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.

Some English Hanky Panky

I mean, when a cocktail is already called a Hanky Panky, what else is there to say? This was my first go at incorporating Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet into a drink that doesn’t make my friends hate me. I think it worked.

Oh relax. It’s just a bloody cocktail, you prude.

A bottle of Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet (£32.95 from The Whisky Exchange) showed up in my latest booze delivery. As you may have gathered, I’m intrigued by the alcoholic antics of the Asterleys. I’m also a Fernet novice. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt a ‘review’ of this critter: for once, I’m sufficiently conscious of my own ignorance to be deterred.

I did, though, have the pleasure of passing a glass of the stuff round at a gathering of chums, the other night — and hearing one after the other give some variation of the theme of, ‘Whhheeeuooargh!’ as the tastebrains of each scrambled to process their first mouthful.

I enjoy a little light libationary sadism.

Which is by way of saying: Britannica Fernet (in common with Fernet in general, I believe) is not the easiest of beverages.

I’m pretty sure that neat, over ice, it’ll be a grower. But I’m going to have to work at it.

Meanwhile, though, I have a more accessible means by which to unlock its charms:

Closeup of the surface of an English Hanky Panky cocktail

English Hanky Panky Recipe

A fantastic cocktail with a stupid name but which is really, I suppose, simply a negroni variation: Fernet hoofs Campari out of its usual place in the mix. I’m calling this one the English Hanky Panky because, well, all the ingredients (except the orange twist, I guess) are from this screwed up, snarling little brat of a country. Here’s how to make one.

  • 1 part London Gin (something like Tanqueray, Sipsmith or Gordon’s)
  • 1 part red vermouth (I’m using Asterley Bros Estate Vermouth, £23.25 from The Whisky Exchange)
  • ½ part Fernet (I’m using Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet)

Add gin, vermouth and fernet to a mixing glass/shaker filled with ice. Stir (gently yet firmly, y’know) for a good 20-30 seconds, so that everything gets good and chilly. Then strain into a cocktail glass (ideally one that’s been lingering deep in the recesses of your freezer for just such a purpose). Twist a length of orange peel over the surface of the drink so that the oils squeeze out, then drop the twist into the drink.

You can vary the amount of Fernet according to the amount of bitterness that lingers within your soul. I find the above ratio is bracing without allowing the Fernet to overpower the rest.

It’s a bloody delicious alternative to the Negroni and I love the fact that the Britannica Fernet’s bitterness, whilst brutal, isn’t confected or sugary.

Hanky Panky cocktail in a martini glass with twist of orange. Made from gin, vermouth and fernet.

Any more Fernet cocktail recipes? Let me know…

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?

Booze of the week: Asterley Bros Estate English Vermouth

Many things are nicer than a bout of labyrinthitis-induced vertigo. Asterley Bros English Vermouth is one such thing. You possibly shouldn’t drink this until your room spins, but far be it from me to dissuade you… It’s bloody good.

What’s worse than a hangover? I’ll tell you: the symptoms of a hangover (the absolute worst kind), lasting for days, without the benefit of actually having been drunk beforehand.

Reader, welcome to the world of labyrinthitis.

Thanks to questionable goings-on in my manky old inner ear, the world has been spinning in a decidedly unpleasant manner lately. Needless to say, the beast alcohol has taken a back seat during this nausea-wracked time. Along with work, the outside world and anything beyond the most rudimentary forms of motion.

Labyrinthitis isn’t all that fun.

Anyhow, this weekend the good ship Parn seems to have steadied. And I’d like to celebrate that fact, if I may, with a generous glassful of the subject of today’s post: Asterley Bros English Red Vermouth.

I mentioned this vermouth before (in my post about the Negroni Manzanilla, remember?), but only as a footnote. It’s better than a footnote, though. It deserves the spotlight.

There aren’t many English Vermouths knocking about, as far as I can tell. Asterley Bros (they actually are brothers, I believe) leapt with typical Forest Hill panache into the breach. What is it, incidentally, about Forest Hill and alcohol? I’ve only been there once or twice, but you have the Asterley HQ, you have Robert McIntosh (patron saint of UK wine bloggers), you have Forest Hill Gin Club, whose virtues a friend of mine extols… None of these things, mark my words, do you have in Petersfield, Hampshire.

