Following on from part #2, today, we begin with a botanical / > gin sensory session partaken more than four years ago – on 20/01/16 to be precise – compliments of the Foz. Using Stolichnaya vodka as a base, we smell & taste herbs, spices and botanicals [sourced from Abbey Botanicals], before making our own individual gin blends using a juniper & coriander-infused vodka base. Observations of note:
- Wormwood [a herb grown as an ornamental plant and used as an ingredient in spirits such as gin and absinthe] – clean, deep bitter/sour on grapefruit and green pepper. Goes on and on.
- Grains of Paradise [aka Aframomum melegueta, is a species of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and closely related to cardamom] – much like pepper, this reminds me somewhat, of cracked pepper honeycomb ice-cream !?
- Cubeb [a tropical shrub of the pepper family which bears pungent berries] – I found this tequila-like [over vodka] with a gingery sweetness.
- Baobab [from the Upside Down tree] – very neutral in the vodka. Good as a balancing agent, perhaps [like spirulina in a smoothie].
- Orris (roots of Iris) – something Bladnoch-esque [however that translates, I do not know], it noses like sweet turnip!
- Angelica [aka Angel’s Fishing Rod] – a carrot-y bitterness, chalky,.. some sweetness.
- Aniseed – indeed.
- Lemon peel – lemon peel certainly, without pith,.. long finish.
- Dried lemon – So very dry and sour.
- Coriander – perhaps unsurprisingly [and so often disappointingly], flat.
- Meadowsweet [a perennial herb from the Rosacea family that grows in damp meadows] – hints of hog plum powder, smoked black cardamom pods,.. grape (skin) at the tail.
- Myrtle [an ever-green shrub believed to have been introduced to the UK from Spain in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh] – Lots here. Vegetal sweet. Soft dry finish.
- Blackberry leaf – as expected.
- Raspberry leaf – just like the leaves used in herbal tea blends.
- Cinnamon – sweet and vanilla-ey with a coconut finish.
- Cassia [Cassia and cinnamon both come from the bark of a tree that is a member of the laurel family‘, thespruceeats] – denser and more cinnamon-y than cinnamon, bitter then [spicy]-sweet.
- Liquorice – very similar to the aniseed.
- Pink peppercorns – sweet dentist’s mouthwash,.. overall, delicious subtle yet far reaching.
- Anise – much like Bassets Allsorts.
- Star anise – so very subtle in flavour that I can’t quite grasp it [perhaps a tired example?]
- Carob – subtle sweetness.
Let’s get mixing. My final gin concoction contains:
- 10 drops blackberry leaf
- 5 drops raspberry leaf
- 2 drops Lavender
- 1 drop Rosemary
- A touch of myrtle and meadow sweet
I keep a sample back. Over four years later, out of the blue, I decide it’s time to revisit my work.
- N: Where’s all this lemon peel into confectionary sweetness come from?
- T: Bitter-sweet, citrusy again, and cinnamon-ey. “Doesn’t leave much to the imagination”, says Ashley, rightly. Neither does it smells or tastes of its makeup.
- F: Baking confectionary fruits, orris, juniper,… bitter roots.
- C: This exercise makes you realise there’s more to this gin-making malarky than meets the eye.
What next? A brace of clairin no less.
Clairin Vaval Arawaks  Velier Batch #1 51.1% WF89
I’ve had this particular bottle in storage since first trying it at RumFest in 2016 [WLP]. I thought it would be a sensation amongst the flavour chasers,… ?
- N: Five years on and I still get tomato Wheat Crunchies & tinned tomatoes, except now they are covered in herbal thick vanilla emulsion-flavoured runny gluey~wallpaper paste,… some exotic icing – something of French Fancies – mint too,… The fruitiness comes in the form of pomegranate juice and apple juice-injected raisins [M&S/’Taste the Difference‘ etc,.]. Thrilling start!
- T: Like it just came off the still, you might as well add water [almost] straight away as there’s no detriment to the profile. A brute without being brutal, we’ve an off-straight/wonky coppery [pisco-like] spirit with a bitter vegetal petrol/WD40 edge,…. Despite little-if-no barrel ageing, we’ve a commendable subtle developmental textural & body-flavour complexity. With food, it’s sweeter after spice and more plain sailing, the coppery tones, er, toned down, and accompanied by a chewy luscious mouthfeel [depending on what you’re eating of course].
- F: Like licking wood, coal dust, and old school canteen baking trays,..… Give it time, plenty of time to settle in for faint cocktail-suggested [tropical] fruits to emerge – lemons, limes, papaya, plums~prunes,… With a hint of smoke into cigarette ash, the slightly bready/cereal & chocolatey [cocoa powder] bitter coppery spirit continues its surge through, alert yet nonchalant/care-free.
