Cocktail of the Month: The Martinez

It’s February and the world is bleak. Storms with implausible names rage outside, and I suggest you make yourself a Martinez.

There’s an Old English poem called The Wanderer, which is basically about being cold, having no home and everyone being dead. Mood.

‘Walls stand battered by the wind,
Covered by frost, the roofs collapsed.
The wine halls crumbled; the warriors lie dead,
Cut off from joy’

As you can see, the Wanderer doesn’t sugar-coat things. Probably due to the lack of wine halls. What he needed, it seems to me, was someone to leap out from behind a nearby ruin and hand him a Martinez. A cocktail that’s absolutely cold, but also rather warm, and entirely season-appropriate.

The Wanderer may not have been able to avail himself, but you are.

Stirring a cocktail shaker filled with ice to make a Martinez

So this is a cocktail with some background: it’s been around for bloody ages, and is in some quarters regarded as the precursor to the Martini (a John the Baptist sort of role, I guess, but with less decapitation). And you can see how the modern Martini is a refinement, a paring down of the drink that homes in on the alchemy of gin and bitter — though in fact, drinking a Martinez, I think you’ll agree it’s actually in spirit much closer to the Manhattan, but anchored on gin rather than whiskey.

Like a Manhattan, it’s a welcoming, generous, enveloping sort of a drink — not like the Martini, which is often very welcome, but seldom exactly welcoming, and possesses no small measure of aggression. It’s fruitier, sweeter (though the degree to which it’s sweeter is up to you), rounder, rosier than a Martini.

And while a Manhattan is ideally garnished with a Maraschino cherry (for pity’s sake, NOT a glacé cherry), the Martinez incorporates wonderful Maraschino Liqueur.

Maraschino Liqueur is definitely the pain-in-the-arse ingredient of this cocktail, as you’ll be lucky to find it in the supermarket. If you’re lucky enough to have a well-stocked local booze shop, they may have it; otherwise you’ll need to venture online. It’s relatively pricey, but will keep for ages and you need very little of it for each drink. It is a magical cocktail component and one that, I suspect, will soon come to occupy a never-out-of-stock status in your booze cupboard.

Plus, it also allows you to make the fabulous Aviation cocktail, of which I may well write more in future.

Ingredients of a Martinez cocktail (dry version)

So, it’s a classic-style cocktail of the kind I like (which basically means it has a hefty boozepunch and doesn’t dick about with loads of fruit). Moderately accessible, but do make sure the person you give it to (a) can handle a cocktail that tastes of actual booze and (b) likes the marzipan-esque flavour of maraschino. You can change up the cocktail significantly by varying your main spirit: opt either for an Old Tom gin, which is markedly sweeter, or a London Dry. Both are excellent, the latter working particularly well pre-dinner, the former afterwards (not that you need be remotely constrained by that rule, I might add; I just prefer dry drinks before eating).

Here’s my go-to recipe. It’s a somewhat fiddly drink to make in small quantities when faffing around with 1/4 parts. This is an excellent excuse to make it in big quantities. Enough to slake the thirst (and restore the joie de vivre) of a wine hall’s worth of Wanderers.

Martinez Recipe

  • 2 parts Old Tom gin (I’m using Silverback Old Tom, £35)
  • 3/4 part Red Vermouth (Martini Rosso is fine)
  • 1/4 part Dry Vermouth (mine’s Dolin)
  • 1/4 part Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (£29.95, Master of Malt)
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters

Stir all the above on plenty of large ice cubes for 15-20 seconds, then strain into glasses straight from your freezer: martini or nick & nora glasses work well. Garnish with either an orange twist (make sure to squeeze it over the surface of the drink to express the oils) or a Maraschino Cherry if you want to amp up that side of things.

The above recipe is pretty much in line with the ever-reliable Difford’s, where there’s also a suggestion for the drier Martinez.

Wessex Gin Review

Let’s talk about Wessex, shall we? Back in the Dark Ages, there was no England (which must be a concept that’s upsetting for people like Mark Francois). Instead, an ever-changing mishmash of kingdoms, of which Wessex was one, incorporating, at different times, a sizeable chunk of the south of what’s now England.

One of the last kings of Wessex was Alfred, who seems to have been a fairly good chap. Not long after his reign, seemingly on the basis of much of his canny political manoeuvrings, Wessex expanded and became the dominant party in the newly unified English nation.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle is silent as to Alf’s alcoholic preferences, but we can be pretty sure he didn’t drink gin, since it didn’t exist. He did, however, foster scholarship, personally translate religious texts, and implement an organised network of fortifications for the repelling of invading Danes. Which is almost as worthwhile as drinking gin. The makers of Wessex Gin tie their booze into the legendary king by incorporating botanicals such as coriander (which ‘represents his appreciation of the importance of learning and scholarship’). Hmm.

