You may be familiar with Papillon Gin. The Devon based husband and wife run distillery create their award winning gins in small batches using a copper still in Moretonhampstead, based in Dartmoor National Park, a wonderful beautiful backdrop to create beauty in the bottle.
In Papillon Gin, as I hoped and so love, as well as traditional gin botanicals they use ‘Dartmoor flavours’; fresh gorse flowers from the moor, rowan and hawthorn berries, chamomile, nettles, navelwort and Devon violets. Local botanicals to give a flavourful expression of the local area is something that gin does very well, and some gins in particular do better than others.
Papillon is named after the Pearl Bordered Fritillaries, a threatened Dartmoor butterfly that feeds on wild violets, and the distillery donates 1% from every bottle sold to a local Butterfly Conservation project that protects this species. As the distillery states, “Alongside a keen interest in conservation, we try to keep our business and products as environmentally sensitive as possible”.
Papillon is well acknowledged amongst some of my gin writing friends, so when Claire got in contact to ask if I’d like to try their limited edition release ‘Carabus’, I was more than happy to take on a bottle with a view to write something. Unfortunately, ‘confession time’, I put my bottle down in the wrong place, rather than staying in the ‘still need to write about’ pile. Luckily, by the time I realised I’d done this, I got in contact with Claire and the gin had proved so popular that they decided to keep it on as one of the range. Lucky for me, and the Carabus Beetle!
Carabus Gin was created in collaboration with TV presenter Nick Baker. In honour of the rare Dartmoor beetle of which is takes its name, the gin is made with woodland botanicals. Instead of the traditional citrus they have used rowan and hawthorn berries which give a fruity roundness to the flavour. Nettles and wood sorrel provide fresh notes. Roasted hazelnuts and a hint of vanilla leave a lovely pearly lasting finish.
I took some time to catch up with Claire in an interview (below), but before that I’m sure you want to know how it tastes, right?
I’ve tried it neat, because let’s face it, that’s what I do. The nose is beautifully lush and fragrant, with wonderful bright fruit notes comprised of a citrus tang and berry sherbet. There is definitely something ‘woodland’ about it’s character. The expressive fragrant notes are underpinned by something humble and earthy, and it’s evocative of meandering through trees. On the palate there is a wonderful explosion of complexity. Initially we loiter with the vivacious fruit, then there are rich grassy notes that grow like leafy stems unfurling from the ground, popping up into the sun. Once that sensation eases, I’m left sitting basking in the vivid finish. This a beautiful drink, complex and interesting and really very generous in it’s nature, which goes hand in hand with it’s purpose.
A gin like this is made for a G&T. There is so much interest to it that it would work great under dilution. However, I would also make the case for this in a Martini. All those floral and savoury notes would go hand in hand with just the right vermouth. I would suggest something slightly gentle on the vermouth side. Getting the right balance of flavours is crucial, but I think done right it would be really quite marvellous.
So, without further ado, let’s catch up with Claire to find out a little more about this fantastic gin.
1. What prompted the creation of Carabus Gin?
During the first lockdown I contacted Nick Baker about the potential of a collaboration. He lives close to us and is a huge advocate of Dartmoor wildlife through his naturalist work and his connections with Butterfly Conservation and Buglife. I asked him to pick a Dartmoor based species that needed some help and we would base a new gin around it, with a donation to the relevant charity. Nick suggested the Blue Ground Beetle for the following reasons:
Adult beetles can be 3cm long. They have large protruding jaws so it can capture slugs and suck out their insides! They also have long wiry limbs help it climb up trees to find its prey. It is estimated that Dartmoor represents over 80% of the Blue Ground Beetle population in the UK. First discovered in 1811, it was soon presumed extinct. Rewards were offered by collectors for a specimen. One disappointed bounty hunter was only offered a fraction of the reward in 1856, due to missing legs on the beetle. The species then disappeared until rediscovered on Dartmoor in 1985.
