A friend recently enquired why I hadn’t written in almost four months. Honestly, it was a multitude of reasons: the current state of the world. The wedding I was busy planning, then had to postpone. The fact that I wasn’t drinking any whisky. The garden and allotment taking up my time. Finally, I didn’t have a computer other than my phone. Before I met the better half, I didn’t even have an internet connection, unless you counted my data allowance. I like to think I am one of those old souls who fears technology, but in times like these, it has been a godsend. I remember three months ago promising new reviews for Malt; boy, was I wrong. The creative juices were not flowing, but a recently-purchased computer and one online whisky tasting later, I am finally inspired to write something. Instead of nicking Pete’s laptop when not in use, I now have my own wee one to spout my musings! Huzzah!
I am sure many people can relate. The last few months have been Zoom calls galore with friends, family and, for me, “The Hipflask Hiking Club”. The whisky group (not a cult) has had weeks of fun chats since lockdown started in Scotland. Months later, people are still tuning in to partake in quizzes, variety shows and recently, our first online tasting. We were sent five whiskies plus a cheeky bonus—not a whisky, but a gin!
Let me tell you about my experiences with juniper juice. I had my first ever gin in my teens, a Gordon’s if I am remembering correctly, and that perfumey taste of floraliness put me off. Flowery flavours are not my favourite! However, around five or six years ago, a friend asked if I wanted a drink when out in a bar, and I said ‘Yeah, sure, surprise me’. It was a Hendrick’s with tonic and a slice of cucumber and I enjoyed it, so much so I had a few more. The next day I had the most beastly headache ever. I put it down to not hydrating enough and giving myself the dreaded hangover. The next gin I tried was around a year later, this time a Bombay Sapphire and tonic. It was not for me. One grimaced sip later, I passed it along and again, on that very day even, I had a wee niggly ache in the old noggin. It made me wonder, could gin be giving me these headaches? I had to put it to the test. The next time I went out, I went back to my previously enjoyed Hendrick’s, tonic and cucumber and, you guessed it, the next day my head was banging. That put the fear in me and I didn’t touch a drop of gin again for several years.
Last year when visiting the folks in Glamis, I decided to check out The Gin Bothy Experience, as it was only down the road. The friendly sales lady asked me to sample some; obviously, I politely declined because history dictates gin = headaches. She was very persuasive, though, and I took a tiny sip of one. It was nice, though it was mainly sugar: I tried the raspberry gin, in my opinion, an alcoholic Ribena, it was quite scrumptious. Thankfully, the next day, I didn’t have a sore head—yay! Even though I enjoyed the raspberry gin and it didn’t give me pains, I still didn’t feel like becoming a gin drinker. There are too many whiskies out there I haven’t even dipped a finger into! Besides, some whisky friends labelled me a hipster because I also visited Ogilvy Vodka on my trip. Shamed just for momentarily straying away from whisky!
Fast forward to the present. With the tasting pack I received, there was a sample of The Little Brown Dog Gin kindly gifted from The Grail in Doune, along with the whisky tasting line up. To be transparent (as Malt always aims to be), I should say that the Hipflask Hiking Club has a close association with both LBD Distillers and The Grail as founding members/owners of both businesses are also members of the club. On the night of the tasting, I only took a tiny sip because I wanted to save some for my review. I decided to test the liquid out on its own to see if I got the dreaded headache and to experience the flavour without having drunk a few whiskies beforehand. To make this a fair review, I decided to make a side-by-side comparison with The Botanist Gin from Bruichladdich. A bottle found its way onto my lap last year after winning one at the club’s raffles. Sitting in my cupboard unopened and gathering dust (metaphorically only, my home is a temple!), this felt like the perfect time to open.
You can purchase the Botanist Islay Dry Gin from Master of Malt for £33.95, Amazon request £31.45 for a bottle and The Whisky Exchange is also £31.45.
Little Brown Dog Gin, 43% – review
On the nose: sweetness that strongly reminds me of lime and orange Tic Tacs, tangy lemon sherbet and orange Calippo push up ice-lollies. There is a fleeting waxy aroma with a dusty powderiness that dries my nostrils. A dulled-down scent of juniper berries, without the deep earthiness, is present. I found this gin to be quite fresh, which cuts through the heavier notes. However, as the gin oxidised, the deeper flavours came out: freshly sliced beetroot and cucumbers, quite sappy and lightly floral.
In the mouth: the viscosity is at a pleasant oiliness. The gin is lemony and fresh thyme is present. Lemon balm comes to mind with its waxy undertones. Earthy notes are there, but not very strong. It becomes drying after a while, and there is a white pepper tingle that doesn’t contain the spice. This gin is sweet, but not overly, as the nose might have suggested. The finish for me is medium with the ghost of citrus remaining in the mouth and that spice-less pepper tickle at the back of the throat.
The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, 46% – review
On the nose: I get the initial spirited sweetness sprinkled with a white pepper tickle. The artificial sweetie flavours are mellow, reminding me of watery sugar syrup. There is a dusty dryness and strong juniper berry flavours with a hint of earth. As the gin oxidises, the pepperiness becomes menthol, and more of the citrus notes come out. The citrus isn’t in your face, though; it’s more like lemon-flavoured icing sugar. There are floral notes reminiscent of rubbing fresh lemon thyme between your fingers and walking past a heather field. This gin remains quite light and mellow on the senses.
In the mouth: the spiritiness from the nose translates through. It is oily with a bitterness akin to citrus peels, sweet and tannic, which becomes drying quite quickly. Rooty, earthy flavours like angelica and aniseed become more prominent. The flavour was more than I was expecting, as I thought the nose was very mellow, apart from the alcohol hit. Short to medium on the finish, as I found the liquid drying; then it settles down to a faint sweetness with a hint of spice.
I reviewed these gins over the course of three days, one day reserved for a bit of each and the third for comparing the two together to test the headache theory, and I can happily report that I did not have a sore head the next day (it must have been the tonic all along)! I had quite a pleasurable time sitting out in my garden nosing gin and a jar full of dried juniper berries. I can see why this is an enjoyable summer drink. What my “experiment” revealed was that LBD was lighter and sweeter on the nose, whereas The Botanist was dryer and mellower. Both reminded me of drinking sparkling water without the fizz, with an almost chalky sensation on the palette.
Thankfully, both were not too floral, as those are negative notes for me. The reason why I gave each the same score was because I enjoyed them, even with their differences. I noticed that, over time, I preferred the LBD’s nose, as it was not so spirity, and the mellow Botanist became stronger. As a non-gin drinker with a dislike of floral notes, I found it surprising that I could sip both neat. It has been a pleasant experience; next time, I may not pass on a gin if I’m offered one.
Photographs from their respective bottlers and there are commission links here if you wish to support Malt by buying gin.
Nice to see one of your reviews again! Did you ever figure out what gave you the headaches? People sometimes think the culprit is a certain category of drink (gin, whisky, whiskey, rum, tequila, red wine, vodkas made from wheat, etc) when it is something like a histamine intolerance, which is triggered or exacerbated by seasonal or environmental factors or what is eaten with the drink. On the other end of the spectrum, sense memory is a powerful force, filtering our perception of the world long after we’ve forgotten certain events. SO one bad night with gin can lead to a real physical aversion years later.
Hi Jessica, thanks for the comment! Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn’t find out, I wasn’t chancing it 😀 I didn’t want a sore head! I agree, I do think it is some sort of histamine intolerance as I also have sore heads from drinking some sherried whiskies; I believe Jason has written about the histamine in sherry casks before… It’s good to be back, and I’ll be back on the whisky tasting/writing next time.