Tenuous botanical symbolism notwithstanding, the people behind this gin clearly know what they’re doing (this is not a first-time hobbyist; founder Jonathan Clark previously ran the City of London Distillery). That shows. This is a well balanced, carefully designed product — both in terms of flavour and in terms of presentation (beautiful packaging being so ridiculously important in so competitive a market). This gin succeeds in looking different without looking gimmicky or cheap. It has integrity, in many senses, and I like it a whole lot. So let’s put it into some drinks, shall we?

Wessex Gin & Tonic

The Wessex G&T is exceptionally well balanced. The gin manages to be assertive without allowing any one locus of flavour to dominate: citrus, juniper, spice… the classic elements, in exquisite equilibrium. And there’s subtly unusual stuff going on too: chervil is one of the (rather inspired) botanicals used, which imparts an ethereal waft of anise. Aniseed haters, fear not; it really is quite subtle.

Spiced and smooth, serious and subtle, this is an extremely rewarding gin in your G&T, and I thereby suggest that you go ahead and

Verdict: Neck it!

I’d take the classic lemon and Fever Tree Light route here, but feel free to stick rosemary in there instead, which might be rather nice.

Wessex Gin Martini

Yes! This is a delicious martini right here. First I tried it in the style of Duke’s Hotel (for those who don’t frequent Duke’s, this entails no stirring on ice, just freezer cold gin and freezer cold martini glass rinsed with vermouth). Not all gins shine in this context, but Wessex is very well suited: there’s not an ounce of ill-mannered booze-burn, but an invigorating thwack to your tastebuds nonetheless, all spice and bitter complexity — a mouthful of thickets, briarwood and wild English herbs, including that delightful chervil.

I also tried Wessex Gin in a classic dry martini (here’s how I make it) and I think it’s even better like this. The small amount of dilution introduced by stirring over ice brings out more of the chervil and sharpens the gin’s complexities, as well as softening that initial bosh of juniper and wood whilst retaining its foresty depth.

I tried adding an olive, which brings out the deeper notes of the gin, but my preference was for the zip and zing of the lemon twist. Both are good, though.

Verdict: Neck it!

Wessex Gin Negroni

As is often the case with our friend the negroni, I find myself very much enjoying the drink whilst simultaneously slightly regretting using a premium gin to make it. Don’t get me wrong, a negroni needs a good gin. But thanks to its bolshy ingredients (Campari is an incorrigible loudmouth), this cocktail tends to squash the subtlety of most gins.

Bottle of Wessex Gin with two glasses of negroni in front

In the case of the Wessex Gin Negroni, you lose that lovely chervil note and, ultimately, I reckon you could have a pretty similar drink using basic Tanqueray and save yourself the dosh. That’s not to say it’s bad in any way: it’s bloody nice, B+ grade stuff. But I think Wessex Gin deserves to be used in drinks that allow its complexities to shine.

Verdict: Gulp it!

So, in summary, a bloody good gin.

My challenge to Jonathan Clark and the Wessex Distillery team would be, though, not just to nod botanically in the direction of King Alfred, but to match the guy’s political achievements. HAVE A BIT OF AMBITION, DAMN IT. I mean, look at where this bloody country is heading. After Brexit, it’s presumably only a matter of time before Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales extricate themselves from the Union — like guests excusing themselves politely (Christ, England! What did you do to deserve such politeness?) from a dinner party at which the host has served himself most of the food, poured himself most of the wine, and is now drunkenly ranting, making unwanted lecherous advances at people half his age, and farting like an old dog who just ate a chicken out of the bin.

Then what? My money’s on the folk of Wessex being next to seceed. If only because they’d get to call it Wexit, which is marginally better than the coinage open to the good people of Sussex.

And all of a sudden Wessex is no longer a quaint, vague and marketable geopolitical concept, but an actual serious political entity. Governed by a tribal chief who’s built popular legitimacy, I suppose, on the basis of rooting out illegal immigrants from Sussex and Northumbria. Coming over here. Taking our jobs. (Yeah, okay, so our jobs are actually mostly in London. But taking the jobs that would be ours if we wanted them.) Bloody Northumbrians.

