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BYO IDEAS: Dark was the Night…

Blend Your Own Gin, BYO Gin, Gin making kit
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Written by Gin Foundry

Faced with an endless possibility of choices when it comes to making a gin recipe, one of the things we get asked about all of the time is where to start.

This is especially true when it comes to our BYO project, where we’ve made an entire library of flavours available to all and deliberately not packaged them up into pre-designed recipes. It’s up to you to create what ever you may want!

That’s music to some people’s ears and sheer horror to others. “Blend Your Own Gin is all good and well” they say, “but what can we use as inspiration for a recipe?”. Just as Lego have found out through years of encouraging free play, there will always be both camps – those who love to follow a recipe and others who love to go rogue and take it as they go. Here at Gin Foundry, we have staunch advocates for both philosophies within our team, too.

There’s an art to making a great gin recipe and of course, a lot of that is about balancing each botanical so that together they create more than the sum of their parts. Thankfully, when it comes to blending distillates, it’s easier to change things compared to doing a distillation each and every time you want to change a gram here and there.

But a good recipe is not just about flavour though – good gin makers aren’t mere flavourists – it’s a lot more artistic and the process is conceptually similar to painting, cooking or making music or even gardening. It’s about projecting a vision of something through the medium of something else entirely.

Because of this, others can enjoy what you’ve made, relate to it and even adopt it as there own. A good gin recipe, just like a good food recipe or a piece of music, creates a result that becomes a moment which makes those consuming it feel something. It evokes within them a memory that they can reminisce about, or suspends disbelief for a few seconds – it’s transportive.

To help others with some inspiration and start points, we’ll go into three examples of how you can look at a blending your own gin and the type of ideas that have inspired us as makers.

We hope it will help to showcase how BYO distillates can be used to make amazing drinks that are about both great flavour and creatively fulfilling concepts. For those not mixing BYO distillates, hopefully it’ll share some insight into how any gin maker might look at the wider concept of building a recipe too.

PART 1 – A response to someone else’s creative endeavour. Here’s a blend we’re calling Dark Was The Night, and why.

When in the gin makers equivalent to writer’s block we look for inspiration in all sort of places, especially for a whimsical recipe that isn’t designed for a client and that is purely intended as a fun afternoon of creative exploration. We often like to start with seeking out something that’s deeply inspired us from a different area of creativity.

It can come from a piece of artwork that has us fixated, a fictional story we can’t stop thinking about, a movie that’s triggered a wave of artistic stimulus, an evocative photograph that conveyed an underlying emotion. Often, it comes from music.

Fan of the blues will all know the name Blind Willie Johnson. He recorded 30 songs between 1927 and 1930. Of those songs recorded though, one stands out far above the rest – Dark was the night, cold was the ground. In never gained much attention in Blind Willie’s lifetime (neither did he, really) but has since had a journey that is as implausible as it is extraordinary.

In 1945 the house of the blind street musician in Beaumont, Texas, burned to the ground. With nowhere else to go, Johnson stayed near the remains of his smouldering home. Not too long after, he contracted malarial fever but was refused treatment at the hospital, and so, he was forced to return to what was now merely the charred husk of a building he had once lived in.

As he lay there, he saw only darkness. He would have known about the stars that were thrown across the night’s sky above him, in various constellations and their shimmering intensity – he hadn’t always been blind – but he could never have imagined where his music would go some decades later.

It was inglorious end for someone who posthumously became one of the seminal artists of his era, but it was not the conclusion of he nor his music’s journey. In 1977, 32 years after his death, two carefully curated records were placed on two NASA probes and launched into space.

The records contained sounds of life on earth, ranging from messages to greetings in 55 languages, alongside animal calls, tribal songs and some 27 songs intended to encapsulate humanity’s wide range of expressions.

One track (currently still hurtling through space, having travelled more than 13bn miles so far), was Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”.

Just think, thousands of years from now (when at the rate that we’re going, our planet has probably ceased to even exist), there will be the sound of a blind street musician’s haunting guitar, drifting through the darkness.

Both earthbound yet ethereal in quality as a piece of creative endeavour (quite fitting for space travel, incidentally), it is a stirring song, deep with resonance and soulful melancholy. Once juxtaposed with the wider context of Johnson’s life and death, we have long felt inspired by it and recently, it prompted us to create something of our own in response to the song.

Inspired by the seeming impossibility that one of the first pieces of music to be sent into space could have emerged like a phoenix from the aches of a largely unknown musician’s repertoire, we wanted to create something that was an ode to both Johnson’s story as a person and to those iconic few minutes he recorded all those years ago. Our medium, our way of expressing our creative ideas, our way of thinking through concepts, like it is for many distillers and blenders – is though making recipes and creating gins.

The great thing about creating a one off recipe and playing with distillates to blend a mix together is that it doesn’t have to be a brand, it doesn’t have to have longevity – you can create a response to something, just because. It can be interpretive and whimsical, it doesn’t have to be for any other reason that a continuous train of thought being directed and making a single drink, a bottle or a gift. Because of that you can be really brave with the flavours and bold with the combinations.

For this, we wanted to reflect both the emotive power in the song, and the context in which it can be seen – as a flavour, it endures long after the final sip. We wanted to echo the haunting sense of open space by using citrus peel to give it instant lift off, and to reflect the texture that you get from the crackling recording by using almonds to thicken the mouthfeel. Just like the audio, we wanted it to remain so viscerally attached to the heart-breaking conclusion that was the end of his journey here on earth and so a combination of sappy, piny juniper and lapsang suchong to add a touch of smoke.

The gin starts with flickers of citrus, with the fresh orange notes piercing through a layer of gentle smoke, that seemingly just sits on the glass. There’s a good dose of pine that’s already clear and setting the mood, too. To taste, the gin’s more savoury resinous juniper core emerges, introduced by the burst of citrus, but softened by a full mouthfeel and which concludes in the return and enduring finish of a distant bonfire, brought on by the uniquely fleeting nature of a touch of Lapsang Suchong that’s both clear yet somehow remains like a shadow in the distance.

Nothing will compare to the sensational sounds he put down, but this is our ode to Johnson, which we will release as a full recipe soon, so that others can recreate it using their own BYO distillates.

As far as gins go, we love it for both what it is as a creatively enriching challenge and what it tastes of.  Of course we would say this, we designed it for ourselves but that’s one of the great joys of blending your own – it’s tailor made to you!

Blending distillates and creating a recipe in response to a stimulus is both fun and hugely rewarding regardless of the outcome – but it is especially so when that outcome is in your glass… What ever your stimulus is – music, film, art, we urge you to try and use it as inspiration for your own creation.

It’s easy to see why so many distillers have done similarly too, and try and take the idea of somewhere, of something and reflect it into a recipe. They take inspiration from somewhere and repurpose it in their own way. It’s also why it’s easy to see how Gin is the chosen medium for so much of it in the spirits industry – there’s just so many ways that it can be pushed to incorporate a vision, or to reflect and idea or an emotion.

For now, we’ll raise a toast to the night’s sky and enjoy thinking about the stellar journey that this tree minutes twenty seconds of music has achieved and incited not just here, but wherever it may  yet travel.

BYO Distillates Used:

Orange peel, Juniper, Coriander Seed, Angelica, Almond, Lapsang Suchong

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