A couple of weeks ago I heard from a lovely lady called Hannah from Plain Speaking Agency, she contacted me on behalf of Norfolk Gin, asking if I would like to sample their gin. They have just launched their new 10cl mini decanter, which in my opinion is a great size to buy if you’re trying a gin for the first time. Big enough to have a wee taste, make a scrummy gin and tonic, then try it out in a cocktail, all before deciding if you like it enough to buy a big bottle. I had seen the very distinctive Norfolk Gin bottle pop up on my social media accounts, but I had never tried it before, so I pretty much bit Hannah’s hand off for the opportunity.
My little bottle quickly turned up and if I were judging it on bottle alone, this gin would be scoring very highly in my eyes. A very distinctive and beautifully shaped, hand crafted bottle from Wade Ceramics. I appreciate “hand crafted” is a particularly sticky subject right now, but in this instance I mean an actual human has clean the mould lines, sponge the collar and apply decoration by hand and each bottle is then marked with the decorator’s number, just in case you want to know who the human was, anyhoo…
Hannah kindly put me in touch with Jonathan Redding, Chief Gin Maker at Norfolk Gin, so that he could answer all my annoying questions, (of which I had many!) When speaking with me, Jonathan came across as friendly, engaging and passionate about his craft. After leaving the army in 2001, where he held the rank of Major, he worked in government and for local charities. One thing led to another and he found himself at another crossroads in life, apparently some companies can be a little ageist once one hits 50. Not to let things get him down, he set about finishing all those little projects around the house and as a keen thespian, spent some time treading the boards. The whole time this was going on, the gin craze was gathering momentum and beginning to boom in the background. Jonathan noticed an increasing number of husband and wife teams who were seemed to be creating gin in their kitchens. Then one day in 2014 Jonathan had something of an epiphany…
“Got a kitchen. Got a wife. Why not!”
He reached out to several of these husband and wife gin teams for a little bit of guidance and was met with nothing but warmth, encouragement and some sound advice.
“Be mindful of vanity marketing, remember, it’s got to taste great.”
Filled with positivity, Jonathan embarked on his own gin journey. He did his research and quickly found that stills are not only beautiful, but also expensive, so opted to create a “bathtub” gin which is also known as “compounded gin.” What this means is that the gin is produced with absolutely no distillation of botanicals and therefore no still. Instead, Jonathan infuses a neutral base spirit with fresh and dried botanicals by immersing them in the spirit. (I tried to explain it to my Dad who paused thoughtfully before triumphantly replying, “Oh, like when I make flavoured vodka at home?” Yes Pops, not dissimilar at all!) Jonathan and his wife Alison spent a copious amount of time in their kitchen, experimenting with different flavour combinations, leaving the botanicals immersed for varying amounts of time and hosting many a tasting session for family and friends before they settled on their final recipe. Norfolk Gin uses seven botanicals, two of which Jonathan grows himself in the garden. These include Croatian Juniper (the King,) Green Cardamom (The Queen,) fresh lime and a combination of herbs which are top secret…(although I’m willing to hazard a guess after having a wee tipple.) Finally, 18 months later in June 2015 (and after Jonathan had finished a short stint playing Anthony in a stage production of Cleopatra,) Norfolk Gin went on sale at a wine merchants in Norwich. The first batch of 15 bottles was sold out between the Wednesday and the Saturday and was in such demand that a waiting list was opened for more orders. It wasn’t long before the kitchen was too small and production moved to a studio space which was constructed in the garden. Norfolk Gin describe their product as hand crafted, for them this means they measure, pour, fill, seal and label the bottles by hand too.
Each batch of Norfolk Gin can take up to a week to produce and yields 24 bottles. That’s 24 70cl bottles, not the new mini 10cl ones, obviously. The larger bottles are also created by Wade Ceramics and pay homage to the old Genever bottles. For those of you who don’t know, Genever is the Dutch spirit from which Gin is said to have evolved. For the logo design, Jonathan put out a plea on People per Hour, a website designed to pair up freelancers with appropriate clients and vice versa. The brief was simple, it needed to be hand drawn, gender neutral, reflective of real botanicals and able to be read or at least identified from 10ft away…from the pub door to the spirit shelf behind the bar. It was Kerry of Polskadotty who best met the brief and so a logo was born.
