A Gin for People that Don’t like Gin

In 2015, I had a vision.  I wanted desperately to do a project in England – a project with an authenticity and history so rich and deep it could never be replicated.  I believe strongly in the terrior of spirit brands, a word typically reserved only for wines.  This vision forming in my mind, like with our moonshine, had to be rooted in terrior.  It had to scream quality and fit our obsessive journey to produce the very best we could.  And so, I reached out to Lord & Lady Carnarvon, owners of the famous Highclere Castle.   And by chance, perhaps good luck – they reached out back.  I’ll never quite know why they were intrigued with my vision to create a Highclere Castle Spirit or trust a crazy 32-year-old American with such an important representation of the castle.  But somehow, it felt right and natural for all of us and that’s the most important thing if you are going to have a great relationship for years to come.

The original plan – Highclere Castle English Whisky.  I know whisky inside and out, from American to Scotland to Japan and I felt ready to stretch my legs on some English terrior and utilize the Barley grown at Highclere and shipped to Scotland for this very purpose.  I’m excited about the future of English Whisky and was eager to get started.   Lord Carnarvon and I traveled up and down Scotland pursuing crucial R&D work…. tasting every wee dram, we could – my wife at the wheel driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the tiny road that majestically wove its way through the greenest hills I’ve ever seen that go on and on forever as the rain poured down sideways.  If you haven’t been to Scotland, it is a dream – like walking through the afterlife.   We found our favorite whiskies and developed a mental flavor pallet for the recipe.

I returned from the trip with clarity and a plan that was soon disrupted.  One challenge we had was that on the site we wanted to build the distillery at Highclere, was recently discovered a medieval village slightly underground that was both protected and needing significant investment to protect – not conducive to my tasting room parking lot idea….

That, among the significant investment needed for whisky aging led us to wonder, what can we produce that is still entirely authentic to Highclere, might cost $10 million less, and actually be available for sale under 5 years.  The answer was obvious to Lord Carnarvon and I as we sat over breakfast in New England after a week of working…. Gin.

And thus arrived my big conundrum: I hate the stuff.  I’ve been serving Tanqueray and Tonic to my elderly aunts for eons.  Gin smacks of pine to me, sharp, often harsh – necessary to be mixed into sugary tonic or other things in order to be hidden as best as possible.  I fancy myself a purest – if I can sip a spirit neat and TRULY enjoy it, then it should glow in a cocktail.

I must find a way to fall in love with this product.  Afterall, it’s been served for over 100 years at cocktails to many of the world’s finest and most fascinating people.  Highclere is surrounded by the very botanical gardens ideal for making a gin.  And gin is well…. about as British as spirit as you can get.

And thus began our adventure and my biggest personal challenge in the spirits business. How do we craft a gin that I can truly, unabashedly say, is one of my favorite spirits on this planet? A gin for gin connoisseurs that will be discovered by all the people out there like me – who don’t like gin.

Traveling the world as we grow Highclere Castle Gin, I encounter people every day that say, “beautiful bottle but I haven’t had gin since a terrible experience in college.” Or “I can’t drink, it makes me sick.” It’s actually amazing how consistent these stories are, and definitely why gin only accounts for about 5% of spirits consumed in the US. It was a different era, where only a few gin brands existed, legacy brands that have been around for many decades. Gin was approached lackadaisically for a different pallet, a different consumer.

Our approach to Highclere was a citrus one. After all, the Victorian orangery behind the castle grows the oranges, lemons and limes that were destined to take center stage – adding a fresh, fruity, and mouthwatering introduction to our gin. We backed the Juniper (the pine element) way down, allowing it to serve as the crisp pop – like pepper, to the flavor. We are the first Gin in the world to use oats – grown at Highclere for thoroughbreds. These oats add a silky, bready finish to the spirit that reminds me of the chewable viscosity of my favorite whiskies and cognacs – that 10-second-long lingering magic that only the finest wine and spirits possess.

I’ll never forget the moment it all came together. After over a year of trial and error, we were on the 25th recipe iteration to get it right – my personal quest for a gin for people that don’t like gin. I was sitting at the Bellagio Hotel with Lord Carnarvon in his suite. We were there launching the Highclere Castle Cigar, an adventurous Indiana Jones tale for another blog post. Lord Carnarvon had traveled with one tiny sample bottle to open together. We sat at the window looking over the famous Bellagio fountain. As we popped the bottle, the aroma of Highclere’s gardens wafted around the room. And I swear as I write this, the fountains burst forth, spewing water a hundred feet in the air as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony exploded from the outdoor speaker system. Lord Carnarvon and I looked at each other and smiled.

