Trying to stand out in a positive way within the world of gin is an interesting challenge with many shades of grey. If we’re talking about products simply labeled as “dry gin,” rather than overtly “flavored” examples that are meant to be dominated by a single aspect, then there are fairly tight boundaries into which the final product must fall—and thus, only so much room truly available for real experimentation. You can only stretch so far away from the juniper-driven style of London dry gin, after all, before what you’re making is more easily interpreted as flavored vodka. It’s a delicate balancing act.
Many craft gins seek to differentiate themselves, then, with a focus on some kind of terroir—gins that seek to capture a specific location or show off that area’s native botanicals. English gin Whitley Neill is one such example, but their inspiration isn’t the English countryside one might expect. Rather, their gin is based on the botanicals and flora of South Africa. To simply quote the marketing materials:
This exceptional drink was created by Johnny Neill, a direct descendant of a long line of distillers, whose heritage stretches back as far as the Baobab trees found in Africa today. Inspired by his family’s sense of adventure, Johnny strove to create his own signature blend of Gin: a tribute to his English distilling heritage, and a homage to the enigmatic beauty of his wife’s African homeland. The result is Whitley Neill Handcrafted dry Gin; a balanced, distinctive Gin that blends classic Gin botanicals with exotic African botanicals to create a liquid with a flavour as unique as its heritage.
For our purposes, that yields a gin that is primarily interesting for containing some botanicals one doesn’t tend to see in this product, from baobab to Cape gooseberry, supplementing more familiar gin botanicals such as coriander, cassia bark, orris root, angelica, sweet orange peel and of course juniper. So with that said—let’s give it a taste and find out where those African elements have gotten us.
Note: We were provided with samples of the full Whitley Neill line of flavored gins, but I decided not to review these products, as their overwhelmingly sweet and fruity natures are outside my own personal interest. For this review, I’m confining myself solely to the Original.
On the nose, Whitley Neill Original is perfumey, fresh and classical, with big floral notes, juniper pine-iness and berry fruit, along with rose petals. There’s an air of potpourri to these proceedings—it’s a very aromatic gin that really trends toward the floral end of the spectrum.
On the palate, there’s no shortage of juniper, but it is met by more citrus, which presents like ruby red grapefruit and tangerine. This is certainly not the driest of “dry gins,” but it’s not overly sweet either—the residual sugar falls between the bone dry, classic London Drys and many of the contemporary American New Western gins on the market. Again it is quite floral and potpourri-like, with eventual impressions of red berries and moderate sweetness. Overall, the profile actually reminds me a bit of Hendricks’ more recent Midsummer Solstice release, in that they are both driven by fresh florals, secondary fruity characteristics and moderate sweetness. Like that gin, this one strikes me as fairly versatile, and would likely perform well in either a gin & tonic (or just some club soda), or mixed into most gin cocktails.
Although the intensely flavored (and very sweet) variants such as Rhubarb & Ginger will probably attract more headlines as this gin is released in the U.S., don’t sleep on the well-rounded Original.
Distillery: Whitley Neill Gin
City: Liverpool, England
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $29.99 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident spirits geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.