Trevethan Cornish Gin
Norman Trevethan spent the Roaring Twenties driving Earl and Lady St Germans up and down the country, transporting them from their Cornish home to London for various high society events. At this time, the onset of Prohibition had driven many of America’s great bartenders towards England and with it, cocktail culture (Version 1) was starting to take hold.
Gin, of course, is intrinsic in many a cocktail – especially those of that era. We quite like to think that when young Norman made his way back to the countryside following these London jaunts, he’d had a sip or two and returned (sober!) filled with big city ideas, ready to one day transform the family’s gin recipe into something a little more advanced.
Admittedly, we’ve dropped the phrase ‘family’s gin recipe’ a bit casually there. Lets backtrack slightly: Cornwall was and still is a land of tradition and a land of crops. Changing seasons would be celebrated with home made booze, almost always flavoured with the harvests of the time. Gin would have been a great way to use up left over yields of fruit and was likely even created using the excess grain that would otherwise have gone to waste (no doubt it certainly tasted better than the parsnip wine being passed around at the time too). It stands to reason that the Trevethan’s wouldn’t have been the only family producing their own take on the spirit.
As happens with time, Norman’s recipe – created in 1929 – was all but forgotten, caught up in the chaos and cobwebs of history. It wasn’t until 2015, in fact, that Norman’s grandson Rob Cuffe and his friend John Hall decided to make a go of reproducing Norman’s Gin commercially.
Between them, Rob and John had the experience to turn this concept into a reality. Rob is an engineer who spent over three decades creating food and drink production facilities, whilst John is a chemist with a particular fondness for distillation.
With a chemistry degree under his belt, John also studied at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, gaining enough knowledge to start creating spirits. This was followed by three years of trial and error (learning doesn’t stop with the passing of an exam) with John overcoming some tough lessons along the way.
Creating a replica of Norman’s gin was a huge challenge; though legendary amongst the family (and rolled out for occasions long after Norman’s death) – the gin had never had its recipe noted down, and there was only one living person left who’d tasted it – Rob’s mum. She became a willing guinea pig, giving the duo guidance on the overall taste and eventually steering them in the direction of a dry gin profile, perked up with elderflower and gorse flower sweetness, a spicy undertone and an overall smooth texture.
From this base, John spent two years twisting and tweaking various recipes until he had one he was happy with – one for a modern gin that held true to the profile presented in Norman’s spirit.
When Norman made his gin in the 30’s it was on a somewhat primitive still, fashioned out of a cooking pot and copper piping. Though John created Trevethan on a slightly more advanced 2.5 litre still to begin with, he then had somewhat of a challenge on his hand: that of upscaling. To produce the gin commercially he needed a recipe that worked in a 300 litre still.
This required some further tweaking – the oiliness of the gorse flower was drowned in a bigger batch, but it created the smooth mouthfeel John and Rob had so strived for. He tried various substitutes and supplements in a bid to keep this texture, eventually adding vanilla to the line up.
The recipe for the updated Trevethan consists of 10 botanicals – juniper, coriander, cassia, angelica, cardamom, orange peel, lemon peel and vanilla form the far flung ingredients, whilst Cornish elderflower and gorse flower – handpicked from the hedgerows of a dairy farm in Trenelgos – make up the local elements.
The recipe for Trevethan wasn’t the only thing to change with the scale up; process, too, was affected. Initially, the botanicals were placed in a gauze bag and macerated for 12 hours, then suspended over the alcohol during distillation. This method carried over from the 2.5 litre still to the 300 litre still, but after a few trials John realised that they got a better result if they just macerated the spirits for 18 hours before switching the still on.
The spirit comes off the still at 85% and is cut to 70%, then left to rest in a stainless steel container for 24 – 48 hours. It is then cut to 43% with natural spring water and bottled by hand.
Trevethan to taste…
Cassia and cardamom are the first scents to greet the nose, bringing with them a gentle spice. They’re soon usurped by a tart lemon citrus, which is joined – and mellowed – by the sweet smells of elderflower and gorse. Juniper is present throughout, though the influence of the other ingredients mean that it is a strain that flits from medicinal to herbal and back again.
The spirit is a very well balanced one and as such all of the botanicals seem to come to the tongue at once when tasted neat. The cassia plays nicely with the vanilla, giving a real hint of baking spices. Once the initial spice levels off, the citrus becomes a bit louder and though there really is no sense of dominance at any one time, elderflower really comes through on the finish. For the entirety of the taste, juniper forms a base line on which all of the other botanicals seem to skip.
We tried it with Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic and it made for a sweet, complex cocktail with a solid juniper backbone. The spice is all but drowned out, but the citrus makes a big noise and there’s a fresh, green elderflower kick on the finish, which rounds off with juniper.
Don’t be alarmed when you mix your drink – the high oil content means that the drink louches slightly when diluted so it makes for a cloudy G&T, but one that is very tasty nonetheless. A clove studded orange would make a great garnish in this – the cloves would add more noise to the spicier botanicals and the orange will bring sweetness to the citrus.
Trevethan is packaged in a broad, rectangular bottle that tapers in slightly at the bottom. Designed by Emma Tickney of Made by Fallow, the colour theme of blue and gold is designed to reflect the Cornish coast, with blue the colour of the sea and gold the colour of the sand. History plays its part in both the Art Deco stylings and the brand’s logo – the Griffin Roundel – which was developed from the Trevethan family’s Coat of Arms. The overall look is both quaint and charming – it also carries with it a premium air.
The initial plan was to make a gin that they were really, truly happy with. The speed in which sales of Trevethan have picked up and the overall positive response to the spirit, however, has opened their eyes to their much larger potential as makers. They’ve got a good gin, now it’s time to expand it nationally and take home a couple of gold medals!
We feel there’s a great chance of this working out too – there’s great potential here. Trevethan is a good gin – adventurous but loyal to the Dry Gin genre, packaged in a striking and pretty bottle with an interesting story to tell.
For more information about Trevethan, visit their website: www.trevethandistillery.com
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