In my last review I asked ‘what’s in a name?’. But in this day and age of social media, visual identity matters too. So today I’m taking a closer look at labels; specifically the stunning label wrapped around the squat, square bottle of Hidden Curiosities Gin. I love the striking circus font with hints of Victoriana and the eye-catching copper foiling detail. It’s a handsome affair which, I think, will attract consumers whether online, in a shop or behind a bar. Better still, turn the bottle around and you are greeted with the very definition of a hidden curiosity; the eccentric wolf and dodo woodland scene after which the gin was named (and the design of which originated from the other business – the Cravat Club – that the gin’s founder runs). For me this aesthetically appealing bottle displays real passion and would make a great gift.
There is, however, one element which worries me. Like so many others out there this label features all the new buzzwords of the industry; “handcrafted”, “artisan” and “small batch”. Terminology was a matter of much conjecture at the recent Gin Debate at Hayman’s Distillery earlier this month with panellist Geraldine Coates suggesting that use of the term “craft” gin was where “the rot began” and others arguing that all gins are, by their very nature, handcrafted. And while batch size might, one day, be a useful way of categorising gin, at the moment use of the term “small batch” is unregulated and, therefore, essentially meaningless. Furthermore, this label states the gin is “Distilled in the Surrey Hills” which, while not inaccurate, perhaps conjures the impression that Hidden Curiosities is another gin made in someone’s shed or sitting room rather than one which is actually third-party distilled at Silent Pool. If regulation and enforcement need to be addressed then transparency and clarity also need to be encouraged.
For what its worth, I have no issue with the process of third-party distillation and I certainly don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of (after all it means the production is being overseen by someone with a huge amount of experience). Besides, Hidden Curiosities is downright delicious! That is a tribute to the passion and dedication of Jenny Meguro, the company’s founder, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Junipalooza. A charming individual (and a girl after my own heart), she gets herself involved in the distillation process as much as she is physically able to – including sourcing the botanicals, overseeing the maceration and labelling and hand-waxing the finished bottles.
A gin and tonic lover for as long as she can remember, Jenny admits she became slightly obsessed with trying as many new and interesting gins as she could! However, sooner or later she always found she tired of her current favourite and moved onto another, and then another, and another. Eventually she decided to create her perfect gin; “something that was complex and multifaceted enough that I wouldn’t tire of it.” After some seriously boozy research, which involved trying over 100 craft gins in a year (I told you she was my kind of girl!), she settled on a predominantly pepper and citrus-forward gin influenced and inspired by her five years in Japan.
“Living in Japan for five years refined my palate hugely (as flavours in Japan are incredibly sophisticated and a lot more subtle which trained my taste buds) and this experience also helped me to work out what botanicals would marry well with each other.”
In total, Hidden Curiosities features twenty botanicals, including five different types of peppercorns as well as green cardamom which are then balanced with Japanese yuzu, pink grapefruit, bergamot and lime. Vanilla and white mulberries also add sweetness while violet and lavender introduce delicate floral notes. On the nose, Hidden Curiosities is spicy, fruity and citrussy all at once. With lots of familiar aromas, including a good hit of cardamom, Hidden Curiosities smells ginny without specifically smelling of juniper. Curious indeed.
To taste, Hidden Curiosities is slightly sweet with citrus upfront, pepper throughout and a warm spicy finish with additional floral notes from the lavender. As with the nose, it’s ginny but, with so much going on, juniper is not the star of the show. It is clever and complex and very well balanced. It is neither traditional nor classic but it’s not too crazy either; somehow it still retains the heart and soul of a proper gin without being predominantly juniper flavoured. It is, I suspect, exactly the sort of wonderful gin which is likely to cause huge consternation as the great and the good of the gin world debate tightening regulations and encouraging enforcement of those which already exist.
As a gin and tonic Hidden Curiosities is endlessly versatile with different garnishes bringing out different botanicals in the gin, just as Jenny intended. Her recommended garnish is pink peppercorns and green cardamom to intensify the spices, or, alternatively, a twist of pink grapefruit or yuzu peel to enhance the clean citrus flavours. While I think both work wonderfully well, I look forward to experimenting further and I am confident this is a gin I won’t tire of either.
As for the future, well perhaps Jenny won’t need to worry about those labels for too long…
“I would absolutely love to have my own distillery one day, hopefully as things progress this could become a reality… it would be a dream come true…”
Purchase direct from Hidden Curiosities at £36 for 50cl (42% ABV).
With thanks to Jenny Meguro, Director for Hidden Curiosities Gin, for the complimentary bottle.
Very fair criticism. I loved this gin when I tried it at Junipalooza but I must admit hadn’t thought quite so deeply about the messaging!
Thank you! To be fair though it’s something many people in the industry need to consider, not just Hidden Curiosities.
Pingback: Junipalooza London 2018 | Gin A Ding Ding
Thank you so much for the review Sarah, it’s great! Following up from our conversation yesterday, as promised, I thought I would provide some clarification regarding the point on labelling.
My reasons for not mentioning Silent Pool on the label is predominantly so Hidden Curiosities can stand out on its own as an independent brand, instead of giving the impression it’s a product created by Silent Pool – it’s completely my recipe and the brand is owned by me, and as you have already mentioned, I get involved as much as I’m physically able; I source my own botanicals and I’m there on site weighing them all out; overseeing the maceration and monitoring the distillation; I’m there on the bottling line, and do all the labelling and waxing myself – as I see it as my baby. I also didn’t want to look like I’m trying to ride on the back of their success using their name on the bottle.
I have a unique arrangement with Silent Pool where I’m able to “borrow” their still and equipment in order to distil the gin with them, and they’re not a distillery who act as a third-party for just anyone. I approached them as they were local to me, I really liked their branding and how they worked, and I didn’t have my own equipment, I was just starting out and they were hugely helpful and insightful. I learned a great deal from them.
It’s stated on the Hidden Curiosities website that it’s distilled at a renowned distillers in the Surrey Hills, and that’s quite easy to work out who that is, even if you don’t live in the area. I’m also totally honest when people ask where it’s distilled at gin festivals/events etc.
Of course I would love to be able to be in the position where I could have my own distillery, and hope this can become a reality sometime in the not too distant future.
I can understand why you would want to address the point as it’s been rather topical of late, but hope you can also see my reasoning behind this.
On another note, I’m so pleased you love Hidden Curiosities! 🙂
Hi Jenny, thanks so much for responding. It is topical as you say but I am happy to admit I hadn’t really considered the nature of the arrangement, nor your desire to avoid riding on Silent Pool’s coat tails, which are both important points. And I don’t think this should detract from your gin which is really great. The concerns I raised are, I think, relevant to the industry as a whole. Best, Sarah
Pingback: Catford Gin Festival 2018 | Gin A Ding Ding
Pingback: March Gin Monthly | Gin A Ding Ding
Pingback: Junipalooza London 2019 | Gin A Ding Ding