- Food & Drink
Come one, come all to my cheese and gin party
In the basement of Beefeater’s south London distillery, a semi-circle of barrels are laid with glasses. There are water glasses, of course. This is a gin tasting and we must all keep our heads somehow. And there are also tasting glasses. They’re a curious double decker set-up. The bottom half is a stubby little sipper, the glass flaring out to cup the top-deck beaker, which is smooth on one side and ridged on the other.
I’m there to try Beefeater’s Burrough’s Reserve Gin, a new gin developed by Master Distiller Desmond Payne, and which comes with the jaw-clenching tagline: ‘a gin for free thinkers’. The free thinking, in this case, mainly boiling down to not drinking it with tonic. Burrough’s Reserve is a gin for sipping neat – chilled and viscous before dinner; warm and fragrant afterwards. Or the other way round, if you like. This is a gin for free thinkers, after all.
Burrough’s Reserve is distilled in small batches in the original copper still that Beefeater’s founder, James Burrough, used when he was enlivening the nightlife of Victorian London. Made to Burrough’s 1860 recipe, the gin is aged in old Lillet oak barrels for a few weeks to soak up the wood and lingering Lillet flavours. What comes out of the barrel is a straw-coloured spirit with an ABV of 43%.
Our tasting measures were poured, fridge cold, into the glasses and the mystery of the different textures was explained. The cobbled side of the glass would introduce more oxygen into our mouths along with the gin, which would affect the taste. A bit like sucking in air when you’re tasting wine to open up the flavours, except you don’t have to snort like a pig rooting through slurry to do it.
Whether or not this was a good thing was left up to us. I started with the smooth side of the glass and was hit with a wave of ozone. Bleached bones, ocean spray and the tang of seaweed drying in the sun. It tasted like that moment when you accidentally breathe in as you dunk your head under the water. It was like drowning, but in gin. Surprisingly, I didn’t like it.
Drinking from the ridged side, the gin tasted like pineapple cubes. The sun had come out, the seas had calmed and I was sat on the beach licking sugar and salt from my lips. Sweeter and fleshier, the gin was a bit custardy. Vanilla, nutmeg and lemon zest all peeked through. And sugary chunks of tropical fruit. If a barmen ever asks me whether I want my gin with a splash of air, I’m definitely taking the air.
The gin in the bottom glass had been warming up while I slurped my way through the top deck (with a few refills, just to check I was absolutely sure about which side of the glass I preferred). This was the most aromatic mouthful of the bunch. Woody and fragrant, it drank like trampling on pine branches while wearing a really nice salad bowl on your head.
Plates of cheese and dried fruits were brought out so we could see how well the gin married up with after dinner nibbles (although the day a friend offers me dried apricots instead of After Eights with my port and cigars is the day that friendship ends).
The cheese and gin were not a happy pairing – too creamy and salty, dragging the gin’s more astringent features to the fore. But it went well with the dates and figs. The fruit’s sweetness picked up the spicier notes in the Burrough’s Reserve, so they skipped along merrily together.
When it comes to price, you might want to strap yourself in to your chair and superglue your hat on to your head. Burrough’s Reserve starts at £62.95. That’s the cheapest I’ve found it. £73 to £80 is the range. In all honesty, if I was planning to spend that much on something to keep in my desk drawer for emergencies, I’d pull on my wellies and go splashing about in the peaty shallows of an Islay malt.
It’s a lovely gin, and intelligently put together, but until I have a mahogany sideboard with crystal decanters and a soda siphon, I won’t feel sophisticated enough to buy it.