Blog Post – A whole new appreciation for a Gin & Tonic

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10th August 2014

Those who know me will be aware that I am rather partial to a gin and tonic, an inherited predilection, and a tradition I am happy to uphold. My favourite combination has always been a good measure of Bombay Sapphire, two ice cubes, a squeeze of lime juice, a wedge of lime and topped up with Schweppes tonic.

But my gin horizons have been broadened this summer mainly via the food festivals I’ve been visiting over the summer. The number of artisan gin brands that I have come across and tasted has been a revelation. I’ve tried Pinksters, Sipsmith, Opihr, Warners, Hayman’s Old Tom, Adnams Copper House, Adnams First Rate and Anno gins and have been really impressed by the variety and quality of the spirits I’ve tried.

I was particularly keen on the Anno gin which was served to me not with lemon or lime but with bruised samphire and topped up with Fevertree tonic water, which I enjoyed so much I had to buy a few bottles! I got talking to Andrew and Kim (who it turns out is a massive MasterChef fan!) and before long had managed to wangle myself an invite down to the Anno distillery in Kent and to meet Patience – the most crucial member of the team.

I had a great visit to the Anno distillery near Tonbridge in Kent and was shown around by Andy and Norman, who along with Kim are the founders of Anno gin. You might think that the makers of a fine artisan gin would be serial food entrepreneurs but these guys were quite different. They had both been highly successful chemists for most of their careers, and redundancy had given them the chance to try something new. Andy’s daughter Kim also had a scientific background, and she completes the team.

Gin is a clear sprit which is flavoured by different herbs and spices, called botanicals. Each brand has a different blend, which is what gives all these different gins their own unique flavour. Unsurprisingly the three scientists took an empirical approach to finding their perfect blend. They started by researching the different botanicals used in gin over the years and found over 300 through British library records. They whittled these down to a more realistic 50 and tested each one separately. That took them down to 25 and then the real work of blending and testing began until they were happy.

Their aim was to create a flavour which had elements of citrus, floral and woody notes. Anno were very clear that their gin should reflect the county of Kent and so they looked for a combination of floral and woody flavours. Clearly the exact blend was never revealed to me, but I did learn that they use the fairly traditional gin botanicals of juniper (which is non-negotiable for gin), coriander, angelica root, orris root (from the iris plant), cassia bark, cubebs (a type of pepper) and liquorice root. Added to these are some more exotic flavours of lemon, kaffir lime and bitter orange. And then the very English and Kent elements are added, which to my mind is what makes Anno particularly notable. These are rose hips, lavender, camomile, elderflower, Kent hops and Romney marsh samphire.

It was so interesting to speak to Andy and Norman about their journey. They relied heavily on their science background by way of the methodology and experimentation used to develop the product but making an artisan product, they have realised nature has so much to offer as well. They also needed to train their noses to realise when the sprit was ready and rely on their taste to develop the flavours that they wanted for the finished product. That’s why the Anno branding is themed around the fusion of science and nature.

I very much enjoyed meeting Andy and Norman but without doubt the best part of my visit was seeing Patience in all her glory. Patience is the copper and steel still which was made to Anno’s exact specifications. She really is quite a beauty, as well as a hugely impressive bit of machinery. The distilling process was explained to me by Andy; how certain botanicals are heated with the spirit and how others are suspended over the vapour in a basket to infuse. I was fascinated how the copper works to draw out impurities and how the batch is divided into heads, hearts and tails, with only the hearts being used and the heads and tails being discarded.

It was clear that the Anno team are following a passion they have and for anyone who has ever sat around with a pin and a bunch of sloes to make their own winter tipple, maybe we might also ne day think about finding our own secret blend of botanicals to create our very own artisan gin.

I also wanted to make mention of the Essex Festival and Food and Drink which took place a couple of weekends ago at the historic Cressing Temple Barns near Braintree, which incidentally if you haven’t already visited you really should get over there – it’s magnificent. For that weekend however, the barns were a backdrop for a really great festival with local Essex produce and great food and drink as well as live music and of course the must-see celebrity chefs.

I was honoured to be asked to perform alongside star-chefs such as Daniel Clifford, Joanne Wheatley and Tony Singh and it was a really memorable weekend. As well as my own demonstration, my friend Tony Singh also dragged me up onto the chef’s theatre stage to challenge me to a pancake flipping duel, en route to making his Nutella pancake gateau with marmalade sauce. Despite the pressure, I managed to successfully flip all my pancakes without dropping any and the finished product was completely delicious.

The festival was definitely one of my highlights of the summer and a great family day out. If you didn’t manage to get along this year, I would definitely put it in your diary for July 2015. Hope to see you there.