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Review

Plymouth Sloe Gin

Distillery

Pernod Ricard, Black Friars Distillery, Plymouth, Devon, England, UK.

Website

Plymouth Gin and Pernod Ricard.

History

The distillery is on the site of an old monastery (hence the name Black Friars Distillery) dating back to 1431 and, besides being one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth, is a national monument. Whilst it is quite possible the monks carried out their own distilling, maybe even producing a juniper concoction as a health remedy, the friary was closed in 1536 under the Reformation and Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. The buildings were put to other usage, including a debtor’s prison and a refuge for Huguenots fleeing from France. The Pilgrim Fathers stayed here when their ship, The Mayflower, had to stop for repairs. This makes Plymouth the last place they set foot on English soil, before embarking for the New World in 1620, and founding the initial settlements that would become the North America of today. With this august history it is no wonder The Friary Monk and The Mayflower have both become notable trademarks for Plymouth Gin.

Modern day distilling started on this site in 1697, under the firm of Fox & Williamson, making it the oldest working distillery in England today. In 1793 they started producing Plymouth Gin, the same year a certain young Thomas Coates started working at the distillery. It wasn’t long before the company became known as Coates & Co. and remained so until 2004 when the Swedish company V&S (of Absolut Vodka fame) bought it. Pernod Ricard in turn purchased V&S in 2008, making them the current owners of the distillery and the Plymouth Gin brand. Tours and tastings (book in advance) are held at the distillery’s visitor’s center and there is very good bistro available onsite, which opened in 2006.

Plymouth started making this Sloe Gin in 1883, using their Plymouth Gin as the base, and making it the very first Premium Sloe Gin ever. However, they ceased making it during the 1930’s as demand for it all but vanished (mainly due to several world wars and prohibition). Sean Harrison, the current Master Distiller at Plymouth, reinstated this Sloe Gin (we believe) for the new Millennium. It was finally launched in the USA for the summer of 2008, to the delight of professional mixologists across the States. This is because there are few “real” Sloe Gins in the USA, with most not even containing Gin or using Sloeberries! Unfortunately the Blackthorn bush (that produces Sloeberries) in not naturally found in the USA and so a chemically created flavoring is used instead, mixed in a base spirit like Vodka. The resultant product, to those who know, is a cheap cloyingly sweet artificial offering with a poor similarity to the real thing. The result of this cheap low quality product has clearly maligned the overall image of Sloe Gin in the USA.

Sloe Gin is produced seasonally, in line with when the sloeberries are available, and in limited quantities due to variations in harvest yield. Plymouth now reserve around 1 to 3 thousand bottles of Plymouth Sloe Gin for the USA each year, mainly provided to the on trade market. We hope this increases in time, as the image of Sloe Gin in the USA improves, and more is made available to the off trade market too.

Production

The base spirit is double distilled from pure wheat grain, which is sourced (currently from France) with a specific buttery mouthfeel requirement. We understand (although not confirmed) each botanical is individually distilled and then blended together. This blending is carried out with great focus on how each ingredient combines with the others in customized ratio’s, playing an integral part in the overall character of the Gin. The third and final batch distillation is carried out in a traditional alembic copper pot still (the very same one that has been used since 1855), using naturally filtered Dartmoor spring water. Master Distiller Sean Harrison oversees production, having taken over from the previous Master Distiller, Desmond Payne who left in 1995 to join Beefeater.

Sloes (including the center stone pips) are steeped for 4 months in the high strength Plymouth Gin with naturally filtered Dartmoor water and a little sugar. Made according to the original 1883 recipe, the sugar is kept to a minimum making a dry and rich red colored natural Sloe Gin, free from any artificial coloring or flavoring. Sean Harrison believes the combination of locally sourced tartly acidic Dartmoor sloes and rich fruity Polish sloes provides the important essence of this Sloe Gins taste and character.

Since being produced, Plymouth Sloe Gin bottles have been redesigned three times. The first design had a picture of a monk, seen looking through the bottle on the reverse of the rear label. It was suggested when the monk’s feet became dry it was time to get a new bottle. The packaging was revised for a second time in mid 2006 to an art deco style and sported a picture of the Mayflower. Once again it could be said it was time to get a new bottle when the ship no longer sailed on Gin! In a phased introduction across many countries, spanning late 2011 to 2013, the Gin’s presentation has changed for the third time. This redesign has also coincided with a price increase – in the USA this is around $5 per bottle, across all three of their products.

This current design was produced by the UK agency Design Bridge with an antique style, the rounded bottle shape is made of flint glass, giving it a light green “sea glass” tint. The words “Est. 1793” & “Black Friars Distillery” are embossed on the front of the bottle and a smiling Black Friar icon is embossed on the reverse, at bottom right, and is best seen through the front. For those who can remember, at last we can again use the adage “when his feet are dry it’s time to buy.” The copper enriched oval shaped label marks a return to similar earlier designs and sports an image of the Mayflower in the center. Also, for those who can remember, once more we can use the adage “when the Mayflower no longer sails on Gin, it’s time to buy again.” The copper cap is used to represent the copper pot still used by the distillery. All these design elements represent the artisanal aspects of the Gin and it’s long heritage.

Category

Flavored Gin - Sloeberry.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

26% (52 Proof).

Price Range

$$$ - $$$$. Can be a little difficult to find in the USA. Try online at: Binny’s Beverage Depot., The Wine House, K&L Wines, Hi-Time Wine Cellars or Beltramo’s.

The 2012 price increase, the same as any price increase, has not been welcome by consumers. However this Gin, in our opinion, has been underpriced for a long time in the USA. We have been blessed to be able to enjoy this quality spirit at a low price and, whilst many may disagree, we’re still happy to enjoy it at this new price point!

Botanicals

Uses 8 botanicals including: angelica root (Germany & the Netherlands), cardamom pods (Sri Lanka & other far East countries), coriander seeds (Russia, Eastern Europe and Morocco), juniper berries (Italy and former Yugoslavia), lemon peel (Spain), sweet orange peel (Spain), orris root (Italy) and sloeberries (England & Poland).

Name

Named after where it is made, the City of Plymouth (found in the South West of England), and the key botanical flavour of sloberries.

Tasting Notes

On the nose are fruity plum, damson-like sloeberries and a hint of almonds and spicy pepper. On the palate this smooth full-bodied oily and slightly sweet spirit has a strong sweet cherry, fruity jam plum and dry sloeberry taste with aspects of Plymouth Gin (juniper, citrus, spice, pepper) including a faint marzipan (almond) taste in the background. On the close is a creamy long warming, astringently (tea) dry and tart fruity tingling finish. This is a very good Sloe Gin.

Many Sloe Gins, even traditionally made ones, are quite sweet but this one manages to successfully balance the sweet, tart, dry and bitterness to very good effect. For our palates this Sloe Gin is one of the best to drink neat, and pairs well with cheese and most dessert dishes. When mixed we have yet to find a Sloe Gin cocktail this does not do well in, making it extremely versatile, our favorite is the classic Sloe Gin Fizz. For those wishing to experiment, this is good enough to replace Sweet Vermouth and even Cranberry juice used in other mixed drinks.

Without doubt this is one of the top ten Sloe Gins we have ever tasted and is addictively moorish. We recommend this for all serious mixologists and budding amateur bartenders out there - especially given it’s price and availability in the USA.

Awards & Accolades

Silver Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2013.

Bronze Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2012.

Bronze Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2011.

Gold Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2010.

Bronze Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2009.

Gold Medal, International Wine and Spirit Competition, 2003.



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