The Golden Ankh Martini-A Liquid Monument to The Immortal Empire

Highclere Castle Gin’s Release of a Barrel Aged Expression as Celebrated through Gin’s Iconic Cocktail.

3,300 years have gone by since King Tut’s Reign over the New Kingdom. 100 years have passed since the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb by Howard Carter and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.

Minds much greater than mine (namely Drs John and Colleen Darnell) have brought this grand history to the 21st century through translations, prose, research, and stories. My attempt is to do this rich legacy justice and highlight the release of what I believe is the finest barrel aged expression of gin.

On the Liquid

My philosophy behind spirits and cocktails is to add what’s necessary and leave the rest behind. I always look at barrel aged spirits with a critical eye. Oak is a zero-sum game-whatever it lends to the spirit, something else is taken away. Care must be taken to preserve the soul of the original distillate and not just produce a bottle of Werther’s Original.

With this special bottling, the alchemy is quite high. Citrus is one of gin’s main calling cards. The natural London Dry citrus is accompanied by a hint of brûlée orange from the bourbon barrels. The lavender of the original gets swept away by hints of plum and vanilla imparted by the Armagnac Barrels (if you have never had Armagnac, I highly suggest it. It’s Cognac’s lesser known but equally enthralling relative). The most daring (and successful) note is the slightest aroma of smoke imparted by single malt scotch wood.

After getting over my flummox at our fearless leader for making me contemplate this liquid for hours and miss a dinner party (Adam von Gootkin consistently makes me think, whether I want to or not and I’m grateful for it. My schedule might feel otherwise.) I was inspired to craft a martini which achieved something as magical as the barrel aged gin-a monument to the virtues of the original and something new, unique and pleasantly complex.

The Original Martini

To review, the classic Martini gives us the following:
4-8 parts London Dry Gin, providing juniper, and botanical notes
1-part Dry Vermouth, providing steely white wine notes with subtle herbaceous finish
Orange bitters to give structure and cohesion
Oils of an expressed lemon peel to drive the aromatics and brighten up the nose

The Debut of the Golden Ankh Martini

2.25 ounces Barrel Aged Highclere Castle Gin-Notes of vanilla, burnt orange, and smoky cherry with a classic juniper backbone
0.5 ounce Italicus Rosolio
.5 oz Amaro Nonino
Bar Spoon Orange Oleo Saccharum

Italicus Rosolio

Italicus is the stand-in for vermouth, and factually has existed centuries longer. Rosolio is the original Apertivo beverage and fittingly was known as the Drink of Kings. Rosolio means “morning dew”- farmers would harvest the ingredients at dawn where the flavors were most concentrated. Bergamot is perhaps the finest and most pungent citrus in existence, and it provides the base for this complex miracle of liqueurs. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, but a tradition technique of essential oil extraction is blended with neutral spirit and infused with lavender, gentian, yellow roses and Melissa balm.

Martini, Highclere castle gin, barrel aged gin, italicus
Gin’s Iconic Cocktail using Highclere Castle's Gin

Amaro Nonino

Amaro, translating to “bitter” is just that-a potable concoction of herbs that render a bittersweet Italian liqueur. While some are midnight black and aggressive, Nonino (makers of the finest grappa available) is a lesson in a lower key. Bitter notes are there and provide structure to our martini and are followed by allspice, black pepper and honey. It’s less sweet than the average amaro, making it perfect for our martini.

Gin’s Iconic Cocktail using Highclere Castle's Gin

Orange Oleo Saccharum

As discussed in previous posts, the magical oils from citrus rinds are right at our fingertips.
Orange rinds were muddled into sugar and the essential oil strained off. This adds the proper touch of sweetness and absolutely makes the other notes crescendo into a symphonic explosion.

Technique

This being a special cocktail, a bit of extra special panache was added.
Frozen lemon wheels are used to chill our glass while we mix.

All ingredients are added to a mixing glass and stirred for a minimum of 20 seconds.
The resulting mixture is strained into a long-stemmed cordial glass that evoked the magic of the Egyptian Empire, to my eye at least.
Garnish is a scored lemon peel upon the side of the glass.

The name of the cocktail has been chosen because the Ankh symbol is an expression of eternal life. The journey of humanity is marked by a never-ending sojourn towards the perfect spirit, the perfect cocktail, the perfect party. I do hope you treat yourself to a bottle of this very special spirit and make your mark on the immortal journey of good living.

The Perfect Christmas Cocktail

It’s become a tradition in my little family to begin reading a small section of Christmas at Highclere, Lady Carnarvon’s beautifully written volume on how the holidays are spent at the world’s finest country home. 

Creating cocktails is a blend of inspiration mixed with a foundational understanding of but a few simple ingredients. With each menu I create, I find that the imagination becomes what really turns out something beautiful, especially at Christmas time.

The following are beverages from my very own journal that I’ve named Highclere at Christmas. I take the holiday cocktails quite seriously, and I also have reconciled with the fact that after a night of entertaining, storytelling, and cocktail quality control, if you please, I am unable to remember the ingredients and their particular amounts. The result is two years of drinks filled with holiday cheer and quite robustly fortified with my royal liquid retainer, Highclere Castle Gin.

Lord and Lady Carnarvon enjoy their cocktails at The Highclere Castle at Christmas time.
Cranberry Carols salad using Highclere Gin, Christmas at Highclere Castle

Cranberry Carols salad 

1 ½ ounce Highclere Castle Gin
¾ ounce Wild Moon Cranberry Liqueur
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup

Shaken and poured into stemless wine glass
Top with 2 ounces sparkling wine

Holiday Hip Flask

This was created in honor of Lady Carnarvon’s Sloe Gin Recipe but can be made into an alcohol-free version for those who choose not to imbibe. This will be much richer than the flavor of a sloe gin, due to the cooking of the berries in a caramelized syrup

1 ½ ounces HCG
¾ ounce “Rosie’s Slosie” Syrup
2 ounces Grapefruit juice
Top Soda

Shaken and strained into a Collins glass
Garnish with a dried grapefruit and Rosemary Sprig

Rosie’s Slosie Syrup
250 Grams Sugar
259 Grams Water
Handful of Sloe berries
2 Rosemary Sprigs

Add all ingredients to small saucepan and allow to simmer below boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low for up to an hour (This is to taste) strain into holiday swing top bottles

Snow Covered Steinway Martini

This was inspired by a picture of The Earl (he told me to call him Geordie, which I think is rather cool) and Lady Carnarvon enjoying majestic looking martinis in The Drawing Room. These are reserved for those guests who will board for the evening as it’s quite strong.

2 oz Highclere Castle Gin
¾ oz Italicus Bergamot Liqueur
2 dashes orange Bitters
Thyme Sprig

Stir all ingredients until well chilled
Strain into large martini glass
Garnish with thyme sprig and lemon twist

Shooting Tea

At the end of Boxing Day’s shooting lunch, port wine is enjoyed with cheese and quince. This is certain to warm a weary gun for the afternoon’s final shooting drive. It’s a gin’s sendup of the Toddy with the port giving a foundation upon which high the gin and honey play. Nothing is better after rigorous activity in the cold than a cuppa, and true to American bombast, a double brew provides a lift to the senses and adds a pleasant note of tannic bitterness.

1 ounce Highclere Castle Gin
2 ounces Tawny Port
Scant spoon Honey Syrup (Lady Carnarvon calls it Runny Honey. I love it!)
5 ounces double brewed Black tea, piping hot.

Add all ingredients to handled teacup. Garnish with a blackberry and lemon slice.

I present these cocktails to remind us that during this season, we are blessed with these special flavors and tastes that transport the soul by way of the palate. Each page solidifies the grace and welcoming spirit of Lady Carnarvon and the castle at Christmas.

Though we may not be spending Christmas at Highclere, we are most fortunate to experience Highclere at Christmas, wherever we may be.

Highclere Castle & Highclere Castle Spirits Sustainability Efforts

Our mission is to leave Highclere Castle for the next generation in a more sustainable condition. We aim to conserve our heritage buildings, ancient landscapes and woodlands so that so they can be enjoyed by future generations. 

In agriculture, we aim to preserve our soils and permanent pastures so they can continue to grow quality crops and support our sheep but at the same time allow space for the natural world to thrive in and around them. We are not organic but conservation farmers where we optimize output in relation to the capacity of soil types to grow crops. We use minimum till cultivation so as to preserve soil structure and save on the fuel and machinery costs of deep ploughing. We have significant areas of hedges, uncultivated grass verges, wildflower strips and meadows, low input grassland and areas devoted to helping more rare birds such as Stone Curlews and Lapwings. There is 1,000 acres of permanent grass pastureland which is never cultivated so it continues to be a store of carbon in its soil structure.

