And just like that, completely unexpectedly, she announced it was over. I was devastated.
At ‘19’ I knew that I liked her. At ‘21’, I was in love. And by the time we got to ‘25’ we had decided to set a date! I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
The venue was chosen. The band had been selected. Catering were lined up. The guests were all invited. Everything was…perfect. But then it happened.
I looked down at the email that illuminated my phone – is there anything worse than getting the news in writing? I was told that it was her not me, and that I’d done nothing wrong, but it just wasn’t possible for her to continue. And that’s when the news was broken that Adele was cancelling her 2017 UK tour.
We’d had tickets booked for the Saturday night penultimate show at Wembley Stadium, for what was set to be THE show of the tour and THE tour of the year! But having added a couple of extra shows, due to unprecedented demand, Adele managed to blow her vocal chords on the Friday night rendering the rest of the tour null and void.
We’d awoken to the news on the day of the show, with a couple of hours to spare before our train to the capital was due to leave. And while we hated ‘to turn up out of the blue uninvited’…I had non refundable travel and accommodation to think about. ‘For me…it wasn’t over’!
My wife and I decided to make the best of a bad situation and headed for a long weekend in ‘Landan Town’ regardless. But now how to fill our time?! On arrival, we headed straight for the West End Theatre kiosk to try and snag a late deal. Within minutes of reading the options available, each one quoting ticket prices so high that they read like phone numbers, it was starting to look pretty bleak. After all, we were already a good wedge out of pocket given the change of plans. When all of a sudden, ‘Hello’ (yes, that’s another poorly disguised Adele reference), we struck gold!
It was the opening night of a brand new play called ‘The Philanthropist’, and it had an incredible all-star comedy cast; Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners), Tom Rosenthal (Friday Night Dinner), Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat & Call the Midwife) and Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh & lots of other very funny stuff!). And best of all, it was only £30 a ticket! This was such a unique lineup, made up of actors that both my wife and I loved, that it felt like the stars were finally starting to align!
Glass of wine in hand (poor gin selection on offer…sorry), we took our seats. I could barely wipe the smug grin from my face. The curtains went up, and what I thought must be THE play of the year got underway. After a few short minutes I already knew what would be confirmed by the final act. It was absolutely…
Awful. Terrible. Garbage. Ghastly. A travesty.
What had started with so much promise, ended in utter disappointment. Never had the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ felt quite so appropriate. Downhearted, we skulked in to the night in search of a Negroni to lift the spirits! (the surprise outcome from the whole sorry situation was that, that was THE Negroni that sparked my love affair with the short serve classic! So not all bad then).
So to 2020, and an unexpected email that had landed in my inbox had caught my attention. At first, it was because I was unsure of how to pronounce the brandname of the gin within the subject heading of the email… But as I read on, I found that my levels of intrigue started to rise. Not least because of the standout botanical lineup, that was unlike any other I’d tried to date. With the promise that their new to market spirit aimed to “stand out from everything else on the market in both taste, look and approach”, I was about to be introduced to Zeiver gin.
Whilst unusual lineups may not have had a stellar reputation in my recent memory, I was hoping that this occasion would prove to be a little more successful…and if not, hey, at least I’d have gin and not wine this time right?!…
Zeiver gin is the brainchild of James Bilson and Clayton Patterson. In May 2019, born out of frustration with the mundanity of the 9-to-5 treadmill of daily work & life, the two friends hatched a plan. It was a plan to bring to the market a gin that they felt was truly unique, whilst also being representative of their love and passion for the spirit. A plan to not only change their own lives, but hopefully to capture the palates and imaginations of both gin and non-gin drinkers alike. And it was a plan, that like all of the very best plans, was concocted with a G&T in hand!
Now I’ll be the first to admit, when I hear a brand describe themselves as being ‘unique’ there can be a temptation to roll the eyes and take a deep breath in a ‘we’ve heard it all before’ kind of way. With a market that is fit to bursting point with gins of all shapes and sizes, you could be forgiven for asking the question ‘what makes you so different then?!’. And you’d be right to ask the question. The phrase ‘unique’ has been thrown around so much that it’s in danger of entering the same status as ‘craft gin’ and ‘small batch’ (let’s not go there though!); it’s getting a little meaningless. However, in this case, James and Clayton have all of the very unique bases covered to answer your concerns…
Let’s start with the name; Zeiver. It’s pretty unique in itself! In an exclusive catch up with James, he explained to me that “Zeiver is a Dutch word originally spelt “Zuiver” pronounced Zay-ver. It means pure and sincere. We wanted that to be our motto in everything we do: to be sincere, honest, and straightforward”. Pure and sincere – a promising start then, I thought.
