There’s a shootout! One man fires but misses. His adversary takes aim and fires a killer blow. There’s a knowing look. Inaudible words are exchanged. A grown man in tears. It’s over…a nation mourns.
Ah. Italia 1990. Every four years when the World Cup comes back around, we Brits find a way to revel in the misery and disappointment of a story of ‘so close, yet so far’. Not since Englands sole World Cup win in 1966 had the team made it to the Semi Final stage of the competition. And yet, after all of the expectancy and anticipation, the only highlights to take away from Italia ‘90 were those in Gazza’s hair. The wait for glory continues.
Right now, it’s Summer 2018, and at the time of writing the Russia World Cup is in full swing. But something feels…different. There’s a palpable excitement in the air this year and, it’s fair to say, England have been doing well! Performances have exceeded expectations, with the team successfully navigating their way past the group stages and in to the business end of the competition.
Inevitably, a nation now expects. Gone is the cynicism & scathing sense of self deprecation, replaced instead by an overwhelming optimism that it really could be ‘coming home’! There’s something about the summer weather & a football tournament that seems to bring people together in a unified sense of pride and excitement.
Now, of course, if this all falls apart and we don’t bring home the trophy then we’ll all claim to have ‘seen it coming’, sales of the Gareth Southgate style waistcoats will plummet and all focus will rightly move back to the long and arduous wait for The Great British Bake Off to return to our screens. Well, we all love a croissant don’t we?
But until then, and as the other nations drop away one by one, we’re definitely going to win!
Perhaps one sign that we may finally be putting the curse of our 1990’s Summer holiday to Italy behind us is that the Italian team didn’t qualify this year. And whilst that may be a big advantage to the England football team, I can’t help but feel that something is missing without that Italian flair…and given that I have very little (…zero) influence on FIFA, I stand little chance of reinstating the Italians to the competition. But fear not my gin drenched friends, as I have found a way to bring a little bit of Italy to proceedings. But you can forget about your 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formations, as I’ve got a lineup of a far superior order. Say hello to my little friend (…friends); Malfy Gin.
Say hello to my little friends…
Now, if the Malfy story is to be believed, then gin was invented in Italy in the 11th Century by monks on the Salerno coast. Whilst this would likely be disputed by a host of other claimants, we’ll go with it for now (never let the truth get in the way of a good story I say – particularly when the story is about gin!).
Established in 1906, the Malfy Gin distillery is based in Moncalieri, sitting just outside the city of Torino, which has a rich history of wine & spirit production. It was brought by Carlo Vergnano in 1992, who set about making Malfy Gin in to a real family affair with wife Piera & daughter Rita. Whilst the gin originally started as a small batch endeavour, Elwyn Gladstone of Biggar & Leith has helped to propel the brand on to the global stage and to much acclaim.
Whilst Malfy Gin may have started life with the Con Limone Edition (that’s Lemon to you & I), this is one bambino that is rapidly growing in to a gargantuan, with a fuller range of four key offerings now on the market.
Having been a huge fan of the Con Limone for a long time, with it being a firm favourite of ‘Mrs. The Gin Shelf’, I leapt at the opportunity to try the wider range of the Con Arancia, Gin Rosa & Originale.
It was time to blow the doors off and see what was going on inside; there was gin to be tasted and I was the man for this particular ‘Italian Job’.
Malfy Gin to taste…
But first, let’s start with the branding and aesthetics, because Malfy has got this on point! The bottles are a thing of beauty, each one adorning the same round labelling on its front & centre. The use of bright and bold colour schemes adds a playful, almost cartoon like, characteristic to the gin. Whilst light blue is a constant across the range, each bottle then introduces a supporting theme to match its contents (Orange for the Con Arancia, Pink for the Rosa, Yellow for the Limone & White for the Originale). Each bottle proudly adorns the ‘G.Q.D.I’ stamp (Gin di Qualita Distillato Italia), guaranteeing quality and the gins point of origin. There’s something almost nautical about the colours used, the porthole-esq label design & the G.Q.D.I stamp, which depicts two crossed oars – this is perhaps a nod to the coastal locations where a number of the key botanicals are sourced. And just to hammer home that this is definitely an Italian gin, ‘ITALY’ is not only inscribed on the labelling of each bottle, it is also beautifully embossed on the glass.
