This is an article that needs a little back story. So, pour yourself a tipple, get yourself comfortable and settle in. Back in February 2018, I shared a press release from Twin Rivers, on what they claimed to be the worlds strongest gin. At 77%abv, it pipped Strane’s Uncut, the known (ish, there are surely some strong gins around the world in different markets we may not know about) leader at the time by just 1%. The press release stated that, “by developing Uncut, we really wanted to push the boundaries – but obviously ask people to enjoy it sensibly. You have to appreciate that most gins are 40-50% abv so care must be taken when drinking this spirit and a small amount definitely goes a long way.” They were very careful to point out the ABV difference and the importance of being careful with the product.
Within four days of sharing this, I had a reply from Robert Ransom of Highfern, importer of Strane. It was in the form of a statement which I published almost immediately. An extract from that said that, “We first imported Strane Uncut London Dry Gin, at that time 75.3%, to the UK in the spring of 2015. Initially we were careful not to claim that it was the strongest gin, but as we received feedback from gin journalists and gin bars, it became clear that the next strongest gin in the UK market at the time was less than 70% vol.” So, from this initial release from Strane being careful not to claim ‘Worlds Strongest Gin’, Twin Rivers had made a point of claiming it, but pushing caution whilst drinking.
That said, the title of ‘World Strongest Gin’ certainly seemed to be a desirable one. Five months later, in July 2018, Strane launched a follow up gin, Strane Ultra Uncut, that was bottled at 82.5%. You can read my piece on that here, and to quote a passage from Master of Malts nightcap at the time which I included in that piece, a spokesman said that the release was, “a deliberate attempt to push the boundaries of gin distilling to the extreme, as far as intensity of flavour and strength goes…I wanted to use this quote as these words sound rather absolute. It leaves me wondering if anyone is going to dare to top it. As a friend of mine online said, “How strong is too strong?”. It’s a good question.
And, Anno dared. Their ‘World’s Strongest Gin’, the Anno Extreme 95 launched late last year (2020), and was certainly deemed ‘too strong’ by some. At a whopping 95%, it is so strong that I and some gin friends were left wondering how they’d managed it. And, any further attempts could only at most, beat it by the smallest of margins, a move that could come across as a little petty.
I had so many questions, but with some of the criticism I’d seen, I was unsure whether to take on a write up. It seems that past a point, a strong gin becomes a controversial subject, with less trust put in the consumer to consume it safely. I’ll be honest, my initial response to the release had been much like some other views I’ve seen, that producing something like this was potentially dangerous. To quote Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” However, I was also aware of a hypocrisy. With the growth of interest in Navy Strengths and Overproofs, I am conflicted in how we can celebrate high abvs, with science and human curiosity pushing that boundary further, before the inevitable highest step becomes one too far. This is when I responded to Rob Cursons from Anno to say I’d love to have a chat before committing to a write up and go from there, and I have to say, I’m glad I did. As that conversation completely changed my view on the product, and Anno’s intentions in releasing it.
Firstly, let it be known that Rob is a very nice guy. He was happy to take the time to speak to me. He took all my questions on the chin and his answers were upfront and straightforward. As a spirits writer it’s tricky ground to write on a gin that the producer will only tell you snippets about, for me anyway. Plus, it can make for a very short article! I love transparency. I think it’s a really important value in the gin world and and as writer the more information a distillery can give me, the richer their story is going to be.
Anno Extreme 95 is meant to be “a celebration of gin” and something that would get people “talking about craft gin again”. It’s partly a disruptive move to break the wall of gins on the market and get Anno noticed and it’s partly a birthday celebration too. The idea first came about as the team were deciding what to do for Anno’s own Andy Reason’s 65th birthday. For his 60th, and also 60th of recently retired partner Norman Lewis (An-No) they launched the Anno 60 Squared, and they wanted to launch something for Andy’s 65th too. Rather than make a 65%, they considered a 95%, a real show stopper and something that did actually push those boundaries as far as they could go. This became somewhat of a science project, with the team curious as to what they would achieve. They used an extended distillation process, a mixture of distillation from Patience, their copper pot still distillation and steeping. It’s a one shot method and there is some slight adjustment at the end. You can see the process in the video below.