We had done it.

The Queen’s Favorite Cocktail

The Queen’s Jubilee, a jubilee in heaven our entire Highclere world is in a mode of reflection, mourning and celebration: the longest serving monarch in British history has reached her sunset having lived a full and magnanimous life. I never got the honor of an audience with Her Majesty, but I feel us kindredly connected via cocktails. Its through cocktails that we are able to travel through time and space. We can build a castle right in our glass. Today, we present the story of the Queen’s favorite cocktail and a primer on some alternate versions that are lovely to make at home.

The Queen’s Afternoon Tipple

What was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite cocktail?
It has been widely reported and verified that the Queen enjoys a Dubonnet and gin for her pre-lunch quaffing; two parts Dubonnet, one part gin, a slice of lemon shaken and strained into a Nick and Nora or cordial glass, is the consensus signature cocktail of Her Majesty.

…but what on earth is Dubonnet?

Dubonnet is a slightly sweet, fortified wine (wine that has been strengthened with a spirit) that’s blended with fruits, herbs and spices. Like most apertifs, the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, but a few signature ingredients are black tea, dark berries and the all-important quinine. Its creation in 1846 was an effort by the French government to promote consumption of this anti- malarial ingredient (we’ve heard this story before with the gin and tonic) and the blend became popular for pleasure consumption among Cafe Society at the dawn of the 20th Century.

The cocktail was given the Highclere Castle treatment to honor the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration. The addition Champagne makes a lovely sparkling version that has become a favorite of guests at our gin tastings and events. Any fan of a spritz style cocktail is sure to fall in love!

The Peril of Popularity

Dubonnet’s Royal relationship goes back to the Queen Mother, and it’s improved formula was given Royal Warrant by Elizabeth II in 2021. This resulted in what I call a “run on the bottle shop” as fans of Her Majesty stockpiled their reserves of the now precious liquid. The American Producer has been unable to keep up and its availability is somewhat now limited. Do purchase a bottle if you find one!

For an alternate version, I experimented with Lillet Rose (another famous wine fortified with quinine and fruit liqueurs) as a substitute and it worked quite well!

The Queen’s Jubilee Cocktail Primer

The Original Recipe, as enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth
1 ounce Highclere Castle Gin 
2 ounces Dubbonet Rouge
2 lemon wheels
Shake briefly and strain into a cordial or Nick and Nora glass. Enjoy before lunch

The Queens Jubilee, a Highclere Castle Gin Notion
1.5 ounces Highclere Castle Gin
1.5 ounces dubonnet
3 ounces Sparkling wine-
Champagne is the grandest choice. A St Hillaire or Cava would also do nicely.
Pour ingredients (except sparkling wine) over ice. Stir until chilled.
Strain contents into a champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine Express the oils of a lemon peel over the surface

The Surrogate Jubilee- for use when Dubonnet is Elusive
1.5 ounces Highclere Castle Gin
1 ounce Lillet Rose
2 lemon slices
3 ounces Cava
Pour ingredients over ice. Give a bit of a rough stir, just enough to break up the lemon a bit.
Strain contents into a Burgundy wine glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel

Photo Credit: Resident Mixologist
Photo Credit: Resident Mixologist

The Perfect Negroni

The second week of September marks Negroni Week, a global initiative to raise money for charity by highlighting a beverage second only to the martini in the craft cocktail world-the bold and strong Negroni. As I celebrate this week, my mind wandered toward some thoughts about the cocktail itself, and ways to get more people to enjoy it.

The casual drinker or home bartender usually does well to start with shaken, sour-style cocktails-2 parts gin, one part lemon, and one-part sweet simple syrup. These drinks are shaken and diluted, rapidly infused with bright citrus that’s been mellowed with sugar syrup. The heat of the alcohol itself transforms into a supporting cast member. Bright lemon and silky sweetness are the stars of the show.

