I sat there, my head in my hands, feeling nothing short of mortified. With the feeling of helplessness setting in, a single tear rolled down my cheek and on to the table. This was my hell…
My mom had just served up dinner and had enthusiastically pushed the plate towards me. But upon seeing what fate lay before me, I had started to kick up a bit of a fuss…it was…steak pie!
I don’t know exactly what it was about steak pie that I found particularly offensive at age 10 years old. Particularly as now, in my adult years, I’d quite happily part with good money in the pursuit of pastry heaven! But as a kid, this was the food of the devil and not to be enjoyed.
I think perhaps there was something about the sealed pastry top and not being able to see what was inside. The nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of sixpence’ boasts about having baked ‘6 and 20 blackbirds’ inside a pie. And whilst now we can probably all agree that this sounds like a delicious proposition, the idea of being confronted by an angry flock of befeathered aggressors, crumbs still clinging to their wings, was enough to put the scares on me!
I also have a distinct memory of picking the jelly out of a piece of pork pie, only to throw it across the room having become terrified that it was actually a jellyfish…I still don’t fully trust pork pie jelly to this day!
The irony wasn’t lost on me, going in to my teenage years, that I was regularly caught by my parents living out a real life ‘American Pie’ moment… And by that I mean I was unpopular, awkward with girls and I’d regularly hang around the house when I didn’t get invited to the cool parties. Why, what did you think I meant?! (get your minds out of the gutter!).
But, as a ‘Brummie’ lad, let’s just take a moment to appreciate what Birmingham has brought to the pie market. Fusing a proud heritage of multiculturalism with the quintessentially British beige flakey outer shell, the ‘Balti Pie’ was born. Curry…in a pie case?…shouldn’t work should it? But you bet your ‘soggy bottom’ that it does! Frequenting both the terraces of football grounds and the menus of fancier establishments, it’s a dish that delivers flavour and eyebrow raising surprise in equal measure!
And talking of pie shaped surprises, like taking a custard tart to the face, the subject of my latest blog review is enough to leave anyone feeling ‘pie eyed’! Taking experimentation to new and exciting levels, allow me to introduce you to the mad genius of Corner 53 with their Lemon Meringue Pie gin. AKA ‘LMP’.
Corner 53 was started four years ago by then barman & cocktail shaker Tom (Tom Rudman, not Cruise). After venting his frustrations, to any of his pals that would listen, of not being able to find his ‘perfect gin’, Tom describes how he was pushed in to action by the “put up or shut up brigade”. Ah, peer pressure – is there anything it can’t do?!
Tom did the only logical thing he could do in the situation; he applied the same level of peer pressure on his parents until they caved in and let him build a makeshift distillery in the garden to house two copper pot stills. And with the support of a select group of friends and family members in tow, the journey could now begin…
Corner 53 pride themselves on their “independence, creativity and passion”. Tom plays the dual role of Master Distiller & ‘mad scientist’ and is responsible for the experimentation and crafting of the flavour combinations that define the uniqueness of the Corner 53 brand. His genius is carefully tempered by friend Jamie Williamson, an experienced sommelier, who is tasked with helping to taste every batch of the teams gin to ensure quality and consistency. The final package is then rounded off by artist pal Richard Cope, a visual effects artist who designs all of the intricate label details.
The ‘unusual’ suspects
Something I find really interesting about Corner 53 is that there is no ‘flagship London Dry’ offering. It’s almost like the team looked at it and thought… ‘nahhhh’ and got straight down to the business of experimenting and pushing the boundaries, creating a core lineup like no other;
Cherokee: Balancing 100% pure Canadian maple syrup, orange and sarsaparilla, Cherokee takes inspiration from sweet Tennessee whiskeys, delivering a gin with a golden hum.
Umami: A more savoury offering that brings together Shiitake mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, honeyed butternut squash and pink peppercorn.
Pomelo: Pomelo is described as being the teams ‘citrus explosion’ (which, being of a citrus forward persuasion myself, sounds right up my street!). Combining the fresh juice flavours of pink grapefruit, pear and liquorice, it promises to pack a punch!
And if you thought that, that sounded a little ‘different’, the core line up is supplemented by the ‘experimental series’. Which is precisely where LMP sits in the back catalogue, alongside the ‘Not Pink Gin’ Pink Gin; a twist on the Pomelo, but with added blackberry, lemon and honey, in reaction to being asked to make something ‘pink & fruity’ but without the synthetic nasties.
Inspired by Toms love of lemon meringue pie as a dessert, the team wondered whether the flavours and profile of a pie could be transposed in to a gin. Where most would perhaps hand-wave the idea away and reach for the fork…Corner 53 took a slightly alternative stance. Tom basically builds a lemon meringue pie inside the column of their still and then vapour infuses the gin through the layers of the pasty, lemon and meringue! No gimmicks here, just a citrus forward powerhouse that maintains its classic sensibilities.
Taking a closer look at LMP, it really is a ‘feast’ for the eyes. And, as you might expect, it comes with several points of difference from the path well trodden…I absolutely love everything about this gins look and feel!
“It is important to us that every step of our product’s production has a personal touch. As you can imagine this means we spend a long time perfecting, tweaking, straightening and forging bottles that we are truly happy with.”
The dark blue labelling, with the sharp gold intricacies etched in to the borders, is both striking and sophisticated. The crisp white font, displaying the gins name on the front and centre, is an elegant but playful nod to the white meringue topping of its subject.