What I’m saying is: come those new Dark Ages, we’ll need a leader to bring together the warring tribes. To begin the slow, painful process of reunification. On the strength of this gin, I have to say, I’d trust the people at Wessex Distillery to to a better job of that than our current representatives in Westminster.

What greater praise can I give?

You can buy a 70cl bottle of Wessex Gin from the Wessex Distillery website (£29.95) or stockists such as Master of Malt (also £29.95). It’s 41.3% ABV.

Hampshire Navy Strength Gunpowder Gin Review

About as local as gin gets (for me, that is), this distillery is practically my neighbour. And the best kind of near-neighbour: one that supplies me with bloody good booze.

Why do none of my actual neighbours do that?

I mentioned Hampshire Gunpowder Gin before, en passant. But it deserves a proper review, I think. One of the things I want to do this year is — in a spasmodic bout of localism — to write more about drink and food from my surrounds, meaning Hampshire, Sussex and thereabouts (where I live) and perhaps also London (where I work). So what better, SEO-friendly means by which to do this than by reviewing something that’s actually got the (key)words Hampshire Gin in the name?

Winchester Distillery — the place behind this bottle — is about 20 minutes’ drive from my house (and a very nice drive it is, too, zipping down the A272 in one’s cheap 80s Porsche with dodgy electrics. Until one gets stuck behind a tractor.) They produce a range of gins, some of which I’ve still to taste, and this is the Navy Strength one. So called because of its hoofing 57% ABV. You can slosh this all over your gunpowder, safe in the knowledge that it’ll still ignite, thanks to the high alcohol content. Worth bearing in mind next fireworks night, eh?

But enough preamble. How does the blighter taste?

Hampshire Gunpowder Gin and Tonic

If you were expecting something aggressive and butch, you should reconsider your lazy naval stereotypes and hang your head in shame. Hampshire Gunpowder Gin is rather smooth and has a slightly sweet, herbaceous intro. A clean shaven sailor with immaculate personal hygiene who phones his grannie every weekend. While there’s certainly juniper around, it’s much less pronounced than in a down-the-line juniper-led spirit like regular Tanqueray. There’s an appealing drag of peaty bitterness across the back of the tongue, which I think is the influence of the tea, and this handsomely balances that initial dab of sweetness.

This is a fine gin for your G&T.

Serving suggestion

Fever Tree Light Tonic (as per usual) with lemon — or try rosemary, if you like, you crazy cat.

G&T Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

Hampshire Gunpowder Gin Martini

I tasted this two ways: firstly in a classic Old Parn martini, and secondly in a Duke’s Hotel style martini (freezer-cold gin simply poured over a smidge of vermouth swirled around an ice-cold glass — no icecubes involved). My vermouth at the moment is Dolin.

In both Martini styles you again notice the drink’s fullness and richness. I found it somewhat overheated — a little full-on — especially in the Duke’s martini where it leaves a fiery wake on your palate. As with the G&T, there’s an initial subtle impression of sweetness, but in the martini you really notice the smokiness and bitterness of the tea.

The flavours are rather lovely, but even with the mild dilution of the ice-melt of the Parn Martini, it sizzles and tingles all over the place. While it’s by no means shabby, I’d say this gin isn’t as well suited to the martini as the G&T.

Serving Suggestion

Classic Martini with twist (olive works much less well). Try allowing more dilution than you would normally to tone down the burn.

Martini Verdict

Sip it!

Hampshire Gunpowder Gin Negroni

I think this works very well in a Negroni. With the classic mix (equal parts of gin, Campari and red vermouth), you get an excellent balance, with the Gunpowder Gin standing up to those punchy flavours rather admirably. Some more diffident gins need help fighting their corner against Campari, but this one can fend for itself, thank you very much. I love the rooty, deep flavours and the smokiness the gin brings to the mix.

Negroni Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

So there you go. A commendable boozy representative of my home county. Here’s a few stockists of Hampshire Navy Strength Gunpowder Gin, should you wish to avail yourself. A bottle is 70cl; all prices correct at time of writing.

Rock Samphire Martini at Native Restaurant

An excellent Martini concocted by the fabulous foragers of Native Restaurant.

A quick one for you, today: Native. Amy and I had an excellent supper there, a couple of days weeks months ago. I could probably spout a few hundred words on the food, but let’s keep the focus boozy, shall we? Let’s talk about the Native Martini.

Which is rather good. I’ve not had Mermaid Gin, which is what they use, but the magic here comes from the pickled samphire. Native’s schtick is foraged stuff, and the samphire makes conceptual sense as a result. It also (more importantly) makes flavour sense, adding a fabulously fresh note of the sea. The sourness of the pickle is subtle but noticeable, in some ways doubling down on vermouth’s role in a standard martini.

