‘Vous avez une ‘Babybel’?…’ I had tentatively asked, half joking/half longingly…
The waiter looked at me, slightly bemused, as the rest of the table laughed at my amusing ‘joke’. Stood before me was a French waiter (note to reader: we were in France), with a trolley that was laden with enough cheese to make you say ‘hey – that’s a lot of cheese!’. There was hard cheese, soft cheese, smoked cheese, blue cheese, cheese with various herbs/spices/fruits in it. You name it, they had it! Well…all except for the cheesemongers choice of ‘Babybel’ it would seem.
And so I laughed along, to save face (whilst crying a little inside), as he wheeled himself away with his veritable trolley of goods, whilst muttering something fancy sounding that was doubtless mildly offensive.
You see, up to that point, cheese was a food group that I’d never quite gotten onboard with. It looked past its best, smelt like feet, and was often offered as an alternative to dessert (say what now?!). I’d always struggled to understand how and why people would clammer to eat a food that was essentially mouldy, solid milk.
But then that all changed! I can’t say how. And I can’t say why. Maybe it’s my age? Maybe it’s my taste? Maybe it’s the gin?! But for some reason, I am now all about that turgid, decaying decadence! I’ve even turned down Apple Crumble & Custard for a few slices of the good stuff and a plate of grapes. I mean really…what has become of me?!
But what’s with the ‘cheesy’ blog opener, and ‘edge of the seat twist & turn’ journey of self discovery that proves even the most sturdy of dessert loving bloggers can be open to change? Well, I was recently greeted by an ominous email:
I have enjoyed your reviews of some of my previous recipes (G12 & Masons Peppered Pear). Would you be interested in a bottle of our Signature Edition?
Why, yes Barry. Yes I would…
With a brave move away from Yorkshire gin-pinups ‘Masons Yorkshire Gin’, to set up a new spirits company in Wensleydale (the home of cheese loving scamps ‘Wallace & Grommit’ no less…see what I did with the opener now?) allow me to introduce you to the new ‘grand fromage’ in the gin world; ‘Taplin & Mageean’.
The Grand Fromage
Prior to establishing a career in the world of gin, Barry Mageean completed a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering at The University of Leeds, where he was nominated for ‘Young Researcher of the Year’ for studies in distillation heat transfer. A niche area of study? Yes. Do I fully understand what it means? Absolutely not. But I think we can all agree that Bazza (can I call you ‘Bazza’?) is a pretty clever sausage then, and one seemingly always destined to end up at the controls of a Still.
Before heading out on his new venture as one part the founding duo of Taplin & Mageean in October 2018, Mageean spent two years as Head Distiller at Masons Yorkshire Gin. Allow me to gush for a moment…by anyone’s standards, that’s one hell of a reference to have on the CV! As a long admirer of the Bedale heroes, I’ve blogged & spoken about them evangelically on many occasions!
Whilst at Masons, Barry developed recipes that include the ‘Peppered Pear’ (which, having sampled during 2018’s #Ginvent event, I can vouch for as being delicious!) and Apple Blossom editions and most notably the new distilling process/recipe for G12, which I reviewed in October 2018. If you’d like to read more on G12, you can find my full review here:
With a solid footing in one of THE big names in the industry, you’d be forgiven for wondering ‘why the move?!’. Enter Chris Taplin…
During a visit and tour around the Masons Distillery, Chris was blown away by Barry’s knowledge and passion for gin, and invited him to deliver a tasting ‘Master Class’ at a Yorkshire Dales hotel. As the final guests said their good byes, the seed was well and truly planted and thoughts turned to how the two could combine to create a spirits company that could take on the world. Taplin & Mageen was now in motion.
Chris & Barry knew that they wanted to base themselves in Wensleydale, and to be the areas first distillery. But where to pitch yourselves as a new start up? The pair took the only logical next step they could…and set to work on converting a 200 year old outbuilding at Leyburn Train station in to a gin distillery (I hear that setting up a new business is pretty easy, so they’d have been kicking through the leafs otherwise right?!). Hmmm.
In a market becoming fuller by the day, the objective of this new spirits company from the outset has been simple; to deliver recipes that are bold yet balanced, which result in the highest quality spirit possible.
When I caught up with Mageean, for a ‘virtual chat’, he went on to explain ‘For me, the mark of a truly premium gin is not just the headline flavour. It’s the sequence and longevity of each botanical pairing or contrast that arises over time. In a very saturated gin market (many of which are well branded average spirits) the aim of our debut range is to showcase how well a gin can be made in every category: recipe, texture & nose.’