This all, at first, seems to be at odds with the elastic band that holds the label in place on the bottle – but it’s a clever and unique design that gives a sense of fun and mischief to the feel.
Combined with the hand-tied yellow string on the bottles neck, it sets to reminds you that whilst this is a refined product, it is very much a small batch creation, crafted by a passionate team from their shed. It’s a brilliant way of injecting personality before the lid has even been removed. Speaking of which…
Now before I go on, I must give full disclosure. My opportunity to try LMP came as a result of my not having been fully convinced by a previous Corner 53 experience. On day 10 of Gin Foundry’s ‘Ginvent 2018’ Gin Advent Calendar, I opened the door to try Corner 53’s Cherokee edition, but summarised my sampling on an indifferent note;
“…there are things I really do like here! I like the fruit notes; the apple and pear flavours, supported by notes of elderflower, bring a real floral sweetness to the gin. There’s an almost maple syrup sweetness on the tongue, matched by a smokey bourbon/fortified wine on the nose. However, I find the lack of detectable juniper a bit of a concern and struggled to get fully onboard with the direction of travel. The whiskey-esq notes aren’t to my personal taste and on this occasion I think we’ll have to agree to disagree…”
What I loved about Tom was his complete openness to feedback and debate, alongside his generosity and willingness to want to share his wider range in the confident assuredness that one of his creations would be to my taste.
So with that in mind, it was time for me to have my cake and drink it…
Corner 53 LMP to taste…
On the nose you immediately get a sharp zing of citrus lemon freshness alongside a dessert like sweetness. There’s a zippiness that cuts through, with a twinge of lime that gives a suggestion of key lime pie (weirdly, more so than lemon meringue to my nose).
At 47% ABV there’s a hit of alcohol to the neat gin vapours. But there’s no harsh aggression to the scent. It’s got strength, that’s for sure. But it’s like a cheeky muscle flex to let you know it’s there, before it then steps back to allow a buttered and smooth creaminess to move forwards.
As the gin opens up in the glass, there’s a definite waft of tall juniper pine that sets out its stall. It’s a grin inducing discovery that brings a sense of familiarity in to experimental territory.
When tasted neat, the gin brings a warming bite to tip of the tongue on first sip. It packs a punch, but doesn’t look to intimidate you. It’s like the fizz of biting in to a lemon sherbet boiled sweet – utterly delightful!
Does it taste like a lemon meringue pie? Well. Yes. A bit. But not exactly…but I mean that in a very positive way! Some might have been expecting me to say the obvious ‘this tastes like biting in to a slice of lemon meringue pie’. But that would be too easy, and it’s just not a simple as that…
There’s a sharpness of lemon curd to the taste, with a citrus freshness taking centre stage. But it’s beautifully balanced out by a creamy sweetness, that does help to conjure imagery of biting through a meringue top or through a buttery biscuit base.
But I do maintain that the sense of lime still lingers, as on the initial nosing, which broadens the range of the gins citrus appeal.
As you delve deeper, there are hints of herbal greenery sprinkled across the palate, bringing a subtle sense of savoury warmth to a gin that is at first designed to illicit thoughts of dessert and sticky sweetness. Perhaps most pleasingly of all, that crunchy pine cone juniper is there in abundance on the aftertaste. Make no mistake that this is a gin of the highest order!
To serve, I was in two minds with which direction to go in? Should this be a gin and tonic or a Martini?…ah, who was I kidding?! This bad boy was ending up in both cocktails. Obviously.
As a G&T this gin is a delight. Nothing is lost or reigned in by the addition of the mixer. If anything the tonic emphasises the bright and lively nature of the gin. The lemons stand tall, delivering a fresh citrus hit of the juice and the zest, whilst the sweetness is tempered against the more bitter quinine.
There’s a beautiful background of juniper washing through with every sip. This is like an amped up citrus gin for a hefty citrus forward G&T, for a perfect long serve. The meringue garnish is an unnecessary, but cool, finish!
At this point – shout out to my awesome wife for making me some homemade meringue garnishes when the shops had failed me!
That said, LMP perfectly lends itself to a Martini. It has the perfect ABV to stand up to the vermouth, with the boldness of lemon taking the short serve classic by the scruff of the neck. The sweetness brings a new dimension to a cocktail, which can at times feel a tad boozey and lacking in the wrong company.
It seems softer. Creamier. It just…works! This is actually one of the THE BEST Martinis I’ve had the pleasure of drinking. Hands down.
Summary; the final slice
On paper you could be forgiven for being nervous on your approach to LMP; is this a gimmick? It sounds like a gimmick?!…
Sure, it brings big lemony citrus flavours, alongside an elevated sweetness that at times edges towards Old Tom territory. But fear not, LMP is packing all the core sensibilities of classic gin making. This gin is an example of how you can push the boundaries of the category, allowing the freedom of imagination to run wild, whilst always remaining true to what it means to be a gin.
It really is a triumph, and just goes to show that a gin brand should never be judged upon the strength of tasting only one example of their range. It’s very likely that there will be another gin in their armoury that will tickle your tastebuds!
It seems that I have been left eating ‘humble pie’ for ever doubting the qualities that pies can bring to the table! Going forwards, I think I want all of my pastries in liquid form! Except for steak pie…I’m not sure that would work quite so well as a gin. Though I perhaps won’t utter that too loudly near Tom. It might just give him ideas!
With thanks to Tom at Corner 53 for my complementary bottle of LMP gin!
What will the team do next?! Make sure you’re following the Corner 53 journey on their website and across social media to be in the know:
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!