When is a vowel not a vowel? When it’s sat somewhere on the Welsh Peninsula, that’s when. Gower Gin, or GWYR (pronounced Guu-yr), is a brand new addition to the burgeoning Gin scene in Wales, and – with great swathes of locally grown fennel in the line-up – is a great example of the way in which makers have allowed provenance to lead the flavour of their gins.
If we’re being entirely honest, the story of Gower Gin and its co-founder Andrew and Siân Brooks is one you’ve heard again and again. Two huge Gin geeks with a spirit cabinet swelling out of control decide they can probably create their very own version of the spirit, despite coming from entirely different industries – in this case, he’s a management consultant and she’s a Modern Languages PGCE lecturer.
That’s not to say we don’t endorse this type of career shift, quite the contrary, it’s what has led to such a diverse market and it almost always ensures a very passionate team who are making their version of the gin because of how much they love it.
After attending a gin blending course in London some three years ago, the duo started to gain something of an interest in the distilling process, and in designing their own gin. They became flavour obsessed, even starting a year-long blog in 2017, 52 Weeks of Gin, in which they documented tasting a new gin each week.
Andrew is a keen botanist and an expert grower of chillies; in fact, he runs the Gower Chilli Festival each year, which is where he and Siân first sampled Gower Gin, back in March 2017. This knowledge of local flora, of course, helped the duo choose their recipe – a fairly standard list of classical gin ingredients – juniper, coriander, angelica, orris, lemon and pink grapefruit – along with locally foraged front of bronze and green fennel, plucked from the sand dunes near the Brooks’ home.
Trial and error (and more trial and more error) helped the Brooks family to form the recipe for Gower Gin. At first they were keen to include Alexanders (a celery herb that grows prominently in the region), but extracting the oils through maceration led to an overwhelming bitterness. Thankfully, their other local botanical of choice came through with the goods. “Foraged fennel was always going to be in our recipe,” Siân explained. “The intense aroma of new spring fennel as it pushes through the sand has to be smelled to be believed.”
It’s worth noting here that the fennel has been harvested sustainably; the Brooks stick to the Foraging Code, only picking where specimens grow in abundance and being sure to grow their own. Gower is a listed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so it is of utmost important to Andrew and Siân that its picturesque nature is upheld.
Gower Gin to taste…
Gower Gin doesn’t so much have an air of the seaside about it as it does the countryside. To breathe into the glass is to plunge head first into a sweet, flowering rosemary bush, all sweaty in the midday sun. It’s lusciously, verdantly, endlessly green on the nose, although the burnishing citrus keeps it fresh and light, preventing it from creeping down a savoury, vegetal path.
The initial tongue lashing evokes the title of Michael Wolff’s Trump book, Fire and Fury. It certainly lets you know it’s there and grabs you by the throat, making us swallow a cough as though we were trying desperately to impress someone by smoking our first cigarette. There’s an almost Sichuan-like, numbing quality to the finish, suggesting a huge dose of coriander seed is in the mix here. That must be the spirit itself, as well as the fennel, which – as well as providing the great greenness, adds in a great deal of anise-like qualities too, which envelops the mouth in a great big, slightly bitter hug.
It’s a hugely flavoursome gin, a very loud gin and one that has clearly been made with a vision to steer away from the classics. Those who enjoy boldly green gins like One, Gin Mare or Sabatini should definitely give it a good go.
With tonic, it’s a much, much more enjoyable affair. The loud spiciness has been all but vanquished, so the fennel’s anise qualities come across in a much more cooling, fragrant way. Here, the fennel has an equally verdant nature as it does a pronounced anise – reminiscent of Anise Myrtle or tarragon. The grapefruit and lemon take on a sherbet quality, and a ginny core – quiet, but present – hums beneath. It’s certainly on the Contemporary meets New Wave boarder, in our opinion, but Gower has found a way to stay true to what makes gin, Gin, while also finding a way to be unique and carving out it’s own niche.
As for serving suggestions: We’d go 1724 tonic with a great big wheel of overripe orange, a sentiment that seems to be shared by Siân and Andrew. “After almost 30 years of marriage, we have argued about most things” Siân said, “but we have finally agreed on the best garnish – a slice of dried blood orange!”
Gower Gin is currently being made third party at a distillery in South Wales, though the Brooks have a hands-on role in the process, sourcing, weighing, measuring and macerating the ingredients ahead of distillation. Third party is a much easier way to get a gin made, especially when your experience in the field is limited. We respect it and those who not just use it as a stepping stone while they build a distillery but who look to contractors as a long term solution for their brand’s production. What can’t be avoided however, is that in doing so, it removes the small local business vibe somewhat, if completely, and it also limits the control a brand can have over its product.
For Gower Gin, this particular step in the making process was always a means to and end for Siân and Andrew, who have just received planning permission to begin building their own micro-distillery in Port Eynon.
When their new facility opens this summer, they’ll take all of the lessons imparted by consultant Tom Newman (who helped them build the recipe) and set to work recreating their evocative spirit all by themselves. The same methodology will apply – the botanicals will be macerated in a 50/50 blend of NGS and purified water, before being extracted incredibly slowly to bring a longer flavour from the fennel and citrus.
If foraging around the seaside and chucking in botanicals pulled directly from the sand (yes, responsibly source, we’re exaggerating we know) wasn’t quite enough of a beach jaunt for you, the design work on Gower Gin is about as subtle as a sledgehammer in that regard.
Bedecked with navy and white striped (and embossed with impressive gold foiling), the bottle is a hark back to summers holidays of yore, bearing more than a passing resemblance to rent-by-the-hour beach chairs and vintage seaside postcards. It’s actually quite lovely in the flesh (though we’ll admit when we first saw pictures of it we weren’t sure), and certainly stands out, even from the other side of the room. Such distinction is a fantastic tool for Gower Gin to have at its disposal – the more a gin is seen, the more it is sipped.
This may be a gin that polarises people, but it’ll certainly get noticed. Fennel is far from subtle at the best of times and here it’s been used in great abundance. That said, there is something infinitely charming about the product – it’s unequivocally unique (which is hard to do in such a busy category) and incredibly local, a real taste of the Welsh coast bottled and preserved for all to enjoy.
We think there’s earnestness in this particular passion project, and the fact that Andrew and Siân are actually building a distillery, rather than just talking about building a distillery, shows real commitment and huge potential for the months ahead.
Try it if you get the chance – we promise it will surprise you!
For more information about Gower Gin, visit the website: thegowergincompany.wales/
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry