Gin (and tonic) tasting, Athenaeum Club

12 gins awaiting tasting, Athenaeum Club

On 29th November, CRG members and guests gathered in the Picture Room of the Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, as guests of ‘Bottletop’ Tony Trace.

The occasion was to be a tonic tasting, tutored by Tony’s son-in-law James Mowbray-Pratt, National Account Manager for Fever-Tree. Strangely, though, gin got involved, and James was joined by Chris Bryant-Mansell, brand ambassador for Hayman’s Gin. Together they put on a fun, fascinating and sometimes eye-opening show, offering up 12 gins designed to deliver an insight into gin through the ages.

gins ready for tasting, Athenaeum Club November 2018

Starting with the 16th century, Bols was presented as a representation of how original Dutch genever may have tasted. Moving into the 18th century, the next gin demonstrated the origins of ‘Dutch Courage’, and the type of brew that may have fortified troops of the time. We were then treated – and we use the expression loosely – to ‘Parliamentary Brandy’, a concoction brewed up specially (in micro batches, we hope!) to give an insight into the roughness of the gin being consumed in quantities during the ‘gin craze’. Fortunately, we were taught to ‘reset’ our palates by smelling the back of our hand…

We then moved to the sweeter ‘Old Tom’, as revived in recent years by Hayman’s, through ‘gin cups’, mixtures involving various added herbs, spices and flavourings (Sipsmiths London Cup used as an example), and sloe gin.

Then on into the 19th century, and coining of the expression ‘London Dry’, as greater regulation and standards were put in place, and the new column still enabled more consistent production. Hayman’s was used to represent the London Dry style, and also navy strength (57.2%), represented via two brands, ‘Navy Strength’ and ‘Royal Dock’.

We were then fast forwarded to more modern times, to gins that have led the way in some of the new techniques that have helped spark the new ‘gin craze’: the vapour-infused Bombay Sapphire, pioneers of small batch distilling Sipsmith, dual distilled and flavour-added Hendrick’s, and Pink Pepper, vacuum-distilled by an Australian in Cognac.

Throughout the evening we were asked to score the gins, and maybe the results will become known. But it is hard to imagine that the Grand Champion of the evening was not gin number 12. Jonathan Jeyes explained the direct links between Roaring Forties, our 40th-Anniversary gin, and those produced for our 10th and 25th anniversaries. And then we tasted, and all marked our scorecards (at least) 10/10.

A massive vote of thanks to Tony, James and Chris. This was a memorable and imaginative evening in exquisite surroundings, in great company.

For the final event of the CRG’s 40th year, we remain in Clubland, moving around the corner, to Boodle’s for our annual dinner…

CRG Summit with RealGin, Portugal

Enticing glass of Real Gin aged

A new milestone has been added to Anglo-Portuguese relations. In time, we feel that the significance of the Campaign for Real Gin’s visit to the Real Gin distillery at Pegões will take its place alongside previous notable landmarks such as:

  • 1147 AD: the appointment of monk and Crusader (an early Campaigner?) Gilbert of Hastings as first Bishop of Lisbon; Gilbert commenced work on the Sé cathedral.
  • 1386: the Treaty of Windsor, followed by the marriage of Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt to John I of Portugal; the Treaty is recognised as the world’s oldest recorded allegiance between two nations.
  • agreement between Oliver Cromwell and John IV to establish an English Cemetery in Lisbon.
  • 1662: the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II, bringing with it Bombay and Tangiers as part of her dowry.
  • the establishment of numerous English-owned Port houses.
  • 1807: protection of the Portuguese Royal Family as it fled Napoleon’s attack on Lisbon for Brazil.
  • Ongoing: the soap opera that is/was ‘The Special One’.

The CRG Team

Dinner at York House Hotel LisbonA party strong on quality was despatched by the CRG to Lisbon, consisting of Founder Marvin Faure and Emmanuelle Faure; Mr and Mrs Hon Sec, Nick and Helena Ellis, Official Chronicler of the Fortieth Year Bob Gibson and Lynne Gibson, and Pathfinders Tim and Sarah Smee.

Centrepiece of the weekend was a magnificent day organised with the help of our newest member, Jacinto Policarpo, one of the team of four behind Real Gin.

Adega de Pegões – Wine Tasting

The day started with a visit to the Agricultural Cooperative of Pegões, to learn about and taste their selection of wines. It was fascinating to learn of the origins of the cooperative, on land colonised under a settlement programme directed by the Salazar Government, donating land to thousands of agricultural workers and directing the plantation of 830 hectares of vineyard. The Cooperative was formed in 1958.

Our tour explained how the grapes are brought in from the 96 farms, strictly by variety, and are then graded and assessed for the likely quality of the finished wines.

Average annual production is around 12 million bottles, of which around 35% is exported.

Wines tasted by CRG team at Adega de Pegoes

We were treated to an extensive wine tasting, taking in the relatively new sparkling wine, crisp whites, high-end reds and the delicious Moscatel.