- C: Engagingly strange/funky sugar cane spirit, not quite off the charts-bonkers as it seemed to me in 2016, but certainly miles away from anything ‘regular’. I’ve not had anything quite like it before or since.
Scores 87 points
Clairin Communal Ansyen  Velier for LMDW 49.3%
WF90: ‘This a blend of four distilleries, married for around two years in ex-rum and ex-whisky casks‘.
- N: With a similar tomato vibe, the vanilla emulsion of the previous Vaval Arawaks has turned creamy with dried hanging [pizza] meats [hams/pepperoni/chorizo] rubbed with Brasso and a drop of Swarfega and covered in [airport luggage] shrink-wrap, swerved on a hot pine slab, [end of pencil] erasers, random tinctures – a cross between a car garage and Neals Yard,… reminiscent of Mhoba rum also. Bonkers yet par excellence, the marriage of spirit from four distilleries is spot on. LAST DRAM: Lush raisins, pear brandy, just picked [wild] strawberries, tyre rubber,… mezcal-y burnt pickles,…
- T: With more mezcal vibes – though the dirtiness is less pit fire-based and more on greasy oils from the mechanic yard and kitchens – it’s unusually fizzy and chemically on the palate with bottled lemon juice, maple syrup, tangerine & brown rice vinegar dressing, sesame seeds, cardamon > fennel seeds > spearmint, diluted Swarfega, liquorice into > aniseed chews/bombs,.. All over the shop, it’s wonderfully idiosyncratic.
- F: Strange rubberiness, white spirit, strange emulsion cream, clean dirty oils [2-stroke/Castrol and the like] and those bitter [still fizzy] charred lemons till the end with a really odd clay-dry murky-brine-y mouthfeel at the death as if I popped a bit of clay in my mouth and let it dry there a little,.. caramel < cocoa powder,.. Ten minutes later, the whole experience is all slightly different once again.
- C: No two sips of this bonkers/awesome/off-the-wall/mezcal-like [rum] clairin spirit with fabulous form and imaginative structure will be the same. Whilst I’ve a real soft spot for the Arawaks, ageing and blending has taken this clairin to a whole different area of the galaxy.
Scores 89 points. [Further reading: WLP]
What’s next? As it happens, I have a rum sample to try. Seems a good time as any, given we’ve been all over the place in & around Central & > Southern America in the last few tastings. Furthermore, at 61% abv, this has every chance of cutting through the ‘Stranger Things’ clairins.
If I’ve understood right, this is the successor to the Nobiliary [WLP89], chronologically speaking.
- N: Formidable fire water, this is strong ‘high definition’ creamy spicy oaky spirit, the heavy dry grassiness telling us this is from sugar cane in no uncertain terms, and yet, bizarrely reminiscent of an old [40yo] grain whisky – much like Foursquare’s Destino [WLP]. It’s delightfully playful too, being a relaxed simple fun easy reader. This is right up there on the nose.
- T: That’s a delicious fruity oaky arrival, the oak ageing soon shedding plenty of layers you might expect from a far older whisky, the grain whisky likeness continuing with assuredness.
- F: Quick yet thrilling, again, it finishes like an old dusty cocoa-powder vanilla > coconut vanilla grain whisky and yet the fruity sugar cane sweetness on arrival continues giving.
- C: After the wacky clairin, uber-competent can seem a touch muted/subdued. That said, this is [of course] excellent cask-steered rum with an all-in-one cocktail vibe – just the way I like my rums.
Scores 86 points
Going to rum from whisky is normally a no-no, but I find things more forgiving in the other direction. Let’s return to malt for a final pairing, courtesy of the Foz.
BB&R Speyside Blended Malt  Ob. The Classic Range 44.2% WB81.21
- N: Youthful blend displaying oily and prominent malt/grain. A touch lemon-y, this is a classic/archetypal Speysider in my book – blended malt or otherwise.
- T: Far more malty on the palate, ‘natural’, Blair Athol-like, delicious, faultless,…
- F: Sustains beautifully, but at just two on the dial.
- C: Somewhat innocuous on the one hand, yet the epitome of faultless on the other. Today, I find in its favour.
Scores 82 points [going on 90]
- N: This belongs in the same ball-park – character-wise – as the previous BB&Rs Speyside blend [no doubt why the Foz paired them in the first place]. The boost in abv brings a richness from a beautiful aged grain which appears more prominent than when I tried this at the Whisky Fringe back in 2018 [WLP85].
- T: Malty arrival quickly switching to the rich abv-supported grain thereafter. Could it be North British? – I check – yes!!
- F: Stretches out. Cracking grain still seemingly leading the way.
- C: Lovely old grain. I guess the malt can’t be bad either. This is a very decent blend, but at a price.
Scores 84 points