Designing the Highclere Castle Barrel-Aged Gin
Unveiling a Majestic Tribute and Celebrating 100 years of Highclere Castle and King Tut’s Tomb with an Extraordinary Gin
One story about 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 adore people that don’t do ordinary people’s things.
Then I learned this year, in the year of our lord 2022, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this discovery. So, of course, I felt compelled to create something worthy of this archeological masterpiece while feeling a bit of pressure to do it properly. 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.
Aged to Perfection – Crafting an Exquisite Spirit Fusion
So, two years ago, we embarked on our little adventure. Since Highclere Castle Gin is so deliciously citrus forward, with its floral hints and rounded-out Oat-based velvet finish, it had the base makings of what could evolve into a rather lovely, aged spirit. Accordingly, 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 secured some 50 years + 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 – so we secured spent Scotch whiskey barrels.
To round it all out with 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 costly and real risk; barrel-aged gin is not an art yet perfected. So I thought we would drink it ourselves if it didn’t work out .
A Taste of History – Highclere Castle Gin’s Centennial Tribute
Luckily, the gods were with us 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 to see if they would be ready to release and celebrate this all-important centennial year. Finally, 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 painter’s 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 unique spirit. Three great nations known for their mastery of the brown spirit. Not only have we liquified the spirit of Highclere Castle, but also ancient Egypt and Highclere Castle’s role in this great discovery.
It was vital 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 to develop this, it isn’t reproducible again, and it shouldn’t be—our final yield is 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….