Anyhow. The bros Asterley knocked up a vermouth (alongside, intriguingly, an Amaro and a Fernet, neither of which I’ve yet tried). Unlike lots of red vermouths, the Asterleys’ isn’t made from a base of white wine (the colour of red vermouth normally comes from caramel, not the original wine). Asterley Bros Vermouth, though, is made from a base of red wine (in this case, pinot noir from Gusbourne Estate in Kent). It’s instantly evident, both in terms of the drink’s appearance (darker, tending more towards opacity) and its taste: the grip of the tannin and heft of darker berry fruits is unlike the more herb-led Italian vermouths (Martini Rosso et al).

Which is all frightfully interesting, of course. But you don’t come here for facts, do you?

(Please tell me you don’t come here for facts.)

Let’s taste, then. Starting with Asterley Bros Vermouth unadulterated (well, except for the obligatory twist of orange peel): neat, over ice.

Glass of English Red Vermouth alongside a table lamp

It’s indecently full and sweet in the gob to begin with, but a very nice catch of bitterness steps in fairly quickly, handing over to a bunch of spicy, rooty characters to escort you out. Considerably less sweet than some of its ilk (I’m looking at you, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino) and rather delicious to sip when you want something without the hefty ABV of a whisky (or a Negroni) but with some depth and complexity to it. I know it’s customary in Spain to drink Vermouths neat in this way, and I raise my glass to our Iberian friends in approbation.

And in a Negroni, too, it’s excellent — so long as you’re not after a classic Negroni. Because of its depth and bitter edge, it certainly muscles into the drink. My preference is not to put it up against Campari, but instead pair it with the mellower Sacred Rose Hip Cup (£27.95, The Whisky Exchange), against which I don’t feel it competes to the same degree.

Oh, and it’s sodding blinding in a Manhattan. Really extremely good, anchoring the drink superbly. I put it in a 1:2 ratio with Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey (£27.75, The Whisky Exchange) and a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters.

Now, sorry in advance. I’m going to talk dirty.

I’m going to talk (urgh) marketing.

I don’t know whether the Bros have a natural grasp of the dark arts or whether they’re superbly well-advised. But they’ve done a couple of pretty intelligent things with their drinks. Firstly, by the look of it, they’ve spent a decent amount of cash on the packaging design and sourcing, and have accomplished the two most important goals: it looks expensive and it looks different (bear in mind this will sit alongside bottles of Martini Rosso, Punt e Mes and the like).

Bottle of Asterley Bros Estate English Red Vermouth

Secondly, they did some rather clever ‘beta testing’ whereby those registering early interest in the company were sent samples of alternative blends before the product was finalised and asked to confirm their preference. An alcoholic A/B test, in other words. What a fabulous, low-cost way to build an engaged base of customers and advocates (and do market research at the same time). Well done, chaps.

I’m not going to write loads more about the Asterley vermouth now — you’re a busy person, I know, and I have another English Vermouth post planned. In any case, I’m too busy drinking.

I have a week of lost labyrinthitis time to make up for…

Asterley Bros Estate Vermouth is available from the Bros own website (£23.95 for 500ml) and is also stocked by The Whisky Exchange, if you want to buy it alongside a host of other booze. It’s 16% ABV, if you’re interested.

The Negroni Manzanilla with Sacred Rosehip Cup – Recipe

As if a normal negroni weren’t good enough… Thanks to Poco Tapas, Old Parn discovers the majesty of the Negroni Manzanilla and Sacred’s Rosehip Cup.

I love a negroni. And before I went to Poco Tapas Bar during a visit to Bristol last summer, I believed I made a pretty damn good one.

Poco Tapas Bar’s Negroni Manzanilla took that belief of mine to one side and gave it a bloody good shoeing.

Because Poco’s Negroni Manzanilla is a work of exquisite dipsomaniacal genius.