The other end of the cocktail spectrum is universally described as “spirit-forward”. These drinks are never shaken but stirred until chilled. Much less water is introduced into the cocktail (water is the most vital part of any drink, for the record) and the flavor and boldness of the spirits are right in front. It’s unfortunate that first experiences with spirit forward cocktails are often either out of context (when you expect a gin and lemonade and get something like gin and bitterness, nobody is pleased) or they’re made with poor ingredients (many bars still don’t properly store and handle vermouth, a wine-based ingredient with a shelf life of weeks.)
To add to the confusion and grimacing faces, scores of people who love a good gin sour or Tom Collins have never tried a spirit straight from the bottle. When they do, their first reaction is usually to recoil from the heat and wait for the slight pain to pass.
I urge you, step into the blaze because there’s a gift for you right behind it. Hiding just past that first wave of fire across the palate lies a paradise of aromatics, secondary flavors, and nuances that can be contemplated and reexamined infinitely, to great pleasure.

Notes on the Negroni

Many classic cocktails have had huge gaps in history, but the Negroni survived well and actually has some bona fide lore based in reality. The drink seems to be a volley between America and Italy- The Milano Torino (Campari and Vermouth in equal parts) has been enjoyed for centuries in northern Italy. America was the creator of the Vermouth Cocktail- vermouth, soda and bitters, known in Italy as the Americano. Count Camilo Negroni (what proper irony that the namesake was bestowed with nobility from the Italian crown) an Italian Cowboy instructed his bartender to fortify his Americano with gin. The combination somehow gained traction is Paris (a humorist joked that a section of France was made up of equal parts gin, Campari and vermouth).

3 Royal Steps to Appreciating Spirit Forward Cocktails
Materials Needed: 
Highclere Castle Gin
Sweet Vermouth-an Italian wine fortified w herbs and botanicals
Campari-a scarlet red, bitter Italian apertif spirit
Mixing Glass*
Spoon*
Julep Strainer or Hawthorne strainer*
Ice
Water

*I have made many negronis directly in a rocks glass, stirred only with a cocktail pick or chopstick. The results were wonderful. Proceed as you see fit

1: Begin with The Noble

The Noble is Highclere Castle Gin in its purest form, and I find it the best way to begin appreciating spirits in their natural state. Start by pouring about 2 ounces of our gin into your glass. Bring the glass to your chin, and take a whiff. Raise the glass to your lips, and take another. Finally, bring the glass to right beneath your nostrils for a final inhale. Sip just a bit of gin, enough to coat the palate, and inhale once again. By now, you will have picked out a few scents and aromatics. Next, add a few drops of water to the glass. Watch as the viscous oils form in beautiful little ripples. You’ve just introduced literally hundreds of chemical reactions to the liquid by the addition of water. Finally. Add 2-3 ice cubes to your glass, and take a larger sip of the liquid.

2: Taste the modifiers

Getting the palate used to flavors it doesn’t often encounter is truly the key to appreciating classic cocktails. Follow the noble procedure with the vermouth and the Campari. If you like one more than the other upon first taste, keep that in mind when making your cocktail.

3: Make A Negroni Cocktail

Add equal parts (3/4 of an ounce, traditionally) to your mixing glass. Add ice and stir until you feel a chill on your fingers. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange peel, squeezing it over the drink to release precious oils.

This drink is one of my favorites to have before a meal, as the bitter notes really prime the senses for the feast to come. The notes of vanilla in the sweet vermouth embrace the dancing bright botanicals of our gin. As the ice melts, the bitterness of the Campari mellows.

Bonus (optional, include if you like. I can flesh this out some more or dedicate an entire blog to my favorite places):

My Favorite Negroni Bar

Amor y Amargo is a craft cocktail bar in the East Village of New York City that takes its name from a phrase meaning “love and bitterness.” The bar is known for its creative, artisanal cocktails, and the Negroni is a staple on the menu.

Owner Sother Teague has a particular affinity for the component that bitterness adds to spirits, cocktails and the indispensable duo of rejuvenators, coffee and tea. (Oh, how much less would get done on both sides of the pond without our respective “cuppa”)

Gin Cocktails for the Fall

Abundance is all around us, and autumn gifts us with tangible proof of the beauty of life. In times past, the season was known simply as “the harvest”-a time to gather the stock and produce of the land. It comes as a surprise to many that farming is of the utmost importance at Highclere, as they’re renowned for premium oats that have been fed to champion horses and give our gin its signature velvety mouthfeel. Displayed by the Herbert family for generations, stewards of HC is a faithfulness to the land and a respect for the seasons that all of us could do well to emulate and has influenced me profoundly.

Simple Sweetness

The sweet component of a cocktail is second only to water from dilution in importance. It’s the primary “seasoning” agent in a beverage, akin to salt in cooking. Simple syrup is the ubiquitous choice, and is easily substituted with maple syrup. This instantly brings any beverage into fall territory.

Harvest Moon Sour

Our two step sour gets the fall treatment. One and a half ounces of our gin, an ounce of fresh pressed cider, half an ounce of maple syrup, half a lemon’s juice, shaken is a lovely balance of bright acidity and brooding sweetness. Finishing with a dash or two of Angostura bitters will create spiced magic.

September Sling

Simplicity is always our North Star, and this sling is the perfect “less is more” cocktail. One tablespoon of maple syrup, one and a half ounces of our gin, four ounces of soda water topped with grated nutmeg makes for lovely quaffing with charcuterie and fig jam, which is an evening rite of early autumn in my home.

Apples and Blackberries

The Apple buck highlights the chief produce of the season and it’s affinity with ginger. It’s the perfect September drink while the seasons dance with each other, summer beginning to excuse herself and autumn sashaying proudly in Two ounces of our gin, juice of one lime and four ounces of ginger beer topped with an ounce of fresh cider captures this month of transition perfectly, and will conjure green summer memories while stoking desire for the coming colors of red and gold.

Haystack Bramble

The bramble is a favorite of Lord Carnarvon’s and blackberries are in plentiful supply at Highclere. Shaking two blackberries with two ounces of our gin, juice of half a lemon and half an ounce of honey is going to yield fantastic results. Topping the beverage with a couple teaspoon’s worth of tawny port or oloroso sherry pays dividends.

“Clean” Dirties

The Martini can be the foundation around which autumn cocktails live. We are in a midst of a true martini age that rivals high art, and cleaning up the dirty martini is being endeavored by mixologists to great success.

The classic mix of gin and olive juice, while mouth watering and quite delicious, is something less than pleasing to the eye. The texture of the gin (one of Highclere’s most prized and unique signatures) is all but destroyed with the invariable olive bits that infiltrate.

-The Noble herb and olive sachet also brings an elegant piece of business and flavor affinity to our dirty endeavors

Simply plunge 3 olives in a tea sachet with a few needles of rosemary (dried for the strongest flavor) in hot water for a few seconds and then add this to the bottom of an ice cold martini glass. Let the sachet steep as you sip. For those craving more olive flavor, a spritz of atomized olive brine brings the flavor to the forefront and keeps our beverage in balance.

No matter the temperature, that feeling of summer slowly wanes, yet autumn has yet to fully set in.. Longing for either is a fool’s errand, and that reflection produced the aforementioned cocktails. It is quite alright to be a bit in between, in life and in beverage. Enjoy this end of summer/start of fall hybrid with gusto, as it will be gone before we know it.

How to make a Gin Sour

The Gin Sour is pure cocktail perfection. Only three ingredients and a little technique, you will be rewarded a well-balanced drink with perfect acidity, pleasantly light sweetness.

Gin Sour Recipe

2 parts Gin
1 part lemon Juice
1 part simple syrup

Lemons

Your perfect cocktail cannot be created without fresh lemon juice. Using our royal technique, peel the skin from the lemons before juicing, and hold them aside. Note: One lemon will yield you two cocktails. Each Lemon half is the rough equivalent to an ounce, the necessary amount for one beverage.

Sugar

Simple syrup is to cocktails as salt is to food. A cocktail without it is thin, insipid, and forgettable. Even if one favors sour cocktails, the simple syrup is needed to properly release the notes of tartness in a balanced drink.

I plead with you-NEVER buy simple syrup from the market! It contains preservatives that do nothing but add a weird aftertaste. All one needs is boiling water and sugar in equal amounts (using a scale renders better consistency than measuring by volume. The hot water will dissolve the sugar with a few quick stirs, and it will last about a month in the refrigerator.

Lemon sherbet

In our citrus covenant post, we made oleo saccharum (sugar oil) from our held lemon peels. That oleo can now be used to make a real conversation starter-English Sherbet.

Lemon sherbet used in place of the simple syrup brins the beverage from “good” to “world class”: 4 lemons; 1½ cups granulated sugar.

  • Prepare an oleo-saccharum with the lemon peels and sugar. Refer to our previous post “A Citrus Covenant”
  • In a small saucepan, combine the oleo-saccharum and lemon juice over medium heat, below boiling.
  • Slowly stir to dissolve the sugar.
  • When the syrup has thickened, remove from the heat.
  • Fine strain into bottles.
  • The sherbet will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • We have our ingredients, but at this point, they’re simply just 3 liquids. How do we get them to transform into one perfect cocktail?

