The strongest gin I’ve ever sampled was around 97% – when I travelled to the Balmenach Distillery in Scotland to see how Caorunn Gin was made. It was fresh off the still, and barely had the drop touched my tongue, than it had evaporated, and I didn’t so much taste it as inhale it. I was, however lucky. I knew it was going to be like that because I’d just watched three gents attempt it before me. So whilst I was still taken aback, I knew it was going to make my eyes water.
That little sampler is not for commercial release, it was simply a demonstration of the strength of the gin off the still. However, There is a gin very close it it in strength, at 82.5% from Strane Gin, and yes, you’ve guessed it, I’ve had a little sample to review.
Strane are based over in Sweden, on the edge of the North Sea – whisky lovers will know them better as Smogen Distillery, creators of a range of peaty, smoky whiskies since 2009.
In 2014, they launched their Strane range of gins – and similarly to their whiskies, they’re there for impact. Whether it’s in a gentler form, like their Merchant Strength gin at 47.4%, or their eyebrow raising 82.5%, they’re not shy and retiring. But the interesting thing from a geek perspective is how their gins are made. And we all know I’m a total geek – so time for the science bit:
They create three differently balanced gins – one is junipery, one is citrusy and the last is herbal – in small batches (around 45l of uncut strength gin) in a wood fired 100l still – very much in keeping with their ethos, for handcrafted, traditionally made spirits. The base spirits are then blended blended together in different quantities, to create the gins in their portfolio. Master Distiller Par Caldenby has taken skills used in whisky production (blending of different ages and barrel ageings into a final product), and used them in the production of their gin. And the skill is evident.
In all the gins, the botanicals used are juniper berries, coriander seeds, lemon peel/flesh, lime peel, almonds, basil, garden mint, sage, cinnamon bark, liquorice root and then two secret botanicals – one local to the distillery, and another more exotic, but both ‘typical of the ancient trade of the armed merchant ships’. Curiouser and curiouser.
So, that’s the science bit. Now let’s get to the gins.
In first, with the Merchange Strength gin, at 47.4%.
Neat, the nose has lots and lots of citrus, good hefty dash of pine, hints of earthiness. The palate was nothing like I was expecting. Sure there are, lots of citrus notes, but there’s much more lime on the palate than lemon, unlike the nose. Then a good hit of cinnamon, some hints of florals, and the sage comes through in a rich green note that coats the centre of your tongue. There’s that pot distillation sweetness, and the almonds enhance that, and also give it a lovely round mouthfeel.
As a G&T, it’s a good straightforward G&T. Lots of citrus, lots of juniper and that lovely hint of cinnamon coming through on the finish.
Onto the Navy Strength, which sits at 57.1%. The nose is much softer – subtler. A sweet lemon note to it. The palate is sweet, rich, with lots of lemon. And it’s powerful, oily, pepper notes. This has much more to give, with a little opening up. Whilst I’ll try it with tonic, it’s very obviously a cocktail gin, and in a Martini, or gimlet, this would sing.
In with a G&T and it’s soft, citrussy, the kick of cinnamon isn’t there in this one, but despite the strength this is another easy drinker, soft sweetness from the almonds at the end.
Onto the big boys.
The Strane Uncut Gin 76% was the World Record holder for the World’s Strongest Gin, until the Twin River Distillery (part of Deeside Brewery) took the title back from them with their own uncut at 77%. Whilst Strane would take the title back, it seems only fair to try their previous record holder.
The nose is dominated by the spirit, sweet strong alcohol, with a little soft coriander and juniper. And on the palate? Wowee. Yes, this packs a punch. Yes juniper, yes to citrus, sweetness too from both the coriander and the almonds. It’s definitely gin. It’s definitely strong. And would highly recommend trying it with a little ice for dilution, just to soften those edges off.
And onto the strongest of the five, the Ultra Uncut at 82.5%. The new World Record Holder.
The best way to describe the nose is hot juniper. On the palate, it has more softness to it, it’s more rounded, but the heat at the end is all alcohol. A little ice softens it, lightens it, but wow. Still boozey enough to make most eyes water.
Things don’t end there though, because we have their Oaked Gin, somewhere in the middle at 55%.
And as both a gin lover, and a whisky lover, it’s the bastard child of both. And the balance is astonishing. Neither gives any quarter, and it works, but I’d definitely add a little dilution – for me a cube of ice as I sip.
OK, so I’m not going to be drinking the Uncut every weekend, or even every month. But the Oaked Gin, and the balance of all the others – none of the botanicals are easy to blend together, especially something as green and herbal as sage, with lemon, and almond – only means I now need to save some pennies so I can sample their whiskies.
After all, they’re going to be just as interesting, right?