A recent all expenses paid [press trip] care of Hatch, working with Puerto De Indias, gave me a rare opportunity to see the place behind the original strawberry gin, which just so happens to be in Carmona, Seville. Lucky me! It is gorgeous.
Yes, your heard right, Puerto De Indias proudly states themselves as the first distillery to make strawberry gin, a grand title considering the flavoured gin boom we’ve been seeing in recent years. The strawberries are macerated for seven days before distilling, losing all of their colour. Then, the resulting distillate it blended into their dry gin to make the final product.
‘Pink gin’ is a controversial term in the UK gin industry, with flavoured gins carving a separate part of the market to the die hard juniper freaks. That said, there is a place for it when it’s done well and that makes for a crossover. It is a veritable stepping stone, bringing other drinkers into the fold who may well explore their way into classic profiles with time. Producers only need to be honest and open about their product, just like anything else.
I’ve always said I’m not here to tell people what to drink. People can drink what they want – how they want. Whilst pink gin may not be my normal tipple, a good, fruity G&T on a hot day is a fine thing. I am a fan of things being done properly in the gin world. I like it when any product is made well, which for me certainly means getting the balance of flavours right. Flavoured gins get a bad rap, mostly for those that are churned out without much heart and taste unbalanced, too sweet and often lacking discernible juniper. Some however are made with love and care and I think these should be celebrated just like any other well made gin. A video short I did for IWSC last year on the winners of the flavoured gin category will tell you the same.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that the Puerto De Indias sell in the UK, as well as 50 other countries around the world. In fact, in 2018 they were declared by MBG as one of the bestselling gins in this field, an incredible achievement for the few years they’ve been producing. Due to this, they’ve had to take their main gin production to a modern premises nearby. However, with the history and connection to the original distillery, they have kept this on for production of the strawberry distillate, as well as a fantastic venue for visitors to get sense of the ‘spirit’ behind the spirit, so to speak.
Now let’s talk about the original distillery. It’s is nestled on a rocky outcrop near Carmona, Seville, which once served as a mountain pass for those travelling the area. There is evidence of human habitation from some 5000 years ago, so the land has a lot of history. Looking out over the horizon reveals a sparse landscape, not surprising in the 40C heat, that is broken by strips of green olive groves and yellow sunflowers. The land around the distillery however, is lush and green, a veritable oasis amongst the dust.
The reason for this is the ancient roman aqueducts feeding water into the area. The team have been working to research and document the local aqueducts and there are a lot, they tell me with enthusiasm, pulling out maps and videos as we stand in the bar area. The videos are a fascinating look underground through the tunnels, where we can see markings left by the Romans who built them. They transport water through the area, with some flowing into a large pool by the distillery, down a waterfall into a pool, then running through channels around the site and on its way, providing the grounds with all the water they need to grow beautifully bright and colourful in the hot sun.
The distillery is the oldest in Andalusia. It was constructed in 1880, partly by a disciple of Eiffel, over the ancient roman baths built to take advantage of the aqueducts and local spring. The main distillery building was used as to mill olives, utilising the water to turn a wheel. Eventually it was the stills which utilised the pool, with condenser pipes that ran out through the pool and back into the still room. The still, which is fired by a wood burning stone furnace heated the spirit into a vapour, which then fed through the condenser pipe through the pool, which cooled it into a liquid which they collected into 12L vessels.
The stills were mostly used to make an anisette, but the big moment for the two brothers Jose Antonio and Francisco Rodriguez Fernandez, was when some strawberry jam went array in the spring heat. The duo had the idea to distil it and it became part of the first strawberry gin back in 2013, with just the smallest touch of anisette as an ode to its past. The name is a nod to local history. In 16th century Spain, Seville and the río Guadalquivir was home to the puerto or port of the Indias, which allowed Seville to emerge as a successful commercial and economic centre by connecting Spain with the Americas. The unusual bottle is shaped after Torre Del Oro, the Gold Tower, which sits on the bank of the río Guadalquivir, acting as military watchtower to protect the puerto.
