If humankind were as subtle, smooth, and balanced as this gin the world would be a much finer place.
Notes: Highclere Castle for those who do not follow such things, is the setting/location for the wildly successful Downton Abbey series and the rather regrettable movie that followed the series. That aside, the Lord ad Lady of Highclere also titled The 8th Lord and Countess of Carnavon have joined with some gin enthusiasts to bring us all the Highclere Castle Gin. The family has live at the castle since 1679 which is about the time gin was introduced to England, or maybe I should say when it came from Holland by English soldiers who had developed a taste for it having captured barrels of it in their war with the Dutch.
An interesting part of the backstory for this gin is the inspiration and use of the castles herb garden to formulate the botanical bill including the use of lavender. The lavender in the castles herb garden was originally planted by the bishop of Winchester in the 9th Century AD. Also the highly unusual addition of oats to the mashbill of the gin, the oats having been grown on the estate itself, and adding a lovely overall mouthfeel to the gin. Overall the gin has ten botanicals.
Highclere Castle Gin was 2 years in development using the estates’ botanicals in probably countless recipes and samples to get it right. To quote the President of a very famous bourbon company ( who I will not name)”Gin is a very fiddly thing” and something he would not attempt – despite making manty world-class bourbons he has never wanted to try attempt making a gin, it is a very complicated process fraught with pitfalls and disappointments. It is indeed a difficult process to get right – I have tasted many failures, a fair number of good attempts, a few excellent examples, but few truly subtle yet wonderful. This is one of those.
Appearance: Clear.viscous, quicksilver, medium coating of oily distillate on the glass which then forms a very even coat that then forms tears on the meniscus and then becoming an intriguing mix of legs and tears which cling to the glass rather than just dropping back to the pool it came from.
First Impression: Lavender, lime and juniper hints of angelica in the background are the first impression with citrus and coriander playing supporting roles The pepper and cardamom also tickle the nose but play nicely with the other ingredients
Taste: Lovely, oily rolling entry, with delightfully prickly herbal follow on with a sweetening, then drying, with a final whisper of juniper and lavender giving way to a long and pleasantly lingering finish, to use a Japanese Sake term Shiripin -” it has a tail” the oats that are grown on the estate and used in the mash bill for the base make their appearance in the first sip and carry on through the harmonious progression of botanicals providing a lovely smooth bass line until the end where it anchors the more aromatic botanical oils and provides a nice blanket of viscosity that yields unequaled smoothness to the gin overall.
Drinks: I am very much of two minds on this particular gin. Because it is a particular gin I really enjoy sipping it at room temperature out of a tasting glass (thistle type, footed or flute, or a nice bone china teacup on its own- it’s that good.
it is rare to be able to sit and sip a gin at room temperature and appreciate the art that went into it. I’ve sampled hundreds of gins over the years and there are very few that I like to sip and just enjoy for the art of them. This is one of them.
That is not to say that a cocktail using Highclere Gin is lesser than the sum of its parts, it IS a marvelous mixer and elevates both new and classic gin cocktails to another level. You should use other superior but subtle ingredients for the cocktails – Thank the Gods for better and more varied tonic waters such as the fever tree portfolio among others, and all the artisanal bitters and modifiers to add to the gin. Highclere Gin is an excellent foundation to build a cocktail from and every one we tried was made better by using this gin. Their version of a gin and tonic is very refreshing and nicely aromatic. Their White Lady is also very nice if you want to further dress it up, use a float of a drop of a aromatic bitters to add more complexity, but be careful what you use so as not to overwhelm rather than compliment the gin.
Bottle: A very striking and stately looking bottle overall and easy to spot at a distance by the striking combination of shape, color, and graphics.
The bottle itself is a tall rectangular bottle, square with rounded edges and shoulder with a frosted finish which has a nice velvety feel but not slippery. The color is quite striking, a very deep blue, like the upper stratosphere before it gives way to space. The color in the afternoon towards dusk is particularly striking and the gin adds a refractive quality to the glass and the edge line between the glass enveloping the gin is more sharply defined. The graphics are directly silkscreened to the bottle ( no cheap plastic labels pasted on ) with a line rendition of the castle, the designation as a London Dry Gin ( a helpful designation these days given that there are som many New World, experimental and just plain odd gins out there now). Along with a drawing of a juniper sprig, alcohol strength ( 43.5 % by volume or 87 proof), and refreshingly the bottle capacity is written out, a rather more elegant way of doing things rather than expressing it numerically. The side panels simply say “Highclere Castle “Vertically and Gin on the horizontal Tastefully simple yet easy to identify The back panel has a short story a missive almost, from The Earl and Countess about the gin and its history. The screw cap is a bit heavier in a quality sort of way and is decorated with the family coat of arms on the sides and another drawing of Highclere Castle on the top ( also with the words “Highclere Castle” underneath. All of which make sure that the bottle can be easily identified from any angle or in whatever you have hidden it away in. In short, an awful lot of thought and attention to detail was done to give birth to this bottle.
Other: The use of the estate-grown oats adds a unique element to the mashbill and shines through the taste, mouthfeel, and body of the gin and makes for a lovely, harmonious gin.
Final Thoughts: As a London Dry Style Gin this is one of the best gins now on the market.Subtle, harmonious, deadly smooth but distinctive without resorting to gimmickry or stunt ingredients. Like many fine English made items, (Suits, hats, shoes, cars, umbrellas, etc.,etc.,) It is not the ostentation but the quiet and thorough attention to all the details that add up to something that is understated and discreet but unmistakeably one of the best of its kind.
An interesting website that is attractive and fast loading. A bit light on the gin details but beautiful photography.
If you want to learn more details on the gin go to the Langley Distillery page here