Forestry is managed so as to preserve ancient woodland with its important ecological habitats, and we are aiming to plant new areas of woodland where arable farming is no longer efficient on steeper gradients. We have a 50KvA solar panel area which helps power our oat processing plant where we make quality oats palatable for performance horses.

In the Castle and surrounding buildings all light bulbs are LED type so saving much power in comparison to older lightbulb types. We also aim to build a thriving community who enjoy living and working at Highclere Castle and create sustainable, interesting and long-term support of the Highclere Estate.

Highclere Castle Gin is produced with partner vendors who have equal commitment to sustainability. The glass bottle is produced by Stoelzle Glass Group in the UK and invests substantially in technology and facilities to reduce their carbon footprint. In 2018, they were awarded a silver medal by Echovadis in recognition of their corporate sociability rating. Through their reuse of cullet (used glass) approximately 164,000 tons of raw materials are saved, and 42,000 ton of CO2 emissions are saved.

Highclere Castle Gin is distilled at Langley Distillery in the UK. Langley operates an environmental management system which complies with the requirements of ISO 14001:2015 through BSI, one of the world’s largest certification bodies.

Highclere meets Winston Churchill

My heart gladdens at the sight of the frosted purple glass bottle of Highclere Castle Gin, and I’m certain my personal cocktail hero, Sir Winston Churchill, would have had exactly the same reaction. While researching my newly released hardcover gift book, Churchill: A Drinking Life, Champagne, Cognac, and Cocktails, my co-author Roxanne Langer and I set out to learn what we could discover about what Churchill liked to drink and where, and with whom he enjoyed raising a glass. Very quickly we learned that Churchill was a frequent guest at Highclere Castle, coming to hunt with the grandfather of the current Lord Carnarvon and ending a long hunt relaxing with a cocktail in his favorite chair at Highclere. Riding his mount through the familiar landscape he would have breathed in some of the same aromatic essences that are used when distilling the gin and he would have nodded in approval over the inclusion of the oats, as he himself was a dedicated racehorse owner later in life.

There is no disputing that Winston Churchill was fond of an adult beverage or two throughout the course of his working day but it is important to note that these were merely “throat moisteners,” very weak drinks that did not interfere with his remarkable leadership ability or his oratory talents. As he once famously noted,” I’ve taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”

Everywhere we looked — whether combing through the diaries and memoirs of the many people who worked closely with him during the war, or hunting up vintage magazine and newspaper articles — the cocktails were pretty much on every page. Roxanne is a sommelier, and was able to reach out to industry sources like the longtime London wine and spirits merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd and uncover fresh Churchill anecdotes. Seems that in all these years no one else had ever asked …

When the world was closed to most travel during the pandemic the ability to travel vicariously from California to England by watching Downton Abbey episodes over and over, reveling in the gorgeous interiors and lush grounds of Highclere Castle was truly a godsend. Can you imagine sitting down to research and write an entire book about the world famous British Prime Minister from my desk in California? A well-deserved gin martini greeted me at the end of each writing day, helping me to further get into the Churchillian mood.

It is interesting to note that in some ways Churchill’s own storied family history is tied directly to the story of gin. His famed ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, began his climb into the aristocracy due to his closeness to William III, known as the Gin King. A Dutch prince who became the King of England in 1689, one of his first official acts was to liberalize the rules surrounding the distillation of gin.

Ready for a cocktail yourself, are you? Here is a quick recipe snippet from the pages of Churchill: A Drinking Life and don’t forget to get your bottle of Highclere Castle Gin

The Gin & Tonic

What could be more traditionally British than a gin and tonic? The origins of that quintessential drink go back to the days when one was advised to swill quinine in order to ward off malaria in places like India and Malaya. Quinine was soon added to tonic, and gin was soon added to the tonic, and there you go. All strictly for medicinal purposes, of course. As Churchill himself once said, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”

  • 1 ½ oz Highclere Castle Gin
  • Artisanal tonic water
  • Lime wedge

Fill a glass with ice, then add the gin and top off with tonic water. Garnish with a lime wedge. What could be simpler? And all, of course, in the interest of keeping malaria at bay…

It truly was a pleasure to research and write this book. It was like having a cocktail with a side of history. Pair our book with that tall frosted blue bottle of Highclere Castle Gin and you’ve got the perfect gift for history buffs, cocktail fans, or maybe… just a treat for yourself. As Churchill once said to a young government minister who seemed reluctant to refill his glass, “Go ahead, have another, I won’t tell.”