The idea was always to highlight the strength, as it’s the title of ‘Worlds Strongest Gin’ that was going to get it noticed. The packaging was designed in a bright yellow and black to allude to hazard colouring, with a warning sticker on the front. There is guidance that a small measure of 5ml would make a flavourful G&T at a lesser percentage (around 75% less than a normal measure of 40%) and across their site their is mention that this is the intended serve. Now I’ll be honest, I think this is where things are getting a little confused with the purpose of the drink. There is an obvious obligation to advise responsible drinking. Yet, how can you advertise as ‘Worlds Strongest’ yet push to drink a 5ml measure responsibly? Where as I absolutely understand the bold statement of ‘World’s Strongest Gin’ (and that’s what stirs the interest in the consumer, let’s be honest), the message of drinking responsibly does get a little lost here. Especially compared to drinks like Haymans Small Gin, which has a similar yet opposite principle of a smaller 5ml measure, considering that at 43%, less than half the ABV of the Extreme 95, this small measure makes a low ABV, low calorie drink with all the flavour of a full G&T.
However, there is a difference. Haymans Small Gin is a gin that’s meant to be drunk at that reduced measure, hence the lower abv and it appeals to the low abv market. Extreme 95 can be drunk in a small measure, so still has the low abv option. However you can as the serving suggestions state, drink a 25ml measure with tonic for a stronger drink (around the same strength as a double measure of 45%). It’s appealing to a larger and less specific audience. And, it can do that as it’s a versatile drink.
The gin comes with a measuring beaker which I love, measuring 5ml increments up to 25ml, and is a nice nod to the science of distillation. This, the small (200ml) bottle size and price (£30) all suggest that this is something you should enjoy in small quantities. The serving suggestions are the Light G&T with a 5ml measure and 120ml tonic, or the Strong G&T, a full 25ml measure with 120ml tonic. That said, I’d be interested to try one at each 5ml increment to see how the flavour evolves, that would be a nice experiment.
So, what does it taste like? Neat? Well, it’s hard to tell. At that ABV the liquid evaporates from your tongue almost as quickly as it touches it. Interestingly at this level there are still discernible notes of flavour, which is impressive I think. Especially as even navy strengths at 57% used to be very thin on flavour until opened out (although that does seem to be changing nowadays, there are some really flavourful navy strengths out there). The 5ml with tonic is very flavourful, full on citrus, weighted with deep earthy notes and a well balanced punch of juniper. It’s bright and fresh and a really lovely tipple. The strong one is really rich and flavourful. There’s a light citrus zing and it’s rather moreish so do take your time with it if you decide to give it a go.
I have to say, I tip my hat to Anno. They had an ambition to create the worlds strongest gin and they’ve done it. And, it’s a strong effort too, a tipple that’s interesting and flavourful and nice to drink. There is thought and time put into the recipe and it does everything that it’s meant to do. There is interest from consumers. It’s certainly a gin for collectors and I know that when it launched, it was a huge talking point amongst my gin friends let alone the public. Whilst I do understand the conflict of messaging, and the importance of getting that right, I can also see that’s because this is a versatile drink. It’s not been made specifically for the low abv drinkers. Equally it’s not been made specifically for the high abv drinkers either. It’s a product that has been made to give something to most gin drinkers. It gives guidance it can be used how the consumer prefers and that guidance is really either end of the spectrum, with a whole inner spectrum to explore. Personally, I’m glad to have this gin in my collection. And I should imagine a lot of gin collectors would be too. If the world’s strongest gin is a little too much for you then do check out their site as Anno aren’t a one trick pony by any means, they also have a large range of gins, and a whisky too. You see, they’re a rather creative bunch.