|Desmond Payne - Mr Gin|
Here at Caskstrength, we're used to the importance of wood in developing the supreme character in a spirit. From lengthy maturation in an ex bourbon barrel, to short periods of extreme finishing in sherry, port or wine- the type of cask and its quality will of course have a profound effect on the spirit it holds.
Recently, there has been a trend for ageing more traditional white spirits in oak too - something we have cast a slightly quizzical eye over. Just blithely sticking a spirit into an oak cask won't give you the results you're looking for- take our word for it. We received a brilliant kit from the Wasmund distillery last October, which included a charred, unused two litre cask and enough new make spirit to start a small house fire. It began to mature very quickly - in fact after a month, it was beginning to take on a mellowed, round character.
But after Christmas, things went quickly down hill, to the point that the spirit was virtually undrinkable, such was the power of the oak. It now resides in our office and due to the fluctuating temperature, there is so little left in the cask, the liquid resembling a very dark woody monstrosity.
So subtlety is very much the key when it comes to using oak wisely, especially when your spirit is traditionally clear.
Two companies put out aged gins last year: Master Of Malt aged its Ampleforth's gin for apparently six months in small 50 litre casks, with the results working out well. Alongside them, French distiller Citadelle oak aged its excellent gin, releasing it in vintages and allowing consumers to experience the different subtleties between them.
Both of these pioneering products have been followed up by arguably one of the biggest players in gin, a sign that what was previously seen as a relatively novel product is perhaps about to hit the mainstream.
Burrough's Reserve is a brand new gin from the Beefeater distillery, which is situated near the Oval cricket ground (and a stone's throw away from Joel's house.) It takes its name from the distillery's founding father James Burrough and is distilled using a tiny still (No.12) which looks positively cute next to the mammoth copper behemoths which impressively hiss away in the still house.
But the real magic happens when master distiller and all-round ginmeister, Desmond Payne takes the spirit and places it into a specific type of cask- namely those previously filled with Jean de Lillet. For those of you not familiar with this name, Lillet is the name behind one of the finest vermouths in the world, which was used in the famed Vesper cocktail, as consumed liberally by one James Bond. For Desmond, the idea of 'resting' a gin was an exciting prospect, but one which was fraught with pitfalls. To age a gin in something that had an actual relevance with gin was his challenge, which meant not just reaching for any old used bourbon barrel or sherry hogshead. Instead, he looked for a cask that would enhance the botanical balance in Beefeater and not dominate it - and the choice of Lillet casks was an inspired one. If you haven't tried Lillet in a Martini or other gin cocktail, we urge you to get down to a retailer now and buy a bottle - it is unlike any other vermouth - and then you'll begin to understand its significance in the resting process here.
What results is a gin that has taken on a slightly darker hue in colour and a spirit that Desmond hopes will be sipped neat, like a whisky or Cognac. But what does it deliver on the nose and palate? We tried the gin both frozen down and at room temperature and the results were remarkably different - the colder temperatures bringing out more of the citrus notes and classic gin botanicals. But at room temperature...
Burrough's Reserve - Oak Rested Gin - Batch 01 - 43%
Nose: Immediate notes of vanilla custard, sweet creamy coconut, a touch of white pepper, Amalfi lemon zest, fresh pine and a softer, buttery biscuit note.
Palate: The botanicals deliver wonderfully, with juniper leading the way, followed by a gentle spice note, more lemon zest and a little liquorice, then comes the oak influence, with more vanilla notes and a slight maltiness.
Finish: Lingering notes of lemon zest, juniper and a creamy vanilla all coat the tongue, but leave the mouth feeling refreshed and vibrant.
Overall: This works as a sipping spirit, without a doubt and the influence of the oak, is restrained and perfectly balanced. Whether it will change the way we consume gin is debatable, but as a category defining moment, Burrough's Reserve has achieved a great deal in a short space of time. My next plan is to try this at the heart of a Martini, where I think it will excel.