The River Test Distillery, based on the beautiful banks of it’s namesake in Hampshire, have something a little special on their hands with their London Dry. For the record, the gin was once called Mayfly but has been re-branded. I’m a little geeky on these things so I’m really pleased to have one of the earlier branded bottles. The label may have changed but the bottle remains the same, with a clear top fading into grass green bottom, with lines that to me evoke the flow of water or fishing lines that the river is known for. This bottle has a definite character. And this signifies what’s to come as they’ve managed to do what a lot of good distilleries do, capture the feeling of a place in the tangible experience of a drink.
So, let’s set the scene, a dreamy scene for current times. We’re ambling slowly along the river. Sunlight breaks through the quiet swish of tree tops. The light dapples on the gentle flowing river. The air is warm and laden with the sounds of bird chirps and insect buzzes dancing with the constant tinkle of water. Everything is peaceful and calm and there is little to disturb this other than the occasional whirr of a fly fishing line. Living, but taking it easy. And, this is the same experience those at River Test Distillery have managed to create.
And how would you manage such a thing? The first step is the botanical recipe. What local botanicals can we find that embody the sense of place? Well there are a number that are handpicked from the riverbank (thirteen botanicals in total), but the main player here is meadowsweet, which is picked during a two week window somewhen during July and August. Meadowsweet is a fantastic botanical, and part of the rose family. Not only does it bring a gentle, honeyed element to the flavour, but it smooths the gin so the end result is something soft, delicate, yet still rich with flavour. On the nose, we get the sweet grassy tone of a sunny day outside. The nose is soft, yet still has complexity. Moving into the palate, there is a rush of flavour like the flow of the river. Herbaceous, floral elements mingle with the soft base like petals and leaves fallen in the water, following the current downstream. The finish almost all but dissipates, but leaves something residing. the lingering memory of a hazy day.
Another important element in this experience is the water. The water is taken from an aquifer that feeds the river and it’s chalk filtered. Now, I’m sure some of you will have seen the debate around water and the quality it brings to a gin. There are some distilleries out there that use a specific water and believe this has an effect on the flavour. There are others that use standard water and think it does not. Personally, I would say that there will be certain waters that comparatively make little difference to the spirit, however some may do. Plus, it’s worth considering that if you have a 80-90% ABV freshly distilled gin, and you’re cutting it down to 43%, then the water you use could well make a difference. Just think about what tonic you put in your gin and how using different brands of ‘standard’ tonic can make a difference to your drink. Now bearing this in mind, I’d like to think that the water these guys use does make a difference. And, it;s another element of locality that gives this gin it’s identity, and what a beautiful identity that is!
On their site the River Test Distillery give their brief:
“We wanted to make an outstanding gin, a gin which both compliments a premium tonic and is distinctive enough to be enjoyed neat, as a sipping gin, simply with ice.”
Simple, right? Well not always. I tend to find that gins either work better with tonic, or better as a sipping gin. Its really about the balance of strength and flavour that sets out how it works. So for a G&T, you want something with a bit of punch, something a little concentrated, so the tonic opens those flavours up, whilst quelling some of the strength, to create something balanced. With a sipping gin, you need that balance there from the start, and this can then be lost to dilution when adding tonic. This can be difficult to achieve. This gin however, somehow seems to walk that tightrope. It’s a fine line indeed, but it works. This to me is quite a triumph and one that I think should be celebrated. The recommended serve for this is tonic and lime garnish and I can see why. The fresh, greener notes of lime cut beautifully through the softness to give it a little lift. I think really, that a simple G&T works for me. Gins like this are their own thing, and when a gin is it’s own thing, I think a G&T is the perfect way to respect that. As soon as you start muddling other things in for a cocktail, then it loses who it is. Best to let it keep the limelight to itself, or in this gins instance, the sunshine.
Now, I think I’ve had enough of staring at my laptop in my office for now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick back, take a sip, close my eyes and return to that riverbank.