For the past year, we’ve been naming a Malt of the Month. We’ve had some excellent drams, with great special offers, from old favourites like Laphroaig 10 and Highland Park 12, to lesser-known gems like Glengoyne 18 and Port Askaig 19.
However, we’re not all about whisky here at The Whisky Exchange, no matter what our name may suggest, so we now have a new regular feature: Spirit of the Month.
Like with our Spirit of the Year last year (and the Irish blend that snuck into our Malt of the Month back in March) we may bend the rules on what we mean by ‘spirit’ as we go forward, but we’re starting with a classic: Plymouth Navy Strength Gin.
These days, the Black Friars distillery in Plymouth is the only gin-maker in town, but back at the turn of the 18th century, things were much busier. The distillery was founded in 1793 and still occupies the same site today. It was formerly a Dominican monastery, with stories of the pilgrims on The Mayflower stopping there on their way to America, but these days it’s home to the distillery, a bar and a restaurant.
Plymouth was a major port throughout the 1700s, and the escalation of military activity brought by the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s helped it to grow further. With the town filled with sailors and cargo ships ready to transport goods across the country and the world, Plymouth was an ideal location for producing gin – whatever was left after the sailors finished drinking could be loaded on to ships and exported.
The town’s gin developed its own style, with an earthier and more intense character than the London Dry that’s better known today. It’s characteristic enough that Plymouth Gin is now a geographically protected term, only allowed to be produced in the town, unlike London Dry, which can be produced anywhere in the world.
While the popularity of the gin waned over the years, the cocktail boom of the early 20th century led to an initial revival, with The Savoy Cocktail Book calling for Plymouth gin in 23 cocktails. It disappeared from public consciousness again through the middle of the century, but the current interest in classic drinks has yet again resurrected its name.
The gin has been produced continuously since the distillery’s founding and has, as you might expect from such a venerable product, a classic botanical mix: juniper, coriander, orange and lime peel, cardamom, angelica and orris. They add the botanicals just before they distil and place them in the body of the still, giving a balance between the long maceration of some heavier gins and the vapour-infusion techniques of lighter ones.
The naval strength version of Plymouth’s gin is a punchier spirit than the regular release, with the extra 16% ABV giving it more intensity and helping it stand up to mixers. We’d recommend it for mixed drinks and cocktails where gin sometimes gets lost – gin and tonics, and Negronis spring to mind – rather than in lighter cocktails where gin is the star of the show. Plymouth Navy Strength works very well in a Martini, but be prepared to stir it for a while…
Nose: Well integrated, with a top note of orange peel backed up by juniper and coriander. Beneath that is a solid layer of peppery spice, cocoa and earthiness.
Palate: Sweet and oily with peppery juniper, apples, pears and sour orange zest.
Finish: Bitter orange peel and earthy roots.
Comment: A focus on earthy roots and spicy juniper, complemented by citrus, make this an ideal alternative to London Dry gins.
For the next four weeks we’re knocking £5 off the price of a bottle of Plymouth Navy Strength, so it’s the perfect opportunity to try it if it’s new to you, and time to stock up if not.