Warner’s Distillery Range
We’ve covered the story of Warner’s and their phenomenally successful Harrington Dry Gin separately (click here for the post), but while we’re big fans of the more traditionally flavoured gins, it’s the weird and wild editions that have transformed Warner’s into a household name. From mainstays like Sloe, Elderflower and Rhubarb to their limited-edition Botanical Garden range, we’ve got a little bit of love for everything they do. For a little bit of history and a wee taster, scroll down…
Warner’s Sloe Gin
Coming in at 30% ABV, this rather sweet syrupy fruit infusion was made with Northamptonshire sloe berries and has a back-story befitting even the most nostalgic visions of country life. The sloes were collected from hedgerows nearby by hordes of families and locals who responded to Warner’s Hedgerow Harvest Volunteer action call. In return for the sloes collected, the pickers received a bottle of gin or vouchers alongside other paraphernalia. Cute, huh?
They managed to collect about three and a half tonnes of sloes, all told, a somewhat monumental amount given that it was derived almost entirely through community spirit. While the same collection offer still exists, the popularity of Warner’s means the distillery needs a little help from further afield, too, so a great amount are also imported each year.
Just a sniff of the Warner’s Sloe Gin makes it easy to see why it’s such a crowd pleaser. While it’ll change year to year depending on the crop, you can bank on a certain set of flavours coming through. It’s a classic Sloe Gin offering, where the underlying spirit is clearly there, but it’s the big hit of sweet sloe that drives all of the action.
In the 2019 edition, the sloe fruit notes and rich cherries burst out just as they always have. The taste is as deep as the colour the bottles contain, with almonds, marzipan and sloe berries seemingly intertwined with a rounded sweetness and fresh citrus.
It’s definitely one to try in cocktails as the slightly higher ABV (for a Sloe Gin) helps it keep its flavour when mixed with full bodied liqueurs too.
Warner’s Elderflower Gin
The distillery’s second infusion began in the spring of 2013. Team Warner’s use elderflowers in their flagship, so they were on the hunt for the petals already. Seeing the abundance that surrounded them, it wasn’t too much of a leap to create an elderflower infused gin. Mere months later – and using plants sourced entirely from the farm – they decided to take the risk and add them to their gin after distillation, creating about two thousand bottles of Elderflower infused Gin.
Having sold out within a couple of months, they repeated the bottling in the summer of 2014. The same happened year after year, so it soon became a regular.
The Warner’s Elderflower Gin is sugary to taste, with the delicate floral notes making their way to the fore as part of a viscous, rich gin. It’s certainly not cloying or sickeningly sweet, with the underlying botanicals in the base gin and the 40% ABV preventing it from being a liqueur. Rather, it’s a sweeter, more floral type of gin that’s much more aligned with the flagship Harrington Dry than the rest of their flavoured gins. It’s also perfect for those looking for something a little different for summer drinks. Try it in a pitcher loaded up with fruit and tonic – perfect for picnic season!
Warner’s Rhubarb Gin
Next up in this chronological timeline is the distillery’s pink offering. Let it be known that this was amongst the first Pink Gins, and while this is a decent, superbly sippable offering, we still think it bears some sort of responsibility for all of the trash on the market right now.
In the Summer of 2014 Warner’s turned their attention to rhubarb – specifically that with regal provenance (hence why the earlier bottles were called Victoria’s Rhubarb Gin and featured the iconography of the Penny Black postage stamp). For our non-UK readers: The Penny Black was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system. It was issued in Britain on 1 May 1840 and features a profile of Queen Victoria – it is the ultimate geek fetish amongst collectors.
Warner’s Rhubarb Gin took its eponymous botanical from a farmer who grew it on a crown estate. The rhubarb had its origins in Queen Victoria’s gardens from the 1800s, so it’s about as regal as a plant can get. Does the royal lineage matter and can you taste it…? Of course not. Still, it was a fun push for the edition when it first emerged.
Things have moved on since then, though. This is Warner’s most popular product so demand far outstripped supply. The regal crop went out the window as they had to heave in huge amounts of rhubarb. Last year they had to get their hands on 400 tonnes of the stuff! It really is the run-away success story in modern craft distilling, going from only 8,000 bottles initially made in 2014 to selling well over a quarter of a million bottles in 2018.
That doesn’t mean today’s production is any less impressive mind. To make it, the team use their flagship Harrington Dry Gin as a base, then infuse rhubarb after distillation. To be a little more precise, Warner’s soften the plant (gently heating it for a few hours) and then extract the juice through traditional pressing methods. This tasty reddish coloured liquid is combined with the gin and a little sugar to balance the acidity. The process is slightly different to the Sloe and Elderflower Gin, as they mix the pressed liquid as opposed to the actual fruit / flower / vegetable. So much liquid is used that it is said that almost a third of the bottle is actually rhubarb juice!
The result is stunning. On the nose a massive hit of fresh, tangy rhubarb explodes right in your grill. To taste, the rhubarb is a little more complex as the gin starts to weave its way in – in particular the orange and cardamom duo that are so prominent to taste in the Harrington Dry.