Judging from the texture of the drink, it’d been shaken rather than stirred — at which news, some tiresome old bugger will probably cry ‘sacrilege!’ or blather on about ‘bruising the gin’, but that’s nonsense, innit? What does happen when a martini is shaken (not stirred) is that you get lots of tiny ice shards in it and (if it is shaken long) you may also end up with more dilution.

I normally stir my martinis but shaken makes a nice change. Native’s was quite dilute, both as a result of meltage and the inclusion of the samphire pickle liquid. That meant it made for a softer, gentler version of the classic: deliciously fresh. And a lovely amuse bouche for what followed.

Copperfield Gin Review

‘Do you like Dickens, sir?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never been to one.’

That was a favourite joke of Mr Jarvis, my A Level English teacher. To the degree, I seem to remember, that he had to ask someone in the class to provide him with the setup question in order that he might triumphantly deliver the punchline. Which is nice for you to know.

What’s also nice for you to know is that Copperfield Gin may be the most handsomely packaged gin I’ve seen. Obviously I dig it because it’s literary, innit, and given that my idea of a perfect sitting room is one bedecked with books floor to ceiling, how could I not be seduced by a book-themed gin bottle? Or, at least, one so bloody well executed. Hats off to the designers, who presumably like Dickens.

This gin was one of the leaving presents bestowed upon me as I scrammed from my last job, along with a couple of grape vines (how well they knew me!) and suchlike. So, fortunately, it turns out to be good. One of the innumerable perils of blogging about booze is the potential awkwardness of reviewing a mediocre bottle received as a gift. Fortunately, at least one of my former colleagues must’ve liked Dickens.

So Copperfield London Gin is rather good. It’s fairly classic, I’d say, and balanced — not trying to do anything too funky. Its flavour isn’t dominated by a particular characteristic, and as such, it’s a versatile beast. So let’s put it through the usual tests, shall we?

Copperfield Gin and Tonic

This is a decent, honest G&T. There’s a backbone of juniper, though not a hoofing amount, a dab of citrus (a dab, not a smudge), a bit of spice and pepper to tingle things up a bit, and a rich, smooth, woody quality that ties it all together. Nothing is done to excess. I’d liken it to something like 6 o’Clock Gin, which has a similarly balanced quality and shares the smoothness. Despite whacking in at 45% ABV, there’s nothing remotely rough about Copperfield. It’s good stuff. I’m putting it with lemon in my G&T, though lime might also work nicely.

Copperfield Martini

Copperfield London Dry Gin and martini

That balance I was just talking about? That stands Copperfield in pretty good stead when it comes to the ultimate test. It makes a martini that’s squarely classical, rather traditional. Which I like.

There’s a fantastic marzipan smoothness holding the whole thing together. As that implies, there’s a touch of sweetness, but that’s balanced by pepper and spice and, yeah, a bit of fire. Lime comes through towards the end, cutting the creaminess rather nicely. That sounds as if there’s a lot going on (which there is), but this is far from a try-hard gin. It’s pretty clean and subtle, in fact. I think that subtlety betrays a great deal of careful tasting and balancing on the part of the makers.

So. A fine martini and a fine G&T. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that Copperfield Gin is the kind of thing of which you could happily partake every night and not get bored.

In that respect, rather like Dickens? I suppose I should ask Mr Jarvis.

Blackdown Silver Birch Vermouth Review

Well, it’s been a while since I hoofed a vermouth review in your direction, so let’s change that. Like Asterley Bros, it’s another English vermouth, but this time white not red: Blackdown Silver Birch Vermouth.

As it happens, Blackdown’s vermouth (£20.25, The Whisky Exchange) is made not so very far from me, nestling in neighbouring Sussex’s portion of the South Downs. The titular reference to silver birch? It’s because the base wine is made from the sap of the birch trees growing around the distillery. Apparently, getting that sap is a pain in the arse, with each tree yielding a very small amount. According to Blackdown’s website: ‘In 2017 we tapped over 300 trees, with an average tree providing 5 gallons a day collecting over 1,500 gallons producing 15 gallons of pure syrup’.

So I shalln’t be setting out to make silver birch wine any time soon.

But I’ll happily drink someone else’s. So — how shall we do this? You can crack it into your martini in place of your regular Noily Prat/Dolin or what have you. Or you can drink it on its own, over ice, like the sophisticated metropole you are.

Let’s talk cocktails first, shall we?

