Amal de Silva Wijeyeratne – Colombo No7 Gin
Hi Amal! Given we’ve been drinking it since December, let’s begin with your latest creation… You released the Colombo Navy Strength Gin late last year, how long were you working on it to get it right?
We have had the idea for some time now, given the interest in a navy strength version of Colombo No.7 Gin from premium bars and navy strength gin enthusiasts. We finally decided to speed up and launch our navy strength when Carl Anthony Brown inspired me to do so, a few years back well before navy strength gins were trending in the UK.
Colombo No.7 has seven spices and botanicals and you would have thought it would be less complicated than a gin with a longer ingredients list. But in fact, it’s trickier to get it right with less botanicals as each ingredient plays a crucial role and behaves differently at a higher strength. We had remnants of notes of the navy strength we had made over 70 years ago during my grandfather’s time and this made it much easier.
The whole project took us about two years, we were happy to launch it only when we were satisfied we had created one of the best navy strength gins available.
There’s always a clamour for something new from fans and gin enthusiasts, but what made you want to release another expression?
Colombo No.7 is wonderful and satisfying in a Gin & Tonic, and excellent in a Negroni or a Gin Martini. We could see the potential for a navy strength so we made a small batch for ourselves and were delighted with the outcome.
In 2017 at Junipalooza in both London and Melbourne we had an overwhelming number of customers specifically asking if we had a navy strength and so we were further inspired to go ahead as planned.
Is it different to the original or is it the same recipe but at a higher proof?
It’s the same base recipe, the same seven spices and botanicals (juniper, angelica, coriander, liquorice, ginger, cinnamon, curry leave), but there are small tweaks to their quantities as the botanicals combine and behave differently at a higher strength. We essentially let the botanicals and spices behave the way they wanted to and let the navy become what it wanted to become, and only tweaked the quantity of some ingredient to bring everything into perfect balance.
Our navy strength is essentially another interpretation of the original Colombo No.7 albeit at a higher strength.
What flavours do you think define your gin and what would be your advice for those looking to accentuate them in a drink?
Colombo No.7 and its Navy Strength are subtly spiced London Dry Gins – you can say it’s our Sri Lankan take on a traditional London Dry Gin.
Open a cocktail menu in almost any bar today and you’re sure to find a spicy, eye-watering concoction just daring you to drink it. Although there’s fun to be had with a chili margarita, there are altogether subtler ways of using spice to bring variety and interest to your cocktail-making repertoire. Spice doesn’t just mean heat. It can be bitter, herbal, nutty, floral, citrusy, sweet or savoury – sometimes even all at once.
From the warming kick of rum to the tongue-startling astringency of Italian amari, spice has long played an integral and diverse role in the drinks cabinet. A carefully crafted, well-balanced cocktail uses spice to enhance other flavours rather than overpower them. Colombo No.7, which brings delicate, fragrant Sri Lankan spices to the classic backbone of a London Dry Gin, provides the perfect foil for a host of beautifully spiced cocktails and our Navy strength does this at a higher strength.
But if cocktail making is not your thing, you will love our navy strength in a Martini or in a Negroni. The spices marry beautifully with the herbs and botanicals of the vermouth and bring a beautiful depth to the negroni, and in a martini the navy strength will add an additional layer of complexity making your martini stand out from the crowd.
The classics still have a huge part to play even in this new era of cocktail culture. Thinking about this evolution vs what’s always been a part of the drinks industry – what’s the biggest difference in the gin category between when you launched and today and how has this affected you?
Whilst observing that the original definition of gin is fading away, the most un-expected trend was the strong demand for pink gin, which is bit odd when you think about it because, we would have expected that the demand for craft brands meant that customers would have asked deeper questions of their potential gin and would have expected the gins to be truer to the definition of gin.
The other category changer was of course from tonics. Five years ago, it was only Fever Tree and now we have hundreds of tonic brands. And in trying to differentiate themselves, quite a few tonic brands today have more botanicals than some gins do. One would have thought the role of the tonic was to be a mixer not the main course.
In the future, if the spirit plays a smaller role, given the range of tonics around, it is possible that vodka might make a comeback. A vodka tonic, won’t have the complexity and depth of layers as would a gin and tonic, but for those experimenting, or wanting a lower cost drink, this is a good option. Only time will tell.
From a global perspective, your gin is available in a few markets, where do you feel there is dynamic growth for the category at the moment and where are you seeing things develop?
Colombo No.7 is a distinct Sri Lankan take on a London Dry Gin. Whilst this is a Sri Lankan gin, our recipe includes coriander, curry leaves and cinnamon, and includes the essential spices used in South West Asian Cuisine and pairs beautifully with Asian food.
We have had fantastic demand from Asian restaurants and bars in UK and Europe and have had great feedback and seen rapid growth in south east Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and India and even further territories like Australia and Japan.
If you like Asian food, or like a curry, you will probably love Colombo No. 7 Gin.
Looking back on the journey so far – what’s been the highlight you remember most proudly?
We loved Junipalooza, it’s so much fun, and unlike in any other event in the spirits industry. It’s always great to see so much camaraderie amongst all the distillers. For us coming all the way to London from Sri Lanka, to take part in Junipalooza was a big thing, so when customers went out of their way to come over to our stand to tell us they loved our gin and when we were sold out on day one, we were not sure if we should be happy or cross with our selves. Junipalooza has been a wonderful platform for us and has given us terrific positive feedback and encouraged us, it’s easily our most memorable highlight.
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