Designing the Highclere Castle Barrel Aged Gin – A Spirit Worthy of King Tutankhamen

One story around Highclere Castle that has fascinated my inner romantic was that Lord Carnarvon’s Great Grandfather (the 5th Earl) discovered King Tut’s tomb with archeologist Howard Carter. I do simply adore people that don’t do normal people things.

Then I learned, this year, in the year of our lord 2022, we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of this discovery. Of course, I felt compelled to create something that would be worthy of this archeological masterpiece while also feeling a bit of a pressure to do it a proper justice. The challenge was thus: Create a Highclere Castle Gin based spirit that is worthy of the boy king and would not have him turning in his sarcophagus.

So, two years ago, we embarked on our own little adventure. Since Highclere Castle Gin is so deliciously citrus forward, with its floral hints and rounded out Oat based velvet finish, I did feel it had the base makings of what could evolve into a rather lovely, aged spirit. I pondered and attempted to project out the future flavor profile from the “Whiskification” of our gin. If that isn’t a word yet it damn well should be!

I called my friend, Raj Bhakta, the founder of Whistle Pig and now founder of his glorious collection of Bhakta Armagnacs. I was able to secure some 50 year + old Armagnac casks from his chateau in France. Je n’en reviens pas!

Next, I wanted that salty complex smokey bottom note that only the beautiful Scots can provide – and so we secured spent Scotch whiskey barrels.

To round it all out with a touch of sweetness and a waft of the typical American boldness, we sourced new American oak barrels that would traditionally host new bourbon.

The entire endeavor was a very expensive and real risk; barrel aged gin is not an art yet perfected. My rational was, if it didn’t work out, we would drink it ourselves .

Luckily, the gods were with us once again – or perhaps it was just Heset (the Egyptian God of food and drink.)

Over the last two years we tasted samplings from the various barrels to see where things were heading, then began blending them together in an attempt to see if it would indeed be ready to release and celebrate this all-important centennial year. Back in July, the near final samples came in, whereby we attempted a 33% blend of the 3-barrel types. Et voila, we had very naturally and organically nailed the mark.

I remember tasting the final blend the first time. My mind roams to toasted citrus brulee. Holding the torch gently along a fresh orange peel as the oil gently sizzles, releasing the beautiful aroma and caramelizing its natural sugars. The middle pallet has notes of sweet vanilla from the American oak, this baby is a sipper. And I taste a familiar slight bite on the finish – Scotland with its salty air, smoked peat and harsh weather reminding us that this spirit is not playing around, it’s real and here to be sipped seriously. The resulting color is champagne, a soft gold like the Mediterranean sky at dusk – the painters hour. It doesn’t scream history; it whispers it like an echo of Tut’s time.

I am proud we were able to represent some of the very best of Scotland, France and America in this special spirit. Three great nations known for their mastery of the brown spirit. Not only have we liquified the spirit of Highclere, but in this, also ancient Egypt and Highclere’s role in this great discovery.

It was so important to me that we not allow this to be a gimmick, some commercialization of the 5th Earl’s and Carter’s work. As with everything we do, authenticity is paramount.

Considering the lengths, we’ve gone through to develop this, it isn’t really reproducible again and in my life I don’t believe it should be. Our final yield, about 2,000 cases. We might be convinced to make it again, in 100 years. But I will warn you that the full recipe will be buried with me….and someone would have to find me….

Classic Cocktail Recipe – The Last Word

Our journey through the classic cocktail canon is an endeavor that gives more than it asks of us. While doing some background on this week’s cocktail, I began contemplating how blessed we are to have this medium to communicate and highlight culturally significant happenings. In a strange way, cocktails of the past seem to have acted as transmitters of culture and customs from one place to another. Ergo, cocktails were the original memes.

