What’s in a name, asked Shakespeare? Well, rather a lot actually in this day and age of the booming gin industry, brand awareness and trademark tussles. As Tiger Gin found out when Heineken Asia Pacific PTE challenged their trademark application, claiming it was too similar to that of Tiger Beer. But, against the odds, they won. And since then, David has turned Goliath and, despite the recognition on their website that “Everyone hates a bully”, they recently took the tiny Capreolus Distillery, and their Garden Tiger Gin, to court over a trademark violation. And, as you may have guessed given the title of this piece, they won again.
Now, I could wax lyrical about the differences between the two gins and how unfair I think that ruling was, but you can make up your own mind and, anyway, to do that would be a disservice to what is now called Garden Swift Gin. Citing the court ruling as “more of a distraction than a problem”, Barney Wilczak, Capreolus Distillery’s founder and distiller, got on with changing the name but not the bottle, nor the spirit inside, which are both still as stunning as ever.
The bottle alone speaks volumes about the passion and precision with which Barney approaches all his work. The dark, elegant bottle is constructed from UV resistant glass to protect the delicate essential oils within. The corks have been produced to Barney’s personal specification and support the rich biodiversity of the cork forests in Portugal, as well as providing a barrier that breathes, creating, as Barney says “a further, slow evolution of our product within the bottle”. The packaging design is trusted to Barney’s father and brother and the traditionally hand-printed letterpress labels to Barney’s partner’s father. These temptingly tactile labels are simple yet stunning, featuring the small moth after which the product was originally named. Naturally, those bottles are then filled, corked and even labelled by hand, around the dining room table, because the letterpress labels can’t be applied by machine! This is a true labour of love. And we haven’t even got to the gin within yet.
Barney’s real passion for distilling began with creating incredible sounding eaux de vie about eight years ago. I’d love to tell you all about it, about how every email I receive from Barney references the specific type and quantity of fruit he is currently working on – be it the amount of raspberries needed to produce a litre of eau de vie or the ton each of blackcurrant and blackberry he’s awaiting delivery of – but we’re here to talk about gin. And there’s more than enough to talk about there.
With his impeccable attention to detail, Barney collected, distilled and blended hundreds of seeds, spices, flowers, herbs, roots and fruits before selecting 34 botanicals to work with. These he keeps a closely guarded secret, not for fear of reproduction, but because, he says, it allows him to focus on the complexity and balance of flavours. However, he did admit that, in addition to lots of juniper, there’s also peppermint, rowan berries, mullein flowers (a member of the snapdragon family) and blossom from a native British lime tree. The citrus comes in the form of fresh Sicilian organic blood orange zest; and that determination to use fresh, rather than dried, peel saw Barney zesting 2,600kg of oranges last winter before vacuum-packing and freezing them to retain their flavour! The hard spices, berries and herbs are then soaked in a neutral British wheat spirit for 40 hours. After which the fresh blood orange zest, and a mix of flowers and fragrant leaves, are suspended above the liquid in the still to vapour-infuse during the slow seven-hour distillation, after which nothing is added except local water. Technically this is a London Dry Gin but Barney doesn’t promote it as one because he worries about “the connotations of this description as being a classic flavour profile”. The scale of the production, in the lean-to greenhouse beside Barney’s family home, also limits the number of bottles to 200 per batch.
In keeping with Barney’s love of nature, each batch varies with the weather and the seasons but I think that is undoubtedly part of its charm. On the nose my gin (from batch 0112) is full of blood orange but also underlying spices and some more lifted floral notes. In honesty there isn’t a lot of juniper upfront but, at 47% ABV there is certainly some booze! On sipping a floral, honey sweetness gives way to warming spices – coriander and cardamom I’d guess – and a refreshing minty/liquorice heat on the lengthy finish. The blood orange is there too of course, particularly towards the middle, but more suppressed than the nose suggests. Or maybe it’s just that there’s so much else going on as well on the palate.
On the other hand the juniper is, if I’m honest, pretty subtle. It is there, it just isn’t the star of the show. But that’s almost the point I think. Barney didn’t want to create a gin with a key botanical, nor a classic one, but one that is both complex and balanced. And that he has undoubtedly achieved. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this gin, but for now I’m sticking to a good old gin and tonic because it is so darn tasty with the citrus and cardamom really shining through. Aesthetically it’s worth nothing that this gin may louche, or cloud, but that’s simply because Barney chooses not to chill-filter his gin, believing it strips the spirit of aroma, flavour and even texture. The clouding is simply nothing more than the reaction of the oils in the botanicals to being chilled or diluted.
In case I’ve not already made it clear, I love this gin. I love everything about it from the story to the bottle to the label to the contents. I hope to visit Barney in his distillery soon and God knows I’ll probably love
him that too! Everything without exception is done with true passion and precision but also an enviable focus on what matters and an acceptance of what doesn’t (from, it would appear, costs to court cases). I have yet to meet Barney in person but I suspect he must be one incredibly laid-back perfectionist, if such a thing is possible.
And he, and his 1.5 colleagues, are certainly reaping the rewards of all their hard work. Within five months of launching, Garden Tiger (as it was then) was named The Whisky Exchange Spirit of the Year 2017; an industry-led award that picks just one winner from all the spirits on the market. Recently, the distillery has also been awarded a rural development grant which has allowed them to invest in a unique still designed to Barney’s needs, and also to more than triple production. And he’s got plenty more in the pipeline with the UK’s first raspberry eau de vie from natural sugar and a permanent mulberry wood barrel-aged Garden Swift Gin being added to the line-up. But don’t expect to see too much coming out of this tiny distillery because quantity is never the name of the game here.
“We regret that we cannot offer more of our wonderful products, quality dictates.”
And just to cap it all off, Barney isn’t at all bitter and twisted about his fall out with Tiger Gin. In fact, he’s not really even telling anyone about it. Instead (publicly at least) he’s rather romanticised the reason for the name change and good for him I say. For one thing’s for sure; this gin by any other name would taste as terrific!
Purchase Garden Swift Gin direct from the Capreolus Distillery at £36 for 50cl (47% ABV).
With thanks to Barney Wilczak for the complimentary bottle of Garden Swift Gin.