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Review

Sacred Gin

Distillery

Sacred Spirits Company Ltd., Highgate, London (found about 100 yards from the top of Highgate Hill, the highest point in London), England, UK. Imported into the USA by Sanity Wine and Spirits, Napa, California.

Website

Sacred Spirits

History

Running up to 2008, with the financial and economic down turn at that time, former Derivatives trader turned city headhunter Ian Hart found himself at a loose at the end. He tried his hand at a hand full of ideas before looking to improve wine from poor vintages using cold distillation techniques with a vacuum still. Whilst this method of wine improvement was successful he realized it wouldn’t unfortunately be viable as a commercial project. So, armed with this new equipment to “play with”, and being a keen Gin drinker, he turned to making this spirit. After much trial and error, not to mention ample amounts of creative ingenuity and knowledge gained from his Cambridge degree in Natural Sciences, in 2009 he started his own micro distillery.

Joined by his life partner and co-founder Hilary Whitney, this is not your usual distillery. Operated from their residential home there are no traditional copper pot stills, instead it looks like a small chemistry lab in a family room looking over the backyard. With the garage and children’s playhouse providing storage facilities, an informal tasting group helping them agree upon their 23rd recipe (loosely based on one from 1660), Sacred Gin was launched in May 2009.

Production

The botanicals are distilled separately, undergoing 3 different macerations (one with alcohol and a further two with water) to get the very last bit of flavor out of each, before being distilled. The process uses triple distilled English wheat grain spirit (bought in from the Master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers) where the botanical macerations are distilled in glassware under reduced temperature and pressure in a vacuum using either a 2-liter of a 6-liter Rotavapor. Each resultant distillate is blended and hydrated with purified water to produce the final Gin. We have simplified the process but Ian Hart has added many aspects to it including vapor extraction at three different boiling points, cooling using 2 different methods to capture every drop and methods to prevent oxygen contamination. Sacred were certainly the first to use vacuum distillation in London (if not England) and we suspect are the first to use this particular and unique set-up for distillation.

By the end of 2012 Sacred were selling 18,000 bottles per year, and we understand they are now producing around 25,000 bottles per year. Sacred have no immediate plans to relocate their operations, being able to bottle around 100 bottles per day. However quantities of 5,000 + bottles can be processed by fellow London Gin producers Thames Distillers or Hayman Distillers.

The Gin is presented in a tall clear cylindrical bottle with rounded shoulders and a medium length neck. The label has evolved through several changes and the most recent was implemented in November 2011 by brand design consultancy Elmwood. In general the labels are colored purple with Gold foil and the lettering “Sacred” written on it, plus an image of a crown. The new design is dominated with individually styled iron gates based on the famous Highgate Cemetery gates. Key aspects of the design include: Hearts lining the top of the crown referring to co-founder Ian surname; Serpents abound as these are said to guard the Frankincense tree (one of the botanicals); Ink pen nibs form the hinges of the gates as a nod to the many literary greats buried at Highgate Cemetery and the journalistic career of co-founder Hilary; the subtle images of birds are discreetly placed representing the Nightingales found throughout the Highgate woodland; and we also like the use of the laboratory style glassware images scattered around too.

Category

London Dry Gin.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

40% (80 Proof).

Price Range

$$$$$ - $$$$$$. Not widely available in the USA but try online at: Hi-Time Wine Cellars, Chambers Street Wines or Bounty Hunter

Botanicals

Uses 12 organically sourced botanicals including: angelica root, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander seed, cubeb, frankincense, juniper berries, lemon (fresh cut), lime (fresh cut), liquorice, nutmeg and orange (fresh cut).

Name

In 1660 Carmelite missionary Father Mattheus of St. Joseph had documented and illustrated all the new spices that had been coming through the Dutch East India Company. This was released as a 12 volume Encyclopaedia entitled “Hortus Indicus Malabaricus” and written in Latin (of course!). Working through some of this magnificent work, Ian Hart used the information to assist in his distillation of Gin botanicals (both common and not so common). One particular botanical referred to as Hougary Frankincense, Ian liked and has used throughout his Gin. The resin from this tree is a perfect compliment to the juniper (even though it smells like marijuana – so we’re told) and this specific type of Frankincense’s Latin name is Boswellia sacra, the name from which the company and Gin is called.

Tasting Notes

On the gentle nose is pine (juniper) and citrus with floral violets (angelica) and cedar wood plus a hint of soapiness. On the palate this silky smooth, oily and very creamy Gin has dry pine (juniper), citrus (fruity limes and orange) and peppery spice (cardamom) with light sweetness (liquorice), some woodiness and a few cinnamon notes. On the close is lingering juniper (although this tastes different and could be the Frankincense) and warming pepper (cardamom) with flashes of citrus (lemon & orange) and the faintest hint of nutmeg. A very nicely executed and rounded Gin.

Ardent Gin drinkers may on first investigation be a little disappointed with the juniper hit, but this belies just how much there is, just wait for it to wash over you rather than slap you in the face – it is elegant rather than brash! This is a great sipping Gin, with the juniper presence felt but not aggressively, it’s so good it almost seems a shame to add anything to it. Makes a soft but flavorsome Gin and Tonic, so suggest a lighter tonic e.g. Fever Tree, and with the level of citrus coming through you may choose to omit the traditional citrus garnish. Ian Hart recommends a 1:1 ratio with Fever Tree and a slice of lemon or lime and this certainly worked well for us. However, the Martini is where this Gin we believe shines best with strong hints of cardamom, and the dryer the better – why not try using their Sacred Vermouth as well. We have not tried this in other cocktails, but suspect it does best in short rather than long mixed drinks, where it could be lost. Ian Hart recommends a Martinez and a Gimlet (but with only a 10th of the usual amount of lime) – we’ll try these out next time no doubt.

This Gin has a clear authenticity about it; you can feel the provenience flowing through every drop and coupled with its quality flavor profile is a sure winner. This can be seen by the rapid growth it has had and continues to enjoy. An excellent artisanal boutique Gin made with true passion and is highly recommended.

Awards & Accolades

Double Gold Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2013.

Silver Medal, Craft Gin of the Year, 2013.

Silver Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2010.

Best in Class and Master Medal, Gin Masters, 2009.



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