‘We nose our gin’, reads the tagline on each bottle of Persie Gin, a bit of wordplay that’s as succinct as it is twee. You see, founder Simon Fairclough does indeed know quite a bit about the spirit; he created Gin Club Scotland (the world’s first touring gin club) with his wife Chrissie in 2014, and after travelling through the highlands and lowlands with a boot load of bottles, he soon realised which ones struck a chord with his fellow juniper nerds: the ones in which taste and scent mix, mingle and support each other.
“Travelling up and down the country with a carload of over 100 gins, I have seen first-hand which gin styles score top marks every time. And – here’s the thing – they all have one vital thing in common. That perfect interplay of aroma and taste,” Simon told us, with much the excitement Newton must have had when that apple fell on his head. “This was my first revelation: for cracking gin, you need more than a nice taste. Because at least 75% of flavour is down to smell, you need aroma.”
Fairclough has plenty of experience in the spirits industry, having worked as a consultant for Johnnie Walker, Cardhu, Talisker and Jura Scotch. He always knew he wanted to run his own distillery, though, and in 2013 took the first big steps towards doing so: he sold his property, bought the former Persie Hotel in Glenshee and qualified from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. “I have never once looked back,” he said, adding (somewhat sheepishly) that his accountant doesn’t share quite the same jubilance.
It would seem rather an obvious step for a budding Scottish distiller to head down the Scotch path, but Fairclough had other ideas: “whisky has just three ingredients and a tightly prescribed process, whereas with gin I can throw myself into the liberated approach to recipe development and creation. It’s like cooking versus baking, and I’m definitely more of a cook.”
Fairclough gained his IBD qualification in October 2013, then set to work finding premises, sourcing the still, bottling and labelling equipment, building up a botanical library and working on recipes. Life being what it is, this was for from a straightforward endeavour. “At time it felt like if something could go awry, it did,” he revealed. On the day the still was due to be commissioned the bore-hole pump broke, meanwhile his contact at HMRC was headhunted out of the department, their labelling machine (the very, very costly labelling machine) struggled with their tapered bottles and their citrus gin kept louching.
For every low, there was thankfully also a high though, and nothing could quite top the feeling of watching their copper still winding its way up the glen, sunlight bouncing off of its gleaming walls.
Gin Club Scotland was launched with two purposes: one was to help thousands of gin-lovers in Scotland find their perfect gin, the other was to help the Faircloughs establish the flavour profiles that people were most drawn to. “Over a two-year period of tastings I had harvested feedback from 4,000 gin lovers and knew with confidence that three profiles consistently proved most popular across the flavour wheel – fruity, savoury and sweet.” There are three gins in the Persie range: Zesty Citrus, Herby & Aromatic and Sweet & Nutty Old Tom. Each was designed to fit the favoured flavour profiles from the Gin Club’s tastings.
Each gin is made separately, though on average each distillation run takes around four hours, yielding 300 – 320 bottles. All three sets of botanicals are macerated for several hours in advance of the run, and the entire mix is added into the pot for distillation.
Like many, Fairclough only bottles the hearts cut, taking every effort to avoid even approaching the tails so as not to damage the all-important nose of the gin. “My distiller son tells me I’m overcautious,” he says, “but with the gin tasting data being so clear on the importance of the nose, I’m determined to listen to the voice of the customer.”
In a bid to avoid the spirit clouding up the glass, Fairclough holds back around three times as much liquid for the head shot. The oils in the fruit impart an incredible flavour, but they can also cause a spirits clarity to diminish once diluted; it doesn’t affect flavour, but it’s a bit of a vanity point for many distillers.
Persie Zesty Citrus gin takes the longest to make, as over 200 fresh limes and oranges are used. Preparing the fruits takes four hours, and that’s after Fairclough has roped in a friend to help. “The other two gins involve less prep,” he tells us. “Herby is a joy to distil, with basil, bay leaves and rosemary – but the best bit if the huge impact on the body of the gin by adding roughly chopped green olives, which gives it a wonderful olive oil mouth feel.
“On the still, it runs true almost the whole run. Finally, the Old Tom is heaven to work with. The scent of fresh vanilla pods finely chopped always makes me melt a little, particularly as it mingles in the air with the freshly chopped ginger.”
After distillation, each gin rests in steel tanks for a minimum of a week, before being reduced to bottling strength. Persie Herbal & Aromatic and Nutty Old Tom are ready to bottle within days, but Zesty Citrus is left to lie for another three weeks to keep louching to a minimum.