Shakenly Yours

The industry standard tool for shaking cocktails is the Boston Shaker. Two tins, one large and one small, are used to homogenize, chill and most importantly dilute ingredients. Our mission is to use brute force to render liquids of different viscosities to a uniform body and weight and is at the heart of the bartender’s toolkit. I highly suggest using only tin on tin, as tin on glass has the propensity for accidents and injury (I’ve got quite the impressive scar to prove it.)

In a pinch, a blender bottle or snap ware container can get the job done, but investing in a proper Boston shaker is the sine qua non of home bartending.

A Hawthorne Strainer

Straining our cocktail separates it from the now wet and diluted (or spent) ice. This small metal tool with a coil spring fits nicely atop either side of our Boston shaker and will eliminate the majority of solids from the beverage.

Presentation

Traditionally, the sour is served straight up. Let me clear up a bit of confusion-straight up does NOT mean what it suggests, which is simply liquid poured directly into a glass without being chilled or mixed (the proper term for this is “neat” and I implore you to try a few sips of Highclere Castle Gin that way.) Straight up refers to a cocktail that has been chilled (via shaking, in this case) and strained into a stemmed glass. The “coupe” glass is the most classic and iconic. If you prefer a rocks glass, the cocktail is now served “down”. Same technique, different vessel.

Variations on the recipe

-Egg white became a part of the classic gin sour, and while not needed, it adds a silky mouthfeel and a lovely foam.
-To make a Tom Collins, we simply strain our sour into a tumbler style glass, add ice and top with seltzer water.
-All manner of fruit flavors can be employed by blending our simple syrup with fruit. Berries are the easiest, as more fibrous fruits and delicate herbs will up the labor a bit.

Gin, lemons and sugar create an easily executed foundation for the sour cocktail category, and the edition of soda evolves into the Collins category. The beauty of our garden party is that the simplest of things put together thoughtfully result in something of infinite possibilities and enjoyment.

What is Gin? hint: it doesnt come in a dreadful green bottle.

I extoll the virtues of Highclere Castle Gin every day of my cocktail life, but I rarely attempt to answer the most simple and important question of them all: what exactly is gin in the first place? Where did it originate? Where does it now reside? How come there are so many of them? Sometimes we miss the simple in favor of the grandiose, but no longer. Let us build our castle, one brick of knowledge at a time.

Gin’s Official Definitions and Designations

Gin originated as a British rendition (not offspring) of Dutch Genever. Genever translates to juniper (the botanical most important in gin. Don’t let anyone tell you different.) but is more akin to a whiskey in its
production and flavor. It originated in the 12th century and was chiefly for medicinal purposes.

The technical definition of gin from the foremost cocktail historian* goes like this: neutral grain spirit distilled and infused with botanicals, primarily juniper. Result. There it is. All other categories and definitions are built on this foundation.

Neutral grain spirit. Ever heard of that before?
Odorless, colorless flavorless. For anecdotal purposes, we can consider gin the world’s most royal flavored vodka. If you ask a snarky bartender what their favorite vodka flavor is, you’ll get a wry smile and a one syllable answer: gin.

Liquors of Loose Morals vs The London Dry Standard

Within this definition, much license has been taken, often with mediocre results. Gin is thought to be easy to distill (good gin is anything but easy to make), and is the first product offered by many quasi brands.
The vast majority of these “microwave gins” do not deserve your time, attention or money.

I can say with confidence and research to support it that the most predominant, quality controlled and historically relevant category of gin is London Dry.
This category is restricted from containing more than trace amounts of sugar (hence “dry”)and must adhere to guidelines on proof (no less than 70), quality of distillate and absolutely nothing added after distillation besides water. Plymouth gin follows as
a close second, but has not the history or bona fides of London Dry.

The Botanicals

This is where we separate the royal from the pretenders.
Those gins of dubious distinction are the result of poorly balanced botanicals. We can’t really hold that against them, because the proper blending and infusion of botanicals is a complex, intricate process that involves summoning up a master distiller’s skill. One out of balance can wallop all the others and make for a strangely pungent gin that seems like it’s gone off. Very few do it well, and only one has been called “perfect.” I’m confident you can guess which.

