When it comes to gin, particularly those gins lucky enough to be coupled with the word ‘craft’, I think there’s a collective desire amongst many drinkers for a provenance that involves some rustic alchemist who resides just down the lane from Frodo in middle earth. Alas, the pretty bottle with ‘small batch’ and ‘artisan’ plastered all over its label, is all too often the scheme of some wily marketeer, and boiled up in an industrial park in the Midlands. If you’re paying upwards of £35 for a bottle of gin, you want it to have been lovingly crafted and evoke more Wordsworth than Walsall.
And then there’s Garden Swift gin, made in the garden of a quiet genius who roams the surrounding Cotswolds countryside for seasonal botanicals. Take that sentence in! If you want gin that’s truly small batch, cottage industry approved, and expertly imbued with a sense of place and it’s creator, then this is the gin you’ve been looking for. More importantly, it’s absolutely delicious!
Barney Wilczak is the owner of Capreolus distillery and makes Garden Swift at the family home in the heart of the Cotswolds. His first career was as a photographer who focused on conservation. The inspiration to start Capreolus was the desire to distil a season of the Cotswolds in the same manner a photo captures a moment in time.
Although the exact of recipe of botanicals is a closely guarded secret, many are grown in his garden or foraged locally. However, to acquire the key ingredient Barney had to look to the orange groves of Sicily. From the moment you pull the cork and inhale the heady aromas of a bottle of Garden Swift, there is one a dominant character; organic Sicilian blood orange. It’s there in the intense citrus hit on the nose, the rich but tangy palate, and the seductive, mouth coating texture.
Of course there’s far more to the tale of Garden Swift than sun kissed citrus - but what exactly? The label only confesses to the blood orange and flowers, spice, drying resins and sweetness, but in total there’s actually 34 different botanicals used. In the wrong hands this could be a mess, but Barney uses his in depth knowledge of the ingredients and technical expertise to ensure a cogent, singular but wonderfully expressive gin.
There are two main ways that gin is distilled, and to allow the 34 layers of flavour room to breath Barney took the slightly uncommon step of using both. The first and most widely used, involves allowing your botanicals to steep in a mixture of water and neutral grain spirit (essentially vodka) in the base of a still. As alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, when the still is heated, the alcohol vapours (which are now imbued with flavours of the botanicals) evaporate up the neck of the still before condensing into the desired spirit. In the case of Garden Swift, hard spices, berries and herbs are soaked in British wheat spirit for 40 hours.
The second main method of gin distillation involves no maceration prior to heating the still, but has the vapours passing through a basket full of the desired botanicals in the neck of the still. The vapours are infused with all the botanicals nestling in the basket. Barney chooses the blood orange zest and a rich mix of flowers and fragrant leaves for this method and they gently infuse the vapours coming from the already flavour laden spirit. As the chaps at Capreolus say, “It creates a sum much greater than its parts”.
As you would expect, all this creates a heady brew! There's that blood orange to the fore, but there’s definite notes of cardamom and coriander seed. The spice is tantalisingly well integrated adding little pops and crackles of flavour which change with each sip. The texture is classy, with a lovely citrus oil character and the finish abounds with rich zesty spice.
As a G&T, I like to serve Garden Swift with East Imperial’s Burma Tonic. Hailing from New Zealand, it’s one of my favourites and works perfectly with citrus led gin. You’ll notice as you add your tonic, that the gin gathers a slight haze or louche to use the correct term. This is a sign of quality and due to the concentration of the essential oils extracted from the botanicals during distillation. Basically, it’s nothing to cause any concern just more proof of the unique charms this gin possesses.
Such is the complex intensity of this gin, I would tread carefully when choosing a garnish. Frankly, it doesn’t particularly need one, but pick up a packet of Dardimans dried blood orange wheels from the shelves of Whitmore & White should you choose to.
Garden Swift bottles are labelled and corked by hand, and they’ve concocted a very aesthetically pleasing product, which makes a wonderful gift. Fear not, this has been achieved if not quite in house, then certainly in the family. The design was created by Barney’s father and brother, with the labels being printed by Andrew Morrison, Barney’s father in law. He uses a traditional hand fed letterpress which results an attractive and satisfyingly tactile label.
I see Barney’s skills as closer to a perfumier than a distiller. This may well see me accused of grand hyperbole but in an already congested gin market that get’s more cynical by the second, it’s great to taste gin made with passion, vision, and (yes I’m going to use the word) real craft.
Whitmore & White Chester