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Theodore Pictish Gin

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19/02/2020
Written by Gin Foundry

Despite their somewhat opposite applications and effects, the relationship between perfume and Gin is a lot closer than you might think. Each has top notes, heart notes and base notes; they’re botanically derived (and distilled); both require expert blending and a highly tuned nose and both are as intoxicating as they are ancient.

Theodore Pictish Gin aims to bring the two worlds a step closer together, with founder Barthelemy Brosseau recruiting a perfume designer and two master distillers to help him create a Gin that flirts around the edges of the past, telling the story of the Pictish people and the man who chiselled them into the history books, Theodore De Bry.

Theodore Gin is named after 16th Century engraver Theodore De Bry, a man most famous for his illustrative work in Les Grands Voyages (aka “The Discovery of America”). He also published the largely identical India Orientalis series, as well as many other illustrated works on a wide range of subjects, including as you might have guessed – the Picts. The Picts were body-painted warriors who existed so long ago that, for the most part, remain a total mystery. While they appear on written records that date from Late Antiquity to the 10th Century, stories passed down from generation to generation have blurred the lines a bit. All we really know, and not even for sure, is that they travelled from as far as Scandinavia to settle in the wilds of Scotland.

Many Pictish artefacts and engravings were discovered near Ardross in the Northern Highlands, which just so happens to be the home of Greenwood Distillers, a brand-new venture launched by Brosseau in 2018.

The building is a hulking structure of breath-taking beauty, resembling the romantic remains of an old stone farmhouse more than it does something fit for the 21st Century. Based in the Highlands, Scotch could well be the intention for the beating heart of this former farmland, but plenty of love and graft has been spared for the Gin. As they get the site up and running, the gin is currently made partly in London and in France, then blended and bottled in Scotland. Production is due to move in its entirety by mid 2020.

Brosseau followed his nose as he sought to create a Gin that would tell the story of the Pictish people, using botanicals that have scattered their way across Scotland for centuries, as well as some inspired by the adventures depicted in the work of Theodore De Bry. Using both typical stills and a rotary evaporator, the botanical make-up of the Gin is not only vast, it’s complicated.

There are sixteen botanicals in total: juniper, angelica, coriander, cardamom, pink pepper, orris, honey, lavender, pomelo, chamomile, ginger, oolong tea, damask rose, lime leaf, bourbon vetiver and pine. Any Gin fan worth their salt will spot a few familiar faces, but more than that they’ll notice a whole raft of recognisable flavours, albeit those that haven’t necessarily been put together before in Gin form. Consider our interests raised…

For the geeks amongst us – to make it some botanicals are distilled individually in order to get the very best out of them. Pomelo, for example, is cooked up in an old Charentais still, whilst ginger is distilled both fresh and dry in order to get both a woody warmth and a powdery spice. The honey and fresh pine, meanwhile, are cold distilled under vacuum, so that the flavour in the glass is less than a step away from the flavour on the bush (or in the hive…). The other botanicals are distilled in a classic London Dry style, even the lavender, which is rarely treated in such a way, due to its habit of tipping into soapy territory. Once it’s all blended, the final botanicals are added – damask rose and vetiver oils, along with Oolong tea infusion.

It’s a cluster of process and balancing act to say the least, but the team assembled to create Theodore Pictish know their botanicals inside out. The initial help and outsourced production comes in the form of Audemus and Thames Distillery along with a consultant perfumer in the picture to ensure a delicate balance that may stray from the typical path and that may even hover over oblivion, but that never, ever loses its footing.

What does Theodore Pictish taste like?

There’s a crisp, fresh top note bursting with zingy citrus (pomelo and veitver) and freshly pulled pine needles, creating a scent that somehow combines a soft grassy hit, but with real presence. It’s not ephemeral, nor fleeting – but a deliberate hit of light, delicate top notes that invite you in.

As that top layer peels away, the rose and oolong tea flip flopping between garden fresh and golden straw. There are discreet, but linger a while and they will emerge. Just by the upfront waft and the secondary layer – not even tasting it – you can tell a lot . of blending and balancing that’s gone on here (especially once you realise that lavender, orris and pink pepper are the things that are giving it an extra lift and a little larger stage presence, but are almost indistinguishable in their own right).  It’s an impressive combination to have put together.

To taste, the base note of bourbon vetiver transforms everything once again; it’s decadent and rich, perfumed but not perfumey. It adds a feint citronella too, that combines with the zesty pomelo, leading to wood and a great lashing of vanilla as it ushers in the finish. Ginger and a smattering of floral spice linger once the sip is over.

In a G&T, the lime leaves are a little clearer, enhancing the citrus and vetiver. Botanically rich, that impression fills out further over time and quite uniquely, becomes more complex as it all dilutes – most probably from the Oolong coming to its own as the ice melts. Pair it with a grapefruit peel if you are keeping it simple, but for those wanting a fancy pants concoction come G&T time, try a lime leaf and some pink peppercorns.

Overall, it’s a great addition to the exceptionally crowded market, and its strength really lies in gifting. Taking real inspiration from the luxury end of the perfume world, the bottle is a short, stout thing of beauty that comes presented in a beautiful box, covered in vintage botanical illustrations. It has the wow factor – you’ll struggle to want to crack it open for fear of upsetting that perfection.

We’re really excited to see what the future holds for Theodore Pictish and the rest of Greenwood Distillers’ offerings. They’ve exhibited some truly impressive brand work and imagination at an incredibly early stage, making moves we’d associate with a distillery years into its life.

That is, of course the next great obstacle to overcome – to complete the distillery itself and move production to Scotland without impacting the flavour. It’s a mighty task even for a team who can rely on handover notes from two of the most talented distillers of their respective generations, namely as it involves a new distiller stepping into their shoes and maintaining it over the months to come whilst also getting used to a new environment. If that in itself wasn’t a daunting task, consider the following; currently, if the information provided is accurate at least five different distillations are happening on three different stills, with a further three separate post-infusions going on thereafter. Try to replicate that without making a noticeable alteration in the profile! It’ll be fiendishly complicated.

There’s talk of new ideas in the pipeline too, but it seems like Greenwood know what they are doing, pursuing steady growth via other categories before doing anything too crazy in gin. It’s a reassuring thing to listen to talk from a new team focused on doing something unique and doing it right, not machine gunning a million things out into the world until something hits the mark. They’ll certainly need that focus now that they set a very high benchmark for themselves too.

That attention to detail, so obvious in the gift box design in particular and in the overall ideation (let alone what’s gone inside the bottle) marks Theodore Pictish Gin out as a name to keep checking in on and a distillery to champion once they are fully up and running. No doubt they will always be up to something captivating…

Theodore Pictish Gin