3. Ginstinct I - Creating our classic range
Here's the story behind our four classic dry gins...
Creating any gin is a fascinating process. Gin has seen a huge revival in recent years, but in my humble opinion, all that glistens is not gold. It’s all too easy to create a cheap product, almost certainly with added flavour, or colour, or even ground-up unicorns. I’ve always been a great admirer of anything that is handcrafted, has a back story, a history; or to put it the other way round, as my mother would have said – buy cheap, buy twice.
I knew from the outset that want wanted to create a timeless classic drink, something to be savoured and cherished. I’ve always loved a G&T; it’s not a flavour we quickly get into when we’re young, but we soon come to appreciate the astringent, refreshing and cleansing taste of a proper juniper-led gin. Now I’m a big spirits fan: beautiful creations, distilled with the finest ingredients to bring you something to savour. You’ve probably guessed it, I’m also a fan of single malts – the stories, the landscapes, the characters that form something magical. Gin is basically a form of alchemy: a simple copper alembic still as used for thousands of years, botanicals gathered and curated, patience and a little heat, and then the magic.
I was clear from the start that Ludlow gin would be juniper-led, a proper London Dry, traditionally distilled in copper. Citrus was a natural partner for me;I love the freshness of all citrus, so orange and lemon were definite. Through my early distillation I discovered the wonders of coriander, angelica and orris; with juniper, these are called the ‘big four’ of gin. Coriander is actually very lemony on the nose, it’s chemically related to juniper and reinforces those juniper notes. The woodiness of angelica is essential for depth, though it’s important not to use too much! The delicate floral fragrance of Orris is enchanting and lifts the nose of any gin. Our penultimate ingredient, cardamom, is a nod to the classic Plymouth Gin, not too much, just a little, but the refreshing menthol really helps support the pine notes of the juniper. Finally comes the addition of gorse, supplying the intoxicating fresh document smell of the Shropshire hills in spring and late summer. There it is in a nutshell: our classic Ludlow Dry. We simply love it, and if you have the chance to try our Navy Strength you’ll see of these ingredients really sing. You can find out about all of our botanicals here.
I’d always envisaged creating two other gins that would be contrasting to the Ludlow Dry, one with more citrus and one with more aromatic notes. Ludlow, our spiritual home, had been the first home in the England of Catherine of Aragon, the young bride of Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII and heir to the English throne. All went slightly awry when Arthur came down with a sweating sickness at Ludlow Castle and promptly died, leaving a grieving 16-year-old widow, who ultimately married his younger brother, Henry, the rest is history as they say.
I love history, and I love travelling; visiting Catherine of Aragon’s home in Granada was one of my most memorable experiences. She was brought up in the incredible architectural masterpiece of the Alhambra palace, which is dripping with Islamic details, as Granada was then the threshold of the West and East civilisations. The gardens of the Alhambra must have been bursting with citrus fruits, a part of daily life. Today the streets of Granada are brimming with little spice shops, laden with a kaleidoscope of flavours from the orient. How must Catherine have felt in the damp and grey environs of Ludlow Castle? No fragrance from the orient there, for sure. In case you didn’t know, Catherine’s symbol was a pomegranate, a delicious and capacious fruit, a nod to the fertility of the virgin princess, in whose hopes the Tudor line rested. Pomegranates can be found in the decorations of architecture within Ludlow; in the plaster ceilings of the timber-framed Reader’s House, delicate pomegranates recall that earlier link with Spain.
So our triple citrus and pomegranate gin was born, inspired by Catherine and her plight at Ludlow Castle, a life with so much potential, ultimately destined for loneliness and solitude, once Henry had dispensed with her. One little secret – I had a bit of an accident with a decimal place and cardamom. Some accidents happen for a purpose, and our distinctive second gin was born from this one, our wild child, great as a refreshing G&T and, for those who dare, an exceptionally bright martini.
A little more history
Ludlow is a town oozing with history. Founded by merchants, it sat on the trading route between Shrewsbury and Hereford, a gateway to Wales, the centre of mediaeval gold: the wool trade. It’s incredible that a fleece is now almost worthless; in mediaeval England it was as essential tool for survival: warm in the cold winters. The merchants who traded in wool created a fortified town built on a grid plan, with at its heart an incredible feat of engineering: the skyscraper tower of Ludlow’s famous church, filled with priceless treasures, decorated from top to bottom internally with colour. It would have truly taken anyone’s breath away. Once the merchants and their charitable foundation the Ludlow Palmers Guild (which still exists) had completed their statement of wealth, they furnished it with the ultimate luxury, musicians: choristers and an organist, of whom I would become the 52nd to be appointed since 1492.
But back to gin. The Palmers’ Guild had membership across the UK; it’s even mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Membership meant that your soul was prayed for in perpetuity after you died; if you like it was a sort of spiritual life assurance policy. We know that the members of the guild had expensive tastes; they had their own guild hall, and regular feasts. We also know they imported spices. The was an established pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain via Bristol, and so the trade in spices from the east was well established.
Creating a spiced gin was a natural choice for me, as it had a place in the history of Ludlow. It was an absolute joy to develop this gin – there were so many wonderful aromas to choose from. Our spiced gin isn’t actually spicey, it’s aromatic, making the best use of gentle heat, but also enticing aromas. Liquorice and elderberry bind those two contrasting elements together.
If you’ve read my blog about how I was inspired to create Ludlow Gin, you’ll already know the story about No.4: Hibiscus, Orange and Pink Peppercorn, our fourth child, affectionately known as ‘the favour for a friend’! An architect colleague helped complete a project I was struggling to fulfil on top of creating the distillery in the summer of 2018; as a thank you I offered Sean a bottle of his own bespoke gin. ‘Choose some botanicals,’ I said flippantly, and the rest is history – our fourth gin was born.