We're excited to continue our online Citrus Issue content with a mouth-watering piece from writer and podcast host, Kate from A Playful Day. We love Kate's work and her excitement and commitment to celebrating other creative females around the world. And during our initial conversation when we said "citrus" she said "gin," we knew we'd be good friends.
Today Kate shares her interview with Ian Hart of Sacred Spirits Company.
For anyone that knows me, the fact my mind jumped from the prompt ‘citrus’ to ‘gin’ is not really surprising. You see, there’s something quintessentially English about a crisp gin and tonic and a slice of lemon or lime. Personally, I prefer less lemon influence in my gin and this got me thinking. Gin is created through the blending of botanicals with a clear spirit. How that recipe is worked heavily influences the outcome. This is why there are thousands of different types of gin on the market, keeping gin enthusiasts like me curious.
Capturing the potency of citrus to create a new type of gin is something Ian Hart of the Sacred Spirits Company has gone to some effort to perfect. Sacred is housed in Ian’s back room in Highgate, London where Ian has lived since a small boy. This micro distillery ships globally and has a solid reputation from the authentic taste captured in every bottle. I felt that if I wanted to understand what citrus brings to a gin, I needed to chat to Ian. Ian was more than happy to share his insight and I’ve been dreaming of Pink Grapefruit gin ever since.
Ian has led a fascinating life in the financial sector, training in medical science and working as a head hunter. With the financial crash looming in 2006, Ian decided he needed to start abusiness where he created something and so began his journey of using all his prior knowledge to develop a truly special product. The glassware and liquid nitrogen you will see captured in photographs are just a small part of this incredible story of taste and discovery. Ian has fine-tuned his process so that now all the glassware he uses has been personally designed for its purpose and created in Yorkshire to his exact specifications.
Could you tell me a little about your distilling process?
We distill under a vacuum which means we can reach boiling point at a much lower temperature. The reason that this is so important is that it produces the most fresh and lush distillates imaginable. If you think of the difference in flavour between sticky marmalade and a fresh cut Orange, you can start to understand why this is so important to the quality of our final product.
How does this process then lead to creating a new type of gin?
Distilling is just one part of the process. After distillation each botanical in this vacuum process, I then have a range of individual botanicals and infusions to blend into a solution. For example, when I wanted to create Rosehip Cup, our alternative to Campari, I was able to work with 27 different botanicals to create the perfect flavour. I will work from a spreadsheet, tweaking percentages and recipes before coming up with a close fit. We use taste testers and perform blind tastings to help us work the recipe until we have the best flavour possible.
What can you tell me about the Citrus used in Sacred Spirits?
The Citrus range as we know it today was the result of deliberate crossbreeding developed around the 14th Century to give a wider range of variance and desirable characteristics. There are sweet and bitter oranges, Kumquats and families of grapefruits such as star Ruby and Pink grapefruit. One citrus we particularly enjoy working with is the Yuzu, a Japanese citrus that starts with a green peel that ripens to yellow. The flavour is incredibly potent and a truly nostalgic essence for our Japanese customers who love the flavour of home it evokes. We source citrus from specialist organic suppliers as our spirits are certified by the Soil Association. There’s a substantial variation that occurs between produce with each season which means that no two gins will taste the same from year to year. December is our best month to have a delivery of citrus as the flavours seem to reach a peak in the Northern Hemisphere around November. When you squeeze the peel of a citrus fruit and witness the oils escaping, that’s the sign of a good citrus and our distilling and macerating process allows us to capture citrus at its peak.
What is your favourite Citrus to work with?
All of our gins contain citrus in some way, either as distillates or infusions such as the peel. I most enjoy working with Pink Grapefruit because of the intensity it provides. When working to develop the right concentrations of citrus to blend in a solution, I will work with my nose, comparing to bottled synthetics that I keep for this purpose. Pink grapefruit is so intense that the fresh, concentrated distillate can almost be too powerful to smell in the same room- it’s actually easier to detect from outside! This means the concentrations I use are very important and other citrus elements may need to be blended too in order to support and modify its flavour and insure the freshest tasting gin.