Now, Blackdown Vermouth in the context of the martini is an interesting thing. As you may know from my burblings on the subject of the perfect martini, I like a martini with some hoof to it, albeit not at macho-dry ratios. My ur-martini is a lean, clean, deliciously spartan thing.

Blackdown vermouth makes for a fuller, rounder, sweeter martini. I’ve tried it with a variety of gins, at various ratios, generally pitted against Dolin vermouth for comparison. And what you’ll make of it, my dear, very much depends on your criteria. For me, y’know, it’s a touch OTT in most contexts. It’s so gentle that I find myself missing the bite, the sting of my regular vermouth. There’s not really that spiky mid-palate attack I expect. Instead, by martini standards, it ends up long and soft. Smooth, honeyed, unctuous, even.

Not what I’d go for as a standard martini, but if that sounds like your bag, more power to your elbow, I suppose.

I flung a tweet in the direction of the folk of Blackdown to ask their martini recommendations, one of which was a flamboyant 2:1 mix with Sipsmith. A good deal wetter (ie. more vermouth heavy) than most martini drinkers’ norm, and given Blackdown’s abovementioned qualities, the effect is of a different cocktail entirely. Apples, toffee, chocolate — sweet, accessible, richly autumnal flavours.

For an austere martini man such as myself, the above is all rather opulent. Personally, I was more drawn to drinking Blackdown on its own. In this context — over plenty of generous sized ice cubes, with a twist of lemon rind — it’s a fabulous aperitif for those occasions on which a martini (or other spirit-heavy cocktail) might be de trop. The same is true of some red vermouths, natch, but Blackdown is drier.

Removed from the martini, you appreciate its softness and touch of sweetness (contrast against Dolin Chambery, which isn’t great to drink neat: sharper, more one-note, squarely an ensemble player not a soloist). Arguably, what makes Blackdown such a pleasure to drink neat is what makes it less successful in a martini (where, I humbly submit, gin rules all and vermouth bends the knee before its sovereign).

Unadulterated, over ice, Blackdown is calm, so calm. For me, the defining essence is of apples. Not crisp, green apples, but rusty English apples in an old greengrocer, or in a brown paper bag at your grannie’s house. There’s bitterness there, alongside warm and woody spice (clove, cinnamon and the gang), but those play their hand with subtlety. The overwhelming impression is of mellow autumnal fruit and mellifluous honey. Really rather lovely. Wankily, I might call it nostalgia in a glass.

Bottle of Blackdown Vermouth alongside a squeezed lemon half atop a juicer -- prelude to making syllabub

Oh, and one more thing. It makes a bloody delicious lemon syllabub — pudding of kings.

Boxer Gin Review. Punchy or Paunchy?

I mean, when a gin’s called Boxer, how am I meant to avoid the most bloody obvious metaphor? Christ. Give me something to work with. Fortunately, Boxer Gin does exactly that, in abundance, as soon as you get it into your gob. Here’s how it measures up.

I bought Boxer Gin because it was the gin of choice at Poco Tapas Bar, the excellent Bristolian tapas restaurant at which I first discovered the Negroni Manzanilla. And given my predilection for punchy gins and stooping to lowest-common-denominator wordplay, what could be more auspicious than a gin that is literally punchy?

You know how this works by now, right? I’ll taste Boxer Gin in a martini and a gin & tonic, and I’ll tell you what I think. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Boxer Gin Martini

Yes. This is very good.

First thing you need to know: this is a proper gin. That means it has a good whack of juniper and isn’t trying anything fancy. That’s good. There’s an assertive oomph to the Boxer Gin Martini that I resoundingly commend.

But while the juniper and pine shenanigans make it abundantly clear it’s a gin martini you’re drinking, there’s a background of rather wonderful, unexpected things. Imagine you’re in a restaurant you’ve not eaten at before. You ordered steak (my, how bold of you) and it’s perfectly cooked: rare, yielding, delicious: exactly as steak should be. A few mouthfuls in, you notice they’re playing a fabulous piece of — oh, I dunno, Prokofiev — in the background. Not loudly; in fact, at exactly the right volume. So that the people who don’t give a shit about Prokofiev (fools) won’t really notice it much.

But you. You, my dear, exquisitely tasteful reader. You will appreciate the crap out of it.

This is not an attention-seeking, look-at-me gin, in other words. It bares its sophistication subtly and with elegance.

The Boxer Gin Martini is fairly smooth, and while characterised by juniper and pine and citrus initially, it has a delicious spiciness: the warm, aromatic spices like cinnamon and pepper and nutmeg. Perhaps the merest sprinkling of anise? Yeah, perhaps.

