Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, knows that I don’t just love gin; I love the stories behind gin too. Where, why and how it’s made. What first inspired its makers. I suppose you could call it the origin story. Today’s tale is a little different; for this time the gin has been created to enable the true story to take place.
Next summer twelve ocean rowers will attempt to navigate, by human-power alone, the Northwest Passage; the 2000-mile sea route from Greenland’s Baffin Bay, through the Canadian Arctic archipelago, to the Alaskan coast. It is described as the “Last Great First”, and Northwest Passage Expedition Gin has been launched to raise funds for the trip (such as covering logistics and provisioning the boats) which are much needed in light of the current climate where sponsorship is hard to secure, and to raise awareness of climate change and ocean conservation in the process.
But this gin isn’t just a fundraising mission, there is authenticity in its creation too. The search for the Northwest Passage began in the 15th century and has a long association with the Orkney Islands. Britain’s explorers would leave London travelling up the east coast before stopping in Orkney, to stock up with food, water and men. Then, in the 1850s, it was Orcadian John Rae, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who discovered the Rae Straight; the last link that made the Northwest Passage navigable. So it is only fitting that the gin is distilled at The Orkney Distillery (home to Kirkjuvagr – one of my top ten gins of 2017) using botanicals from the shores of Orkney and Canada’s Hudson Bay.
Alongside juniper, coriander, lemon peel and liquorice, Northwest Passage Expedition Gin features borage, meadowsweet, roses, angelica, calamondin (a bitter orange fruit described as a cross between a kumquat and a mandarin) and sugar kelp harvested from the western shores of Orkney. Furthermore, the water is sourced from Login’s Well, the same spring that supplied the ships of the Hudson Bay Company, as well as the voyages of Captain Cook and Sir John Franklin.
As soon as I opened the bottle I was intrigued. The nose is bold, rounded and quite traditional, with a reassuring hit of juniper and bright lifted citrus notes. The sharp citrus struck me first on the palate but was followed up with floral notes – reminiscent of dried rose petals – before the spirit turned drier and more spicy mid-palate. Pleasingly, juniper is very much present too. And then there’s an intriguing touch of salinity from the sugar kelp on the medium length finish, connecting the spirit back to its birthplace and the sea. A smooth gin with a pleasing mouthfeel this is delicious, well balanced and nicely rounded with no hint of heat or alcohol burn even when sipped neat. Traditional but with a lovely point of difference, as well as a great cause, this is definitely a contender for my top ten this year!
Recommended mixers for Northwest Passage Expedition Gin include Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic water and ginger beer so, naturally, I had to try both. I hadn’t had Artisan Drinks’ Fiery Ginger Beer before and was really impressed with it, but I have to maintain my stance that I rarely find ginger beer brings much to gin, all too often overpowering its more delicate flavours. Tonic however, is always a winner with me! I tried Northwest Passage Expedition Gin with both Mediterranean and Indian tonic and both worked really well. I was less sure about the suggested thyme garnish which, for me, overemphasised the more savoury notes in the gin so I might play around with that but, with a gin this good, that will certainly be a pleasure. I suspect it might work well in a shorter serve too; an ice-cold martini would really allow the gin to sing.
So back to the expedition, which is stunningly screen-printed on the gin bottle with the Northwest Passage highlighted in gold against an aerial view of the Arctic circle. Beyond being a challenge of human endurance (the crew will row in continuous shifts – two hours on, two hours off – for approximately two months), it is also an environmental mission. The team want to discover if the landscape is passable in summer, as it may well be due to rising temperatures, and will also be collecting data regarding salination, water temperatures, currents and microplastics for UK scientists while en route.
If this has sparked your curiosity, you’ll be pleased to hear a film crew will be accompanying the explorers and producing a documentary of the whole trip, including the making of the gin. Post-expedition, the team hope the gin will continue to be sold to raise funds for the Big Blue Ocean Cleanup – a charity and research centre for plastic pollution – but if this has whet your appetite I suggest you pick up a bottle and support the expedition today!
Purchase Northwest Passage Gin here (affiliate link) at £39.95 for 70cl (42% ABV).
With thanks to Mark Agnew, one of the expedition’s twelve-member team, for sending me a complimentary bottle of Northwest Passage Expedition Gin.