This is a review of the special, seasonal or limited edition gins in the Tappers Gin range. If you’re looking for backstory about the producers or for information about their flagship Gin, please head to the Tappers Darkside Gin review.
Tappers Gin, for those not in the know, is a masterclass in compounding Gin, with its creator, Steve Tapril, taking an almost manic approach to quality control. He weighs and measures his ingredients with an engineer’s precision, allowing not even the minutest of fluctuations in his recipe. It is by the book production, and anyone with an understanding of the process behind his flagship gin would be inclined to peg him as a bit of a straight laced anorak. One glimpse at the rest of the Tappers range, however, would prove them very, very wrong…
“I’d love to say there’s lots of careful planning behind the limited editions, but in reality I tend to have a sudden thought: ‘I wonder if that will work’” Tapril explained to us one cold November day. “In December 2016 I thought ‘I should probably do something for Christmas’. I had about a week, maybe two, to get something out in time. It was stressful to say the least.”
The resulting spirit, Tappers Figgy Pudding Gin, was immensely popular upon release. Small batch though the entire range is, it was still a surprise to Tapril when every single bottle had sold out within 48 hours. In fact, some of the first complaints the one man band operation had to field were from customers frustrated that there just wasn’t enough of it to go around. “The promise of big orders, Christmas menu listings, cocktails and so on was very temptings in terms of rushing out another few batches, but its never been what Tappers is about. Instead, I agreed to release it again every year as an addition to the range, albeit only between November and January.”
To make Tappers Figgy Pudding Gin, Tapril optimistically got hold of the ingredients for a figgy pudding and… well, dumped them into the containers filled with spirit. “I really shouldn’t admit this,” he says sheepishly, “but this is the only gin to date in the entire range that I experimented with on the live batch. I had so little time to get it ready that I had to make the tweaks to the recipe while it was actually in productions. Whatever came out was going to be released, so I just didn’t have time to make any further test batches.”
Layering the fruit and spices turned out to be a nightmare. “The trick to cold compounding is in grouping, ordering and layering botanicals for infusion so that you get the right aroma, taste and depth exactly when you should. It went horribly wrong with about two days to go. I just couldn’t taste the fruit at all, the spices dominated the nose and palate and there was no sign of fig anywhere. I was very lucky that a tweak here and there turned out to be the right thing to do, or it would have been a complete disaster.”
Tappers Figgy Pudding Gin to taste…
Heavy figs and juniper burn into the nose, with the fruit bringing gloriously caramelised notes. There’s a bright brush of citrus here, too, making us think immediately of the mandarin you find in the foot of your Christmas stocking.
These translate to the taste beautifully; it’s a really successful gin regardless of the time of year, with a nutmeg/cassia burn towards the finish that fizzles out into a Christmas cake taste. Juniper and oily orange really are all over this, resulting in a rich, cheek-filling mouth mouthfeel that glides down the throat seamlessly. In terms of G&T serves you may as well go the whole hog: classic tonic, orange wheel, stick or cinnamon, but if you’re in more of a cocktail mood we really think this would work well in a Martinez.
The success of his first festive spirit, along with an endless need to fill his tanks with altogether strange substances, meant that within a couple of months Tapril was working on an Easter edition: Tappers Eggcentric Gin. He was a little better prepared this time, and began working on the recipe in January, aiming to have it ready by Easter in April. The only real goal he had in mind was to use real, whole ingredients rather than flavourings and extractions. This meant doing a lot of chocolate based research – not exactly a miserable chore. He settled on Peruvian Criollo and set to work. “We actually bake the cacao nibs ourselves, following the fussiest temperature settings and timings I’ve ever seen in baking,” said Tapril. “It feel like I’m nursing eggs that are about to hatch – I can’t take my eyes off them for a second. We let the nibs cool, peel them and add them to the mix of other botanicals.”
Whole Madagascan vanilla pods are also added to the line up, which has proved to be increasingly costly due to crop failures. The whole recipe was refined over just two batches, but it might have been just one if sweet-toothed Tapril hadn’t got carried away with the vanilla.
Tappers Eggcentric Gin to taste…
At first sniff, we were a little disheartened to be honest. It just didn’t seem like there was enough chocolate in the mix; in fact it smelt more like the sugary centre of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg.
That all changes on the taste, though, as the tongue is entirely enveloped in a chocolate-y pillow. It’s so rich that it feels almost a touch artificial, but there’s also a hint of cocoa nib, too. Juniper rolls on in afterwards, but all of this is swept away by a rich vanilla sweetness that is almost sugary in nature.
