Tarquin’s Hedgerow Edition
Those who have read our articles on Gin Foundry or have taken part in one of our events will know that we’ve always had a soft spot for Southwestern Distillery. We have championed Tarquin’s Gin not just because of the subtlety of floral flavours in an overall tasty gin itself; but also because of the owner’s do-it-yourself, start from scratch and graft-until-you-make-it attitude.
The nature of the entire operation embodies why the gin category is so captivating. To us, a good Gin is as much about the spirit of the people who make it, as it is the spirit in the bottle itself. In this case, both within the Gin and the team, there’s a distinct charm.
In 2015, the distillery has continued to expand, growing in volume of gin it creates, the amount of customers it boasts and in the size of the team. Not losing sight of their roots however and taking progress one step at a time rather than make sudden fundamental changes, it is still as hands-on as ever. Labels are still being stuck on by hand, accompanied by a tasting note for each batch and bottles being filled – literally – one at a time. It’s a slower pace of development to many of the craft distilleries but one that has long term sustainable growth written all over it.
Having worked with the distillery in the past and hopefully, helping many to discover the Cornish Gin, the time was right to take our relationship one step further. The idea for a limited edition batch came about, and soon Tarquin’s Hedgerow Edition was born.
Choosing where to begin, both conceptually and from a flavour perspective is the first and possibly largest obstacle to overcome when embarking on a joint venture. On this occasion, the aim was not to create something completely unlike Tarquin’s eponymous gin. As with all good sister expressions (even if in this case, only a temporary adoption), sharing some traits would be a good thing. Keeping the existing 12 botanicals in their exact formula was key and agreed from the outset.
The quest was now on for suitable inspiration that would underpin all our future decisions and guide us to pick a couple of botanicals, which would accentuate and highlight the distillery’s unique nature.
Many picture Cornwall as a destination for British beach adventure and days spent on windswept coastlines. It is indeed the picture perfect region for this sort of activity, however we’ve always been impressed by what lay just inland, as opposed to drawn by the seashore itself.
Cornish hedgerows have defined the region’s landscape for centuries and today provide a distinct local identity quite different from other areas of the country where hedgerows are also common. They embody the county’s soul and provide a link to a forgotten past, when people used the surrounding nature for sustenance, medicine and shelter.
In Cornwall there are still about 30,000 miles of hedgerows, which constitute the county’s largest semi-natural wildlife resource and its most prominent landscape feature. Historically, the first Cornish hedges enclosed land for cereal crops 4000 – 6000 years ago.
In other parts of Britain, these early hedges were destroyed to make way for the manorial open-field system. Furthermore many were replaced after the Enclosure Acts and removed again during modern agricultural intensification. Cornwall is richer in historic hedges than any other part of Britain, with over three-quarters remaining today having been anciently established.
These hedges provide endless inspiration for those looking to snack on their ramble across the landscape. Rosehips, angelica and thistle are abundant, so too are sloe berries, blackberries and plentiful hawthorne bushes in autumn. From a Ginsmith’s perspective they provide a unique opportunity to forage something unique and true to the nature of the area. The Cornish Hedgerow was the logical cornerstone to the project and one we knew would provide suitable botanicals when the time came.
Time, incidentally, became the second key element to the project. Encapsulating a season in a bottle of gin can be done in numerous ways, although none of them are particularly easy. Makers can simply be true to what actually grows at that moment, hoping that the link between the flavours and the time of year are evident.
Alternatively, one can recreate the sense of a moment through careful use of alternative ingredients that trigger evocative sensations and transport the drinker, if only for a second, to a specific moment in time. Vanilla for example, evokes memories of ice cream, surf board wax and summer vacations for many, even though the ingredient itself is not seasonal to that specific time of year.
For both Tarquin and ourselves, it was important to find seasonal botanicals to recreate an instant in time that was true to us and in doing so – that others could connect with. Meeting up on a glorious morning in early September, we set about walking across meadows, country paths and along these ancient hedgerows.
Having done some scouting already, Tarquin pointed out that given they were visible at every turn – the obvious botanical to pick was honeysuckle. It would provide the top note to compliment the Devon violets already in Tarquin’s Gin, while also capturing that fresh almost heady scent of late summer.
We knew the second element that would be missing unless we started looking closer to the ground was a base note. With autumn around the corner a change of season was about to manifest itself. We needed something that could conjure the slight crispness in the evening air and the bracing nature of the early morning winds. Alexanders seeds and rosemary came to our aid. The seeds in particular would add a mentholic spice to proceedings and set the clean and crisp backdrop to the gin.
