So there we were. Two children, stood in front of a rather fancy looking patisserie counter, confronted by a perplexed (and by now mildly annoyed) looking French lady with her hands on her hips. But how did we get to this point?…Allow me to explain.
I forget the year… but we’ll say it was around 1995/1996. I do, however, remember that the date was precisely the 19th of February – owing to it being my parents Wedding Anniversary. We were in France for a family skiing holiday, which couldn’t sound more middle-class ‘things I heard in Waitrose’ if I tried! Be that as it may, these are the pertinent facts that are relevant to the story.
We had stayed in the same cozy apartment, in the small village of St Jean D’Aulps near Morzine and Les Gets, at around the same date for the last couple of years. And over that time, my younger brother and I had started something of a cute tradition of buying my parents a celebratory cake from the local bakery each year to mark the event.
Well. I say ‘buying’. Being as we were both below legal working age (around 10 and 8 years old) this annual commemorative cake giving was ultimately overseen and funded by my dad. For our part, my brother and I essentially pointed at the best looking cake behind the glass and waited for money to exchange hands. Then we ate cake. And this year was set to be no different!
After trudging along the pavement, with breath visible and the crunch of the morning snow beneath our feet, my dad waited outside whilst the ‘surprise’ selection process got underway. After a few minutes of frantic debate (should we go for fruit or chocolate?!), we opted for the largest of the chocolate cakes and duly got to pointing. Job done!…not quite…
In a break from tradition, the bakery owner wildly misread the situation and began trying to engage the bewildered children before her in conversation. At that stage of my life, I spoke next to no French and couldn’t understand a single word she was saying to me. It really was like she was speaking a foreign language! The awkward silence began to be punctuated by some strange finger pinching movements she was gesturing at us, clearly trying to make her point more visual. My brother helpfully chimed in ‘I think she’s asking if you want sprinkles on the cake?’. This was a reasonable assumption of a non-French speaking 8 year old… And in thinking we had now made headway in the standoff, we confidently responded with ‘no merci!’ and turned to leave. This did not go down well…
Thankfully our ever willing chaperone was on hand to step in and rescue us from the bamboozled owner who, as it turned out, was trying to indicate that we owed her money for the cake (as most purchases would dictate)! We trudged back to the apartment feeling slightly embarrassed, but safe in the knowledge that the whole sorry story wouldn’t be divulged any further.
Well…at least not for another 23 years, when I’d find it a handy opening to a blog review!
Fast forward to December 2019, and I was reminded of my French escapades by a festive feeling arrival on my doorstep. And although I retained the ability to point excitedly at the pretty things behind the glass, I could understand very little of what it was trying to tell me! You see, I don’t speak a single word of Welsh. Which is strange, because I was able to understand all of ‘Gavin and Stacey’…perhaps I’m just becoming more cultured? But the difference here is that it really doesn’t matter. They had me at ‘gin’! Taking inspiration from a spiced Welsh bread/cake, I was delighted to have the opportunity to try the latest GŴYR gin offering from The Gower Gin Company; Bara Brith.
Bara Brith; O’. What’s occurrin’?…
Following what some might call, given my blog opening, a somewhat ironic career teaching French & Spanish, Siân and ex Management Consultant/turned distiller husband Andrew Brooks decided to make their dream a reality by setting up The Gower Gin Company in 2018.
The teams micro distillery is set in a converted bike shed in the Welsh village of Port Eynon on Gower. Now home to a 200litre Still, that can kick out around 300 bottles of gin at a time, the teams emphasis is very much on foraging and locality. Siân and Andrew are passionate about showcasing the flavours of Wales and their Gower home base, itself listed as an ‘Area of Outstanding Beauty’, by harnessing the very best that their doorstep coastline has to offer;
“Our aim is to make small batch craft gin which encapsulates the freshness of the sea and the aromas of the coast and dunes that surround us. We want to be a strong ambassador for Gower and Wales which is why we use Welsh names for our gins and have fully bilingual bottles”.
The Gower Gin Company currently have a core lineup of four gins; GŴYR (the original and flagship gin), Pinwydd, Rhosili & Bara Brith. And it’s the latest offering where we’re going to delve a little deeper…
Bara Brith: have your cake and drink it
Where the flagship GŴYR gin is made with a blend of eight botanicals (juniper, fresh zest of lemon, fresh zest of pink grapefruit, green fennel and bronze fennel), the Bara Brith is a little…different.
GŴYR Bara Brith takes inspiration from the famous Welsh ‘speckled bread’, which is traditionally flavoured with tea, dried fruits and mixed spices, and is served sliced and buttered at tea time. Through their namesake gin, Siân and Andrew aim to deliver a warming & spiced take on their Grandma’s recipe, incorporating tea-soaked vine fruit, citrus & spice (only this take on the classic requires a glass with ice, rather than butter and a knife!).
As with all of the GŴYR gins, ‘Siândrew’ (rightly or wrongly, I’m pretty pleased with that little portmanteaus!) macerate the botanicals for around two days, bottling the Bara Brith at an ABV of 43%, aiming to give a smooth finish.
When it comes to the Bara Brith bottle, what you see is what you get. And by that I mean, you are never left in any doubt that this is a Gower Gin product! The distinctive Breton stripe labelling, for which the brand have become famed, is in keeping with the style that the team have very much made their own. It also acts as another ironic tip of the beret to this reviews French inspired opening gambit…though I don’t think team Gower could have known that would be the case when they first started out.
That said, there are a few key points of difference that make this a package to savour…
The black and white of the original GŴYR Gin have instead been replaced with browns and golds here, which give a luxury feel and is perhaps a subtle nod to the golden brown finish you’d be looking for on a Bara Brith bake.
The other stand out USP of the Bara Brith bottle is that Grandma’s recipe is scrawled all over the labelling, complemented by a tag that details the full and original handwritten Bara Brith recipe and method so you can have a bash at making your very own at home! You can rest assured that I’ll be trying this out in the very near future…It feels like a really personal touch, and one close to the makers hearts. It serves to give a homely and heartfelt vibe to the gin.
Flip the bottle round and you’ll find information on the gin detailed in the native Welsh language. At one point, I thought I’d cracked it and started to understand the foreign text….then I realised that portions of it are also written in English. Which, quite literally, started to make a lot more sense.
Bara Brith Gin to taste
The last time I met Siân, she was pouring me a Negroni at 11.30am at Junipalooza 2019 (it was 5pm somewhere I suppose!). So as you can imagine, I was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to sample the latest addition to the range. And having enjoyed other cake inspired gins in the past, including both Four Pillars and Sacred Spirits Christmas Pudding gins, I felt I was sure to be in for a treat!
On the nose, the vapours carry with them fistfuls of dried fruits, conjuring images of coarsely chopped ingredients just about to be thrust in to the mixing bowl to make a Bara Brith. Think of raisins, sultanas and cherries and you’ll be along the right (and delicious) lines. This is all but shouting ‘fruit cake’ at me from the glass…but not in an insulting way…
I initially pick up hints of toasted cocoa nibs and coffee beans. The neat gin carries with it a luxurious and rich aroma. It’s not that it’s pungent and in your face with sweet chocolate flavours – more like a suggestion on a wave of enjoyable, dark bitterness.
As the gin opens up, earthy tones of liquorice combine with a zesty bite of coriander like herbal notes. The duo work together to bring a harmonious warmth and sharpness to proceedings. As you begin to peel back the layers, cardamom seems to become more identifiable alongside the sweetness of cinnamon spice and creamy vanilla.
Citrus builds in the glass as the gin continues to evolve, with orange being the most dominant and speaking to my citrus forward persuasions. The pithy bitterness of fresh lemon peels works brilliantly to cut through the richness and complexity.
There’s a mellow dank feel to the scent at times, which I’d have perhaps struggled to place had I not known there was tea included here. But once you’ve got it, you’ve got it – and the gin is all the better for it!
With so much going on, I must admit to not always being able to locate the juniper as easily. It’s definitely there, with an undertone of pine flowing through. But at times I find my nostrils are drawn to other botanicals, losing the trail for a moment.
On the first sip, the Bara Brith is much sweeter than I had anticipated. My palate is thrown in three different directions in one go; sharp lemon zest citrus, deep festive spices and decadent rich fruitcake.
There’s a tonne more spice here than I’d appreciated on the nosing, with a dusting of cinnamon coating the tongue. I would describe it as being similar to the rush of flavour you get from opening the spice cupboard (too middle class again?! Sorry.), or a little like sniffing a festive mulled spice bag. But the flavours are extremely well balanced, never even hinting at crossing the line of being over the top or overwhelming.
Those chopped dried fruit notes from the scent carry a chewy, indulgent richness. Backed up by the depth of dark tea leaves, that bring a slight bitter note to the back of the tongue, working so well with the rest of the gins profile. There’s a feel of dark brown muscavado sugar glueing those almost festive fruit flavours together; it’s absolutely delicious.
The orange and lemon citrus is bold, and lends a zip to cut through against the deeper flavours. There’s a mid range longevity, leaving a warmth across the tongue without the need for aggressive heat. The light spicing of a cracked black pepper on the finish is exactly what’s needed to round off this package.
On paper, this sounded like it would be a ‘sip over ice’ serve all day long. And whilst I can see it working, I’m not convinced it would be my long term approach to getting the most from the gin.
Instead, the G&T serve that I would have bet my money on not working in the slightest was actually an absolute delight! Mixed with a premium light tonic, I went for Fever-Tree, the gin continues to sing loudly from the Welsh hilltops. In fact, the flavours I discovered and loved on the neat tasting are there in abundance. Perhaps the citrus is slightly elevated, and the sweetness plays off the quinine, but overall the profile isn’t bruised by the addition of tonic for a longer serve. With a garnish of fresh orange, to complement the citrus and fruitcake elements of the gin, you’re on to a winner!
As a Negroni (it had to be done!) it’s delicious! You’re obviously going to lose some of the standout flavours of the gin from being immediately identifiable on the taste. But this absolutely works in the best possible way. There was something about the idea of a spiced, fruitcake style gin sitting in the bitter sweetness of Campari and vermouth that just intuitively felt like it would be a match made in heaven. I was right. The spiced dried fruits, with a liquorice backbone, help to elevate the short serve classic to almost festive proportions, perfect for these cold winter nights (and early Junipalooza mornings!).
Bara Brith Gin; Tidy.
It’s safe to say that I really enjoyed Bara Brith, which lends itself to a lot more experimentation on serves. Don’t worry guys, I’m willing to do the research! And the experience has only strengthened my desire to sample the wider range, and get to know the Gower back catalogue a little better.
This is a great example of a gin that has pushed the boundaries of conventional recipes, to deliver a personal homage, whilst still retaining the core sensibilities of the spirit.
And let’s face it, that really is the cherry on top of the cake…with sprinkles.
With thanks to Siân at The Gower Gin Company for my complementary bottle of GŴYR Bara Brith!
Make sure you’re following the Gower Gin journey on their website and across social media:
Facebook: @GŴYR – Gower Gin – TM
If you’d like to hear more from Siân & team Gower Gin first hand, then head over to their stand at this years Junipalooza 2020 Festival for the backstory (and potential Negronis!). If you still need to bag yourself some tickets for Junipalooza 2020, then what are you waiting for?! You can grab yours here:
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs, reviews & event updates. Come and say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!