Three new gins from Norwich-based boutique distiller Gyre & Gimble are genuinely rather strange. But then seeing as they were inspired by the imagination and works of Lewis Carroll, use the look and feel of a craft beer and were conceived and made during the first national Lockdown, that is hardly surprising – one uses sea water as a dilutant while another is infused twice with fresh cherries. But these gins are also rather good as Peter Dean discovered when he tasted a Coastal Gin, Cherry Gin and excellent London Dry with the distillery’s co-creator Craig Allison.
“The Queen of Hearts Cherry Gin is so original and will find its place on many a back bar before long,” writes Dean.
The pandemic has holed the hospitality industry below the water line. Many plans have been put on hold and many ventures lost. Not so Gyre & Gimble, a new distillery based in Norwich that celebrated its one year anniversary as a bar on October 27, two weeks after launching its first three gins.
“Seven months without trade was not in the initial business plan,” co-founder Craig Allison laughs. But Lockdown was as good a time as any to start developing the three gins, that had been in the business plan and on the drawing board 18 months prior.
“I would have gone stir crazy at home, besides the space we have here lends itself well to a small distillery.”
Gyre & Gimble is a boutique distillery with capacity to produce 500 bottles a week, a cocktail bar and also East Anglia’s largest gin school, with ‘Make your own’ gin experiences on offer.
Despite the pandemic though, was Allison and his business partner/ distiller Rory Smith not concerned that the gin market was not just a bit too saturated?
“That was always a concern but we knew we had to do something really unique,” Allison continues, “so we took inspiration from the craft beer industry which I really like for being loud and creative… I think the gin market plays it a bit safe and we wanted to be playful.”
Playful they certainly are with Lewis Carroll’s imagination and sense of fun being the main creative driver. The company name Gyre & Gimble is taken from Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky and means ‘to do something strange’. Seeing as Gyre & Gimble is located in Strangers’ Hall, opposite the Strangers Tavern, and seeing as Allison and Smith were creating this new drinks brand in the grip of a global pandemic, it just felt right to position the gins and the bar itself as being at the edge of reason – and at the confluence of the real and imaginary/strange worlds.
The Lewis Carroll references are there in the branding but thankfully not overdone – being in the names of the gins and also in each illustration on each of the labels. The team has also made the wise decision to use 70cl cabana bottles, in 95% recycled antique green glass with natural cork and wax dip, which look a nice mix between bottles you’d find in a Nineteenth Century apothecary or contemporary bar.
So how are the gins tasting?
Callooh Callay Coastal Gin
This is a true coastal gin with botanicals including foraged samphire and lavender with real sea water used in the dilution process. Unsurprisingly there is a saline quality from the nose, through the palate to the finish. There are floral and herbaceous notes, lavender and sage leaves, with pink peppercorns on the finish. 45% abv.
Serve: neat on the rocks, G&T with grapefruit and samphire, Dirty Martini
Verdict: I like this a lot and the saline quality is really interesting. Although there is no sea kelp used it reminded of Isle of Harris Gin.
Queen of Hearts Cherry Gin
Twice-infused with fresh cherries, this deep red gin has semi-sour red cherry notes throughout from nose to palate; on the palate there are also baking spice notes such as nutmeg and cinnamon with custard apples, bananas and a touch of cacao on the finish.
Serve: neat, neat on the rocks, G&T with slice of lemon
Verdict: So original. I really love this – there is an element of Italian red vermouth about it and cherry brandy of course – in fact it’s more like a fortified wine than a gin, although the 40% abv says different. Makes a great aperitif after a long, cold walk, and is a good alternative to a sloe gin. Has a real presence in the mouth and thankfully they have not made it sweet. Although there are other cherry gins on the marketplace this feels trail-blazing and will find its place on many a back bar.
Nohow London Dry Gin
Classic London Dry with the juniper ‘turned up to 11’. The team has used a double does of juniper which naturally is present throughout the serve, although there is a distinct pine needle and peppercorn edge to the nose. It’s all about the juniper on the palate throught to the finish, with warming spices and citrus leading to a very dry finish. 42.5% abv.
Serve: G&T with slice of orange and juniper berries
Verdict: A straight-hitting London Dry that delivers. If you like a G&T with mild variations on the classic recipes then this doesn’t disappoint.
With all the recipes using fruit slices Gyre & Gimble recommend using dehydrated fruit to be more subtle and not ‘clash’ with the flavours of the gin and also to add a touch of caramel.
Gyre & Gimble gins are available to the on-trade through Norfolk Hub, Cambridge Wine Merchants and Bijou Bottles.