The Wine Society speaks highly of winemaker Jaime Quendera. Both the Moscatel and Colheita Seleccionada (described as “popular, food-friendly blend of chardonnay and four local varieties aged briefly in oak for a velvety, creamy texture”) can be ordered from The Wine Society – follow the links.

Real Gin

After a legendary lunch at a local restaurant, it was on to the Real Gin distillery (and bar!)

Classic RealGin bottles, PegoesVisiting Real Gin was an education in what can be achieved with imagination, hard work and belief.

The beginning of the journey was an almost throwaway line at dinner involving Jacinto Policarpo, his sister Raquel and their respective spouses Alex and Luis. “Let’s make a gin” piped up Luis. Two weeks later he had identified a supplier for the base alcohol; the name ‘Real Gin’ was decided on (‘real’ meaning ‘royal’ in Portuguese, hence the crown on the label); a building originally intended as a restaurant but which had lain empty for years was secured as a premises; a still was commissioned from a Portuguese copper worker; and it all built from there.

All four partners have retained their full-time jobs, and have young families, so it would have been impossible to have got to where they are without hard work and passion. Nowhere more so, than in fending off a challenge against use of the name ‘Real Gin’ by a wine company of a similar name – this was defended successfully through all levels of the Portuguese Courts.

Jacinto Policarpo mixes Gin and Tonic Portuguese style at the Real Gin barLess than three years into the adventure, the production of Real Gin remains a largely manual operation. But they have steadily grown their market, and striking blue Real Gin bottles are being seen on an increasing number of bar shelves, at fairs, and in seven export markets. There are two products, a clear classic-style gin, and a fascinating aged gin, which is allowed to mature for three months in Moscatel barrels acquired from Adega de Pegões just up the road! The aged gin takes on flavours which to our amateur palates had an almost Armagnacy characteristic – though the preferred mixer remains tonic.

A portion of the Real Gin premises is given over to a rustic-style bar, and after the tour, we repaired there and Jacinto turned mixologist, preparing large gins, ‘Portuguese style’. Emboldened by this brew, Nick proceeded to give a speech of thanks in Portuguese:

Em nome da ‘Campaign for Real Gin’ ou CRG, eu gostaria de agradecer vocês pela hospitalidade generosa de hoje. Quando q a CRG foi fundada por Marvin há quarenta anos, não se pretendia ser uma organização seria. Não podemos dar crédito para o fato de que gin se tornou uma bebida muito popular hoje em dia, mas estamos muito felizes por isso.

Quando fizemos planos para nosso quadragésimo aniversàrio, Bob descobriu Real Gin no Facebook e sentimos que, por ter temos o mesmo nome, deveríamos nos encontrar. Nos gostamos muito do seu gin e gostaríamos de dar uma garrafa do nosso Gin ‘roaring forties’ para vocês. Esse Gin foi feito especialmente para o nosso aniversàrio esse ano. Tambèm, temos duas das nossas gravatas do quadragèsimo aniversàrio que gostaríamos de dar para vocês.

Nick then presented a bottle of Roaring Forties and two 40th Anniversary ties, inviting Jacinto to become our newest member.

This was an extraordinarily good day, and we must thank all the team at Real Gin, and especially Jacinto, who bought into our initial approach via Facebook, and not only arranged the visit to Real Gin, but also organised the tour of Adega de Pegoes, and lunch.

On our return to Lisbon we regrouped and were led by Sarah and Tim to the Time Out Market, a historic market hall (think Smithfield for example) that had fallen into neglect and disrepair, and has been resurrected as a foodie hub. Multiple foods and bars are available under one roof, with central eating benches. This was the perfect venue at the end of our day, allowing everyone to graze on as much or as little as they fancied. Tim insisted on buying a portion of ‘goose head barnacles’, to be eaten alive, though not everyone was brave enough to try.

Remembrance Day at St George’s Church

Heavy rain was predicted from the middle of the day onwards on Sunday. On the 100th anniversary of the WW1 Armistice, it seemed appropriate to attend the Remembrance at the English church of St George.

A packed church drove home the close ties between Portugal and the UK. St George’s Church sits within the English Cemetery, and the names of the war dead in the cemetery were read out. Movingly, the German Ambassador was among those laying wreaths. The service followed a traditional pattern, though with some twists – the Last Post was a quite different version to the one played in the UK. At the end of the service, the Portuguese national anthem was sung with gusto, followed by God Save The Queen.

An invitation to all to drinks and canapés with the Ambassador was sadly undermined by the rain, which was coming down by now in Monsoon fashion. An advance party headed back for the hotel in an Uber, leaving the stragglers to stagger home as wet as if they had fallen into the Tagus.

Even though we were only a couple of hundred yards from the acclaimed Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, such was the persistence of the rain, we were left little option but to celebrate Nick and Helena’s wedding anniversary with another good lunch.

Where to next year? Ideas on a postcard, please…