I love a cask aged gin. I’ve heard mixed opinions on them, and I totally understand why some people think, “Why hide the complexities of a good gin with that of wood?” My response is often, “Well, this my friends, is where the skill comes in!” Think about the challenge of getting that gin just right. Then think about the matchmaking challenge of finding the right barrel that is going to impart characteristics that will compliment that gin profile. Then, think of the patience of finding that certain sweet spot in the aging process where the balance is just right. Ticking all of these boxes, means that all of the components work together in harmony. That is why a good cask aged gin is so special. Much like flavoured gins, I find that sweet spot can be somewhat elusive, making for many off balance products that just don’t deliver the symphony of a balanced one.
This is where Abingdon come in. I was approached by Jordan Morris recently as he had acquired the brand last August, after the founder emigrated to Canada. Jordan has ten years of experience in hospitality and wanted to jump into something different. So, when he saw the opportunity, he grabbed it. It’s been a big project for him to take on and rebrand, but he admits it’s been fun. “It’s been a big learning curve stepping into it,” he starts, “I’ve been a keen drinker for a long time, though I wasn’t so experienced with the practical side of distilling and creating. I jumped in at the deep end.” Jordan is also a self confessed lover of whisky, rum and wine. And, it was this that got him thinking about experimenting with some gin aging. The result is Single Malt Barrel Aged Gin, Port Aged Gin, which both launched recently and a Madeira Aged Gin, which will be released in the future. Jordan kindly gifted me some samples to try, to feedback and to write a piece. So here we are.
Before we go too far into the cask aged, let’s take a step back and look at the Abingdon range. It’s always helpful to familiarise yourself with previous products before getting to know a new one, especially one that is the base spirit for others in the range, as it helps to understand what the other ones are doing. These spirits from the original Abingdon range have been lovingly rebranded, along with the website, which will be up and running shortly.
London Dry – Slowly distilled in a traditional copper pot still using seven botanicals, creating a gin with a juniper, sweet spice and citrus profile. The nose has a deeply robust, sweet and earthy aroma. The flavour profile on the palate is round and full, stopping a little short of a long and lingering finish, but having already delivered a really lovely experience. There are some interesting sweet and spicy complexities and a slight earthy duskiness in the dying embers. I can’t help but think this gin could work very well aged. The characteristic of its profile is round and full, and one that could hold its own whilst imparting other flavours in the aging process.
Lavender and Pine – What a lovely combo of botanicals! The dusky perfume of fresh lavender mingles beautifully with bold, herbaceous pine on the nose. It’s evocative of a long walk through the woods on a Sunday, and there a sweet, round notes of mint caramel as well. The palate is packed with bold flavour, there is complexity. Notes of lavender and hibiscus are balanced with fresh pine and passionflower. This is a bold, yet beautifully floral gin and one that would work great as a G&T and in cocktails centred around the profiles of spirits rather than the extra ingredients. This would make a stunning Martini.
Sloe Gin – I love a good sloe gin. One of the originals of the fruit liqueur world, sloe gin is steeped in tradition and a beautiful drink when it’s done right. There is a good balance on the nose. There is tartness as well as sweetness to the sloes and the juniper still holds a lot of weight. On the palate the flavour profile is surprisingly creamy, making for a nice round mouthfeel and a dessert wine experience. For the record, this is the first gin that Jordan created and these recently scored a bronze with 88 points this year too.
When Jordan took on the gins, he was happy to keep them as they were. He didn’t see the need to start from scratch with a new London Dry, but he wanted to do something different, so after the slow gin, he thought about cask-aging. He did some research and found that cask-aged gin is relatively new to the market in as far as how familiar consumers are with it. Generally, if people had tried it, they may have tried one or two. So, he brought a couple of 1-2L fresh oak barrels, rinsed one with whisky and one with port, let them dry for a day and put some gin in to experiment. He liked what was happening so he upscaled, including buying a 125L port cask from Portugal and a 125L madeira cask from Madeira. The purchase and transport of these alone was an investment, so it was important it worked. “There is a ratio you can follow to upscale. That will give you a window, so you can say it’s not going to be ready before this point, after then you just have to keep trying it to see how it’s developing.” Overdevelopment was an obvious concern as this is where some aged gins go wrong. “You can easily overage. And, once too much of the wood and tannins go in, you lose the complexities of the gin. It was difficult for me to make a decision. When do I take it out? That was the hardest part, when do I take it out. Because you can’t go back.” Well, let it be known that Jordan certainly hit the sweet spot, as this first release scored a gold at IWSC just a couple of weeks ago.
So let’s give it a taste. As I pour a glass, I am immediately taken with the nose. Lemon, candied stone fruits with a subtle hint of wood. There are aromas of lemon fruit gums, honey and a little ginger warmth. It’s bright and juicy, promising a lush spirit on the palate. Initially on the palate there are notes of sweet peach, with a nice level of juniper and a hint of sweet spice. It’s begins with that rich fruit note that you’re expecting but then it quickly twists into something drier, with herbaceous pine notes and a hint of something floral. As it draws away on the finish there is a lovely round mouthfeel of light vanilla, shot through with delicate dry notes of wood.
There is an elegance to this gin. The notes say that the gin was, “aged for three months in ex-whisky casks from Speyside that have previously matured single malt for over a decade.” And, it seems in that time some amazing flavours have been taken on by the gin. The journey is complex and eventful, but nothing is too brash, too intense, it all works together beautifully. Servings for cask aged gins can be a little more limited than some other spirits. However, Jordan is already thinking of this and working for a number of suggestions to go on the site. Ginger ale is a simple go to for me, as it works with gin and also works with a lot of the notes a gin can take on from aging, so that’s my failsafe, and also this gins serving suggestion. So, it would be rude not to, right?
I tried this gin with the Fever Tree Smoky Ginger Ale and it is an experience with character. The aromas as you go in for a sip are truly delightful. The ginger ale changes the spirit into something else, it brings out more of the fire, the caramel sweetness, the smokiness brings an Islay character. It’s a lovely tipple. Jordan has also been getting out to some shows (finally), and has found it hugely beneficial to educate drinkers as to what the spirit is. He manned a stall at a recent Gin To My Tonic Show and says the spirit went down a storm. “People went mad for it. A lot of people didn’t really know what cask gin was, and I explained that it wasn’t a mix of whisky and gin, I had remove the whisky wash from the barrel before I put the gin in.”
The Port Aged Gin was released just a couple of weeks ago and guess what, that scored gold at the Spirits Masters. “With the port aged, I wanted a summer style drink. Whisky has connotations of the winter months, port felt more summer time. I wanted to age that for a shorter time, so the gin took on more of the red fruit notes and not too much oak influence.” Now, I would suggest that scoring so highly on your first two releases is a great sign, especially from two different drinks at two different awards. It means that what Jordan has created, and what he thinks works, works. I’m super excited to see the reaction to the Madeira cask aged when it launches. The results so far, and such positive feedback, have been fantastic for Jordan’s confidence and he was elated at receiving the news, especially after what it’s taken him to get here. “When I took this on, it became very challenging during lockdown, but lockdown did give me the time to work on the cask aged stuff so I guess every could has a silver lining.” Jordan is still operating out of his home for now, but is on the hunt for a commercial space, which would allow him to buy a larger still, meaning larger batches and a little more time to work on the other side of the business in terms of publicity. Considering what he’s achieved so far, I’d suggest keeping a close eye on this one.