Overall, it has a pleasing acidity and is delightfully light (given it’s still a 40% ABV gin). While the rhubarb is BIG here (this is pink gin, flavoured gin – RHUBARB GIN) it’s not at the expense of everything else. The underlying gin, which can be uncovered if you take a little time to taste the spirit, plays a pivotal role in anchoring it all.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times when it comes to the gin category, but the most pressing tasting note that emerges on our tongues is that it’s real rhubarb. Sharp and fresh, real rhubarb – none of that artificial, candied replica flavouring crap – it’s the real deal and anyone who loves the stalky madness of the plant will discover a face-full here.
Many serve it with tonic, but we remain unflinching in our assertion that ginger ale is by far the best pairing with this flavoured gin.
The Botanical Garden Range…
Back in April 2016, the distillery won the final of HSBC Elevator Pitch, receiving a grand prize of £150,000 which was to be ploughed into the business. At the time, Tom Warner said: “This is a real game-changer for our business and will enable us to turbo-charge our growth plans.”
That turbo charging – at least in part – has involved scaling up the botanical garden established by Warner’s late mother, Adele, an endeavour that has launched a whole new venture for the brand – the Botanical Garden range.
The first release was Melissa Gin, named for the Latin name of lemon balm. The recipe for the dry gin itself was a new formula in its own right, rather than just the addition of a botanical to their usual Harrington Dry formula.
It was fine, but it didn’t rock our boat as we felt that the lemon balm was too prominent. It was so assertive as to through everything off kilter and, frankly, the less said about it the better. The good news is that since its launch, they have dramatically improved the recipe to create what it is now a far superior gin…
Warner’s Lemon Balm Gin
The key step change in the recipe has been to use fresh ingredients, alongside (we think, anyway) re-addressing the balance of the three main herbs. Most impressive of all is the face that the distillery is entirely self-sufficient when it comes to those three main botanicals – they grow them all themselves, which is a huge feat and a major commitment for an operation their size.
To make the gin, they use fresh, hand-picked lemon balm, lemon verbena and lemon thyme, along with cracked juniper, coriander seed, lemon peel, angelica root, liquorice, bee pollen, pink peppercorn, grapefruit, cinnamon, and lavender. It all goes in the pot within an hour of the lemon balm, verbena and thyme harvest.
The nose pings with a fresh herbaceous lemon balm and an underlying juniper. There’s a real depth to it, both verdant yet citric in turn. To taste though, it’s lemon verbena that brings zingy, almost sherbet edge to the start of the journey while lemon thyme offers its inimitable tingle on the tongue thereafter. Juniper remerges and endures alongside a distinct duo of pink pepper and a subtle lavender flourish.
A far more balanced gin that’s now got both a more multifaceted depth while keeping that bold flavour impact. We like to serve it in with a grapefruit peel and classic Indian tonic water, although try it out in a Basil Smash for a super charged version of that cocktail…
Warner’s Honeybee Gin
This dry gin is made using a whopping 28 botanicals. Just a quick look at the roster makes you salivate too… A dollop of fresh honey from the beehives, juniper, coriander seed, elderflower, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, angelica root, orange peel, lemon peel, rose petal, chamomile flowers, rosemary, sage leaf, fresh root ginger, star anise, hibiscus flower, blue cornflower petals, quince, dried grapefruit peel, fresh lime peel, lavender, plus a few a secret ingredients…
Served neat – A floral bouquet rises up delicately on the nose with hints of chamomile and subtle spice. The palate is so rich it’s almost viscous. Floral notes (rose and elderflower more noticeably than others) hit you upfront, while hints of grapefruit add in a little zest.
The heart is, as one might expect, bursting with honey, but it’s got a huge herbaceous depth. The finish is remarkably smooth and enduring, with juniper and elderflower taking the lead during the sip, and honey and a spice nip holding court long after. Delicious!
The waxy honey tones develop further once opened up with tonic, but it’s the other elements that are, to us at least, more appealing. There’s a complex secondary depth that really give it a further dimension. The sage for example is clearly there, and the cardamom and star anise are contributing, but there’s a lot going on under the big headline sequence of flavours.
We like it with a sliver of lemon and some classic Indian Tonic in a G&T, but if you get the chance, use some foraged wild flowers. If that sounds ludicrously ostentatious, it’s not as hard as you might think…Just like their Lemon Balm Gin, each bottle of the Honeybee Gin comes with a packet of wildflower seeds so that you can plant your own bee-friendly garden and help pollinators.
They’ve also formed a partnership with the RHS (the first spirit partnership for this national gardening charity), and a percentage of the proceeds from each bottle is donated to support their pollinator projects.
Warner’s Raspberry Gin
In 2019, Warner’s launched a new flavoured gin made with hedgerow fruits, where around a third of each bottle is fresh raspberries, blackberries and elderflower. In the underlying gin there is also juniper, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, angelica root, orange peel, lemon peel and a few others, although it is not the underlying gin that is pivotal here.
The nose bursts with ripe, juicy raspberries. To taste, vibrant coulis like raspberry coats the palate along with tart blackberries. The ginny undertone, so prominent across the range of infused gins for Warner’s, isn’t obvious at first, but then you realise that the fruit is dissipating and what emerges is a soft, slightly peppery lingering warmth.
The recommended serve is with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water and garnished with a few blackberries and a sprig of fresh mint. It’s a delicious drink, but we can’t help to gravitate using this with something a little floral as a mixer to double down on the hedgerow vibe.
For more information about Warner’s Gin, visit their website: www.warnersdistillery.com
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