Hefty wooden stoppers guard to gin inside, making a satisfying ‘pop’ upon opening, similar to uncorking a nice bottle of Chianti. When you spot a bottle of Malfy on the shelf (and you really can’t miss them!) they’re playful and demand your attention. When you inevitably reach out and grab a bottle, it feels robust and substantial. Qualita Distillato indeed I thought.
But as the saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts…
Con Limone (Lemon)
For all of the Malfy gins, Master Distillers Beppe Ronco and Denis Muni use a stainless steel vacuum still to retain the fresh aromas of italian juniper and citrus, which are core to the end product.
The lemons in particular, are quintessential to the Italian landscape, imagery and culture, with Malfy taking lemons from both Sicily & the Amalfi coast to deliver their zesty punch. Traditional basket press techniques are used to extract the citrus flavours, with lower temperatures used during distilling to maintain the zesty profile. Filtering then becomes essential to remove some of the oil from all of those peels, to avoid a cloudy finish when the gin is sat in cooler temperatures.
The other botanicals at play, alongside the obvious juniper, remain fairly consistent across the range as the base to work from, and see the inclusions of coriander, cassia, liquorice, grapefruit peel and orange peel.
Having visited and fallen in love with the Amalfi coast last year, based in Positano, you really get an appreciation of the importance of lemons to the Italian culture and why Malfy chose to specifically harness these flavours in their Con Limone edition. Lemon trees line the hillsides, with sharp contrasts of green & yellow screaming from the trees. It’s no exaggeration to say that lemons bigger than your head can be found on sale across the Amalfy coastline (note to reader: please don’t see this as slander on the size of your head. I only mean to illustrate that the lemons are flipping huge!).
On the nose, I instantly get lemon sherbet sweets, stirring memories of eating boiled sweets from a brown paper bag as a child. There are big, bright notes of lemon freshness flowing from the glass, supported by an almost fresh cut grass aroma. The citrus profile feels broader than just lemon, with suggestions of grapefruit also making an appearance, backed up by citrusy coriander. I detected a slight saltiness to the vapours, which draws imagery of the Mediterranean coastline.
There’s a sense of real balance between sharp citrus zing and waves of sweet lemon. The pine scent of the juniper is there, but it’s oh so subtly in the background (probably hiding behind one of those massive lemons!).
When tasting the gin neat, the lemon sherbets theme continues – although you’re unlikely to find this gin at your local ‘tuck shop’. The heat on the tongue from the alcohol could be mistaken for the fizz and sharpness of sherbet. Juniper is not distinguishable on the pallet, so dominant is the lemon. But as a lover of both citrus forward & juniper heavy gins in equal measure, I’m not at all disappointed or phased by that. The citrus flavours branch out in to sharp grapefruit, with a refreshing bitterness. There’s even a lime like quality present as the spirit washes over your taste buds. The coriander adds a nice herbal balance, that sings nicely in harmony with the citrus profile.
The strength feels bigger than its 41% ABV, but in a very pleasing way. There’s a long lasting warmth and mouth feel that adds to the bold flavours and drinking experience.
For me, this is a standout gin and tonic gin. Paired with a premium light tonic, a ton of ice & a wedge of fresh lemon, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a hot summers day, allowing you to dip your toes in the Mediterranean (in spirit if not body!). With each sip, vapours from the glass hit your nose, reminiscent of the zesty spray you’d get from cutting in to a fresh lemon. It’s lively, energetic and refreshing.
However, those huge citrus flavours also make the Con Limone gin a perfect candidate for a Martini, to be served ice cold with a lemon twist. Outstandingly good!
Con Arancia (Blood Orange)
There are no prizes here for guessing the core botanical used to create this glowing red ruby of a gin (though if you did guess it, then feel free to have a gin on me…brought & paid for by you). Sicilian Blood Oranges, harvested in November each year, are famed for their rich red colours that come courtesy of the cooler Mediterranean nights. In a very similar way to the Con Limone, the peels are steeped in alcohol before being pressed, to allow the infusion to be blended with the juniper and other botanicals ahead of distillation.
