When self confessed Orwell geek Max Chater designed VICTORY Gin, he did so with the dystopian novel 1984 in mind. “I wanted VICTORY to be our house pour and used in most of our cocktails – a sort of utilitarian drink. Quite Big Brother: You are drinking VICTORY and VICTORY is all you need,” he told us.
Thankfully, Chater’s gin is nothing like the Victory Gin sipped in Orwell’s world. Rather than a substandard ration delivered to the masses, VICTORY Gin is a hugely classic, juniper-rich edition of the spirit that will please purists and the more adventurous gin drinker alike.
Chater cottoned on to gin at the age of 18, when he funded his way through university by working in a Leeds cocktail bar. His boss at the time was a stickler for a vodka Martini, so Chater – already keen to explore – began creating vodka infusions as a way to make the cocktail a little more exciting. Though pleased with his efforts, his boss pointed him in the direction of the bar’s gin collection, which Chater had seen only as “that old fashioned stuff in the rail.” He grabbed a bottle and never looked back. “My love of Gin started that day with a Beefeater Martini mixed with Martini Dry and garnished with a lemon peel. Next up was a Negroni, also mixed with Beefeater…”
Chater learned to distill on a rotary evaporator at the Whistling Shop cocktail bar in London. It wasn’t until he opened up Bump Caves – a cocktail bar beneath The Draft House pub in Tower Bridge – that the idea for VICTORY gin came about. “I got myself a Buchi rotavap and would distil flavour pairings in spirit form for beers. When you have a cocktail bar and a rotavap it doesn’t take long for a Gin lover like myself to start playing around with juniper.”
The recipe for VICTORY gin was always set in Chater’s mind. “I wanted a classic style, but a completely modern process,” he explained. “I didn’t want any crazy or different flavours in there. We use chestnut, black pepper and cardamom but not for the forefront. VICTORY is a 10 botanical recipe but all of the components come together and bring out the juniper. That’s what I believe gin should be.”
The recipe was very much defined by a trial and error process. Angelica seed, rather than root, is used and orris root is used not only to “bind” the ingredients, but to bring a floral aroma to the gin. Chestnut is perhaps the most unusual botanical, but its reasons for being there have roots that drill deep into the branding.
Not only does the ingredient bring a nutty, savoury note, but it has its place in Orwell’s world. In 1984 there’s a café called The Chestnut Tree, for which there is the following rhyme: ‘under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me. There lie they and here lie we, under the spreading chestnut tree.’ “I couldn’t resist,” said Chater.
To make VICTORY Gin, Chater macerates juniper, coriander, angelica seed, liquorice, orange, orris, black pepper, cardamom and chestnut in grain spirit for 24 hours. The liquid is then strained and placed into the rotovap, where it is distilled at 48 degrees.
After this, the spent botanicals are infused into water, which then has its own run through the rotovap. The resulting liquid (a hydrosol which comes off the still at about 30% ABV) is blended with the spirit to create the concentrate for VICTORY Gin. Chater explains his reasons for adding this extra step: “Water distillates or hydrosols take on completely different characters than grain. Certain aromatics infuse better in water and some better in alcohol.
“We were experiencing a loss in both alcohol and aroma in our spirit infusion. After chatting about this with a few industry friends, I decided to experiment with getting the loss back. By re-infusing the ‘spent’ botanicals in water you displace the alcohol infused into the botanicals. The water penetrates the botanicals and releases otherwise lost aromatics and alcohol.”
VICTORY Gin to taste…
Heat gets to the nose first, with a confident cassia and softer cracked black pepper conspiring to set your senses ablaze. They are joined by a thick, piny juniper and loud, oily orris root. There is a mysterious, underlying element to the nose that is hard to define; a combination of all the botanicals amounting to an entirely new element.
VICTORY Gin tastes fantastic. Sweet liquorice and orris hit the tastebuds first, with a rooty, woody flavour coating the tongue just in time for the spice to kick in. Juniper pushes through in the middle of the sip and takes on a chameleon role, slotting between all of the other botanicals seamlessly and taking on hints of their properties. It comes across floral due to the orris, spiced due to the cassia… It’s a complex flavour journey and one that any fan of a classically styled gin is bound to enjoy.
With tonic, the orange citrus shines through and the orris brings an ever-expanding flower feel to the mouth. The cassia spice is there, but its quietened by the lower ABV, resulting in an overall aromatic and complex taste. It’s an utterly delicious, savoury G&T that calls out for a wedge of grapefruit garnish.
The gin is packaged in a tall, slender bottle with white paper labels front and back. The design came from Chater himself, who wanted it to be minimal and utilitarian, whilst also able to stand out from other gins. The black triangle logo is based on the internal whitespace of the letter v and is simple, but entirely effective.
Some detailing is so subtle as to barely exist. At the base of the bottle are three dots and a dash – the morse code for V. Chater explains its presence: “It was used as a symbol of solidarity and legion against the Nazi forces and occupation in the 1940s. This lead to Churchill’s famous V is for victory gesture. I use this as a reminder of how powerful people are and what we are capable of.”
VICTORY Gin was designed to be a house pour for Bump Caves, but its taste, the push it’s given by the Draft House team and the innovative production process (re-using spent botanicals and distributing in pouches to save bottle waste) have made it so popular as to be something that people want at home. As such, Chater has started delivering the gin to the demanding public on his bike.
VICTORY is a classically styled gin made to modern standards. The branding is strong and the social media surrounding it is consistent and stylised. Chater is passionate about gin – not just his, but all gin. He meets other distillers and swaps tales (and drinks). He is interested not just in growing his own brand, but in keeping the spirit relevant to the drinking masses. Will he be victorious? We certainly hope so, but 2017 will bring both Chater and his gin the biggest challenges they have faced. It may seem like lunacy to be releasing another gin into such a crowded market, but to butcher the quote here, perhaps a lunatic is simply a minority of one.
Much like the paths trodden by fellow London-based distillers Ian Heart (Sacred Gin), Mark Marmot (58 Gin), Mark Holdsworth (Half Hitch) and Will Borrell (Highwayman Gin), Chater taking the leap that will transform VICTORY from a much respected gin to an established brand with a full time team behind it will be an adventure (and endeavour) worthy of a tale or two in it’s own right. Everything about VICTORY says that it has the calibre to become a huge name in years to come. Watch it grow in 2017 but don’t let it be a best kept secret – seek it out and serve it up, as this is a gin that’s impossible not to enjoy.
For more information about VICTORY Gin, visit the website: www.victorylondon.co.uk
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