You’re drinking your martini ice-cold, I hope, so the spice will be very much in the background, but as you near the bottom (of your glass, as opposed to your moral and spiritual decline), you may notice that it comes through more assertively.

Boxer Martini Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

That’s no excuse to linger, though. A martini that’s lost its frigidity is a sorrowful thing. Gulp the bugger down and let’s move on to…

The Boxer Gin and Tonic

Very good also: I approve. The elegance I admired in the martini is present here too. The citrus elements make more impact with a Boxer G&T than with some of the hoofers I commonly reach for (the Wine Society’s High Strength Gin, par exemple, or our old friend Tanqueray), but there’s still plenty of juniper to keep us tethered. And those same warm spices come through — perhaps more so than in the martini, but by no means aggressively. It’s all wonderfully balanced (a nimble-footed, deceptively graceful boxer, then, rather than a thuggish slugger).

There’s a beguiling touch of sweetness (very subtle, but there) while it’s in your gob, but don’t get carried away: the finish is dry as you like. Assuming you’re using the right tonic (Fever Tree Light, I implore you).

Boxer Gin & Tonic Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

I’d probably gravitate towards lemon as the best garnish for a Boxer Gin and Tonic, but if you want to amp up the spices, you could be all wanky about it and shove a cinnamon stick in there (in your glass I mean. Shove it right in your glass. Your GLASS, I said) or black peppercorns.

Just don’t, for the sake of the weeping lord Jesus, use already ground pepper, like the idiots in some bar I went to, a few months back.

I’ll not be going back.

Anyway:

Boxer Gin Verdict

Excellent. This isn’t a wild, out-there gin, as you’ve probably gathered, and I like it all the more for that. It is balanced and has an admirable classicism. I’d sit it in the vague proximity of 6 o’Clock Gin (another handsome blue bottled gin) and Adnam’s — gins that make an excellent, rounded, mellow G&T that has unusual complexities and exotic qualities but doesn’t shove them up your GLASS.

It’d make a nice house gin for someone who’s too cool for the gins they stock in big supermarkets but still wants something versatile and classical.

If I were a tiresome wanker, you know how I’d close this?

I’d say it punches well above its weight.

You’re welcome. Now piss off.

The Society’s High Strength Gin Martini

This is wonderful gin. It’s not trying to be anything else. It’s juniper and citrus and booze. And it’s smoother than you could ever hope to be, mate.

Christ, yes. A martini with the Wine Society’s High Strength Gin.

I know it’s been a while, and I know this is going to look cursory. Like I’m fobbing you off.

Fob fob fob.

But, listen. The Wine Society’s High Strength Gin costs £19 for a bottle. That’s got to be some kind of fabulously benevolent joke, right? I mean, every artisanal gin-wanker on the planet is selling their wares for £30+ a pop — and good luck to them. But, right here, you have a bloody fantastic gin (at 50% ABV, no less) for nineteen sodding quid.

So you get home. You grab your martini glass from the freezer. You lace it with a dash of vermouth (mine’s Noilly Prat at the moment, but more often Dolin). You swirl the glass to get that vermouth coating the sides. Then you lift your Wine Soc Gin out of the freezer and you pour it on top. Generously.

You sling on your lemon twist. And you Friday.

This is wonderful gin. It’s not trying to be anything else. It’s juniper and citrus and booze. And it’s smoother than you could ever hope to be, mate.

Fob fob fob.

Fort Gin Review: Mighty Fortress or Crumbling Ruin?

Now, a fort is supposed to protect you against danger, right? I’m not convinced. Fort Gin, y’see, is pretty damn dangerous in itself. Take a gulp and you’ll understand why…

Portsmouth! Following last week’s account of our adventures at Portsmouth Fish Market, we’re back to Pompey today — but this time we’re swapping fish for fortifications. Specifically, Fort Gin (£31.95, Master of Malt), which is made by the Portsmouth Distillery.

The name Fort isn’t arbitrarily chosen: the distillery occupies one of Portsmouth’s old naval fortresses — designed, I suppose, to ward off whatever bunch of undesirables Portsmouth was worried about at the time.

You’d expect a gin called fort to be rather solid, heavy, strong — wouldn’t you? Probably pretty classic, punchy stuff? Well, follow me, my pretty one. Follow me into the Fort and you may be surprised…

I had my first gulp of Fort Gin at a tasting here in Petersfield, organised by the lovely General Wines. But a gulp was not enough. On the back of that gulp, I went to General Wines’ shop and bought a bottle of the stuff.

