As I kissed my pregnant wife goodbye, I headed off in to the brisk Wakefield afternoon. I was out unchaperoned for the evening, and little did she know that before long I would be found roaming the evening streets with two birds on either arm…
By now, the guilt was starting to set in. Would there be room for all of us at home? Would my normally understanding wife be able to laugh this one off or would I really be in the dog house this time? I mean, sure, I could probably just about make space in a cupboard for my new additions…but at what cost?! Previous nights out had already resulted in a house full!
Ok…Those last few lines may have gotten this review off to a weird start. And be rest assured that this isn’t an admission to a hostage situation! Perhaps I should start over…
You see, this is a story that has a little bit of everything! It’s steeped in history. It has a local hero. It has gin (a key ingredient to any good story if you ask me!). And it features ‘my mate Dave’. Allow me to introduce you to the true spirit of Wakefield; Nightingale’s Gin.
When asked if I’d take two bottles home for a write up, the iconic bird design emblazoned on the bottle, I responded in the way that I have now become accustomed; ‘Yes. And my wife is going to kill me’.
I first met David Owens, our intrepid hero & Nightingale’s Master Distiller, in 2017, having featured the fantastic ‘Wakefield Beer Exchange’ in a blog review as part of the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival (if you’ve never visited the guys at their Wakefield bar then you need to get it on your priority list ASAP! You can check out my review on Wakefield Beer Exchange here: https://theginshelf.uk/2017/03/05/the-wakefield-beer-exchange/ ).
Once Dave and I got started talking about gin it became quite clear that we were going to get on like a house on fire! (I’ve never fully understood that saying, but I mean it in a good way as opposed to a flaming mess with an insurance claim). A shared passion for all things juniper soon led to the creation of the world renowned (in Wakefield) ‘Gin Experience’ evenings; a collaboration and meeting of minds between gin lovers across Wakefield and the surrounding areas, hosted by Dave & I at the Beer Exchange, with special guest appearances and tastings from the very best gin distillers that Yorkshire has to offer!
Having tinkered with gin recipes over the years, even introducing an early version of the ‘soon to be finished article’ on to his back bar to popular acclaim, the Sunderland born Owens wanted to create a gin that was not only a knockout on the tastebuds, but also a celebration of the history & heritage of his beloved and adopted home of Wakefield.
So just how ‘local’ is Nightingale’s, I hear you mutter? Well hold on to your flat-cap – how’s this for local!…
First up, the name; Nightingale’s. Inspired by Wakefield’s very own Victorian period Yorkshire explorer & conservationist Charles Waterton, the gin bases its name on his final diary entry from 1865, where he described listening to the Nightingale’s night time song. It’s a theme that carries through to the front & centre of the artwork, with the lost Nightingale’s of Wakefield taking pride of place, paying homage to both exploration and conservation.
Nightingale’s comes in two equally impressive offerings; Nightingale’s West Riding Dry and Nightingale’s Rhubarb & Mulberry Gin. And while we’re taking about the label and bottle design, let’s just take a second to appreciate this stunning work of art, which has deeper meaning than its initial face value.
Look a little closer at the West Riding Dry expression and you’ll spot the ‘Fleur-de-lys’, iconic imagery taken from the county’s coat of arms and flag. And with a longing gaze through the crytal clear spirit, you’ll also find the infamous Yorkshire White Rose staring back at you from the opposite back label. This is all surrounded by the striking Black & Gold colour scheme, which is both a respectful call out to the local and roaring coal trade of the 18th Century and a celebration of the ‘hearts of gold’ of the Yorkshire folk that make the Merrie-City what it is.
And if you were looking for something a little more ‘standout’ for your gin shelf, look no further than the shock of pink running across the Rhubarb & Mulberry design, to leave you under no illusion of what you’re going to discover inside the bottle!
Could Owens have opted for a cheaper label design, cut a few corners and saved himself some pennies? We’re in Yorkshire – of course he could (I have Yorkshire blood in me, so I can say that in jest and get away with it)! But he understood the importance of the all-round drinking experience and had a vision that he was unwilling to compromise. Instead, he chose to laugh (or perhaps whimper…) in the face of personal expense to bring his dream to life.
But it’s what’s inside the bottle that makes this story even more interesting! Nightingale’s prides itself on using local and forgotten crops from the botanical gardens of Nostell and the surrounding Wakefield area.
Prime examples can be found within Nightingale’s, very small batch, fruiter variety. The rhubarb is picked from within Yorkshire’s famous rhubarb triangle, which once produced 90% of the world’s winter forced rhubarb. And the inclusion of mulberries is inspired by Wakefield’s famous mulberry bush, which resides in the local prison and is rumoured to be the musical inspiration behind the well known nursery rhyme ‘Here we go round the Mulberry bush’.
With local knowledge increased, and retro nursery rhymes now unforgivingly lodged in my brain on a loop, it’s time to remove the robust wooden stoppers (very nice too!) and get involved…
Nightingale’s West Riding Dry Gin
The West Riding Dry is a recipe that will be familiar to most, and a nod to the classics. Eight botanicals (juniper, fresh citrus peel, liquorice root, cassia bark, orris root, angelica, coriander seed and roasted South American cocoa nibs) are delicately and expertly balanced to deliver a well rounded, delicious dry gin. Ok, I’ll give you that one, South American cocoa nibs aren’t all that local to Wakefield…but their inclusion is a purposeful and playful nod to the aforementioned exploration, to carry the theme through from concept to taste. But the fact that they’re sourced by local chocolatier, David Greenwood-Haigh, does help to pull it all back to a more recognisable post code!
