St. Giles Gin
Before St. Giles Gin founder Simon Melton had his fingers in the spirits pie, he worked as a commercial diver, travelling the far flung lengths, or rather the depths, of the world. It became something of a habit for him to pick up a bottle of the local gin for his wife, Alison, wherever he went, and in turn it became a habit for them to toast their reunion with the newly acquired spirit.
Before long, talk turned to creating their own gin. Though these chats began as nothing more than pipe dream fodder, the idea started to take concrete form so, several years later, they took the plunge and in early 2017 St. Giles Gin launched. Part of the fascination was their own history with Gin, but they also loved its liberal nature. Alison explains: “It is such an amazing spirit, steeped in history and with infinite possibilities for interesting flavours and ingredients. We felt that we could make something truly original.”
Their first step was the niggly process of getting licensing out of the way, but as soon as that was complete the Meltons could move on to building the premises and starting their journey into making spirits. They converted their barn, bringing in a 4-metre tall, 400-litre German copper still named after their eldest daughter, Anna.
They set to work on St. Giles Gin, losing months and months (in fact, years) as they researched and developed the recipe. Over 100 trial runs were conducted, each of which was evaluated, improved or outright rejected through a series of public tasting sessions.
The Meltons researched hundreds of botanicals as they developed their gin. “We teamed up with a local chef who gave us a real insight into the hidden flavours of some lesser known herbs and spices, and we looked deeply into the history of Gin production,” Alison said.
“We then made a base recipe out of four common gin botanicals before combining them with other individual botanicals so we could understand the influence each one had on the gin. In this way, we could get an insight into whether each specific botanical may be suitable, and the relative amount that might be needed. As you can imagine, this was a painstaking process, but in our eyes it was essential in order to create something truly special”.
Of the four ‘base’ botanicals, Alison names juniper, coriander and orris. The rest of the listed botanicals are black pepper, lemongrass, rose petals, pink peppercorn and grains of paradise. That leaves three spare, to bring an air of mystery, though we’re tempted to lean towards one (or maybe two) of them being either orange or lemon peel.
Distiller Pete Margree joined the team right off the bat and was a key player in the development of St. Giles Gin. He has a great understanding of how flavours interact and had been working on small scale spirit flavouring with a local pub. He also had experience of brewing and distilling after a brief jaunt abroad, so when the Meltons heard through the grapevine that he was looking to leave his role as a teacher, they jumped at the chance to bring him on board.
Not only was Margree imperative to recipe development, he runs every distillation of St. Giles Gin. The first step in the process is to carefully weigh out the botanicals to ensure consistency. These are added to the pot alongside the grain spirit, always in the same order. “Does this make a difference?” Alison said. “Well Pete would say yes, and we’re not going to argue!”. As soon as the ingredients are added, the still is fired up and the agitator is turned on. Margree chooses not to macerate the spirits because he believes this makes the gin too heavy, but the gin is distilled slowly, over 18 hours, giving the botanicals a little time to infuse.
Flow rates are monitored and maintained throughout the run, with frequent readings of the ABV ensuring an accurate tails cut off. The spirit is then left to rest for a fortnight in stainless steel containers, before being sliced down to its bottling strength of 42% ABV with de-ionised water. Another fortnight later, and the spirit is bottled.
St. Giles Gin to taste…
Lemongrass strikes a boisterous citrus note, but beneath all that there’s a sweet, almost perumed note and a brief flush of roses. Lemongrass often brings an exotic, Thai curry feel with it, but here it adds a splash of silky levity and a lemon note so strong you can almost picture the fruits boiling on the tree during a heatwave. The black pepper, pink pepper and grains of paradise spice combo tickle at the nostrils with a drying, almost smoky piquancy, but they’re playing second fiddle to the confident lemongrass, and are more a shadow in the distance as opposed to discernible in their own right.
St. Giles Gin is a bit more peppery than the nose suggests, to the extent that we made a strange “baaarhhh” noise as soon as it landed on the tongue. That’s not to say it’s a burning, rough spirit, but that the three spices lend a heat to proceedings that is far beyond what the aroma makes you anticipate. The heat disappears on the swallow, though, paving the way for a sudden burst of honey-like sweetness, followed by warming, citrusy lemongrass once more. Juniper also strikes up at the end… It’s not that it’s not there throughout the experience, but here it acts as a launch pad for the other flavours, not really showing its face until they’ve piped down.
With tonic, the majority of St. Giles Gin’s botanicals appear at once. It’s bright and intense, with that gloopy honey taste at the fore and the bright, burning spices providing complexity so deep you feel as though you’ve burrowed into another world. The rose doesn’t really appear until the end if, wherein it provides a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, soft, hay-like finish, that seems to put its fingers to the mouth of the bright fizzing lemongrass to whisper a gentle ‘shh…’. We’d up the citrus but downplay the lemon in a G&T, adding a big wheel of the sweetest, juiciest orange we could find to the glass.
The Meltons next goal is a navy strength “Divers Edition” of St. Giles Gin. This will be a fruitier gin, and hopefully a little less spiced, as we can’t quite see anyone’s palate surviving that spice onslaught at a higher strength.
The name St. Giles, comes from the historic area of Norwich in which Simon’s family shop is based (their initial plans were to develop the space into a gin retailer, but making their own spirit soon took over). During the 18th Century, St. Giles was a real hub for Norwich’s take on the Gin Craze, with the famous Distillery Street housing the now defunct Distillery Arms pub.
It’s a nice tie in to history, although the branding (happily) is an incredibly modern affair, with a light and airy website and a gorgeously 21st Century bottle, fit with a copper coloured lid and a genuinely stunning, textured aquamarine label. It speaks of quality over provenance, which is a wise move as they’re very clearly aiming for a premium market with an rrp of £40. That, we’ll note, is a sum we’re very, very reluctant to part with for any bottle of gin.
Alison and Simon are coming from a real place of passion, aiming to spread their love for gin far outside the family walls; they’ve crammed all of their adventures, their experiences and their own, personal adventure with the spirit into a bottle, and even roped their kids in to help. When Simon, who still works as a commercial diver, returns from his long stints beneath the deep blue sea, the Meltons can now toast his return with their own spirit, knowing that many others are celebrating their unions over an ice cold St. Giles and tonic. A nice little circle, for a nice little gin.
For more information about St. Giles Gin, visit their website: www.stgilesgin.com
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry