There’s no other way of putting it.
A great big pair of boobs. Right in my eye line. I felt almost guilty… I was stood next to my wife, who was busy having a conversation with an Estate Agent, and I was unable to take my eyes of this other woman’s chest.
In fairness to me, she was wearing a rather revealing negligee and looking at me directly in the eyes. And she had been blown up to A3 size!…Ok, I admit that last part is going to be a little confusing. Allow me to provide some more context.
We were moving house. After 10 years spent living north of the border in Leeds, ‘The Gin Shelf’ family unit had made the brave decision to pack up their belongings (mostly gin…) and move back to the Midlands. Having spent the first 20 odd years of our lives here respectively, it’s fair to say that we were ‘coming home’. And it felt great.
However. If there is one downside to moving house…it’s having to find a house! For anyone who’s not been fortunate enough to experience it recently, allow me to give you the abridged version; it’s a right faff! After eight long months of searching, I’m fairly certain I could pick an Estate Agent (and their Mini Cooper) out of a crowded room! More often than not, house viewings are plastic smile forcing, small talk inducing, awkward affairs, where you try to let your partner know in no uncertain terms that the house you’re looking at is a travesty. This is most commonly done through using inoffensive terms like ‘cosy’, ‘interesting’ and ‘full of character’.
But back to the boobs! This particular house viewing had really taken the biscuit. It was ‘interesting’ to say the least! Having been greeted by a relatively normal looking vendor, we were ushered in to the house and offered the grand tour. I had no idea quite how much I was about to be shown!
As we scaled the staircase I couldn’t help but have my eyes caught by the large framed photograph of the vendor, posing provocatively and wearing nothing more than her underwear and a smile. I gulped an awkward gulp and acted like I was used to this kind of decor by immediately enquiring about the council tax band. As you do.
As I turned to recover my thoughts, it fast became obvious that the vendors modesty was far from recoverable. Along the walls, on the window ledges, on bedroom draws (you name it!) sat more and more framed pictures of our scantily clad tour guide.
I wondered whether to make a witty remark to lighten the mood; a thought process cut short by the glare of my now fully aware, and equally surprised, wife who had grown accustomed to my social etiquette.
As we hastened our exit for the door, remarking on the house being ‘full of character’ but citing the need to get back to let the dog out (Note to reader: we do not own a dog!), our relief was palpable. They say that in awkward situations, or moments of nervousness, you should picture your audience naked. In this case, not enough was left to the imagination to allow that particular course of action!
‘What a lovely pair!’ I’d heard the vendor exclaim to the Estate Agent in the background, as we made our way to the car. The feeling’s mutual love…
Home is where the heart is…
At the start of August 2019 we moved in to our new family home to start the rest of our lives, and genuinely couldn’t be happier. And with the exception of a photograph of me wearing a pair of swimming shorts during a holiday in the Algarve, there’s not a topless photograph in sight!
As the saying goes, ‘Home is where the heart is’. And in a lot of ways I can fully relate to this sentiment. But a recent engagement got me thinking…
With the very kind offer to send me a sample tipple to welcome me back to Staffordshire in style, I was about to get a taste of my newest neighbours; ‘Staffordshire Gin’. And in hoping that this wouldn’t be a case of ‘there goes the neighbourhood’, I started to get the feeling that perhaps ‘Home is where the Spirit is’…
The Staffordshire Gin Company launched in 2018, following a growing list of regional and City named gins that had a notable exception; Staffordshire!
Inspired by the heritage of its birthplace in the mining town of Silverdale, Staffordshire Gin founders (Jay & Claire) set out to create something traditional and classic, but with a depth and complexity.
Having started with the aptly named ‘Original’ (we don’t muck about in the Midlands!), Staffordshire Gin now boast three expressions;
Original – promising to be ‘classic, captivating and charismatic’, the gin has keynotes of black pepper, lemon and bay leaves.
Black Violet – An aromatic and complex offering of black cardamom and sweet violet.
Rose Gold – A heady mix of saffron and rose petals, offering a flirtatious and seductive finish.
In a catch up with one part of the founding duo, Jay, he explained that “the range has been designed so that each of them has a common flavour profile, built with woody base notes, citrus or berry mids and floral or herb tops”.
Staffordshire Gin is a hands on affair. Jay and Claire knew that they wanted to maintain control over the distilling process;
“it’s really important to us, because our story is inspired to reflect the industrial heritage of Staffordshire. Every distillation is exciting and important to us. We watch, monitor and nurse our still (Cadman) like hawks – and always feel a sense of elation during the critical points in the process. Outsourcing is something that just wouldn’t have worked for us”.
When pushed for an inside snippet, to really understand what makes Staffordshire Gin tick, Jay goes on to reveal that “I guess we work in a traditional way, using traditional stuff, but we do work in a…strange way. We think of a name (with the exception of ‘Original’) and make a gin to fit the name. We see them as characters. ‘Black Violet’ is dramatic, arty, moody! ‘Rose Gold’ is a bit of a diva! See…weird (sorry!)”.
But that ‘strange way’ of working is also part of a drive for quality – there’s no rushing or half measures taken here. Take the ‘Rose Gold’ as case and point. Having originally started its life as a Christmas gin nearly 3 years ago, the latest addition to the line up has morphed through many incarnations until it was finally perfected. Since then “it’s become something of the dark horse of the core range!”.
And having been generously provided with a housewarming gift of their flagship ‘Original’ gin, I couldn’t wait to learn more…
Say what you see…
The timing of Staffordshire Gins arrival on my doorstep was perfect, as they had just undergone a facelift and rebranding earlier this year. The bottles and the artwork look on point and very different to others on the market.
I think the thing that I find most endearing is that the full range pays homage to the county of Staffordshire, with imagery showing off local scenes from Cannock Chase (Rose Gold), the Peak District (Black Violet) and the Originals depiction of the Silverdale Pit Wheel in Newcastle under Lyme.
On closer inspection of the Original bottle, it really is eye catching; which is no mean feat for a bottle that is predominantly black & white! There’s a eerie silhouette feel to the design, with a photographic and stark realness to the imagery. It’s a simple USP that makes it an unexpected standout in a lineup. Combined with the inky depth of the ‘Black Violet’ and vibrant shine of the ‘Rose Gold’, this is a very clever break from the branding norm.
But to be honest, they had me at the wrapping paper – which is to simplify it to say the least! The bottle arrived hugged inside a huge tissue paper 18th century map of Staffordshire.
It had me feeling sentimental before a drop of gin had been tasted! A simple amble across the map becomes a ‘Gin Shelf’ biography, finding the places that have defined some of the major milestones of my life; Where I was born. Where I grew up. Where I went to school. Where we got married. And where we’ve since moved back to, to start the next chapter of our story.
With a tasteful design fully enjoyed, it was time to taste test the contents…
Staffordshire Gin to taste
The base of the 40% ABV Original is made up of Macedonian juniper, coriander, orris and angelica. The additional botanicals then, and listed in order of importance by the Staffordshire Gin team themselves, are lemon, black pepper, bay leaves, green cardomom, cassia, liquorice.
On first sniff, there are oodles of soft and creamy lemons, conjuring imagery of a velvety smooth lemon cheesecake. There’s a silky green herbaceousness slithering through through the scent, courtesy of the bay and coriander most notably, but the cardamom is there is you look really hard!
The two fragrances of sweet citrus, against a more savoury greenness, delivers a refreshing and bright finish on the nose, with notes of vanilla washing around in the glass for good measure.
There’s no real hint of alcohol harshness that comes across. Just a gentle, sweet warmth from the cassia that relaxes its way on the the scene. Though I must admit that the earthier tones of liquorice and the heat of black pepper, offering so much promise with their inclusion on the menu, escape me on first inspection.
