We once made a Navy Strength Old Tom Gin, so we can confidently say that this far-fetched mismatch of Gin sub-categories is a tough nut to crack, not only when it comes to creating and perfecting a recipe, but also when it comes time to sell the bloody thing.
We took an ‘I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter’ approach when it came to naming ours, while Locksley Distilling founder John Cherry has opted for an admittedly less loquacious but typically Yorkshire straight to the point moniker: Very Special Old Tom Gin. Very special, yes, but very strong too at 57.5%. It’s a boozy beasty, so drink with a dash more than your usual dose of caution.
Before we continue, for those keen to discover more about Locksley Distilling’s flagship gin: READ ON HERE. This article is about their two additions to the range (and any new line extensions in 2019 will be added on here).
Now, regular readers of the site will know that we love to grill makers on the thought process behind each gin. We want to know how they came up with it, why they wanted to do it and what the meaning of it all is. Admittedly, we get carried away… Cherry, when faced with our typical onslaught of questions, answered with something of an apologetic shrug. “I have always fancied doing a Navy Strength and an Old Tom, but I had no intention of doing them together,” he said.
He adds: “My wife, Cynthia, will tell you of a 2am moment of genius (as she calls it). Apparently, I woke up, blurted out all these plans, then rolled over and went back to sleep. She told me about it in the morning and it still sounded like a great idea. We were all thrilled with the results – the strength and sweetness balanced each other out so beautifully.”
Typically, when a distillery rolls out a Navy Strength line extension, it involves a higher ABV and a ramped up botanical intensity, but as a rule of thumb, the flagship gin is a comparable product. Many even use the same recipe, merely cutting it with less water to make the Navy version. Cherry is not a typical man, though, so Locskley VSOT breaks out of that mould. Hard. The elderflower – so prevalent in Sir Robin of Locksley that it all but drowns the tongue – has been ditched out entirely, while liquorice and juniper have been added by the bucket load. Rather than a line extension, this is the start of a whole new project.
Cherry is loathed to give away too many secrets (once bitten, twice shy), but he will reveal that Locksley VSOT is a pot distilled gin, with all botanicals macerated overnight. Juniper and liquorice aside, we don’t know any of the ingredients, though we strongly doubt he’d be able to resist chucking in a grapefruit or two… let’s find out, shall we?
Locksley VSOT to taste…
Sweetness is the name of the game, both on the nose and to taste. It’s joined by a perfumed citrus-floral blossom note on the aroma (if we hazard a guess – fresh orange that’s combined with cubeb or orris), making for a tantalising smell that invites you to dive right in!
The gin is both viscously sweet yet intensely fiery in equal measure on first contact to taste, instantly letting you know that there’s no compromise for either genre. The citrus is definitely there and announces itself on the tongue with a hot flush and perhaps because we are so familiar with the distillery’s flagship (it’s a regular in the cabinet), the sweetness here is so prominent that it had us confused with their signature elderflower stickiness. It isn’t, it’s merely (as if these things were easy!) the careful transition between citrus peel and liquorice root. Juniper, it must be said, rides heavy throughout and asserts itself once more on the finish, where it combines with what we believe to be cubeb spice. It is both Navy and Old Tom and quite a spectacular clash of styles in one place.
Madness may have served as the primary inspiration here, but it didn’t govern the entire process. Once he’d had his morning coffee and engaged the more lucid side of his brain, Cherry started thinking about the next step: ageing the gin. Why combine just two sub-categories when you can combine three?
His wine background really paid off here. He followed a hunch that using a dessert wine barrel would bring a whole new accent to Locksley VSOT, so put the gin in a Sauternes cask and crossed their fingers in. After a three week rest, they dipped a straw in and were very excited by the taste.
Locksley VSOT Sauternes Barrel Finished to taste…
In an incredibly different aroma to the un-aged version, here, it’s the barrel and its previous occupant that make themselves known. Soft oak and light tannins are pervasive to smell and while sweet in their own right, actually make the gin present as higher proof and a touch spirit. To taste, the gin can only be tasted through the lens of how the barrel has influenced it, much like as if you were looking at a familiar a vista through yellow tinted glasses.
The florals upfront have transformed into more honeyed versions of themselves, the citrus is far diminished, replaced by a peppery hit while the finish, previously rooty, piny and spiced is sweeter, oaky and caramelised. This finish endures for all eternity too. It just never goes away, as if the barrel and the old tom want to each have the last word and are prepared to shout it out for as long as it takes.
It’s a very different proposition and we love it (try it in an old fashioned if you get the chance). For those curious if this is the centre point of a bizarrely brilliant gin style venn diagram – the third dimension in this clash of styles has dominated the other two more than we expected, and we feel that it’s less of a balanced hybrid of genres, more a really tasty barrel aged gin that also happens to be higher proof.
The Sauternes barrel was just the experiment; the second batch is up and resting in a Banyuls wine cask, a red dessert wine from the Pyrenees region of France. “It is so incredibly different from the first,” Cherry explains. “Consensus is that its’ even better, though a few around the distillery still prefer the first.”
Incidentally, it’s the distillery as a collective that makes decisions around releases and experiments. “We consider ourselves a distiller led distillery,” said Cherry. “We will always make what we love and want to drink personally. With all of our products, first the staff tries them, then our awesome work neighbours, then our friends and family.
“We listen to feedback from everyone, but our core crew at the distillery has a lot of experience in the food and beverage industry, so we know when something is right. Sir Robin of Locksley took 104 attempts back in 2013. Now we have a more linear approach to development, and can nail something in 15 – 20 trials.”
Given that distilling has only been in-house for a couple of years and Locklsey Distilling have already made a fair few new expressions since, we’d say that the VSOT range will be far from the last to emerge from the distillery. This is a small team – there are only five people involved – but they work tirelessly to churn out their collections and have still found time to rebrand into beautiful new, customised bottles, as well as to create and fulfil demand for their flagship gin. Basically, what we’re saying is this: Locksley Distilling work bloody hard at what they do and if you haven’t tried their products, go out of your way to get hold of a dram or two.
Copyright © Gin Foundry