If we’re completely honest, we don’t love this. In fact, we’re not sure we don’t hate it. It’s both sweet and bitter at the same time, a feat we never thought possible, and if you’ve ever overdosed on creme eggs, this delivers that same feeling in liquid format sip after sip… We’ve got absolutely no idea how to serve it either. Answers on a postcard, please…
Festive varieties aside, there are also four seasonal gins that follow each year across it’s course. Spring Fever, Three Fine Days, Falling Leaves and Winter Green. The plan was for the seasonal gins to cover the flavour areas within Darkside Gin: floral for spring, citrus for summer spiced for autumn and aromatic for winter. We’ve had the good fortune to taste all three, so here goes…
Tappers Spring Fever Gin to taste…
This is a busy old gin, with locally foraged, rain-soaked gorse in the line up, along with cowslip, orange blossom, elderflower and chamomile. Tapril was keen not to make an overly perfumed, fussy gin; instead he wanted an English meadow feel.
Our initial feeling upon sniffing Tappers Spring Fever Gin was that it was an inch away from where it needed to be: spring was knocking at our noses, but it was as though it was on the other side of the window, and it was still raining outside…
There’s a huge hint of gorse, which brings a bees wax quality to it, along with woody juniper beneath. It’s certainly unique, with a swathes of over-stewed chamomile tea lapping at the tongue and woody juniper. Again, it’s not a gin we’d pick, so we’re going to swiftly move onto the next.
Tappers Three Fine Days Gin to taste…
The initial plan for Three Fine days was for it to be a citrus gin with a lemon flavour, with lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon peel and grapefruit peel bringing warming, fresh and zesty flavours. It was named for the length of the British summer, and designed to be loaded up with ice and tonic and guzzled in the garden.
Look, before we go any further we want to quickly state that we love Tappers Darkside Gin and we love Steve Tapril and his boundless enthusiasm for experimentation, but this is another non hitter for us. It’s the third in a row, we know, but that’s just the way it is. The juniper takes on a bitter, sinister flavour in this expression. There’s not enough of anything other than the piny little berries (which isn’t a bad thing per-se, just not exactly citrus and lively summer vibes), so the other botanicals come across half hearted and lacklustre. The lemon balm and lemon verbena don’t carry the brightness they’re required to either, instead they’re mossy and messy, leading to confusion on the tongue, rather than any simple sipping sensations.
Tappers Falling Leave Gins to taste…
Autumn is a difficult seasons to capture, as available botanicals change from day to day. Tapril sought to create a warming, spiced gin, but one that is also delicate and complex. He added fennel to bring heat, as well as rose hips, elderberries and blackberry leaves. He had a gin, but it wasn’t the gin he wanted, and given that by this stage he’d already made and decorated the bottle, he started to panic. “I changed quantities of the existing botanicals, changed the steeping stages, grouped them differently to infuse, you name it, I just couldn’t give it that extra special something,” he told us. Luckily, and just in time, he struck gold. “I really thought my luck had run out, but I decided to add bilberries to the original recipe, eight test batches earlier, and I was finally happy with the result.”
This gin works. The aroma, though subtle, is reminiscent of autumn walks, with strong hedgerow wafts fluttering across the nose. There are dark fruit flavours too, while the blackberry leaves ride alongside the juniper in a beautiful moment of coexistence. It’s really quite lovely! The fennel brings a piquant depth, and while it’s certainly not strong, it triggers a transition of flavours that move from leafy, to rooty, to spiced.
It’s wonderfully autumnal and a great representation of the season in which England truly shines – we’d serve it with sliced apples and classic tonic.
Tappers Wintergreen Gin to taste…
When Tapril released Darkside back in May 2016, he knew it was no ordinary flavour profile. There weren’t a great deal of commercially available (or successful) compound gins on the market, so he was keen to make a lighter gin that was perhaps a little more connected to regular gins. “Wintergreen is very much about the aroma,” Tapril explains. “I wanted the nose to be more prominent than the sip. The spruce needles, paired with juniper, achieve that to deliver a forest fragrance.
“I’m certainly no chemist but I do extensively research botanicals before putting them anywhere near my alcohol. I knew the relationship between juniper berries and spruce needles: they both add a very woody, green, pine-like aroma and taste, so I wanted to put them together.”
It’s a truly great gin, and the most successful of the bunch in our opinion. There’s a super Scandinavian smell to it, like being in a birchwood sauna filled almost exclusively by pine needles. It makes us think of decking and silver birch oil; so rustic and woody and outsdoorsy.
On the tongue, you’ve got juniper and half the forest swilling around your mouth. There’s a hint of meadowsweet in there too, making this overwhelmingly (and quite surprisingly) Nordic to taste. With compound gins, one usually has to tease the elements out and make a real effort to ascertain what’s in the glass; it can be annoying at times, but here it’s a joyous task, luring you into the deep dark forest.
The finish is incredibly fiery, with a peppery nip at the end. There’s a botanical heat, rather than a spirit burn, making the overall sensation glorious. This is a truly fantastic gin; certainly the best of the bunch but also one of the best around. It’s really, truly, brilliant, and a fantastic testament to Tapril’s compound skills. We love it.
Keep an eye on this article – we’ll be updating it with all of the Tappers releases.
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