“The Last Word” is a send up of a gin sour style drink made with two legendary liqueurs that we will revisit often in our time together-Maraschino Liqueur and Chartreuse. Its origins are all examples of innovation. The Detroit Athletic Club came about in the Early Gilded age a luxurious Palazzo style amateur sports club…with a beautiful bar in it. So much for exercise. A Vaudeville superstar named Frank Fogarty (one of the world’s first standup comics), was so taken with the drink that he brought the recipe back to New York with him and began requesting it at hotel bars. The drink apparently “went viral” and was listed in the 1951 adult beverage classic Bottoms Up by Ted Saucier.

Sours fell out of favor in the 1960’s replaced by all manner of martinis as far as gin is concerned. After that, the 70’s and 80’s are bereft of classic cocktailing. The drink all but disappeared until Murray Stenson put it on a menu at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle. Mr. Stenson became one of the internet’s early self taught classic cocktail experts and mentors, and many of his disciples have ensured that “The Last Word” will be able to speak forever in the hearts and minds of thoughtful bartenders. It’s one of those classics that is reasonably easy to prepare and gives a novice cocktail aficionado a glimpse into the magic and nuance that a few balanced ingredients can produce:

Legendary Liqueurs
Chartreuse Verte (Green)

How impactful a spirit must be to have its name used as a color. This herbal liqueur is based on a mix of 130 different botanicals. A French Noble bequeathed a secret recipe for “long life elixir” to Carthusian monks in the 17th century. It is one example of alcoholic beverages produced by monasteries to help fund them and keep them thriving. The flavor is intensely herbal and vegetal with hints of anise, lime leaf . Throughout its history, it has been consumed primarily as a digestif, but Mr. Stenson’s rediscovery of this cocktail has rendered it a most necessary ingredient in the brave new world of thoughtful cocktailing. There are about five different iterations of Chartreuse available for purchase, but the classic Verte is the best place to start. There is a connection between monasteries and production of some amazing alcoholic beverages, and this might be my favorite.

Maraschino Liqueur

Another wonderfully curious spirit, this interesting liqueur throws the first time drinker for a loop as its crystal clear and doesnt taste much of cherries. Think of this as next level liquor-it’s distilled from cherries (but not infused with them) and aged in ash-wood vats so the flavor is not from a fruity additive. It displays as nutty with some hints of cacao and dried fruits. The nose is slightly minerally and the finish is less sweet than one would imagine. It made its way from Italian upper crust to British nobility as the favorite digestif of the Prince Regent in the 19th century. Luxardo currently makes the most ubiquitous version and most cocktail recipes refer to this brand. Although quite esoteric and niche, this is another indispensable bottle.

Tools and Technique

You will need: Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Tea Strainer, Coupe Glass
In the small end of your Boston Shaker, add the following
.75 ounces lime juice
.75 ounces Maraschino liqueur
.75 ounces Chartreuse Verte
.75 Ounces Highclere Castle Gin

Add good ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into chilled cocktail glass. The original cocktail had no garnish, but many variations include a discarded lime twist and a maraschino cherry.

The Last Word on The Last Word

Drink virality is something that didn’t need social media. The history of The Last Word says a lot about the power of pleasure to revive long forgotten tipples. All it takes is a drink to be enjoyed once, and it just might live forever on the lips of every grateful drinker that’s lucky enough to try it. The Last word an example of how units of culture are transferred and made a part of history.

Photo credit: @cocktail.vision

The Story Behind the “Gold Bottle” for the Highclere Castle Barrel Aged Gin

When Highclere Castle Gin contacted my husband, Professor John Coleman Darnell, and me to help design a bottle that would commemorate the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, we were excited to create a series of images that would celebrate the reign of Tutankhamun. It was particularly fulfilling to meet Lord Carnarvon and explain the symbolism to him, since his great-grandfather, the Fifth Earl, provided the financial backing for Howard Carter’s first decade of work in the Valley of the Kings.

After years of relatively unrewarding excavations in the desert canyon that had held the burials of the New Kingdom pharaohs between 1475 and 1070 BCE, Howard Carter pleaded with his patron to allow one final season of work. With the dedication of Carter’s team of Egyptian excavators, his and Lord Carnarvon’s dreams would come true in November 1922. As Carter would discover, Tutankhamun was buried with a wine cellar, including white and red vintages. A barrel-aged gin would have been surprising to the ancient inhabitants of the Nile Valley, but enjoying a fine alcoholic beverage had a two millennia old tradition by the time that King Tutankhamun came to the throne.