On the nose, there are heavy wafts of piney juniper and a citrus freshness of sliced lemon peels, emphasised by big notes of coriander. There’s a warming liquorice spice oozing from the glass, with a sense of a smooth and rounded richness – those roasted cocoa nibs add an almost smokey sensation to the vapours.
When sampled neat, there’s a sharp citrus bite from the gin on the front of the tongue. Take a moment to allow the gin to roll over the pallet, and a warming spice presents itself. The liquorice is an impressively dominant force, particularly on the long lasting after taste. I was lucky enough to taste the West Riding Dry in its development phases and, by Owens own admission, the liquorice was probably packing too much of a punch. But in the perfected end product, it now takes a prime position, whilst letting the other botanicals have a voice.
Although an element of sweetness is added by the cassia bark, it’s the inclusion of the cocoa nibs that add a real complexity to the flavour profile. Whilst not overwhelming in chocolate flavours, there’s just enough to provide a rich, earthy quality and a luxurious mouth feel to the neat spirit.
Adding a splash of water, to remove the raw power of the ethanol, and it’s the lemon that shines through. There are a few more layers of pine that become evident, against a herbal backdrop of the coriander. But, once again, it’s the liquorice that remains a gleefully bold contributor.
This gin cries out to be part of a gin & tonic! I served this with Fever-Tree light and a wedge of lemon (though the perfect serve suggests a slice of orange & raspberries). The gin retains a rooty earthiness of liquorice on the back of the throat, but not in an over bearing way. The fresh citrus is beautifully balanced against the warming spice of cassia, providing gorgeous tones of sweet lemons. As a G&T, this is cleansing, refreshing and bold, with bright lemon screaming from the glass. This is the perfect accompaniment to the heat of the summer days we’ve been experiencing (long may they continue!).
Nightingale’s Rhubarb & Mulberry Gin
On to the Rhubarb & Mulberry gin, which must be called out as a triumph! It impressively retains the 40% ABV of the West Riding Dry, infusing generous lashings of fruit on to an already solid base. The botanicals here remain much the same as the original expression, though the cocoa nibs are replaced by orange and lemon peels.
On the nose, I instantly get red fruits & cream, with big hits of vanilla. There are almost rich custard flavours teasing the nostrils. It’s all complemented by delicate waves of juniper, which I was relieved to find was not lost within the sweeter scents. The obvious inclusions of rhubarb & mulberries sing loudly, filling the air between the glass and your nose and giving a sense of a sloe gin liqueur.
When tried neat, there are tons of delicious red fruits falling from the glass. There’s a sweetness from the rhubarb that slaps you delightfully in the face, as notes of fresh orange wash against the back of the throat. Spicier inclusions of cassia bark, liquorice & coriander seed warm the stomach.
This is going to sound weird, but the sweetness from the red fruits & orange, alongside the backdrop of that Dry Gin base, provides a mouth feel reminiscent of a luxurious rum. This is perhaps fitting, given Owens other pass times in the rum trade (he is quite possibly the busiest man I know!). And whilst it is a story for another time, you should be sure to checkout the St. Abbs range (the Captain’s Table XO being a personal favourite)!
This is a gin that can (and should) be enjoyed neat! It works fantastically well with a fistful of ice and a slice of fresh orange. If, however, you’re looking for a game changer, get this bad boy paired up with its perfect bed partner in a premium ginger beer; the heat of the ginger marries stunningly well with the spices, whilst dragging the sweeter fruit flavours in to the spotlight. Absolutely gorgeous.
This gin really does sum up David Owens ambition of creating a gin that would be worthy of being able to represent ‘the spirit’ of Wakefield. It is a collaboration of talent and passion from across Wakefield, the ever awesome team at Wakefield Beer Exchange and further a field. Indeed, the first opportunity to really kickstart the distilling of Nightingale’s gin came as an offer of time & facilities from Sara Birkinshaw (of the fabulous Leeds Gin). Having been our very first VIP guest at the Gin Experience, Sara invited Dave to become acquainted with her still ‘Minerva’, allowing full access to her equipment and expertise. This generosity and commitment helped pave the way for Nightingale’s Gin to ‘take flight’, and there can surely be no better example of the community spirit and togetherness that Owens hopes to acknowledge and build upon through his gin.
And with that, I sat there in the peaceful silence and smiled (the additional bottles clogging our now saturated gin storage had meant my wife was temporarily not speaking to me). Whether it be the sentiment and locality of the back story, or simply the fact that I was by now on my second G&T, I had a warming feeling in my stomach. This is what craft gin should be about.
Love Wakefield. Love Gin. Drink Nightingale’s.
Oh, and don’t just take my word for it! Here’s celebrity chef, and all round nice guy, Jean-Christophe Novelli (who my wife inexplicably & mistakenly calls Jean-Claude Van Damme every time she talks about him) enjoying a swig or two of the West Riding Dry at this years Rhubarb Festival. A glowing endorsement, I think you’ll agree!
Be sure to follow the guys at Nightingale’s Gin & Wakefield Beer Exchange across social media. And keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming gin festival on its way to Wakefield, a collaboration that yours truly is proud to be a part of with David Owens & gin friends, later this year! More information to follow…
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Come and say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!