Persie Zesty Citrus Gin to taste…
Oranges and lime burst at the nose, conjuring images of infinite orange groves on hot summer days. There are hints of big, bushy green leaves too, as though some of the foliage has made it into the still as well. Potent and transportive – it’s a BIG nose and one that’s not shy to say hello
There’s an oddly medicinal hint to the taste, a vague hint of Lemsip and peel. Juniper doesn’t have a chance to put in much of an appearance, rather a pithy, waxy citrus asserts itself on the tongue and digs its claws in deep, forcing the mouth into something of a submissive state. There are booming flavours here and no need for an imagination to fill in the details – this is zezty citrus gin to a tee and like it or not (we do), clearly showcases the distiller’s ability to capture flavours and transmit them in each drop. This is far from classic gin territory, but nonetheless matches up well with tonic, filling the mouth with a fluffy, fizzy sherbet taste. Serve with buckets of ice and a handful of juniper or perhaps a sprig of rosemary to garnish.
Persie Herby and Aromatic Gin to taste…
Green leaves and window box herbs greet the nose; there’s an underlying hint of spice and a vague similarity to those green herbal bubblebaths you indulge in at the end of a long, hard week.
A soapy hint greets the tongue when sipped neat, followed by a rich burst of rosemary and basil, a hint of olive oil and a surprising heat. As with Zesty Citrus, there is a laid back juniper – one that’s present as opposed to domineering, though in this case a piny taste does start to creep into the mouth towards the end.
With tonic, the herbal qualities become more complex (and far more tasty). They are able to evolve with the growing volume, and take on a far fresher, more amalgamated taste. It’s as sweet as is it savoury, making us yearn for tall, clinking drinks on hot summer days.
The Herby and Aromatic certainly has more to offer to a “gin” fan than its citrus counterpart, which is much more progressive in its nature, but neither are drinks we’d pull first off the pile. We find that when a gin focuses so much on one element of taste it loses a certain amount of complexity. While undoubtedly very well made, Persie Zesty Citrus and Herby and Aromatic are a little one-dimensional. To some extent that is their objective, though, and they will definitely work for many, many drinkers. If those two descriptors (Zesty Citrus and Herby and Aromatic) are what you are looking for – these deliver by the bucket load.
Persie Sweet and Nutty Old Tom Gin to taste…
We’ve never before encountered a gin that captures and conveys the scent of fresh-from-the-tree nuts with such clarity. That sweet, slightly milky smell greets the nose instantly, joined by a faint hint of malt and an air of vanilla.
Almond and vanilla oscillate around the tongue, joined by fiery ginger root and a vague hint of juniper. The almond isn’t quite almond as you know it; it’s not that sweet, marzipan kind, but – as with the smell – the flavour you get when you pick it from the tree, crack the shell there and then and chew on the nut with urgency.
This is our favourite of the trio by far; it’s complex and totally unique, and with tonic is akin to an ice cream float. We’d garnish with a cherry to keep going down this path and if we were feeling particularly outrageous, we’d probably add a scoop of vanilla ice cream as well.
The gins have been well received, but in an exceptionally crowded market, Fairclough undoubtedly has a fight on his hands. He’s branded them well; the 50cl bottles are identical, though each is marked with a splash of colour on the label to hint at the contents within. The tapered bottles are neat, and the logo, in a handwritten font, adds a personal touch, reminding you that this is very much a small, hands on business. Locally, Fairclough has something of a useful tool with which to promote Persie, too – the gin club.
Gin Club Scotland is still very much a thing, though it is Chrissie who now manages the day to day. While we’ve talked about the symbiotic nature of the two businesses here, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not just a Persie appreciation society, but a club that promotes and celebrates all gin. “Michael Caine said the secret of a successful marriage was two bathrooms,” Fairclough told us. “For my wife and I, it’s two gin businesses! This way we don’t tread on each other’s toes.” But do they find that their conversations can’t quite help but turn to the spirit? “It’s impossible to talk about gin all the time when you have the maddest Cocker Spaniel in Perthshire and a Labrador with separation anxiety,” he refutes.
Persie Gins prove, above all else, that there is always room to be unique in a market as diverse, yet as busy as Gin. Fairclough has found his niche and is striding into it with enthusiasm. The distillery has just taken on its first full time employee – someone who’ll be attending the big gin festivals and getting the Persie name out there. Sniff it out where you can; all three gins show the diversity on offer in the gin world, and whether you’re a sweet, a herbal or a citrus kind-of-person, you’re bound to find one to suit.
For more information about Persie Gins, visit the website: persiedistillery.com
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