The gin renaissance is well under way. In today’s market, you can get traditional juniper-heavy London Dry, traditional malty genever and new age gins.
The latter, of course, is simply a way of saying it’s neither London Dry nor genever. There are no other defining characteristics. That is, in our view, the greatest strength of gin. No other spirit allows such breadth of creativity.
So how about a gin distilled only under the full moon?
By the light of the moon
According to its Spanish distillers, Alkkemist Gin is distilled only twelve times a year; when the moon is full and its influence is said to be bigger.
As romantic as it is, following moon cycles has more to do with ancient agricultural practices than werewolves. The early civilisations in the Fertile Crescent often timed their sowing and reaping to the moon’s phases. Theories abound as to why this was so; from the brightness of the full moon providing a celestial lantern in early times, to the gravity of the moon “pulling” sprouts out of the ground or leaves from the branches. Some contend that the timing was some sort of marvellous coincidence; the position of the moon in the night sky just happening to be in sync with horticultural fecundity.
The jury’s still out on that one, we’re afraid. No one knows for sure what effect the moon has on agriculture- or on the distillation of gin, for that matter.
Making the Spirit
We were not surprised to find out that the base is thrice distilled grain alcohol- a process that leaves a clean base spirit, giving the gin distiller a blank canvas to paint flavours on. What was surprising was that is made in traditional copper alembic.
The alembic is one of the oldest designs of still; so old that is often referred to in alchemical textbooks. An alembic preserves heavier flavours of the spirit compared to the commonly used column stills. Column stills produce a lighter tasting spirit, and have one major advantage over the alembic or pot stills: with the right design, it can be run continuously, and not just in batches. This means a larger production volume, and more bottles of spirit to sell; mass market vodkas, gins, and rums are produced in this way. A distiller that uses alembics, with lower outputs, has much incentive to focus on quality over quantity.
The list of botanicals, as always, is a fascinating study for anyone looking to appreciate the gin. We were told that it uses Mediterranean muscat grapes, which were added as a kind of a finishing to provide a sweet, floral scent and flavour. The average drinker might be familiar with the grape family; the Muscat blanc à Petits Grains strain is the primary grape used in sweet moscato wines.
The list of other botanicals is quite exotic. Other than the muscat, typical juniper, coriander, orange rind and lemon rind, the list reads like a herbalist’s shop. Samphire, sage, verbena, sweet chamomile, Mahon chamomile, rose petals, balm, rock tea, thyme, fennel, angelica, cardamom, mint, pennyroyal, chenille and agrimonia.
Whatever it is, us professional alcoholics are far more interested in the actual quality of the gin, moon or no. Alkkemist hails from Spain, and if there’s one thing that our Iberian friends take very seriously, it is their gin (and accompanying tonic).
Our initial nosing of the gin revealed softness coupled with complexity. A whiff revealed menthol, spices, pine, anise, cloves, dried citrus peel, and a soft, floral finish of roses and grapes.
On the tongue, the gin was light in body, and was surprisingly soft and quaffable; none of the burning sensation one typically gets from spirit. We got an initial blast of citrus, which then transitioned into creamy sweetness of grapes and strawberries. Finally, it tailed off with a dry, spicy finish of anise and peppers.
While the flavours were complex and diverse, they were well integrated and never battle for attention in the bottle. This is a mark of quality; we enjoyed peeling back the layers of botanicals and figuring out which flavour was which, but it was never chaotic and jarring. Well balanced and a pleasure to drink.
For traditionalists: the juniper was somewhat muted in this gin and the floral and spicy elements took the centerstage; if you prefer a traditional London Dry, this might not be for you.
How to drink it
As we do for gins, we also tried it in a few different cocktails. In a traditional dry martini, this worked quite well. The spirit is already drinkable on its own, so add a bit of vermouth, stir till ice cold and it makes for quite the tasty drink. We’d stick with the lemon garnish for this one to accentuate the citrus flavours; the olive and brine are not particularly good with spice and floral flavours.
In a negroni, Alkkemist was excellent too. The spicy and floral notes are a good match for the Campari and vermouth, though we’d suggest toning down the former, which can overpower the soft spirit.
In a gin and tonic, the Alkkemist needed a bit of work. It did not work particularly well in a traditional gin and tonic (served in a highball glass with a lime wedge). The traditional style of G&T works on the interplay between juniper and lime; the sweet and sour limes work well with spicy and herbal juniper. Since Alkkemist did not have a dominant juniper character, it did not synergise all that well with lime.
How best to serve it then? The hint is in its Iberian origins; a Spanish-style gin and tonic, served with a range of botanicals in a wine glass. Garnished with sliced strawberries, the cocktail is creamy, sweet and refreshing. It would probably also work well with dried lemon peels or rose petals.
Summing it all up
Alkkemist proves to be a quality gin. Interesting story aside, it has a soft appeal and complexity that opens itself to easy drinking and gin appreciation alike. A worthy acquisition for your liquor cabinet.