I think my favourite part of the Norfolk Gin story is the musical side. On the Team section of the website, Jonathan is described as “Director, Gin Maker, trail blazer and music man.” The About section of the website says “The other added ingredient is music.” Well here was a question just begging to be asked! As Jonathan and Alison use the compounded process to create their gin, Jonathan says that music is a great way of mixing the gin. Lost yet? Let me explain. It comes down to simple chemistry. Sound waves rattling around the room will travel through the liquid, therefore agitating and effectively mixing it. I’m really loving these fantastic science links and this reminded me of the Silent Pool Sensory Cocktail Experience I attended at Cambridge Audio with Professor Barry Smith. “So…” I asked Jonathan, “…what music gets the best results?” Anything really, a bit of folk, a touch of reggae, an extensive playlist of music compiled of hits from when he was a teenager, apparently anything goes. Jonathan fondly reminisced about a comment which someone has left in the Norfolk Gin guest book which says:
“I can almost taste the Nina Simone.”
But would I almost taste the Nina Simone? Only one way to find out. The best part, tasting time.
Despite the bottle being small, the aroma when opening it was big and full of citrus, which I mistakenly took for lemon rather than the lime which is actually used as a botanical. The gin is an interesting colour, which has a slight greenish yellow tinge to it, but still remaining beautifully clear. To taste, I found the gin savoury and herbaceous with a soft sweetness to it. I felt there was a hint of lemon thyme (I was totally fixated on the lemon…which wasn’t actually there, but hey ho!) possibly sage and Hubby is adamant he could taste rosemary. After a day away from it and tasting it neat for a second time, I did agree that the citrus was far softer than the sharpness of lemon and had far more of a lime taste…not a clue where the massive lemon hit had come from. Perhaps I hadn’t cleansed my palate properly before trying it the first time. All in all I really enjoyed it neat and would have no qualms sipping this served neat, over ice, in the garden, on a beautiful summers day, whilst listening to Nina Simone of course. It really does have a rather clean and refreshing quality about it…I fear this could be dangerous for me when it gets to the summer time. Better finish it off quick in a G&T and a cocktail.
As a G&T I went for my standard serve 50ml gin, paired with a 150ml can of Fever Tree naturally light tonic water. I garnished it with some thyme it is mentioned in the cocktails section on the Norfolk Gin website, so figured it would work well, plus I swear there’s a little bit of thyme used as one of the botanicals. For me, the citrus came through a little too strong when served as a double, I enjoyed it much more served as a single, 25ml measure. This way the citrus wasn’t too dominant and I was able to appreciate the other flavours the gin had to offer.
My cocktail of choice was the Norfolk Gin – Valentine’s Day cocktail, the recipe for which I’ll be posting tomorrow so you’ve got time to enjoy it on your cuddly valentines evening. The sweetness of the syrup in this cocktail won’t be for everyone, but I have something of a sweet tooth and I love gin and prosecco so it was right up my street. I felt the soft citrus of the lime worked really well complimenting the sweetness of the hibiscus syrup.
Once I’d tried Norfolk Gin my ways, I asked Jonathan what his preferred serve was, just out of personal curiosity. He came back with a few ideas which are very mood dependent:
- Contemplative – neat gin, two ice little piece of thyme – sitting by the fire
- Decadent – Norfolk White lady – 2NG 1 lemon juice 1 cointreau – hot afternoon in the garden.
- Film noir – a Gimlet
- Just feeling good – NG, neutral tonic, sprig of thyme and strip of orange peel
Well, I think I pretty much nailed my G&T!
So what’s next for Norfolk Gin, will they to be disappearing down the rabbit hole that is PINK? When I asked Jonathan he said they were going to be taking the Worcestershire Sauce Route…basically, don’t mess with it. Jonathan and Alison’s ambition is not to expand their range, but rather to expand their reach. They hope that 2019 will see greater distribution of Norfolk Gin, with it appearing in more retail outlets, bars and pubs. I personally hope to see this too as I’m going to need to stock up again before summer sunshine hits and I’m salivating for a neat nip of it.
Once last thing to say is a huge thank you to Hannah for contacting me and to Jonathan for taking the time to both email and speak to me, I very much look forward to seeing what the future has in store for Norfolk Gin.
10cl bottle of Norfolk Gin was gifted.