Tan Ha Mor – Tarquin’s Limited Edition Gin
There’s something primal about the Cornish coast. It’s wild and spirited, changeable and infinitely beautiful. It’s no wonder the likes of Turner and others have voyaged there and attempted to capture its soul in their works of art.
Gin makers, too, have tried to cram some of that magic into their bottles. To do so, nationally, perhaps even globally, when distillers want to make a Gin that represents the town or county they live in, they tend to forage for botanicals and source ingredients locally, making their spirits not only hyperlocal, but unique. This trend began back in 2014/15, and our take on it was to take a hop, skip and jump down to Cornwall to team up with Tarquin Leadbetter of Southwestern Distillery. Over the course of a weekend, we gathered enough botanicals to make a special edition Hedgerow Gin, which was crammed with local botanicals, like Alexander seeds and honeysuckle.
Fast forward three years and we’re collaborating again, but this time we’re trying to capture the essence of Cornwall not through the hedgerows, but through process: we wanted to create, capture and bottle a memory – in this case, friends catching up over a barbecue on Polzeath Beach.
And so we ventured out in August, five friends lumbered with ingredients, oak chips and two fire-pits in tow. We got to work, setting up station in a cove, just next to the main Polzeath beach and a stroll away from Southwestern Distillery. We let team Tarquin begin the fire wrangling, while we rolled up our trousers and waded into the ocean to collect seawater. We thought soaking the oak chips in the sea was probably the best way to capture the coast and bring in a soupçon of salty air. Not too much, but just enough to let you know it’s there and, well… who doesn’t want to have a splash about in the sea on a summer’s night…
Returning triumphant, wet, cold and in dire need of a fireside G&T, the prep was on. Whole emperor oranges as well as grapefruits were peeled and charred over the flames, each drip of their oil adding a flicker to the flame and bringing in a lick of caramelisation to the fruits.
The oak chips gently boiled, evaporating the seawater to the point of dryness and then slowly toasting the wood until it was charred and blackened. The citrus juice was even used to douse them and infuse a further lick of candied orange, and as the heat began to sear smoke began to impregnate the juniper and coriander seed sitting in pots dangling overhead.
As fun as all this was, there was method to our madness. The aim was to allow a certain smokiness to evolve, for the juniper to simmer and absorb both the fire pit aroma and the saline water it was bathed in. It was vital to capture all of it and ensure the smells and flavours were amplified if they were ever going to stand a chance of being translated into each and every sip.
As rustic as the set up was, the process was also done under controlled heat to allow for specific flavours to develop in the charred peel as well as the oak. We are aiming to steer away from technicality with this article because Tan Ha Mor was built almost entirely around the concept of whimsy, of capturing the ephemeral, but we’re going to quickly divert to something called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is the chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar – it’s an important part of flavour production, thus an important part of Gin making; particularly this one. Depending on heat, the amount of charring varies and so the flavours that would be derived would be different. Peels, chips and seeds were monitored with due diligence. Between roasted marshmallows of course, it was a fire on the beach, not a lab experiment…
The prepared ingredients were then packed, and once returned to the distillery, infused in a tub of high proof Gin, based on Tarquin’s Navy Strength for several weeks for a gentle slumber. Once filtered out, the liquid was reduced to 50.5% ABV, digits that are a nod to the corresponding starting coordinates of the beach on which they were prepared.
Tan Ha Mor to taste:
Golden hued on the eye and smokey on the nose, it’s much more oak and fire than sea or citrus, although the later is there if you care to hover your nose over the gin for a little longer. It reminded us of a waxed jacket hanging in a hallway after returning from a bombfire, the after-smoke so to speak, with a caramelised orange back note that makes you want to linger longer and investigate just quite what is going on.
The smoke mushrooms on first contact to taste, disseminating across the palate until it steams out of the nostrils. Once it passes, the higher proof announces itself with a smouldering certainty. It’s confident, with the charred oranges on the fore, a smoked pine hit and the secondary flames of coriander seed following closely behind. It’s on the final sip that Tan Ha Mor reveals it’s last trick though – that it’s still decidedly Gin. The oak tannins and the smoke have not run away with it, nor have they returned to dominate the finish as they always want to with casked spirits. Rather a clear, woody juniper note sets in to see you through the next few minutes.
It’s not really one for tonic water but if you do, add a grapefruit peel as a garnish, rather, this is something to be savoured with Ginger Ale, served neat over ice, or in an Old Fashioned.
The Tarquin’s team christened it Tan Ha Mor, which loosely translates to the Cornish for ‘fire and sea.’ The name, as the liquid, is a fitting tribute to the place, people and spirit in which it was created.
With only 505 bottles in existence, it’s a small limited edition run that will not be repeated again any time soon. The point of it was to capture an exact moment; it was made to see if terroir, provenance and a sense of place could be imbued into each bottle, not by the choice of local ingredients, but by the process they were transformed by and the people who made it. It shows that it can be just as effective (if not more so) to try and represent ‘botanical terroir’ and what a location is like through what you do to ingredients, as opposed to simply picking something from where it was from and hoping that conjures a sense of geography.
Far more importantly, if nothing else and you if you don’t subscribe to the idea that a gin could be transportive on flavour alone: this is pretty damn special.
Tan Ha Mor is a Ginvent exclusive and while it’s as good as sold out already (pre-orders sold out in less than 3h), there might be a number of bottles popping up at the Padstow Christmas markets, or at Gin Foundry HQ if you happen to be around for a tasting.
Just as the Tarquin’s x Gin Foundry Hedgerow Gin collaboration in 2015 was about looking ahead at trends within the industry, this embodies a few that are swirling around the Gin category right now. Namely, how to use oak in interesting ways and not simply rely on casks or previous occupants, as well as how to identify and maximise specific flavours (or reactions that trigger them), rather than simply seeking out weird botanicals for the sake of a gimmick.
More than any of this, Tan Ha Mor is a celebration of Southwestern Distillery; it shows how far the team are willing to go in terms of experimentation, and how many (calculated) risks they will take to push the boundaries. What they show with this release is that there is still much to explore in the process of making Gin, and that with a restless soul and a curious mind it is possible to assimilate ideas and techniques and re-appropriate them in entirely new ways while staying true to the spirit’s core.
Both the Gin and the distillery show one element above all else. That innovation can still be found through craft and consideration in the process, especially when it is combined with outwards thinking about concept. Because of this, the parameters of gin have a long way to go before we all hit a wall or before it’s all been seen before…
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