The classic Negroni (come on, you know this) consists of gin, Campari and red vermouth in a 1:1:1 ratio, stirred over plenty of (chunky) ice cubes and lifted by a twist or wedge of orange.

Poco’s version changes this in two main ways. The first you’ll have guessed (unless your deductive reasoning is extraordinarily weak): the addition of Manzanilla sherry. The second is subtler but equally revolutionary: Campari is replaced with a fabulous liquid called Rosehip Cup, made by Sacred, and I guess this is the one Poco uses. It’s a good deal more expensive than Campari and a bit of a pain to get hold of offline (I ordered mine from the Whisky Exchange for £27.95), but — trust me, dear reader — absolutely worth your while and your dosh.

Why is this take on the negroni is so bloody good? It addresses the most significant drawback (in my view) of the classic: the fact that Campari’s bitterness is (to my taste — and it’s perhaps worth mentioning I am somewhat intolerant of bitter flavours…) slightly harsh and one-dimensional. The Rosehip Cup is smoother, fruitier, gentler. The crucial bitterness remains, but rather than the melodramatic bitterness of a romantically spurned adolescent, it’s the nuanced bitterness of a twice-divorced deputy headteacher who needs to keep things civil for the kids’ sake.

You can quote that in your marketing if you like, Sacred.

Bottle of Sacred Rosehip Cup and a lily in a glass

The better balance of a negroni with Rosehip Cup transforms it from a drink of which one is generally enough (before moving onto other fare, natch) into one of which the prospect of a second is spectacularly enticing.

And the Manzanilla. Let’s talk about the Manzanilla.

Now, you could comfortably change up your negroni game simply by swapping out the Campari for Rosehip Cup and leaving it at that. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, once you’ve tasted the Rosehip version, you’ll struggle to return to Campari. The addition of a splash of bone-dry sherry, by contrast, remains an optional flourish (the Negroni equivalent of a Dirty priligy la Martini, perhaps). The Manzanilla variant has a fabulous aromatic openness. While a classic negroni is a tightly coiled fist of a drink, the addition of Manzanilla loosens it a little, relaxes that tight grip. It hardly makes it into a long drink, but it’s definitely less short. I don’t think it replaces the classic, but it’s a bloody lovely alternative. I now buy EVEN MORE sherry (buy more sherry!) so that I can make these critters whenever the fancy takes me. Which is frequently. Try it and you’ll thank me.

Except you won’t thank me, you rude bugger. You’ll be too busy drinking negronis.

Recipe for Manzanilla Negroni

  1. Fill a glass (I use these elegant blighters from Ferm Living because I believe drinks should look handsome) with chunky icecubes
  2. Pour over 1 part gin (Tanqueray is a classic choice but there are hundreds of other possibilities)
  3. Add 1 part Sacred Rosehip Cup
  4. Then add 1 part red vermouth (Martini Rosso is the widely available one, but try others as and when you find them: Cocchi is currently stocked in my local Waitrose and works superbly. The choice of vermouth makes a massive difference to the drink, y’know… But that’s a topic for another post, methinks)
  5. Finally, add 1 part Manzanilla sherry
  6. Finish with a twist of orange (use a paring knife or peeler to slice off a strip of orange peel, fashion it into a twist in your big clammy hands, making sure to give it a good squeeze to release the oils)
  7. Neck the bastard

And four more bonus tips…

  1. You can buy half-bottles of Manzanilla from The Wine Society for £5.95 a pop, so you don’t have to crack open a whole 75cl bottle for the sake of a single negroni (though far be it from me to dissuade you…)
  2. Because the Rosehip Cup is less bitter than Campari, you might want to experiment with a heftier vermouth. I recently tried Asterley Brothers’ fabulous English Estate Vermouth (£23.25), which deepened the drink (and also the colour) considerably. This offset the breeziness of the Manzanilla/Rosehip combo in a way that felt appropriate for winter.
  3. You might want to experiment with the ratios of ingredients. For instance, a half-measure of Manzanilla still imparts some aromatic openness, but preserves more of the negroni’s punch. Depends what you fancy.
  4. Poco Tapas Bar is well worth a visit for more than just its negronis.