Twisted Nose Gin
Though Twisted Nose Gin sounds more like a wrestling move than a spirit crafted in the back end of sleepy, leafy former capital Winchester, the name is actually a nod to its star botanical – a plant that has been growing vibrantly in the area since the 18th Century: watercress.
“My home town of Winchester is the centre of the UK watercress industry,” founder and distiller Paul Bowler explained. “It is surrounded by beds of this wonderful plant that are fed by the pure water of Hampshire’s slow-moving chalk streams. When looking for a local twist this was the obvious choice, and it lends both herbaceous notes as well as a subtle peppery sparkle to the finished gin.”
Twisted nose is a (rough) translation of watercress’s Latin name – Nasturtium, which in turn is very possibly a nod to its bitter, peppery taste (and that pre-sneeze walnut your face turns into after a pinch of something spicy). Other local botanicals that make their way into the gin include Hampshire grown lavender alongside coriander seed from the South Downs. The rest – juniper, grapefruit, cassia, fennel, liquorice, orris and angelica – are sourced from much further afield.
Bowler always had a good idea of what sort of shape Twisted Nose Gin would take; he wanted a balanced gin that made use of local botanicals without deviating too far from the juniper path. He created a shortlist of botanicals and created a library of distillates to play with. Whenever he’d come across a blend that he thought worked, he’d work backwards to produce it as a single shot gin.
This was no easy task: “Botanicals act differently when together and the resulting flavours change markedly at different scales, so I had to tweak the recipe until the balance was just where I wanted it.” He didn’t get it right on the first, second or even third attempt. Or even the fourth… In fact, it wasn’t until batch 84 that Bowler had a product he was happy with. A long journey perhaps, but one that sounds as if it was rewarding when you listen to him describe it and, as gin fans, one that we’re glad he undertook. Too many settle too soon and his gin has benefited from the meticulous finessing that took place.
To make Twisted Nose Gin, Bowler heats up his 150-litre bain-marie still the day before distillation. The majority of the botanicals are added to the spirit and left to macerate overnight, but the watercress isn’t added until the morning of distillation. The heads are dispatched with and the hearts are collected to around 50% ABV, just before the oils start to become too weighty and the flavours too small.
Distillation is performed slowly, as speeding up the process “tends to stress the botanicals and releases unpleasant flavours.” The run takes a full day, with the pot on a gentle simmer as a thin rivulet of spirit trickles out for hours. In each run, 175 litres of spirit is produced, enough to create 150 70cl bottles.
Twisted Nose Gin to taste…
Twisted Nose Gin has an overtly herbaceous note, with the lightly floral lavender bolstering the green, bushy watercress. The roots do their work, with liquorice bringing a syrupy sweetness to the nose that is neatly cut with bright, acerbic grapefruit. The nose is full and it’s an inviting smell indeed – one we can’t quite wait to delve into…
Watercress dominates the tongue, bringing rich, leafy notes that make us think of shiso and basil – very green salad-y. Coriander brings a lemony warmth, while the cassia adds a horse-kick strength to the peppery qualities of the gin’s namesake botanical. While it is clearly present Juniper, admittedly, isn’t the star here, and the hint of pine that flashes up towards the end is quickly muted by the sweet/spice leaf.
The balance Bowler strived to create has been met, there’s just the right amount of spice, just the right amount of citrus, just the right amount of green… everything is in its right place. It’s also in very clear succession – there’s a clear journey to the gin with one flavour passing the baton onto another.
With tonic, the watercress increases tenfold, flourishing across the mouth like ivy up a drainpipe. It’s fresh and green, with a huge pinch of spice and a prevailing sense of garden box herbs. As a G&T it’s fine – not exceptional, not subpar – but where it really comes to life is in cocktails. This in a Basil Smash is superb – try it.
That said, a gin is more often than not designed with a G&T in mind, so it makes sense to pair Bowler’s spirit as he sees fit. In this instance – he recommends a pink or red grapefruit zest with a sprig of watercress to garnish, which certainly accentuates the botanicals already present. If you like the verdant nature of it and want to double down with alternative complimentary flavours, we’d suggest a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick.
Twisted Nose Gin comes in a clear glass bottle adorned with a slim black label. It’s not necessarily one you’d spot in a sea of gins, but it’s not completely anonymous either. The logo is cute – watercress (obviously) curled into the shape of a nose – and the branding is clearly displayed, so it stands a good chance on a back bar. It’s interesting, given the importance of provenance to Bowler, that Winchester only gets a brief mention on the back of the bottle – if location is what sells, this is playing it subtly.
Twisted Nose Gin launched in May 2014, and while Bowler handles the distilling, bottling and packing on his own, the gin is selling well enough that he’s been able to take on some part-time staff to assist at festivals and markets. He’s also been able to give up the day job, swapping his daily commute to London and the hubbub of software development for nothing but the sound of his superbly unique gin running off of the still.
Not that Twisted Nose Gin is the only string to Bowler’s bow. He’s got a Wasabi Vodka, and and Oak-Aged Gin under the Twisted Nose brand, and a variety of both seasonal and permanent gins under a different mantel – Hampshire Gin. These varieties will keep flowing, with the second brand allowing him to experiment as much as possible without treading on Twisted Nose’s toes.
Bowler’s appreciation for the spirit goes beyond producing Twisted Nose Gin. He also opens his doors on Saturday afternoons to run distillery tours, and runs a gin school in which visitors can blend their own bottles from his ever-increasing range of botanical distillates. At last count there were 75 flavours to play with, so attendees can expect to make something very unique.
Why does he do all this? Well… he’s always loved the spirit. “As a child,” he explains, “I was always fascinated by the aroma, and have enjoyed drinking gin for many years since a friend started bringing back bottles of Bombay Sapphire to the UK from trips to the USA back in the early 1990s. When I was looking to dip my toe into producing a spirit, gin was the obvious choice, especially so since seeing the resurgence in interest over the past decade.”
It’s always nice to see someone jumping into the Gin world with both feet, and especially warming when they’re here not just to make money and not just to make a mark, but to improve and grow the category. To bring people on board and immerse them into this world. With Twisted Nose Gin, Bowler has created a modern, fresh and interesting interpretation of a Gin, and with Winchester Distillery he’s creating an informed, interactive and interested army of fans. Try the gin, visit the distillery, feel the enthusiasm and feed your own.
For more information about Twisted Nose Gin visit the website: twistednose.co.uk
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