I’ll be honest – this is a gin I have been lusting after for quite some time now, and I couldn’t wait to try it! Let’s take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking good looks of the Con Arancia – is it wrong to describe a gin as being ‘sexy’?! There’s a red haze that emanates from opaque bottle that seductively draw you in.
Upon sampling, it really is a case of ‘say what you see’ (or smell in this case). You’ve got it; blood orange! There’s a retro 80’s throwback to orange Opal Fruit sweets on the nose, with sweet lashings of orange juice wafting from the glass. Like the Con Limone, there are suggestions of grapefruit coming through, but no real sense of juniper, which seems to be getting lost behind its zestier counterparts. The vapours have a sweeter citrus tang, rather than an aggressive sharpness. It’s a little like biting in to the marmalade centre of a Jaffa cake (minus the chocolate – sorry…) such are the bitter citrus notes, balanced nicely against a softer sweetness. The booze isn’t overly present on the nose at all – suggestive of dangerously good times ahead!
To taste…wow! There is a much stronger ethanol presence than the gin had first suggested. It caught me a little off guard!
There is actually a subtle background of juniper & coriander here that I hadn’t expected, providing some gentle pine flavours against a stronger sense of citrus & herbal warmth. But the orange sweetness that was present on the nose is suddenly replaced by a more bitter profile of burnt orange marmalade when tried neat. But don’t take that to mean that the gin is overly aggressive – it’s not. And it probably does itself a favour in not being too sweet. Don’t get me wrong, this is still HUGE in orange flavour – but my point is that where certain flavoured gins ultimately over do the sweetness, lending themselves to the ‘I might have it once in a blue moon’ gimmick pile, this is a gin that stands up for itself and entices you to want more. There’s a lot more going on here than first meets the nose…
My opinion is only strengthened by the addition of a light tonic & fresh orange slice to make an earth shattering G&T. Stunning.
There’s a flirtatious pink glow hazing from the glass, inviting you to dive in. The tonic draws forward those luscious orange flavours; the quinine bounces off the core botanicals to deliver a burnt orange/bitter marmalade sensation, balanced against sweeter citrus flavours. Whilst blood orange is the star of the show, you could at times be tricked in to thinking you had pink grapefruit in your glass.
And I’m just going to throw it out there…this might be one of THE best Negronis I’ve had in a long, long time! The sweeter profile of the Con Arancia gin, with its burnt orange marmalade flavours, works perfectly against the vermouth (I would recommend Antica Formula) & Campari. It’ll leave you wanting more.
Gin Rosa (Pink Grapefruit & Rhubarb)
The release of the Gin Rosa (pink grapefruit & rhubarb) edition has been causing quite a stir on the gin scene, with enthusiasts everywhere clamouring to get hold of a bottle. I was more than a little giddy to see it sat waiting for me on my gin shelf…Sicilian pink grapefruit and Italian rhubarb set the scene here. And spoiler alert, it tastes as pretty as it looks.
On first inspection there are generous lashings of plump, sweet pink grapefruit, married against a vanilla custard subtleness in the background. There is a sweet citrus bite of rhubarb, with an almost floral quality to the scent. The vapours are thick & luxurious – it’s bright, clean and juicy flavours making the mouth water. It really is velvet on the nose.
Again, as in the other offerings, juniper isn’t really recognisable on first sniff, and there is no real alcohol or hefty booze feeling to write home about.
And this carries through to the taste. The Gin Rosa is far more gentle on the pallet than the Con Arancia. That said, there is a definite warmth from the alcohol, sharing the Malfy trait of being able to stand up for itself and avoiding the ‘gimmick’ category.
The dominant force is the citrus bite and sharpness of grapefruit on the tongue. The flavours carry through so vividly, that it’s almost like biting in to a fresh grapefruit. There’s a pith and peel bitterness to the flavour, driving a delightfully dry mouth feel and refreshing, long lasting finish. Whilst the rhubarb isn’t instantly recognisable it does come through once the gin is left to open up a little, and it plays a vital role in balancing the bitterness and sharpness of the grapefruit with some much needed sweetness. And though whispers of coriander add a warming herbal heat, the juniper remains much more hidden.
