetness. It smells soft and sippable, with no spirit harshness. In many ways it takes the characteristics of the first two, but combines them with a sense of indulgence.
The flavour journey is rapid fire: chocolate rushes the tongue, once again buoyed by elderberries and given a thick, sweet accent by the liquorice. Juniper rushes in to flood the mouth entirely, before a quick blast of citrus and a bright star anise close out the taste. The mouth is left in a state of piny bliss, with a strong hit of aniseed sitting on the tongue.
In a G&T, it works particularly well with a star anise and kaffir lime leaf garnish, or alternatively, a healthy wedge of orange. The tonic dials down the spice somewhat, instead accentuating the more saccharine botanicals like fruity elderberries and chocolate. Orange brings out the kaffir lime citrus that shies away otherwise, while the star anise brings back the warmth of the spirit. Our gin-soaked souls, however, think that this is as close as perfect as you’re going to get in a Negroni, with the chocolate sweetness and Campari bitterness conspiring to create a rich, dark and exceedingly sophisticated taste.
The overwhelming feeling is of nostalgia. Ginvent Gin manages to be Christmassy without straying into gimmick territory. The flavour journey is interesting and complicated and the Negroni it makes borders on the outrageous.
Ginvent Gin is very much a handmade product too. Each bottle has been hand filled, wax-dipped and wrapped in rich, red paper that was selected for its soft touch and luxurious feel. A label displaying the bottle number sits at the front, whilst a tie around the neck has a ‘to’ and ‘from’ area.
Only 100 bottles of Ginvent Gin have been produced. The reasons for this are twofold: We’re a tiny team, so the handmade-to-the-last-detail element limits our capacity to complete other projects (and with Ginvent, the Gin Annual and next year’s Junipalooza to plan, we’re already pretty slammed…). The other side of the coin is that we love to celebrate the category as a whole during Ginvent season – our focus is on all gin, not our gin..
To us, the calendars are a way of helping people find their perfect tipple. It is a collection of 24 drams that represent all facets of the category, and is a way to introduce makers both new and established to an enthusiastic audience. It is not about us – we are merely a conduit. We love championing gin brands, and while almost element of gin is represented in the Ginvent calendar – from a sense of place (regional and heritage), style (both in terms of recognisable sub-categories and distillery DNA), attitude (classic and progressive) and much more – it was lacking one aspect of gin that we think is particularly hard to find: the ability to encapsulate a particular moment in time.
There are gins that do this well, of course, but few that are deliberately Christmas focused without really just being a novelty offering. Many brands have released excellent Christmas offerings, but none that carry the nostalgia we hope Ginvent Gin brings. We want it to be something that captures those small moments around Christmas, like the fact that at almost any given point there are aromas of something marvellous wafting through households. It’s these fast moving, whirlwind moments that we’ve tried to create a mini-montage of; sweet indulgence, warm lingering flavours, rich textures, the feel of unwrapping a gift and the incomparable delight of a pine-filled room.
There is something so special about a fleeting gin – one that is there to mark a specific moment, rather than for all time. Perhaps more so in 2016 than in other years the Christmas season needs to be seized upon with force. We need to gather all of the people we love together in one place, throw tinsel all over them and toast the fact that we pulled through. Raise a glass to your nearest and dearest and say “I’m glad we’re all here.”
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