Fort Gin, you see, is bloody delicious. This is so smooth a gin that you can very happily sip away at it without any tonic or other accoutrement, pretending to be all mannered and sophisticated. Because that’s how society regards people who drink gin neat, isn’t it?

It’s smooth and it’s sweet. I don’t mean actually sweet in the sense of being sugary, but the botanical elements give it a powerful impression of sweetness. There’s definitely juniper there, but there’s also a lot of (warm, aromatic) spice, which we’ll talk about more below.

As usual, I’ll burble a bit about how Fort Gin tastes in three contexts: the G&T, the Negroni and the Martini. But I do suggest you try this bugger on its own too.

The Fort Gin and Tonic

Right. You need to use a light tonic here. Fever Tree Naturally Light is the one I’d suggest. And don’t you go sloshing it into your glass like a maniac. Because this gin needs remarkably little tonic to reach its ideal balance, in my view. Try it with 1:1 ratio and see what you think.

The Fort G&T is bloody good. It has that delicious creaminess of toasted nuts (almonds or cashews), and while there’s plenty of juniper to keep us anchored, the dominant flavour I taste is cardamom. Which is good, because I happen to like cardamom quite considerably. There’s also coconut and plenty of floral shenanigans going on. In concert, those flavours gel beautifully, as they might in, say, a South Indian curry. Double down on that, I suggest, by chucking a wedge of lime in there. Sodding delicious. A benefit (or danger) of the fact that Fort requires so little tonic is that you can get a good few drinks from a single Fever Tree mini-bottle or can.

You’ll get through them quickly, I’ll warrant.

Fort Gin and Tonic Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

The Fort Gin Negroni

Hmm. This one’s a bit weird. The negroni context amps up the sweetness already present in Fort Gin, which isn’t really called for. What’s more, adding cardamom to the negroni’s already crowded flavour profile turns it into a bit of a riot. It’s still nice, I should say, but rather all over the place. You don’t get the benefit of Fort’s elegance and subtlety, here, that’s for sure. It does have a rather lovely creamy aftertaste though.

Personally, I’m not sure you’d want to spend over 30 quid on a bottle of Fort Gin only to use it to make negronis.

Fort Gin Negroni Verdict

Sip it!

No. Instead of negronis, you want to use it ALL for…

The Fort Gin Martini

Christ, this is smooth. Smooth and sweetly floral. Rose. Soft cinnamon. Vanilla. Cream — oh god, cream.

A Fort Gin Martini is alarmingly easy to drink. It makes a martini that slides down your throat in the sweetest, softest, most beguiling way. It’s rather a long way, then, from the typical experience of this noble cocktail: if you’ve read me blathering on about the perfect martini, you’ll know that my platonic ideal of the martini is a pretty punchy piece of work.

A Fort Martini, though, caresses rather than thwacks. It’s, as I may have mentioned, extraordinarily, creamily smooth. It makes an extremely accessible martini. It is not standard Parn issue stuff, but it is bloody delicious nevertheless.

Serve it with lemon twist, for god’s sake; an olive in this context would be barbaric.

I tried it with Blackdown Vermouth (£20.15, Master of Malt — made in neighbouring Sussex; review in the works) and the result was almost indecently floral. Genuinely quite extraordinary. I also tried it with my staple, Dolin Chambery (£10.49, Waitrose). I prefer it with the more austere and pared-back Dolin: I don’t think Fort Gin needs extra florality and sweetness, and the Blackdown slightly over-eggs a pretty damn deliciously eggy pudding. The Dolin keeps it in better balance.

Fort Gin Martini Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

In summary, then: this is a very fine gin. If you prefer your gins trad, or aggressive — or if you don’t like cardamom — it won’t be for you. But otherwise I urge you to give it a gulp. Hole yourself up in your fortress, mix up a martini, sit back and enjoy the siege.

Lone Wolf Gin Review

Lone Wolf is the kind of gin of which the captain of secret police in a repressive, totalitarian regime would heartily approve. Question is, does Old Parn feel similarly…?

Come in! Come in! Fortunate favourite of Old Parn — or else not so fortunate.

Okay, this is a bloody good gin. Depending upon your feelings about those publicity-hungry scamps Brewdog, you’ll either be heartened or dismayed (or, perhaps, a complex and unsettling mixture of the two) to know that Lone Wolf Gin is affiliated to the aforementioned company. But we’re here to talk about the booze, not the bizniz, aren’t we? So let’s get on with it.