With a premium light tonic, the pink grapefruit shines through. But don’t think this to be one dimensional – the tonic will eventually help to draw forwards waves of creamy vanilla alongside sweet rhubarb on the front of the tongue to balance out the citrus bitterness on the back of the throat. And whilst this may not appeal to lovers of juniper (I could find none in my glass) it is crisp, refreshing and exciting!
For something a little different, the addition of the Con Rosa to a Gin Fizz or glass of Prosecco, will deliver a devastatingly delicious party piece. Mamma Mia!
Originale (original…if you were after the translation)
In the Originale, the focus moves to combining Italian juniper and coriander against the five other botanicals, attempting to encapsulate the spirit of the Monviso mountain (visible from the distillery) with its wild vegetation and natural spring waters. Indeed, whilst the bottle is less vivid in its colour scheme than the other editions, the white on blue aims to represent the snow capped peaks of the mountain ranges, and natural spring water used in the gin.
When nosing the glass, there is a much heavier whiff of juniper available, which makes a pleasant addition to the range. There’s a much greener feel to the vapours, with fresh pine wafting from the glass. However, this is still underpinned by a hearty nod to the citrus elements that are so dominant across the other Malfy gins. The coriander delivers a warming citrus buzz, with suggestions of lemon and grapefruit cutting through.
On the pallet, the citrus is much more dominant than I had perhaps expected, forcing the juniper to once again take more of a back seat and supporting role. Pine flavours become more evident at the end of the long lasting mouth feel, and on the back of the throat, rather than taking centre stage. Lemon peels and the warmth of coriander take the spotlight here, with a liquorice earthiness dancing over the tongue. This is much more of what you’d expect a ‘classic’ gin to be, though I fear that the juniper may remain just that little bit too hidden for some purists. I, however, find it well rounded and a nice, earthier alternative that really does prompt you to imagine alpine horizons.
This gin is best served as a G&T, with a fresh wedge of lemon or lime to enhance those citrus notes. However, chuck a few juniper berries in to your glass and you’ll be curing all of your piney cravings! However, the more classic profile of the Originale lends itself to a whole host of cocktail options, with a Gimlet or Dry Martini being the standout choices.
Mind the doors…
So there you have it. But what does it all mean?
Ok – I’ll level with you. These gins won’t be for everybody. Some gin purists may even find the lack of juniper offensive. And that’s ok – it’s worth baring in mind that this was a distilling decision made with purpose and conviction by the Malfy team. In a 2016 article, written by Gin Foundry, Elwyn Gladstone revealed that making a juniper forward gin just wasn’t something they wanted to do. In a market that is already full of great juniper heavy gins, Malfy have instead opted to create a range that ensures a wider reach than just the traditionalists, so that everyone has an opportunity to enjoy gin.
Whilst each of the Malfy gins has a core purpose and a focus in mind, whether that be lemon, blood orange, pink grapefruit or juniper, none of them are one dimensional or limited. The Con Limone, which has probably been around for the longest, is fantastic, and makes a killer G&T, demanding a place in any gin collection. And whilst the Gin Rosa may currently be making the headlines, for my money the versatility of the Con Arancia blood orange powerhouse makes it my pick of the bunch, which I’ll be going back to again & again.
As far as Italian jobs go, they may have ‘only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’, but I’ll level with you. The Malfy range has also blown me away! And I can’t wait to see what they have lined up for us in the future.
And so as I ponder what to pour next (who am I kidding, grab me the vermouth & Campari!) all that remains to be seen now is…could football really be coming home? I for one certainly hope so. And if it does, it’s safe to say I’ve got just the gins to pour in to an entirely different kind of ‘cup’ for us to raise in celebration! Come on England!
With massive thanks to Elwyn Gladstone, Biggar & Leith and the Malfy team for supplying me with the bottles of Con Arancia, Gin Rosa & Originale – the huge support was massively appreciated!
Be sure to follow the Malfy team across social media to stay up to date on all things Italian and gin!
And many thanks to my friend ‘Nicki Positano’, a makeup artist and travel & life style blogger based in Positano, for supplying me with the fantastic pictures of the Amalfi coast oranges & lemons. You can follow Nicki on Instagram at ‘nickipositano’ for jaw dropping imagery that will have you looking for your passport in no time!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Come and say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!