Southwestern Distillery X Gin Foundry Collab: Treth Ha Mog
Roaring waves salt the air as barbecue smoke stings your eyes, the smell of the day’s catch sizzling in the heat claws at your stomach as you pull an ice-cold cider (this is the South West, after all) from the coolbox and lie back in the sand. You toast your friends; you laugh into the wind; you wait for tomorrow to dot the horizon.
That feeling – of a Cornish beach cook out in full flow – is what we sought to capture with our 2019 collaboration with Tarquin’s Gin creator Southwestern Distillery. After all, we are good friends now, with years’ worth of collaborating behind us. It’s fair to say that Treth Ha Mog, the third instalment of a trilogy of Southwesten Distillery X Gin Foundry gins, is all-out madness – an evocative, sea shanty of a gin that is definitely not vegetarian friendly… A botanical bisque, if you will.
In making this gin we wanted to return to one of the big subjects in the category over the past few years; Provenance. Can the idea of terroir exist for gin? And if not literally driven by botanicals, can it be delivered in a more figurative and transportive way? Just because something is of somewhere, it doesn’t mean it will transport you there when you taste it some hundreds of miles away… The whole process needs to envelop and imbue where it was made, not just the ingredients. Hedgerow Gin explored the subject using botanicals local to Cornwall (before foraging was cool we might add), last year’s Tan Ha Mor looked at using process and concept as a way of creating a sense of place.
Often, provenance as a theme is nothing more than local produce and local pride but what we have learned along the way is that irrespective of its origin, for drinkers to be immersed by the sensation and sense of place, a flavour needs to trigger a memory and a connection. For this foray into the subject matter we wanted to marry both literal and figurative provenance together and in doing so, tie in the two previous collaborations and harness the best of each.
THE BEACH COOK OUT
The first step came when we went foraging for ingredients, coming up trumps with rock samphire. These local, coastal ingredients would add a salty, medicinal hit to whatever gin we’d end up producing, so they were the start point, no matter the finish. Ever the urban foragers, a trip to Stein’s Fishmongers was also on the cards. What is a Cornish beach cook-out without an array of spectacular local produce? Besides, having honed skills and fully geeked out on Maillard reactions last year, there was a communal instinct that the charred crustacean husks may well add something quite unique. More-over, if the aim of this gin was to transport to that moment, that place, that culinary extravaganza, shy’ing away from going all in would render the end liquid incomplete.
The fennel was charred on the fire alongside a handful of lemons, with the former gaining a rich, smoky flavour and the latter a touch of burnt caramel. Using a local Cornish butter that had been laced with (again local) saffron, salt, coriander and chilli, we then pan fried the rock samphire.
As all this was cooking, we had ourselves something of a feast, with lobster pulled from the Cornish coast simmering in the heat. Sometimes distilling can be an endurance test battling the cold, other times, it’s the epitome of the good life. With sunset and a gentle breeze overhead, regular added perks off the BBQ sampled “for quality control”, this dear readers was far from arduous…
As it felt right and never ones to waste an opportunity, we took one look at the now buttered, charred and empty shells and decided to add them into the botanical mix being carefully captured. All of the smoked and toasted botanicals were mixed together and divided into separate five litre glass jars, then they were covered with spirit and left to macerate for two weeks.
With all the beach botanicals filtered out (no seafood in the distillery!), this highly concentrated infusion was then added to the still, which was also pre-loaded with a similar formula used to make Stein’s Gin (the only major tweak was an extra helping of almonds, to increase silkiness on the mouthfeel) and run through the still.
Before the lemons were added, the juices were squeezed out of them and stirred into a low-sugar lemon butter syrup to create a secondary infusion. This juicy melange was distilled separately and once both were done, combined with the liquid made above. If that wasn’t already complicated enough, there was one more step…
Post-distillation toasted oak chips were added, bringing a huge amount of texture to the gin, a real richness and a wisp of wood smoke that never chokes or burns, but that imparts a huge amount of warmth on the tongue.
Given provenance was the theme of this gin, being the nerds that we are, we also decided to bottle the gin at 50.5% ABV to reflect the start of the coordinates of the beach on which the ingredients were cooked. The slightly higher than usual ABV really works well with the smokiness, bringing a spiced heat to the tongue. As it is all about beach and smoke, it was named Treth Ha Mog (a translation of that sentiment), another nod to those Cornish roots.
