It must be easy, when you create an award-winning, best-selling spirit, to rest on your laurels; to take it easy, sit back and let the money roll in. This, I would suggest, is an alien concept to Alex and Jane Nicol, founders and co-owners of The Spencerfield Spirit Company. Prior to setting up Spencerfield Spirits, Alex Nicol, a keen whisky aficionado, held executive directorships at Glenmorangie and Beefeater Gin (amongst others). Now a close-knit, family-run business, the story of Spencerfield Spirits, and their passion for continuous innovation, dates back to the mid-1700s.
In the mid-to-late 1700s the Spencerfield land, overlooking the Firth of Forth, was farmed by trained distiller, James Anderson, and his wife Hannah. This was a great time for whisky production in Scotland although much of the whisky produced near the sea was shipped to London to be re-distilled to gin; a much more popular product in the UK. However, following a law banning spirits from being distilled outside London, James and his family left the farm in 1791. Shortly after, in 1795, Duncan Montgomery built the first dedicated distillery on the Spencerfield Farm estate. Business boomed and by 1860 they were producing a Lowland malt whisky for the English and local markets using a Coffey’s column still.
Continuing this long tradition, Spencerfield Spirits launched its flagship product, Sheep Dip whisky, in 1970, followed by another, Pig’s Nose, in 1973. Alex Nicol wasn’t one to rest on his laurels though and went on to launch Edinburgh Gin in June 2010. Edinburgh Gin was originally produced by the Langley Distillery in Birmingham, before being shipped back to Edinburgh where a selection of locally-sourced Scottish botanicals, such as milk thistle, pine and heather, were macerated with the gin distillate prior to bottling. Having successfully brought to market another spirit, Alex and Jane then had the confidence to move all distilling and production in-house, with the first still run taking place on July 1st 2014. This brave move also saw them open a bar and gin-tasting experience in the heart of Edinburgh and undertake a ground-breaking partnership with Heriot-Watt University’s Centre for Brewing and Distilling.
The knowledge transfer programme with the Heriot-Watt University has sparked great creativity and innovation resulting, first, in Cannonball, a 100% proof gin inspired by Edinburgh’s naval heritage, launched in September 2014. This was then followed by more variations including Christmas Gin which was originally launched in 2014 and repackaged in 2015.
The bold bottle, like Edinburgh Gin’s others, is inspired by the Scottish Art Deco movement and references gin’s glory days of the 1920s. It is also resplendent in festive gold and red. The Christmas theme continues with the botanicals, which include frankincense and myrrh. Edinburgh Gin take their original gin, which features clove, pine, heather, milk thistle and liquorice, and infuse it with the tastes of frankincense, myrrh and nutmeg.
Frankincense and myrrh are both tree resins which are commonly used in incense and perfumes, and believed to have a wide range of health benefits. I have to admit, though, I wouldn’t know how to expect either to smell, or taste! I didn’t pick up anything particularly unusual, or distinctive on the nose, which mostly featured juniper and citrus with a slight sweetness that could come from the aromatic frankincense and myrrh.
To taste this was nothing like I expected, despite not knowing what to expect! This gin isn’t obviously, or overwhelmingly, Christmassy but it does offer a comforting warmth which is ideal for the deep mid-winter. Neat, I could identify the spices and citrus with a slight heat from the cinnamon and a subtle nutmeg finish. Mixed 50/50 with water, the subtlety and smoothness shone through alongside the citrus.
As a gin and tonic, the gin lost its heat but retained its subtle sweetness, gentle spiciness and citrus. This is a complex and intriguing, multi-layered gin which could also be enjoyed in a Negroni, with the sweet myrrh providing balance to the cocktail. To make Edinburgh Gin’s Winter Negroni pour equal measures of Christmas Gin, Martini Rosso and Martini Bitters into a glass, add ice, stir and garnish with an orange slice. Alternatively you could also try Christmas Gin in a festive egg nog or hot toddy.
This isn’t a crass, gimmicky Christmas gin, but a gin you could happily enjoy all winter long, if not all year through. Frankincense and myrrh were valuable items in the ancient world and standard gifts to honour a king or deity. This silver-award-winning gin is true gold, and would make a more-than-special gift for the gin lover in your life this Christmas!
With thanks to Edinburgh Gin, and Jen McClure at LUX, for sending me a sample to review.