The mellow, rich gold of the Highclere Castle Barrel Aged Gin bottle perfectly captures the abundance of this precious metal that was found in the tomb. Tutankhamun’s treasure will soon take pride of place in the Grand Egyptian Museum, a celebration of Egypt’s cultural heritage and an exciting new destination for future visitors. One of Tutankhamun’s beautifully crafted pieces of jewelry that will be on display is a pectoral in the shape of a winged scarab. But this is not simply the solar beetle in flight: between the rear legs are three strokes, and below those is a basket. The scarab pushes between its front legs a sun disk. A stylized version of this pectoral adorns the front of the gold bottle. The winged scarab and the other signs write the coronation name of Tutankhamun: Neb-kheperu-re. The basket is neb, “lord,” the scarab with three strokes (making the noun plural), kheperu, means “transformations,” while the sun disk writes the name of the sun god. When Tutankhamun became king he was named: “The Lord of Transformations is Re.” 

The image of Tutankhamun’s name on the front of the bottle is complemented by equally beautiful images on the sides. Above and below the depictions of Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun, are hieroglyphs that write: “The estate of the high, bright place,” how an ancient Egyptian might have expressed the name Highclere Castle. Rather than just spelling out Highclere in hieroglyphs, we have translated the meaning of the word to make the decoration on the bottle truly authentic.

The scenes of Tutankhamun and his wife on either side are drawings inspired by a small golden shrine that celebrated the king’s intimate relationship with Ankhesenamun. On one side, she pours him wine in an elaborate goblet, while on the other, he dispenses wine into her hand. Each of these scenes has religious significance relating the king and queen to the gods.

Through the decoration of this bottle, we elevate a celebratory design to one steeped in the type of imagery that Tutankhamun himself might have chosen. Enjoy the rich barrel-aged gin inside and marvel at the sophistication and beauty of ancient Egypt and the people who lived three thousand three hundred years ago.

A Gin for all Seasons

In our ever-shrinking global society, drinking is still strangely a tribal and regionally influenced activity. One area’s highball is another area’s wash drink. The names, customs and thoughts about alcohol trend differently depending on where you are. There are, however, two things that I have heard whilst serving gin across the entire United states. The first one is: ugh, I had a bad experience with gin when I was in college, and I have never tried it again.” The second is “wow, I thought I wasn’t a gin fan, but THIS is delicious!” There seems to be this resounding epiphany that a spirit blended into a balanced cocktail with pleasing flavors is preferable to sneaking a bottle out of our parent’s liquor cabinet and swigging until dizzy.

I have become a gin foot soldier, and my eternal battle cry is that “you like gin, whether you know it or not!

Full disclosure: if you have found this blog, chances are probably higher that you already enjoy this most royal and noble spirit. I would also venture to say that you do a bit of entertaining now and then. When it comes to group gatherings, we often shy away from spirits like gin and default to vodka, which we believe will be the most crowd pleasing and “safe”. I assert to you that you can, in your very own abode, become a gin evangelist and turn your guests into botanical believers.

Gin is often misunderstood at its core, so for a quick review, head over to our “what is gin?” blog. In a sentence, it is simply neutral grain spirit infused meticulously with botanicals.  Many snarky bartenders (myself included) have said that “my favorite flavor of vodka is gin!” If you enjoy a vodka (especially a citrus vodka), chances are overwhelmingly high that you will be entranced with your first craft-based gin cocktail experience. The London Dry style is especially friendly to vodka drinkers as it contains no added sugar, and the botanicals all conspire into a symphony of flavor that finishes dry and clean. A gin and tonic is absolutely wonderful, but i do suggest that the vodka/soda drinker experiment with a Gin and Club. The flavor lift given by gin’s botanicals really does something to the palate before a meal and during first courses. It’s a great alternative to champagne, and a French 75 Cocktail (gin, lemon juice and simple syrup) will turn heads at your next brunch soiree.