Countless botanicals can make up a London Dry Gin, and Highclere Castle Gin is comprised of these 10:

  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lime flower
  • Orange peel
  • Angelica root
  • Licorice
  • Coriander seed
  • Cassia
  • Lemon peel
  • Oats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of these has come to really distinguish HCG, make it sippable neat and adds a supple and lush mouthfeel that is unparalleled. Can you guess which? The answer will appear next week, with more on the production of our most royal tipple.

I did some research on how blogs are read and the bold is helpful due to the scan and skim nature of web browsing. Let me know what you think. I think we are on the ball here with the simple being the main driver of the blog, and i thought we could make the Castle Curator piece a small part to add some value every week.

Castle Curator- An example of HCG being used to great success on the digital landscape.

Morton Krag

@thecocktail.blog

On Mixology, home and professional

“The brilliant Mixologist and Home Bartender studies the world, which is reflected in his drinks. The best way to start this adventure is to create and invent,
while learning from other Mixologists. Start with the simple things, and then proceed from there.”

On the Virtues of our Royal Tipple

A gin with a regal presence both outside and inside the bottle. A very versatile gin that allows the home bartender to mix cocktails varying from simple and crisp Gin and Tonics, to more advanced cocktails with multiple ingredients. My own favorite is a most Regal Martini pairing the Gin with Dry Vermouth in a ratio of 6 cl gin and 1.5 cl Vermouth. Add a dash or two orange bitters and express a lemon zest over the drink. Enjoy.

Citrus, Botanicals & Gin

One of my favorite things about spirits is that each one has its own personality that goes beyond the perceptible flavors. The combinations and characteristics of Highclere Castle Gin come together to make more than just a beverage. I look for spirits that can transport me from my parlor chaise with that first sip. It has been my experiences with this particular spirit, that have convinced me the glass, being a tiny castle, a vessel, a time machine. So much can be extracted from a well-mixed beverage made with premium spirits that are beyond the naked eye.

Much like the world’s most famous country home, the beauty of the beverage is nothing without the people that treasure it. The celebrations that take place around the cocktail and in the castle are the true grandeur. The caretakers of the bar and the curators of the castle give of themselves to turn something inanimate into a living, breathing sojourn. There’s an eternal garden party happening all the while.

I am a professional bartender, and my focus for the recent past has been to “pull back the curtain” and empower everyone who enjoys adult beverages to develop their own cocktail repertoire. My job is to show you how simple it can be to significantly raise your ability to conceive and execute thoughtful beverages that any pro would be proud of.

The theme that plays in my mind over and over again when sampling this most royal liquid are the gardens. The citrus grown there, accounts for 3 out of the ten botanicals that bring the neutral distilled grain to life. Please understand-no botanicals, no gin.

Citrus is a huge part of my life. For almost 10 years, I began my Saturday and Sundays by peeling, slicing, and juicing at minimum 150 lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits. The sting of the acidity on my fingertips that at first made me question my life’s choices started motivating me to excel at my craft. The wafting oils that rose from the lemon’s rinds opened my eyes wide (which, in my younger years was not an easy task on a weekend morning. I’ll not saddle you with my heroic hangover tales…today, at least.) I made a promise to myself that my lemons would be the most perfectly sliced, my juice the freshest, and my twists the most fragrant.

I describe all of this to communicate one thing to you: fresh citrus juice in your cocktails will change your life, and do so very easily. The reward for juicing fresh is more than a well balanced cocktail, for each piece of citrus holds a prize within it just waiting to be captured by the savvy cocktailian.

A Short Guide on Royal Citrus, Part 1:
Lemon peels hold exquisite essential oils. Extracting them is simple and fast. Peel the lemons, toss them with sugar and seal in a jar overnight (a home vaccum sealer will shorten the process to about an hour!) Watch the oils slowly seep from the peels. This beautiful nectar is known as oleo saccharum and is quite possibly the highest cost/benefit ratio of any craft cocktail technique.
A lemon sliced in half will yield juice for once cocktail (about .75 oz or roughly 25 mls)

Royal Lemon Sour Mix:
Forget everything you have ever heard about sour mix coming from a dreadful soda gun or worse, a powder in an aluminum foil bag. This is the real stuff and can be the base for all manner of beverages.

3 Lemons
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice (from aforementioned lemons)

1.Using a vegetable peeler, skin the lemons without too much of the pith
2.Add the peels and sugar to a mixing bowl and muddle well, working the sugar into the peels. Let stand 6 hours. (This can be done overnight, or at breakfast to be ready for late afternoon entertaining)
3.Pull the peels to the sides of the bowl, allowing the oils to collect at the center.
4.Transfer peels to a jar and add the lemon juice. Seal the jar and shake until fully integrated.

The Two Step Gin Sour
2 oz (60 ml) Highclere Castle Gin
1.5 oz (45 ml) Royal Lemon Sour Mix

Add ingredients to cocktail shaker, or any vessel that can be properly sealed.
Add ice, enough to “cover” the liquid.
Shake vigorously.
Strain over fresh ice.
Optional: add a flavored soda water for a fun rendition of a Tom Collins!

The Perfect Gin & Tonic

“I wrote a long book because I wasn’t smart enough to write a short one.” Mark Twain

The elusive recipe for striking beauty in a simple package is sought after by every artisan. The more that can be left out, the better the remaining elements can shine.

The secret alchemy that allows complex and all consuming works of art, food and drink to exhilarate even the most jaded of observers is sought after by every artisan. Elegance sometimes needs many moving parts and nuances to be properly communicated.

The eternal conundrum of simple and complex are expressed perfectly in the classic Gin and Tonic. After much research from your faithful gin steward, we find that there are infinite versions of the perfect gin and tonic, and it’s great fun experimenting with them all.

The G and T, as with most special things, has quite a charming little history. Alcohol history always being part legend, the agreed upon facts are that British Soldiers in colonial India mixed gin with quinine water. The quinine is the ingredient to note-an extract of the South American chinchona tree bark. It was known to combat the common issue of malaria once they arrived for their tour of duty, while a squeeze of the lime found in this distant land became a necessity for any right thinking soldier who wanted to survive a long sea voyage.

Though a bit of a task to pronounce, chinchona bark holds an important place is the world of thoughtful beverage culture. It’s also central ingredient in the delicate and bright Lillet (known for years as tonic wine, as it were), a beautiful liqueur which has seen a craft driven resurgence in the last two decades.

The beverage came stateside in the 1930’s, and was noted in “The Gentleman’s Companion (an indispensable book for any bon vivant) to “combat fevers, real or alleged”. Automation and industrialization saw a decline in medicinal tonic waters, and on through the latter 20th century, the gin and tonic became mostly out of fashion. Thus, tonic water usually tasted acrid, overly sweet and, in a word, dusty.

Along came the cultural white knight of The Cocktail resurgence, and several companies making high quality tonic water appeared on the scene. New rules for a proper gin and tonic were written, and the classic version was revived. Four Elements of a Gin and Tonic with Style and Panache:

  • First off, select the world’s perfect gin. That should be the easiest task of all, I do purport. It will be in a purple bottle and have a rendering of the world’s most famous country home upon it.
  • Secondly, find a quality tonic water. Classic Schweppes will get the job done, but a craft version in a glass vessel brings up the production value in aesthetics and flavor. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water is the exceedingly agreed upon standard bearer of the category. If you want to really take your highball to the great beyond, a homemade tonic water will satisfy, impress and leave much room for dialing in the flavors you like best.*** (Link to my classic tonic recipe)
  • A tenured ginfluencer reminded me of an indespensible component: “The perfect G&T starts with ice, lots of it! My glass preference is a stemless copa”. Take a look at the beautiful renditions at @ginsquares on Instagram. I would not bet against her highball acumen.
  • Last is certainly not least here: garnish, garnish, garnish. With all beverages, the garnish needs to play a complimentary role in the drink without overtaking it. It should be quietly indispensable. Lime is most iconic (its vitamin C content was protection against scurvy , though my friends in the UK tell me that a lemon is the citrus of choice. Do try both. For 21st century craft aficionados, herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme dance well with grapefruit, clementine and valencia orange. Even berries get into the act, and each garnish serves to make the original drink more and more appetizing.

Ratios/Dalliances

David Wondrich, cocktail historian writes that the classic proportion should be “twice as much tonic water as gin”; while mixer mavens at Fever-Tree strongly suggest ¼ gin to ¾ tonic water. @Ginsquares agrees: “I pour 50ml gin to 150ml tonic. My go to favorite is Fever-Tree.” Ian Fleming (a friend of the fifth Earl, by the by) memorialized Bond’s version in Dr. No: double with the juice of one whole lime.

The ratio and glassware that I enjoy best is served in the tradition of New York City’s Milk and Honey:

2.5 ounces of Highclere Castle Gin, served in a rocks glass with a giant, clear ice chunk.

Garnish

The Highclere Castle signature has become my absolute favorite garnish for my gin and tonic. A sprig of rosemary and an orange twist adorn the edges of the glass. A bottle of tonic water is served on the side and is slowly added to the gin, making for a more encompassing and lengthy experience. I forgo the lime and leave a bit of flesh on the orange peel, which slowly infuses and pulls even more aromatics, making them dance out of the glass with every sip.

This elevates the no frills highball into a sipping beverage of cascading carbonation and strength, to be enjoyed on a plush couch over lively conversation with good jazz in the background

The gin and tonic has always held existential implications for me. Something so simple, that started as a preventive measure has morphed into infinitely grand versions with many options, yet still elegantly simple. Less is more and more is more when it comes to this little heavenly highball. The G and T evokes the easy company of old friends that have improved station in life and are able to look back at the lean years with fondness while cleverly enjoying the abundance that success has brought.

May your life be like the gin and tonic-enjoyable while straightforward, enrapturing when complex, but always a celebration of simple elegance

Meet Khalid Williams, Featured Contributor and Lead Mixologist for Highclere Castle Gin.

Let us build a castle, and let our castle be in a glass.

The Castle that I have has seen the company of celebrities, royalty and nobility. The secrets contained within are infinite, to be explored by those who seek abundance. It’s existed for more than 200 years and makes a promise of beauty to future generations.

I speak not of the Victorian structure that sits on 5,000 acres in Hampshire, our beloved Highclere Castle. I speak of the cocktail in my glass-a monument to simple perfection, a structure built on history and collaboration. While many may never make the trek to Hampshire to see the world’s most famous country home, the liquid castle that’s built in the glass can be experienced anywhere, at any time.

I am a bartender by trade, and by virtue of my career have been entrusted with the most precious and finite resource of my valued guests-leisure time. Every adult has reconciled that time is fleeting and not always accompanied by freedom. Each of us wakes up with countless missions to fulfil and roles to play. Our hours are spent trying to perform on our pledge of the role that we choose, and the better we perform, the less free time we are afforded. It is my most sacred duty to make these stolen moments of leisure memorable, to leverage an infinite world of beverage and food into fellowship and happiness for those who I am fortunate enough to serve.

My journey as a bartender has gone far beyond the “stick” (our affectionate moniker for the bar itself, that most lovely piece of wood that physically separates the mixologists from the guests and serves as a stage for an eternal epic of enjoyment) and has evolved into a never-ending search for two main things-drinks that matter and people who care.

A drink that matters is simply one that is crafted thoughtfully. It can be rendered by a bona fide professional or an amateur enthusiast.

The people who care are the artisans that are forever pushing boundaries in the drinks space, be it the distillers whose mastery is rarely seen but felt with every sip, the culinary masters of the kitchen who invent new pairings and edible accompaniments (bartenders learn flavor from chefs. It has been and so shall be.) or the home bartender that has marked Saturday evening as a sacred cocktail night of discovery and wonder in their very own kitchens.

Over the next month, I’ll be shedding light on the people and places that espouse the virtues of Highclere Castle Gin, the processes behind the scenes that are integral into producing not only the world’s finest spirit, but everything that embodies inspired liquid, luxury and leisure.

The sheer vastness of the liquid castle cannot be quantified. It may present itself as a creation of chemistry with sous vide syrups, caviar like fruits and botanical foams, or it can be the simple perfection of a highball.

The highball is simply X and Y, this and that. Gin has the distinction of being one half of the most iconic  highball in history- the gin and tonic.

Much like our beloved Highclere Castle, the gin and tonic has seen a journey that hasn’t been without woe. Corn syrup that was created in a lab was doused upon wet, poorly formed ice cubes, ruining perfectly fine gin for far too long. The collective public has invested time and attention into refining palates round the world and the internet has uncovered the secret of craft tonics, making the standard G&T a thing of beauty that deserves the same attention as a well stirred martini or a perfectly shaken Ramos Gin Fizz.

I invite you to be a guest in my digital country home. This castle is built on a foundation of drinking boldly, eating with gusto, listening with empathy and thinking critically about how to make our next drink our best drink, our free time a magical series of inspired events.

Every cocktail that we taste and each moment that we spend in the company of loved ones, reflecting on the happenings of the day and the possibilities of tomorrow are truly royal moments. I humbly invite you to join me and be my traveling partner on a never-ending journey to an infinite destination-the tiny castle in our glass.