To taste, and ‘zinging heck’! There’s a gleeful citrus smack in the chops that can’t fail but to plaster a smile across my face! The lemon is bright, zesty and loud; it shouts at you from the glass and grips on to your taste buds. One observation would be, however, that where the brightness has been amped up a few notches, those delicate vanilla-esq findings have dissipated somewhat to make way.
On second sip, the cardamom, bay and liquorice play together in perfect harmony. They deliver an earthy richness that’s almost medicinal in nature, and all enhanced by a dusting of cassia sweetness.
There’s a real body to the gin, and a longevity to the taste profile that evolves over time. Left to mature, there’s a bite of cracked black pepper on the back of the throat. It actually seems to grow in power and heat as the gin opens up.
A real plus point is that the juniper provides spikes of piney goodness across the drinking experience. It does, at times, seem to ebb in to the background ever so slightly, to be replaced by the harding hitting spicier characters. But it’s never gone for long, returning to stroke your hair reassuringly, whispering that you’re in safe hands.
This is crying out to be a gin & tonic, longing for the warmer days of summer to return! The addition of a light tonic does wonders to pull that creamy lemon cheesecake profile back in to the mixer. It is absolutely delicious! The black pepper and some of the heat that was found to be growing within the neat spirit is calmed down a little. The savoury notes of cardamom and bay still float around in the glass, but bow their heads respectfully to the citrus and juniper. And I must say that it is to its benefit as a longer serve.
That said, it does make a bloody good Negroni! The brightness that comes across in the G&T, and that fresh citrus zing, helps to elevate the bitter orange flavours of the Campari. It delivers a fruiter rendition on the classic! The Original is also bold enough to standup for itself, not afraid to leave its mark in what can be an intimidating cocktail for gins of a lighter disposition.
The Future; Moving on…
So what’s in the pipeline for the team?
First off, there’s the minor challenge of releasing 3 new drinks in the next few weeks! Innovation on the portfolio continues to be a key focus, with sneak preview suggestions of a 67% ABV barrel aged offering coming our way in the future (to be named ‘Old Gold’). Wowzers!
And in even more exciting news, and very much in the theme of house moves, Staffordshire Gin are planning one of their own! The team are currently set up and working from the premises in which Lord John Cadman (the powerhouse behind the 19th Century mining revolution) was born. However, Spring 2020 hopes to see the opening of a brand new premises and distillery! The size and growth of the operation, alongside public demand, means that a bigger plot is now essential. Whilst it was hoped to come to fruition this year, the trials and tribulations of buying a listed building have elongated timelines a little. But I’m assured that when it’s done it’s going to be perfect!
Whilst the current stills ‘Moonpig’ (a 10litre R&D unit) and ‘Cadman’ (its 100litre bigger brother!) can produce around 100 bottles a day when required, the move will see the arrival of two additional 100litre stills! That’s a lot more gin! And as I always say when I find out that there’s an unnamed Still knocking about; I think the name ‘Matt’ has a lovely ring to it…
But hey, if all else fails, I know of a property up for sale with some pretty provocative artwork still on display if you’re not too faint of heart! (the aforementioned house at the start of the blog is genuinely still available – hit me up if you’re interested in details…)
The homely vibes of this blog, and the Staffordshire Gin range, are perhaps best summed up by the teams closing statement on their website;
“Whether you are born and bred in Staffordshire, have relocated to our wonderful county or are just passing through, we would love to help you find out: Which gin are you?”
Wipe your feet. Take off your coat. And grab a glass. Welcome home.
Thanks to Staffordshire Gin for my complementary bottle of their Original gin!
With so much kicking off at Staffordshire Gin you’d be bonkers to not want to follow them and stay on top of all their latest news and new releases! Head over to social media find them at:
And you can find all their vital statistics over on their website: http://www.staffordshiregin.co.uk
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