After 49 trial runs, Mageean has now masterminded four brand new gins under the Taplin & Mageean name; the Signature Edition, Elderflower Orchard, Spiced Orange and Peach Passion. All of the teams spirits are single shot distilled in a 100L pot still, using generous amounts of the highest quality botanicals available, which Barry explains allows them ‘to create an almost viscous distillate that is saturated with every last aromatic flavour molecule that can be extracted from the botanical charge’. So some powerful stuff then!
Having just scooped a Silver award at this years San Francisco World Spirits Competition, it would seem that the teams objective of achieving ‘high quality’ are well on track. So when the post arrived, containing a parcel making that ‘oh so familiar sloshing noise’ that tells you ‘this is definitely not a jumper’, I knew I was in good company.
Aiming to be juniper heavy, the ‘Signature Edition’ comprises of juniper (totes obvs), fresh and dried grapefruit, almond, orris, angelica, chamomile, hops (from fellow Yorkshire-ites Theakstons Brewery no less!), with a hint of pepper and Chinese five spice.
Juniper? Citrus? ‘Tell me more’ I hear you say? Ok…I will then…
Taplin & Mageean Signature Edition to taste
A hefty whack of juniper is the first thing to hit the nose, riding on a wave of an almost menthol warmth and the calming sensation of chamomile (a botanical that has steadily been growing on me lately!). There’s a generous portion of citrus in the neat spirit, and whilst I can’t promise you that you’ll be getting your ‘five a day’, you won’t be far off! (Disclaimer: this is not factually accurate).
The grapefruit takes on two personas, delivering both a bitterness and a fresh juicy zing. And with the supporting fire of the coriander, the citrus profile of the gin is really emphasised. There’s a richness to the vapours, with hints of dark chocolate. The inclusion of hops definitely has an impact on the scent – it feels excitingly different.
To taste neat, the Chinese five spice (and the star anise in particular) brings an aromatic feel to the party. There’s an almost aniseed effect on the tongue, with an enjoyable numbness left behind.
As the gin flows over the pallet, it coats the tongue, with an indulgent mouth feel. The richness of those chocolate and nutty tones remains. I’ve tried a number of gins that have made use of hops recently, and am becoming a growing fan. In this case they have been delicately woven in to the recipe to superb effect, adding a real sense of depth alongside the chamomile.
The spirit is both sharp in one sense, from the grapefruit, whilst being earthy and spiced on the other. There’s a liquorice and cracked black pepper feeling to the long warmth on the finish, that leaves you looking longingly towards the bottle.
Adding a premium tonic water to create a longer serve (I opted for Fevertree) the five spice/star anise are really made to pop. Lashings of sweet liquorice and aniseed are highlighted, whilst the ferocity of the peppery heat is toned down. A garnish of fresh orange pulls those citrus and grapefruit flavours forwards – the fruit seems to become brighter and more vibrant. Juniper remains big and bold throughout, with chewy pine sapping out of the glass. A herbal, hoppy goodness wafts up your nose on each sip, with a pleasant background hum of chamomile tea sneaking up on you.
Such is the depth of flavour extracted from the botanicals, the oils create an opaque look to the G&T, planting a satisfied grin firmly on my face.
It really is very, very good!
Picture perfect? Say ‘cheese!’…
So a glowing review for the nectar contained in the bottle then! It really is impressive. But this is where I draw issue. Because as much as I hate to say it, I do have a slight gripe…
For a new to market operation, I’m pained to have to go there. But go there I must. The branding just isn’t doing it for me.
The bottle and label, whilst being smart enough, simply don’t scream at you from the crowd. Whilst I can appreciate the beauty of simplicity that certain brands can hone and make their own, in this case I feel it’s just not quite on point or hitting the mark. The aim of the guys is to standout from the sea of mundanity. And whilst the gin inside is undoubtably stellar, I fear that the Taplin & Mageean bottle would be lost on a backbar or gin shelf.
The shape is fairly anonymous, the colour schemes subtle and the branding shy. For a brand that has worked so hard to create something that is premium to every tastebud, the aesthetics just don’t match up. And in a market that they have rightly recognised as becoming ‘saturated’, it has never been more important to emphasise the look & feel, as well as the taste.
This is perhaps something that will be worked on in time, as the brand find their identity and grow in stature. And hey, it may simply be down to my personal taste – I have never claimed to be Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen! (although I do look good in an ill fitting shirt). But it is my hope that in the future we’ll see a few tweaks to the design that will be fitting for the gin inside. Because for all those who are lucky enough to find Taplin & Mageean, you’ll know this is something quite special in the making.
With special thanks to my Barry Mageean for my complementary bottle of Taplin & Mageean ‘Signature Edition’
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