Winchester Distillery (Knowcal Ltd), Winchester, Hampshire, England, UK.
Established in 2014, Winchester Distillery
is a micro-distillery in the true sense of the description. It is the
brainchild of Paul Bowler, a freelance software developer and technology
consultant, and is taking the local area by storm.
This Gin, their first product, was launched in early summer 2014 and (we believe) is the first Gin to include watercress as a botanical. The early stages of success have so far included: the initial batch selling out within 2 days; and the sale of around 2,000 bottles within their first 3-months.
The base is made from pure grain spirit
into which gently crushed juniper berries are steeped, followed a little later
by the remaining botanicals. Distillation is carried out in very small
traditional copper alquitar stills, a type of still commonly found in Southern
Europe that has been used in spirit production for centuries. These pot stills
run slowly allowing for a careful and even distillation, resulting in a true
hand crafted creation. The end product is diluted from around 80% ABV with New
Forest spring water, providing about 50 bottles from each batch.
The Gin is presented in a small clear squat cylindrical bottle with flat shoulders. It has a large black colored rectangular label reaching from top to bottom, with several green watercress stalks and white colored text at the bottom.
London Dry Gin (although on the label it
refers to itself as a “Winchester Dry Gin”)/New western Dry.
40% (80 Proof).
$$$$$$$$. Not available in the USA, try
online at Master of Malt in the UK but be prepared to add an additional 40% for
Uses 10 botanicals including: angelica,
cassia bark, coriander, fennel seed, grapefruit (freshly peeled), juniper
berries, lavender, orris, and watercress - the lavender and watercress are
grown locally in Hampshire.
North Hampshire in the UK has mineral-rich,
chalky alkaline spring water providing ideal growing conditions for the semi-aquatic
watercress plant. Commercial cultivation of watercress began in the 1800’s with
Alresford (near Winchester) becoming known as the watercress capital of the
country, and still holds a watercress festival every year. If you are in the
area be sure to visit and ride on the preserved “Watercress Line” a 10-mile
stretch of the Mid-Hants Railway (from Alresford to Alton) that used to
transport watercress from this area to London. Today
it is operated with a collection of steam locomotives and period rolling stock,
providing tourists with varying events, including our personal favorite: a
“Real Ale” experience.
Watercress is related to a family of plants, which includes garden cress, mustard and radish, all known for their peppery nasal clearing flavor. Indeed its botanical name Nasturtium officinale is thought to have originated from the Roman occupation of England during 43 to 383 AD. In Latin Nasturtium means “Twisted Nose” and is a perfect description of the effect watercress can have on you. Note: watercress is not related to the garden flowers commonly referred to as nasturtiums (botanical name: Tropaeolum majus) but all parts of this plant can be eaten (great in a salad) and they have a peppery taste too, hence the popular name applied to them.
With the distillery based in Winchester, and the choice of the locally grown watercress as one of the botanicals, Twisted Nose is a very good choice of name for this Gin.
On the nose is peppery spice with floral
(lavender) notes. On the palate this soft spirit has sweet citrusy spice,
juniper, pepper and lavender with green herbaceous notes. On the close the flavors
continue with more citrus (grapefruit) coming through for a tart and lingering zesty
This is more of a New Western Dry rather than a London Dry making it an easy Gin to drink neat, with the softness and sweet spice making for a great fall drink as the evenings become cooler. The softness of the spirit is what makes this perfect in a Gin and Tonic, making even the sweetest of tonic water work well – try it with a sprig of watercress for garnish. These qualities also found favor in a Martini, where greater complexity of the Gin comes though – the herbal and floral characteristics matching well with the Vermouth - with the sweet spice, juniper and citrus flavors more in the background. Although not tried in other Gin based mixed drinks we suspect many may lose the complexity and flavors in this Gin unless chosen with care. Having said this why not try this in a Salty Dog, where the grapefruit should work well.
This is hard not to like, even for the most traditional of Gin drinkers. Sure, they will want more juniper than this offers, but they might be swayed to liking this as well. Bartenders, both professional and amateur, will like what this provides in a G&T, although the cost might be too high for some. For us, we liked this immensely and recommend it for people looking for a quality Gin with a real difference without straying too far off of the beaten track – we send our heartfelt praises to Paul at Winchester Distillery, well done Sir!