The Teasmith Gin founders Nick and Emma Smalley have something in common with all of us who peruse around Gin Foundry: they’re long time, borderline fanatical Gin drinkers. Their juniper-consumption has long been led by curiosity and they’ve often experimented with infusions, twisting the gins onto the market into drinks more suited to them. The experimentation was stepped up a notch for their wedding, when they created sloe gins as favours for their guests.
Hailing from a small village in Aberdeenshire, Nick and Emma watched the Scottish gin scene explode around them, though their fascination turned into an overwhelming desire to join in about two years ago. With no knowledge of the spirits business to speak of (Nick is a commercial helicopter pilot, whilst Emma works in research), the duo spent a year studying the Gin industry, their competitors and the booze world in general, as well as looking at the distilling methods available. The second year was spent developing The Teasmith gin recipe.
“In Scotland, we had the emergence of some really notable brands – Rock Rose, Isle of Harris, Crossbill,” Nick explained. “We were inspired by their use of locally sourced, unique ingredients paired with excellent brand design.” That sense of provenance is what the Smalleys were most keen to place into their gin; they wanted it to be another proud product of Scotland.
For inspiration, they turned towards history. Aberdeen Harbour was famed for its ship building in the mid-19th Century, producing many notorious tea clippers that travelled along the trade routes to the Far East. During their research, the Smalleys stumbled across the story of James Taylor. “Taylor was a young man from the North East of Scotland who left to travel to Sri Lanka.” Nick recounts.
“The island was a coffee growing nation, however the crop had been decimated by blight. Taylor had heard of the success of tea growing in India and set about growing the island’s first commercial tea plantation. It was so successful that within years the island had converted to tea instead of coffee growing. To this day, Taylor is revered as ‘the Father of Ceylon Tea’.”
Nick and Emma were desperate to expand the Taylor story and further share the important role that an Aberdeen man played in Sri Lankan tea, so they began to distil it on its own to work out the flavour notes it presented. “The results totally blew us away – far more complex than we had anticipated, but totally relevant and usable amongst more ‘normal’ Gin botanicals,” Nick said.
They took the tea to the Strathearn Distillery in Perthshire, where they worked with the team there to balance out the pine, citrus and spice elements of The Teasmith gin. The resulting recipe consists of juniper, coriander, orange peel, honeyberry (a Scottish ingredient), liquorice root, orris root and angelica root, as well as the Sri Lankan tea – Golden Tippy Orange Pekoe. The tea has been hand picked and hand rolled, so the essential oils remain intact.
The Teasmith gin to taste…
Juniper leads the taste, too, joined by spiky coriander seed and a sweet, fresh hint of orange. The roots provide a clean sweetness, with all the dustiness from the nose eradicated. The tea is a complex ingredient; it conspires with the orange at first, but separates towards the middle of the sip, breaking off into something far more cooling. It’d make for a nuanced Martini, but would be completely at home in one of the more refreshing cocktails, like a Gin Rickey.
In a G&T, The Teasmith Gin changes slightly. The tartness of tonic matches the tea well and the juniper takes on a more piney quality, emitting the crispness of fir tree tips, while the tea’s cooling elements are louder. At 43% ABV, the gin doesn’t get drowned out either so could work accross a range of tonics. Our suggestion would to add a pink grapefruit peel as a garnish if you want to accentuate the citussy notes within the gin, or alternatively add a sprig of mint to bring out the green freshness of the tea.
The Teasmith Gin is made in three stages, though two are very similar: one batch is made in a 400l still and one in a 100l still. All of the ingredients – bar the tea – are placed in a gin basket above the stills to be vapour infused. The run takes around six hours for the big still and four for the small. Using identical recipes in different sized stills and blending the results may seem an unnecessary step from the outside, but Nick insists that each still yields different flavour results.
The tea is macerated and distilled separately in the 100l still, before all three distillates are blended together and left to rest for several days. The Teasmith Gin is cut down to bottling strength (43%) with water, with each batch creating around 600 70cl bottles.
The Teasmith Gin is packaged in a short, round necked bottle created by local design company FortyTwo. A pattern depicting a tea leaf and juniper berry chain is etched all around the glass and also appears in the customised gold typeface at the front of the bottle. It’s exquisitely detailed, adding a tactile element to the bottle that carries on through to the stopper, which has been fire-branded.
The Teasmith Gin is – and we don’t mean to sound in any way patronising here even though the following may read as such – a professional product. We don’t say that because we doubt the work that’s gone into the gin, but because everything about it (including its creators) is so new. The gin only launched in January 2017 and the bottle we received for review was from batch no.2. Nick and Emma are still very much taking their first steps, but they’re taking them fast and they are doing them well.
“Our initial planned production had been approximately 2500 bottles in the first year,” Nick tells us, adding – with cautious optimism – that “the current trend suggests that we are going to exceed this if we can sustain interest in the brand. We would be immensely proud if we could double what we initially envisaged and build on that going into year two.”
With batch three currently on order they’ll soon be halfway to that initial goal, so the next step is to engage with trade and get the gin in bars across the UK. “I would love to see The Teasmith Gin in a great London gin bar,” Nick confirmed, “but also adding to our product line with our first infused product is a really important step for us. We’re working on both these goals simultaneously!”
The Smalleys are juggling this project with parenting their toddler son, Finlay, and working their day jobs. Gin is time consuming, and while to them it may sometimes feel they’re tossing plates up in the air and running for cover rather than spinning them, we’re confident that they’re on to something. The’ve bulldozed their way into a hectic industry, bringing with them a product that tastes and looks as though both they and it were supposed to be here all along. It’s certainly a welcome addition and one that many will enjoy discovering in the years to come.
For more information about The Teasmith visit the website: teasmithgin.com
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