Considering the popularity of pink gin in the UK, and that big old copa glass serve was a Spanish inspiration, their perfect serve with 7up in a copa glass full of ice should appeal to all those pink gin drinkers. So, why are we not seeing it on shelves amongst other popular pink gins like Gordons or Beefeater? I’m guessing it’s down to brand recognition…and potentially the cost difference. Puerto De Indias does come in a little more, around £25 for 70cl, but I’d suggest there is reasonable argument as to the set up and production costs, let alone importation, which has been causing a headache amongst importers. Besides, the team are keen to rectify this and make Puerto De Indias a well known pink gin in the UK.
During out visit, we are shown how to make gin and then make some of our own. The visitor bar is a gorgeous adaptation of the space, with a colourful array of bottles on the bar, and hanging lights made of empty bottles too. You can check out the end slideshow for some amazing pictures of that space.
We are then led around the site to see the waterfall that used to turn the mill and now cools the condensers. We nose through another building that looks more familiar to me, having been modernised with a lovely set up comprising two copper pots and column rectifiers for the strawberry distillate production. We also get to rummage in the freezers and try a frozen strawberry, a delight in the heat.
We are guided through a taste test by two very pleasant bar staff, to teach us to pinpoint the difference the strawberry distillate makes. For me, I saw a huge difference in the nose, which was complex and multi-layered with the fresh green notes you’d expect from fresh strawberries. This complexity did spread to the palate which made for a much more interesting drink, and there is a softness to the overall flavour, and still the sweet note strawberry fans will be looking for.
To finish we’re given a healthy Spanish sized G&T, big glass, lots of ice. 7UP with the strawberry gin and ginger with the blackberry which brings out all the floral nature of blackberries. Then we watch a flamenco group playing classical Spanish Guitar, singing and dancing. I hadn’t realised that in flamenco the woman’s dancing is what drives the rhythm of the song and I just loved seeing this magic at work. When I was a little girl my Grandad used to play Spanish guitar, so I am familiar with it…but I realise now only a third of it! It’s a beautiful thing to watch and a wonderful way to enjoy the breaking of the heat in late afternoon.
This was only the start of the trip. From here we were taken to our hotel, we then went to dinner at a gorgeous restaurant that dates back to 1922. The following day, we were taken on a horse and coach trip around the city and on a riverboat cruise and to lunch before heading home. The focus of this piece is on the gin. I didn’t want our good times to dilute it, so I have written a travel piece on the trip which you can read here.
Credit to the team at Puerto De Indias, they’re really care about their gin, and they pulled out all the stops to make us understand it like they did. There were several of the team waiting for us at the distillery and three of them stayed on to show us around Seville. Juan Migel Perez is the International Manager, Laura Noguera Presas is the Global Consumer Director and Ana Román Avilés is their Marketing Specialist. Not only are they lovely people to spend some time with, they have a genuine love for their gin and are genuinely keen to get the word out there. They want it to do well and you know what? So do I. As someone who doesn’t drink a lot of pink gin, I have been thoroughly enjoying a tipple from the bottle I brought home. The recommended serve may be with lemonade but it works well with a light tonic…definitely Mediterranean tonic for me, this will help balance out any sweetness for those who aren’t so keen and add some additional complexities.
And not only do the team care about their gin, they care about the people who drink it. There is an LGBTQ ‘Unlimited Edition’ coming to the unique soon in a beautiful rainbow bottle with donations going to charity (I should be posting a press release on that soon), and another issue not available here as far as I am aware, highlighting the issue of sexism and the gender pay gap in a purple bottle covered with female roles.
Overall, the trip was a great experience and through it I connected with the spirit, but that’s the point, right? The purpose of every activity was to immerse us in the spirit of Spain, as the team believed it will help us understand the gin. Honestly, I think it has. This was my first trip to Spain and it won’t certainly be my last. Plus, when I go back I know what gin I’m asking for.
A big thank you to Hatch and Puerto De Indias for a wonderful time. All photos my own, other than the slideshow below, which is care of Puerto De Indias.