In total, the final additions to Tarquin’s existing recipe were honeysuckle, rosemary, Alexanders seeds and apple. Having left them to macerate overnight, Tarquin fired the still in the early morning and we all waited patiently.
His precious flame-fired pot still, Tamara, worked her magic and over the next four hours, she slowly and carefully created the gin. Watching the gin emerge and observing just how effective the old school way of sealing copper Alembic stills using pastry (bread) mix, we were reminded just how many similarities there were between the production and methodology of this “Gypsy Collaboration” as it’s now known and the old vagabond Gypsy Distillers of yesteryear. Having learned from their cautionary tale however – we were confident that the quality of base spirit, seasonal ingredients and technical know-how would allow us to make an authentic and genuinely delicious gin.
After a meticulous hearts cut was made (to ensure only the best parts of the gin were kept) and at the end of a long morning – we tasted the elixir. It was not just the uppercut of pure alcohol that comes with tasting a fresh dose of gin direct from the still, but the initial hit of honeysuckle which slapped us all around the face. It invaded the senses to leave nothing else other than a mist of fresh flowers.
While we’ve said in earlier articles that when distilleries make seasonal batches or use local botanicals, it’s important that they resonate through and are not just there as a gimmick. What we failed to mention was that to do so involves a fair amount of courageousness too.
In our case there was an overwhelming sensation that the aroma would, surely, be too extreme for people to like it. There was too much flower, even if it was rich and alluring. Would it be too perfumed to use in cocktails? We tinkered on the edge of agreeing to cut it back with more Neutral Spirit. Yet equally, we felt this wouldn’t be true to the philosophy of the distillery (small batch, one-shot gin that will inevitably vary thus why there are tasting notes on the side of the label) and to the ethos of an experimental, seasonal collaboration.
Experience prevailed and Tarquin’s understanding of his still and how his spirit settles left us all with the tentative hope that this bright and beautiful fragrance would bed down and that juniper would resonate once more.
Four weeks of waiting ensued as the spirit rested. Long weeks. Agonising weeks. Finally a sample emerged and the first tasting of the collaborative batch ultimately happened.
Upfront honeysuckle is clear, but no longer overwhelming. The gin smells fresh, clear with hints of orange and juniper whispering what is about to come. Tasted neat, perfumed almost mentholic spice laced with juniper and coriander seed emerge at first.
The alexanders seeds reveal themselves thereafter while herbal tones tease away in the background, hidden in the shadows of an overall light and floral gin. It’s complex, layered yet quite singular in the big overall flavours which provide an umbrella for the rest of the botanicals to sit under.
In a G&T the gin’s nuances are more apparent and the light citrus and spicier Alexanders seeds emerge, meanwhile the more balanced core gin botanicals (juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root) are also more pronounced and provide a familiar depth to the ensemble. If you do happen to try some, garnish it with an orange peel to add to the citrus element or a sprig of rosemary to contribute more verdant and herbal notes, accentuating the multifaceted juniper.
So, does Tarquin’s Hedgerow Gin deliver on what we set out to achieve? With less than 250 bottles in existence, it certainly fits the exploratory, experimental nature of Gypsy batches. We feel that it does indeed capture the essence of the land in September and the fresh, vivid scenery Cornwall is so famous for.
The label design and look and feel are also well considered – tying in some of the coastal themes in a clean and contemporary aesthetic. Moreover, Tarquin’s Hedgerow Edition is true to not just the idea of reciprocal and collaborative distilling, but befitting of a progressive distillery with their eyes firmly set on what might be possible in 2016.
Despite their impressive growth over the past three years, what they haven’t forgotten along the way is all the reasons their gin has captivated so many – small, lovingly made in the far reaches of the UK’s Southwestern peninsula and from a person who isn’t afraid to take a few risks to get there.
They have plans to make more seasonal and experimental batches over the next twelve months, with Tarquin’s Electric Daisy edition due to be released at the beginning of 2016 and other batches specific to certain retailers and bars. There’s no gimmick here. No smoke or mirrors – just a quietly spoken team and a few gins worthy of some serious attention should you come across them. If you haven’t already – make sure you do.
For more information about Tarquin’s Gin, visit their website: www.southwesterndistillery.com
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry