It was a warm evening in The Phoenicia’s gardens, utilised to the full by a thronging crowd ably entertained by a swing and jazz band. We met three exciting Gin Ambassadors and learnt the art of creating world-class gin at Frank’s Gin Fair, organised by the ever-smiling Andrew Abela.
First up was founder at Ferdinand’s ginnery Erik J. Wimmers who took us on a journey down the River Saar, the inspiration behind Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin. Ferdinand’s gins are truly a product of their region, the upper Mosel, famous for their fine wines and one of the key ingredients in Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin together with a bewildering range of botanicals which include quince, rose hip, lavender, lemon-scented thyme, juniper, sloe, ginger and angelica, amongst others. Did I mention Red Vineyard Peach? No, well, that’s not surprising after a few moments to reflect Erik listed at least 36 different locally-grown botanicals that help produce the rich, satisfying layers of flavours and aromas packed into his gin.
Erik and his team have a belief in terroir, like the winemakers around them, and their mineral rich soil irrigated by the Saar river which produces a treasure trove of flora and fauna, many of the local flowers, fruits and herbs, finding their way into Erik’s multi-sensory gin experience. The unique ecosystem is utilised to the full, with Erik and his team deciding on the use of a Riesling additive at the end of their process, and not just any Riesling, they selected the world-renowned Forstmeister-Geltz Zilliken Estate, as the emblematic heart of a complex Ferdinand’s gin. In a sense, Erik has taken a similar approach to the master whisky-makers, craftsmen who control every tiny detail of sourcing, distillation and maturation, to create outstanding products.
Tasting Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin neat on ice was a humbling experience standing next to The Phoenicia’s blooming hedges with the humid Mediterranean evening abuzz with joyful gin supping. Lavender jumps out of the glass and up your nose. On your tongue the citrus seems to explode into thyme while the surrounding flavours derived from those 36 botanicals take centre stage. Then there’s the exotic warmth of the ginger and cardamom. The finish is exceptionally long and jam-packed with vibrant fruits. This is a gin of great merit and deserves the double gold medal received from San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition, neat or mixed, it delivers full-on flavour every time.
Our next encounter was with Ivan Herrera, a passionate Spaniard from Madrid, doing a great ambassadorial role in promoting Mediterranean heritage and excellence through the Gin Mare brand. In the battle to differentiate and innovate in the gin category, the brand story combined with well thought out product and packaging development is playing an increasing role in the marketplace. The Gin Mare glass bottle is a thing of beauty, as well as functionally superior. The bottles shine bright blue under The Phoenicia’s garden lights and Ivan explains that the Mediterranean ocean is referenced in the unique bottle base. The cap is a 50ml measure, perfect for pouring consistent drink lengths on hot summer nights.
Ivan explains how Gin Mare developed around four iconic botanicals that best characterise the Mediterranean region: basil, thyme, rosemary and Arbequina olives. The olives don’t have far to travel either, being grown and harvested all around Catalonia, the fruit is highly aromatic, small, symmetrical and dark brown when delivered to the Gin Mare distillery just outside Barcelona. This innovative gin picked up a gold at the Gin Masters a couple of years ago in the super premium category.
Gin Mare pairs very successfully to strong flavours, Ivan’s three oranges cocktail made with local Maltese marmalade was a hit, as were a batch of chilli pepper based cocktails. But it was Ivan’s signature gin and tonic that truly displayed how versatile this olive-hearted gin brand really is. His gin and tonic with rosemary sprigs and basil was a sweet and sour wonder, herbal and aromatic, with a zesty finish full of that Arbequina olives. The tonic was a small bottle of 1724 which enhanced the Mediterranean flavours rather than masking them. In my mind, this is a gin that would pair with any olive-based dish and the delicious olive tapenades with chorizo on crispy toast served by The Phoenicia’s chefs was a perfect accompaniment to this Mediterranean lifestyle gin.
Our third Ambassador of the evening is French distillery founder Mathilde De Ramel, who has opened a distillery with a Dutch partner about 40 minutes’ drive from Amsterdam centre at De Tweelingh centred on the concept of Dutch tradition. Their brand, By The Dutch, came about as a legal requirement when winning a tender to put their showcase Old Genever into the Swedish market. By The Dutch Old Genever is a classic Dutch spirit made using a base of malted barley, corn and rye with botanicals including juniper, cloves, lemon peel, coriander seeds, ginger, star anise and orange peel. The exotics in this delicious drink are a strong feature of its flavour profile and has already won it a medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.
The recipe for Old Genever goes back to the Second World War years, and starts off with a maltwine made from the Bourbon ingredients mentioned earlier, malted barley, corn and rye, but Mathilde explains that she triple-distils to get a very smooth base that is then infused and blended from distillates of juniper and botanicals. Being a heritage product, Old Genever is unlike the flavour profile of your typical gin. The actual recipe itself is a secret although all the components are carefully blended together, however, Mathilde gave us a very clear view of the main exotics and these would successfully pair Old Genever with any Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese or Thai curry dishes.
The label of Old Genever is reminiscent in some ways with that of Jack Daniels, insofar as the entire production story and brand heritage are embedded on the label. The vintage style is also very similar to the Jack Daniels concept, and the bottle has a hardiness to it that spells authenticity. This traditional approach has resulted in gold medals at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition 2016 and at the Global Gin Masters 2016. With her infectious laughter and free spirit, Mathilde De Ramel is set to make a big impression on the spirits industry.
The Gin Fair was the result of a vision to help Franks customers experience their favourite and new gins & tonics under one roof, in a luxurious environment that is evocative of the Franks experience. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the dream of Franks Gentlemen’s Essentials and the constant support of its suppliers and The Phoenicia, who continually turn the Franks dreams into reality.
This year was just the beginning as plans are already underway to create a bigger Gin Fair, however keep tuned as November 16th & 17th will see the launch of Franks 3rd Whisky Fair.
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