As a mixologist, I find that gin is the spirit that enables the cocktailer to really grasp the alchemy that goes into drink making. I don’t know the exact science, but I do know that gin + acidity + sweetness = something magical. While other spirits mix well with ingredients, gin makes a fifth dimension of flavor appear. It really changes the taste of the other components in a way that I have not seen when mixing rum or whiskey. A White Lady (gin, lemon juice and orange liqueur such as Cointreau; invented in London, no less) will enrapture the margarita fan. In fact, I find that the blanco tequila lover will be a great candidate for gin beverages, as they’re both spirits with boldness that finish cleanly.

This final claim will be the boldest and most contested, but I do stand by it. With Highclere Castle Gin in particular, there is much potential for sipping and enjoying simply on the rocks. I attest that a whiskey lover will find a lot of value in our gin specifically. After HCG is distilled, it is infused with heirloom oats. When I first learned this, skepticism overtook my entire soul. Why on earth would anyone blend gin with oats? Then I had my first taste on the rocks and felt that silky, supple liquid cross my palate. I instantly became a true believer. The oat blending increases the viscosity and body of the liquid, and the dilution with ice gives birth to millions of fusel oils that run wild and free through your glass- you can see them do their work when a drop of water is added to 2 ounces of gin. The old fashioned and Manhattan lover must try the Hanky Panky, (another cocktail invented in London and done so by a female mixologist in the early 20th century) 1.5 ounces each of Highclere Castle Gin and Sweet Vermouth, along with a few drops of bitter Fernet Branca Liqueur will produce a robust cocktail with deep and dark notes

I leave you with the thought that gin is truly a spirit for all seasons and every palette. There are myriad styles and expressions, but the classic London Dry category is the best place to start. Whether you or your guests love a vodka soda, crave a margarita, or sip an old fashioned, there is a gin cocktail that will not only fit the bill, but up the ante.

How To pick a great gin from the rest?

In recent years, we hear of more and more markets becoming flooded. From gyms to banks, to dating apps to crypto currencies. But all these floods become mere puddles when compared to the veritable ocean of gin brands that are sloshing around liquor stores and supermarkets all over the world. Consumers are finding themselves overwhelmed and swept away in a tsunami of juniper-based spirits, floundering helplessly and drowning in endless, wallowing choice.

So how does one distinguish a stand-out product from the clinking army of gin bottles, all jostling for our attention with bright colours and enticing designs? The answer is of course reasonably subjective, but in my humble opinion as a ‘moderately successful’ gin vlogger, the answer lies with a combination of simplicity, refinement and exquisite attention to detail. 

I am the presenter of one of the world’s most watch gin YouTube channels, No Nonsense Gin Drinking. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have tasted hundreds of gins from all over the world. With flavors ranging from citrus, chocolate, chili, mushroom, oysters, brussels sprouts, ants and even elephant poo, it’s fair to say I’ve tasted many more than my fair share.

So, when it comes to selecting my top 10 at the end of every year I face an arduous task and some incredibly difficult choices, particularly when picking the number one spot. So, I find myself going back to basics and cutting to the core of what gin really is; a juniper-based spirit of at least 37.5% ABV.

For me, a truly brilliant gin must have a modest amount of botanicals, used delicately and intelligently without masking the core element of juniper. Sure, it’s fun to explore all the weird and wonderful offerings, but, to me, brilliance lies with simplicity and fine tuning.

This is why my number one spot last year went to Highclere Castle Gin. It is a truly elegant gin and I knew from the second that it passed my lips that it was going to be my number one. It boasts a humble selection of botanicals, sourced from the Highclere Castle estate, including lime flower, orange peel and a touch of lavender. These both compliment and work in glorious harmony with the juniper to create the epitome of what a truly brilliant gin should be.

One of the most important aspects of gin is the balancing of flavours. It requires many months of fastidious fine tuning in the distillery to get the flavours to align perfectly but when they do and they hit that harmony it’s a wonderful thing to experience and the team at Highclere have absolutely nailed it.

This feat alone is enough to set it apart from its rivals but they have also managed to achieve a beautiful silky smoothness that I have rarely, if ever, encountered in any other gins. All this combined is the reason that, still to this day, I have not tasted anything that comes close to rivaling it.

So, if you consider yourself a gin purest and you are looking for the definitive product that speaks to the essence of gin and stays true to what a gin really is, then allow me to summon my inner Moses and guide you through the parted waves and beyond, where you will find Highclere Castle Gin, waiting on the shores of the promised land.

