First, some history behind “Navy Strength”. Back in the days, all English sailors were given their ration of gin everyday in the high seas. I need to go back and do my research, but I think they might have been given twice a day of a serving each time. The challenge the sailors had faced was that gin – which was often stored close to the gun powder in the down floors – would spill (usually accidentally due to the weather in the high seas) and render the gun powder unusable.
Of course, trust the English genius to come up with a solution that had nothing to do with further separation of their storage or anything like that. The solution was to increase the alcohol content of the gin (reducing the water). Sure enough, at 114 proof (57% alcohol by volume), you can mix gin with gun powder and the gun powder would still fire. There is no written record of how serpentine its path was as it weaved thru the sky 🙂
Gustaf, therefore, is much stronger than normal gin and comes with its big kick and a very strong juniper edge. While the name is Swedish, this is actually made in Minnesota. In the northern most distillery in the lower 48 states of the USA – called Far North Distillery. It does have Swedish roots – the distiller’s grandfather was an immigrant from Sweden – called Gustaf – and settled in Minnesota.
The base alcohol is made from Winter Rye. And the eleven botanicals used include juniper, coriander, fennel, meadowsweet, lemons and grains of paradise. One uniqueness of this gin and distillery is that everything is produced in the farms around the distillery – starting from the rye.
The nose was floral along with the distinct rye edge. While many references on this gin suggest juniper is subdued in this gin at least in the nose, I thought I could detect it right from the get go. This might have to do with the fact that, because of its strength, instead of taking it on the rocks, I had splashed some Fever Tree Indian Tonic water on it.
The palette was strong and you would expect from a Navy Strength gin. You can feel the stiffness and heat from from the front gums all the way to the back of the throat.
The finish is not as strong as I was expecting. Almost bitter but very dry…
This gin is interesting in many ways. First, it is from a very uncommon country – Colombia. It is in fact made in the beautiful Cartegena district in the Dictador distillery by the master Hernan Parra Arango. There is a historical story of Severo Arango y Ferro who was sent in the 18th century from Spain to improve tax collection in Colombia. He was somewhat of a dictator. Parra Arango is actually a descendant of him and that is how the distillery got its name!
The second interesting angle to this gin is that it is not made from any neutral grain spirits but sugarcane!! As you can imagine, Colombian weather grows a lot of sugarcane. Of course, rum is the first go-to alcohol from sugarcane. But it is the same base that is used for this gin. In fact it is distilled five times and in the last distillation, macerated herbs and botanicals are introduced.
The botanicals are the typical ones – juniper, Angelica root, lemon peel and pepper and some unusual local herbs including mint, berries and ginger.
The third interesting angle is that this gin is then aged for 35 weeks in rum barrels. Finally, it is carefully filtered to take out the coloration.
The nose of the gin was predominantly citrusy in the beginning. After some time, the juniper started breaking out very well. To the palette, it is very crisp but after a few seconds it mellows down (almost like buttery) in the mouth. The finish was more on the weaker side for some reason.
I will try with some tonic water next and see how it brings out the complexities of this gin.
This gin caught my attention a few months back at a bar. The bottle looked like that of Uncle Val’s and I ordered it. The bartender let me know that they did not have Uncle Val. I pointed a bottle to her and she got it to me. That is when I realized that it was a Fifty Pounds gin.
What caught my attention immediately was why it was named Fifty Pounds. And for that I need to get into a history lesson here. If we go back about four hundred years around this time, England was going thru what was referred to as “Gin Craze”. There was a unprecedented level of gin consumption in the country and it was being squarely blamed for – some justified, some unjustified – for everything from burglary, untimely deaths, prostitution, mental illness to moral decrepitude. In response to that Spirit Duties act of 1735 was passed by the government (which became effective next year and was commonly called the Gin Act of 1736). Other than 20 shillings tax on a bottle, it also put in a steep Fifty Pounds licensing tax on the distillers.
You want to know how effective that was? Pretty much like Prohibition in the USA much later, actual consumption actually went up. Instead of the normal distilleries, bootleggers sprouted up everywhere – resulting in complete lack of quality control. People would sometimes die of ingredients like turpentine and sulfuric acid that would be mixed in these illicit liquor. Only two distilleries actually paid up the Fifty Pounds license fees. The Act was rescinded in a few years’ time as one of the most ineffective acts in the history of England.
This particular distillery – Thames Distillery in London started making this bottle of gin in 2010 and named it after that infamous and controversial licensing fees.
The gin of itself is pretty much middle of the road. The nose is rather citrusy, the palette reasonably pronounced with junipers kicking in early on and I would give more than average marks on the finish. The master distiller Charles Maxwell, keeps a few of the ingredients as trade secrets. The ones that he does publish include the standard juniper, coriander, angelica root, lemon, orange rind and the non standard licorice root, grains of paradise and savory. The base is – like many other London Dry gin – neutral grain spirit.