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
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.
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.
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.
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?