We then went out one evening, the beetles are nocturnal, with Nick, Andrew from Buglife and John Walters, the Blue Ground Beetle expert, to see if we could find some. After searching in the woods by torchlight for a while we did manage to see some and we were absolutely sold on this particular beetle to focus our new gin on. Nocturnal and small, it’s never going to get the public recognition it deserves without a little help,. As Buglife says ’Save the small things that run our planet’. We have formed a relationship with Buglife and £2 from every 70cl bottle sold is donated to Buglife for Andrew to carry out some work on Dartmoor to help protect it.
It is named Carabus because the latin name for the Blue Ground Beetle is Carabus Intricatus. Due to the BGB living in the woods we decided to develop a woodland taste for our Carabus gin. Instead of the traditional citrus we use a lot of hawthorn and rowan berries. Nettles and wood sorrel give it a fresh, earthy taste. The roasted hazelnuts add a creamy pearliness.
2. How does the profile differ to Papillon and what were the ideas behind that?
Papillon has a very different flavour to Carabus. It is much more floral due to the gorse flowers, chamomile and Devon violet leaves. It is our signature gin and we wanted it to have a taste of Dartmoor. Our company and first gin is named Papillon for the Pearl-bordered fritillary. This is an endangered butterfly that lives on Dartmoor. We donate 1% from all non-Carabus sales to Butterfly Conservation for a project which protects the Pearl-bordered, Marsh, Heath and High Brown fritillaries on the moor.
The Pearl-bordered fritillary feeds on wild violets so we wanted to make that link with our botanicals. I bought some Devon violets from a specialist violet nursery and planted them in a friend’s field and in our garden. They are the same type of Devon violet that used to be grown and shipped to Covent Garden. Not wishing for a strong violet flavour we only distil the leaves. We cut our gin with fresh spring water from a nearby Dartmoor farm which has a site rich with Pearl-bordered fritillaries.
3. Conservation is a dominant force behind the launch, and the distillery it seems. Can you tell us about that?
Conservation is something we have always been interested in, right back to studying Environmental Studies at school. When we were planning our business I knew we needed to have a connection with the local environment; through the botanicals, branding and a charity donation. At that point in time I was working for the Heritage Lottery Fund and was assessing and monitoring many natural heritage projects across the South West. Through my job I became aware of the work Butterfly Conservation were doing for the fritillaries on Dartmoor and I knew this was the connection to develop.
As well as our financial donation through our business, I volunteer for BC and survey Pearl-bordered and Marsh fritillaries in our local area. We try to keep our products as environmentally sensitive as possible: the tamper seals are made from cellulose and can be composted; we are a Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Champion; and we get our power through a 100% UK generated renewable supplier.
4. It seems the gin has been well received as it is now been kept on as a permanent member of the family. Can you tell us about that?
Launching a product during lockdown has been difficult, mainly due to the lack of opportunities for tasting events and, therefore, being unable to receive feedback. Carabus has now been out there for 6 months and we are starting to receive feedback through our retailers and hospitality clients. We are getting a lot of repeat orders and people have been concerned that it is a limited edition. As there appears to be a demand for it to stay, we will incorporate it into the Papillon family as a special edition.
5. Do you think this could inspire future launches of gins for different creatures?
We have a very special relationship with Butterfly Conservation and butterflies so that will always be our first priority for donations and connections. Our Navy gin is called The Admiral as a nod towards the Red Admiral butterfly. It has nettles as one of its botanicals because the Red Admiral caterpillars feed on them. The new relationship with Buglife has been excellent and it will be great to continue that connection through keeping Carabus around as part of the family. It would need to be a very specific creature to be brought into the Papillon fold. We like to have a Dartmoor link and, also, a creature that struggles to get the recognition it needs and deserves. Always open to ideas and collaborations.
6. Any other plans for the future that you’d like to tell us about?
We currently have a tank full of sloes being soaked in Papillon Gin. By the time we bottle it, it will have been steeping for a year. To balance the tartness of the sloes with a little sweetness, it will be combined with some Dartmoor heather honey.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me Claire, and for sending me this bottle AND for your patience with me getting this one done and up. This is a really lovely gin and what a pleasure to drink to a good cause. And, keep your eyes peeled, dear reader, as this is not the only bottle that lost it’s way and still needs a write up!