The concept behind Tamworth Distilling’s Apiary Gin is bees (truth in names). The spirit is flavored with locally, foraged, poplar and red clover, and then sweetened with local, New Hampshire raw honey.
Price: £24 / 500 mLABV: 42.4% Distiller: Professor Cornelius Ampleforth/Master of Malt HouseOrigin: UKAvailability: UKRating: (2.5/5)
That name is a mouth-full. But let’s break it down into some helpful definitions:
Bathtub Gin – owing to the fact that legally gin is simply “juniper flavored spirit,” one can make a gin by infusing/macerating, or alternatively “cold compounding” juniper berries and other botanicals in a spirit.
Old Tom Gin – the simplest, widely accepted definition for what an Old Tom Gin is simply a gin which has sweetening added after distillation*. Usually Old Tom gins feature a malty, character-filled base spirit which hasn’t been distilled to the point of being neutral, and often, but not necessarily by definition, have been rested in a barrel, usually for only as long as it needed to travel from distillery to pub.
Professor Cornelius Ampleforth – Master of Malt house brand based on a legend of a slightly mad Victorian re-creationist who hasn’t met a spirit of yore that he didn’t want to bring back. See Victor Frankenstein**
Cardamom, lemon and juniper on the nose, it comes across as sweet without being sweetened per se.
Hammer & Son know their history. The story behind their gin is deceptively simple: they recreated a 1783 gin recipe, with no detail too small to overlook. It is accurate as one could be to a recipe of this era. They only made one minor adjustment: they didn’t include the turpentine oil. Trust me, this is a modern tweak to the recipe you’ll appreciate. Turpentine oil has two qualities that make it a poor addition to a gin. First (and really foremost), it’s toxic. Secondly, turpentine’s piney-resiny character is used to “enhance” the junipery character of a gin, without having to go through the trouble of distilling it well, or finding good quality juniper. Despite dropping the turpentine, because there’s no way a gin could get to market containing a lethal non-potable substance, they did keep one other trick used by 18th century distillers to mask an inferior product: sweetening.
Hammer & Son Old English Gin is technically an Old Tom Gin. Though not officially labeled one, a sweetening agent has added post distillation; therefore it is an example of the Old Tom style. Old English Gin has company in the sweetened-but-don’t-call-us-an-Old-Tom-gin party; the quite excellent Barr Hill Gin also uses the sweetening while avoiding the pejorative connotations of the category.
Can you tell by the bottle how long this bottle of gin has been hanging around in my bar? Sometimes a review kind of ends up on the back burner. I at one point wanted to do a series on Old Tom Gins, and look at several in a row: kind of establish a pattern for how you should review an Old Tom Gin and what you should look for. I was going to taste several side by side….
….and eventually intentions get the best of me. I come up with a plan and as I take on several other gin projects, the Old Tom thing never got off the ground. And all the while, while I was not reviewing Old Tom styled gins, I sure was drinking them. So rather than wait for some amazing feature which might be a long time off, I thought I better get this review off before I drink the whole damn bottle right and nary write more than three words about it: “I like this.”
The Nose and the Palate of the Sound
The nose is citrusy and sharp, with a slight brightness and lemony touch.
A little late to our Colorado Gin tasting party, but no less interesting, this is the second Old Tom style gin that we’ve reviewed. The first being Spring 44’s rather excellent offering.
The picture above doesn’t do it justice. I tried to capture the bottle against the backdrop of where I do my reviews. That’s not Colorado, that’s Astoria, NY. And that little silhouette on the upper right? A Colorado Proud sticker. Yet another distiller that’s proud to be a part of the incredible distilling culture in that state.
Let’s get to the gin. An interesting note to pay attention to before you even get to the tasting is the base. It’s not grain, it’s cane. Yep, like a Rum. This makes it a sort of rarity among gins before we even actually get to the notes.
Riding Downslope of Flavor and the Nose
The nose is bright, a touch malty actually. You get a hint of dry grassy field in here as well as a touch of malted grain. There’s a bright citrus note as well, fresh and orange with a touch of lemon. Kind of interesting, the creamy warmth is certainly Old Tom like, but that touch of grass/grain isn’t.
Old Tom Gin.
If you were hunting the streets of London for gin during the heady days of England’s early 18th century prohibition [and for those of you who don’t know your gin history, it was specifically gin which was targeted. The craze, Mother’s ruin, and all of that good stuff came out of this period] you need look no further than the window with a picture of the Old Tom Cat over it. Insert your coin, and the barkeep inside of the building would insert some gin into a chute for the paying customer to enjoy.
Old Tom Gin had a reputation for being cheap, almost vile stuff. The style in question was sweetened, to hide the less pleasant notes of the unfortunate and crudely produced spirit lying underneath.
History Lesson Over And now to the present. Dry gin merely meant “unsweetened gin,” and now Old Tom generally refers to a sweetened style of gin that differs from a the vast array of dry gins which decorate the shelves and bars or liquor stores around the world. Old Tom is something of an obscure style too, though with the recent craft distilling surge, its making a comeback and now there’s nearly ten distilleries Old Tom Gin being made in the United States, and I’d be expecting more in the near future.
There was a time when the craft of distillation was less a science than an art of approximation. The resulting spirits were uneven, impure, “harsh,” “unpleasant;” they were the spirits which gave the stereotype of bathtub gin its truth. So how did the master distillers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century address this problem?
Old Tom Gin was born. Old Tom is a slightly sweetened classic styled gin. Once rare, they’re becoming more common.
So why this apparent digression? New Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Gin is technically an Old Tom Style Gin. Barr Hill has a classic and simple basic formula: fresh neutral grain spirit with zesty juniper. The honey is added after distillation. And the result? Quite remarkable. Its a refreshing gin that is easy— even for gin novices— to wrap their heads around. Every element of the gin is present, well done, clearly identifiable and [as an added bonus] well balanced.
Tasting The nose is subtle and understated. A slight, sweet, and mild juniper note is evident. But its quiet. It plays it close to the test on the nose: inviting but not domineering.
The taste is simple and elegant.