Bobby Freeman
YouTube: No Nonsense Gin Drinking

The Corpse Reviver

One of the coolest things about drink history is that it seems very memetic. It can be extremely regional, with the same drink having different stories depending on who (and where) you ask. 

The Corpse Reviver is one of the first drink concepts to go viral, and its curious history can be traced back to Piccadilly Circus. It’s a drink that was considered American before it even reached America.

The History

Being an American invention, the cocktail and the cocktail bar have been reinvented all over the world. England was a leader in this movement and many establishments were born as the English vision of stateside drinking culture. These places were distinctly different from the traditional public houses. Ironically, the drink was unknown stateside until it’s publication in Harry Craddocks Savoy Cocktail Book in the 1930’s and didn’t gain popularity until the mid-Aughts when drink historian Ted Haigh included it in his book on lost and vintage cocktails. The Corpse Reviver was a concept before an actual single drink: it was applied to any hair of the dog” beverage and meant to liven the dull senses after a night of, well, drinking. Any cocktail that was thought to be American style or associated with the “morning after” possibly was known as a Corpse Reviver.

Fittingly, it’s most famous version (corpse reviver number 2) is made with the darling of all spirits and the center of our cocktail universe, London Dry Gin. Its ingredients are some that we have discussed previously, a couple that we know well, and one that has been as legendary and infamous as gin- absinthe.

The ingredients

Absinthe- This controversial liquid, my research finds, is fundamentally akin to our gin. Absinthe is neutral grain spirit that has been infused with a species of wormwood and aniseed. Other botanicals are included to round out the blend. There’s no sugar added to the preparation, so, it’s not a liqueur, but an aperitif spirit. As with so many of our most heralded spirits, its origins lie in being used as a medicinal tonic. Wormwood has been used for digestive health since the ancient Egyptians, and formulas prepared with aniseed can be traced to 17th century Europe. Its taste is pleasing, and the French Army made sure to keep it well stocked on missions, giving it a patriotic and warrior appeal.

First infused with brandy (made from grapes) the 19th century saw a move to spirits distilled from beet sugar, which greatly reduced the price and brought it within reach of the working class.

As price reduced, demand increased, and inferior absinthe was produced using copper arsenate to give its famous green tint. Just so we are clear, copper arsenate is poison. Poison makes folks sick. The wine industry and temperance zealots engaged in a decades long campaign against absinthe based on false science, and this led to its international ban in the early 20th century.

Myths about its hallucinogenic properties helped further demonize the liquid.

Cointreau is part of the divine orange liqueur trinity and is the world’s most famous and premium triple sec. The award-winning formula is the result of months long aging of sweet orange peels and a second infusion of dried bitter orange peels in water and beet sugar spirit. I suggest having it on hand as there are many alternatives but no true substitute.

Lillet is the tonic wine that we have used together in our ginspired activities, and its use in this particular cocktail is more confirmation of the great Anglo-Franco beverage-based connection.

The What behind the When

The drink is pretty easy to execute, and its ingredients all have significance to our gin drink canon. Equal parts Highclere Castle Gin, fresh lemon juice, Cointreau (famous in our White Lady cocktail as made by Luis, head butler at the Castle) and Lillet Blanc (the tonic aperitif wine used in the Vesper Martini. See last week’s post). As for the absinthe, it is the smallest component but plays an integral role in the flavors. This introduces us to the technique of the “wash”.

Corpse Reviver No. 2

Glassware-Martini Glass or Coupe Technique-
In the martini glass, pour about a half ounce of absinthe and add ice. Set to the side, the absinthe will become cloudy as the ice melts, serving as a nice little visual while the cocktail is being prepared

To a Boston shaker without ice, add the following:

Add ice and shake vigorously until the shaker is lightly frosted in the outside.

Absinthe Wash

The martini glass should be about ¾ full of our ice and absinthe mixture at this point. With a mixing spoon, stir the liquid slowly to coat the inside of the glass, and then discard.

  • Double strain the cocktail into glass.
  • Express the oils of a large orange swath over the drink.

Optional: The orange peel looks quite nice inside the drink or curled over the rim, though it may add a touch of bitterness.

His Lordship