Lone Wolf falls squarely into the punchy quadrant of the Old Parn gin-o-gram. So punchy, in fact, that it punches a hole through the gin-o-gram and splits the (stone) table it was sitting on. This is a gin that’ll have you reeling.

And that’s good, alright?

Lone Wolf Gin and Tonic

My usual G&T for gin review purposes is 1 measure of gin to 2 of tonic. I mixed one Lone Wolf G&T with Fever Tree Light Tonic Water and one with Fever Tree Regular. I also made G&Ts with Tanqueray, which I used as a frame of reference against which to compare, and certainly not an excuse to have more gin and tonic.

Zounds! The Lone Wolf Gin and Tonic is a belter. With both types of tonic, it tastes far stronger than the Tanqueray (itself hardly mimsy). It’s full of juniper and spice and pine. Cold, dark, coniferous forests fragrant in a winter downpour. Really quite excellent, in my view. This is how I like a G&T: powerful, serious, uncompromising. Wolfish.

Bottle of Lone Wolf Gin close-up

I think I prefer it with Fever Tree Regular Tonic, though it’s good with Light Tonic too. Regular smooths and softens it just a little, teasing out some warmth, some voluptuousness. With Fever Tree Light, things are just slightly more perfunctory.

It’s not exotic (the prominence of pine is the most strikingly atypical thing about it, but it still very much tastes like gin), and the hoofing deep/dark flavours are nicely cut with citrus, keeping it from being too gruff. I’d suggest serving it with lemon (or grapefruit if you have one kicking about) — or you could chuck in a sprig of rosemary if you want to amp up the woody stuff even further.

Lone Wolf G&T Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

The Lone Wolf Negroni

The Negroni game is harder to play with a bossy bastard like Lone Wolf. My first attempt was terrible: equal measures of Lone Wolf Gin, Campari and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The Cocchi is crowded out (except for its sweetness), resulting in a Negroni with a thudding bass, a bit of shrill treble, but not much filling out the mid-range — like listening to your neighbours’ amorous antics the other side of your bedroom wall. There may well be good stuff involved, in other words, but you’re not getting the benefit.

What you need to make a Lone Wolf Negroni work is a similarly assertive vermouth. You may recall that I have an open bottle of Asterley Brothers English Vermouth lingering lugubriously in my fridge and that works far better. I also — as is my wont — substituted Sacred Rosehip Cup for Campari. This made for a hugely superior drink: quite a distance from the typical Negroni, but balanced, complex, strong. Rather damn nice.

Bottom line, though: Lone Wolf is not ideal for a Negroni, primarily because it’s too damn full of flavour itself. With Campari, there’s a bit of a clash (two motormouths at a dinner party). Work around it as I did above, or (perhaps more sensibly) save it for drinks where gin is unquestionably the focus.

Lone Wolf Negroni Verdict

Verdict: Sip it!

I guess the clue’s in the name. This is a Lone Wolf, after all, not a goddamn Pack Wolf.

Which makes it no surprise at all that this egocentric gin should excel in the context of…

The Lone Wolf Martini

Yes, finally, the martini test. I was impatient — and so are you, because you already know it’s going to be good. Therefore I went for a Duke’s Hotel-style martini (no pissing around with ice and stirring, just a freezer-cold glass, rinsed with a little vermouth, freezer-cold gin poured straight on, large lemon twist) and, Christ alive, it’s good.

The pine and juniper heavies mug you at the beginning, in that charming mockney way of theirs — don’t worry, they won’t break the skin — and afterwards, as you lie there in the gutter, blissfully concussed, you’re in for a long, toasty-warm, creamy-dreamy finish — I’m talking ten, twenty seconds (exhausting, eh?) — during which the taste becomes ever more sweet and perfumed. If you squint your tastebuds, there’s rose in there. Fucking rose. This is the kind of thing that got Edmund into deep shit in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, gobbling Turkish Delight while being whisked through the snowy forests by the queen of ice. If that’s not Lone Wolf Gin in the Witch’s magic hipflask, I don’t know what it is.

Oh, yeah, well done if you saw the Narnia metaphor coming. Your attentiveness makes this all worthwhile.

So sod Peter, Susan, Lucy and that fucking Faun. I’m in the sled with Ed. Ed, the Witch and the Wolf.

Lone Wolf Martini Verdict

Verdict: Neck it!

Lone Wolf Gin is £31.95 at The Whisky Exchange and also stocked in Tesco and Sainsbury’s if those are more your (5p) bag. It has an ABV of 44%. I advise that you ignore if you can the fact that it is described as ‘gin for punks’. Brewdog, eh?