The end product is a world away from any gin you’ve ever tried before, yet immensely familiar too. Given that it was distilled by Tarquin Leadbetter and his incredibly skilled team, you can pretty much know before trying it that this is going to be a juniper-laden affair. Yes, it’s weird, yes, it’s experimental, but whilst they’re willing to push ingredients to their limit and really stretch what it means to be a Gin, they’re never going to be shy with their juniper-portions.
Gin must always taste first and foremost like Gin – irrespective of the concept being driven towards. This is an homage to coastal heritage, lifestyle and a love letter to beach cook outs, via the medium of gin.
What does Treth Ha Mog taste like?
The first thing to hit you from the aroma is the lemon (served neat, it’s bright but once cut with water, the complex caramelisation really pushes through). Lingering behind it are the juniper and fennel that are pacing about, waiting for their moment in the spotlight and hinting at what’s to come.
To taste, it also begins with a smokey lemon twang, then into piney juniper and warming, toasted fennel. The mouthfeel is oily and rich. The flavours evolve to develop into saffron and chilli, with the smoke only arising once right on the finish and lingering alongside coriander seed and warming citrus. The deceptive thing about Treth Ha Mog is that the smoke isn’t one big rush, it just gently wafts up on the finish and boy does it linger beautifully.
We can safely say that this ode to the beach barbeque is all that it is intended to be and more. We would usually wax lyrical about a gin like this, but we’ll cut this tasting short as to keep that smokey note in the glass, not up our own orifices.
For those who got to try it and want to compare the two, the marked difference between this and the Tan Ha Mor release last year is that while that was all about bomb-fires and sea water, this is much more delicate on the smoke and far more about the other ingredients. It’s all charred botanicals and secondary layers of caramelised, culinary contrasts, not huge swathes of retro-nasal smoke (similar to the phenols people know in peated whisky).
To us, Tan Ha Mor was like smelling a coat the day after bombfire night and quite extreme in just how much juniper, smoke and salinity it contained. We love that about it, yet this deliberately different. Treth ha Mog is like sitting next to the charred BBQ grill – all the foodie elements are there, it’s just more nuanced, interwoven and subtle.
Use this in a G&T if you want, although we feel soda water delivers a better mixer to allow for the full range of flavour to emerge. For those fond of a boozier serve, try it in a bone dry Martini or if you are needing to batch a load up to take to the beach yourself, an Old Fashioned.
This is a hugely evocative booze that’s intended to be about food and all those interlaced flavours, but it’s also a fun and – dare we say it – slightly silly concept. It’s ingredients vary from strange to brilliant (that flavoured butter is simply on another level of decadence!), but it’s also an incredibly accomplished piece of production work. The various stages involved, the layering of each flavour step-by-step, the confidence in plucking threads out of the air – this was made by a team at Southwestern who are at the top of their game, and the end result speaks absolute volumes to the skill involved.
This is a lesson in boldness and following your creative instincts. We can’t tell you how many times in this journey we followed a thought down the rabbit hole – the lobster husks may have begun as nothing more than a joke, but the depth and complexity they add to the gin proves that every thought has merit.
What we hope this gin shows is that provenance is more than just the literal flora that surrounds you. Be it a weed growing up your wall, the acorns littering your driveway or the rowan’s currently squelching through every woodland pathway, there is plenty to be found and used, but context is everything. It is the people, the process and the sense of somewhere that also transports drinkers.
We sought to capture and bottle a fleeting moment – an extraordinarily happy and uplifting day spent on the beach with friends. The fact that it tastes delicious is excellent indeed, but this is one that was just as much about the journey and the creative endevour.
We want it to be a call to arms to our fellow bon-viveurs. What flavours inspire you? What reminds you of the best days with your best people? Be it by picking up a bottle of this, or finding what you all bonded over and calling your crew round for a good old get together – we hope that what’s in the glass helps you reminisce and reconvene, and that the focus and attention is all about the moments spent with those around it.
If you want to grab a bottle – Treth Ha Mog is available exclusively through Gin Kiosk
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