When I was first approached to taste Zeiver gin, the thing that leaped out and grabbed my attention was the list of botanicals. Suffice to say, it’s not your standard menu! Other than the obvious, and essential, use of juniper, Zeiver incorporates peach, pistachio, aloe vera, apple, cherry, lime, macadamia and grapefruit. I’m going to be honest with you, when I read that for the first time I made an audible ‘wow!’ exclamation. While I’ve definitely seen and tasted some of the botanicals used more sparingly in other gins (apple and macadamia the most notable), I’ve not seen such a diverse mix of ingredients within one gin. Perhaps as surprising are the household names that do not feature – things like coriander, orris, cassia and angelica are the mainstays of many offerings. On this occasion, they’re nowhere to be found! My interest was definitely peaked…
“We believe that if you are to bring another gin into the world, there needs to be a good reason for it. It needs to stand out from everything else on the market…the botanical list breaks away the unquestioned tyranny of coriander, angelica root, cassia etc.” James Bilson
This is probably the part of the review where you’re thinking ‘phew! That’s a heck of a botanical lineup. But I bet they put it all together on a pretty standard base spirit right? right?!’. Wrong. Ever the unconventionalists, Bilson & Patterson have opted for a more…what’s that word again?…UNIQUE approach. Whilst the gin itself is distilled at the English Spirit Distillery, just south of Cambridge, Zeiver has a small but growing team in both the UK and Japan. And it’s from the latter that inspiration was taken create a base using a polished rice, for its ultra-smooth palate, sourced from Niigata Prefecture, Japan. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, they also filter their water through reverse osmosis, providing H2O that’s 3 x purer than Evian water. As you do!
So how do you take a list of ingredients and turn it in to a drink that tastes as good as it sounds? Everyone knows that you hire a PhD biochemist to distill your gin (apparently). Well, you do if you’re in team Zeiver anyway! Despite the temptation being for business owners to want to do everything themselves, James & Clayton recognised that the best way to ensure sustainable growth was to assemble a team of people who were experts in their fields. And in Dr John Walters, they have found a master distiller who they trust to refine and produce their passion project on a large scale.
It was upon receipt of the bottle itself that I had my next audible ‘wow!’ moment, courtesy of the ABV; Zeiver gin weighs in at a sizeable 47%. And that’s not to be sniffed at! (well…it is. But, you know what I mean). Making gin isn’t cheap, and one way of maximising profits can be to keep the ABV low, within the legal confines of course, and the batch volume high (just take a look at some of the well established brands on the supermarket shelves for case and point). That’s not what you’re getting here. To come in to the market with such a high strength spirit could be considered a bold move. But it’s also impressive. For me, it’s a feather in the cap of the teams ambition to be seen as ‘premium’ and one that certainly elevated my sense of anticipation for the tasting!
Speaking of the bottle, it doesn’t take long to start picking out a few other notable points of difference. The stark simplicity of the design is also its biggest visual stand out! Bilson explains how the duo wanted their labelling to not only be unique, but also to reflect the quality of the gin inside. There’s a precision and an exactness to the branding – its black and white body wrap carries a catwalk-esq designer feel to it. It is purposely stripped back and sparse, but has managed to walk the tricky tightrope of ‘catching the eye vs. being lost in a crowd’ with expert aplomb. But the sophisticated and clever finish almost came about by accident, with Bilson & Patterson initially at odds on the dominant colour on which to base their theme; “Clayton really liked white, and I (James) was more into black. We both wanted to go with a theme that supported the logo and allowed it to stand out.” In meeting in the middle, what the team have ended up with is a double label, which allows bartenders and end-consumers to choose their own side.
Note to reader: I should point out that this artistic approach is a flipping nightmare for bloggers, in deciding which side of the label to include in supporting review photography! And I would always be unsure of which side to leave on public display. One does wonder whether this is another ingenious tact to drive sales, pushing those with a love of symmetry and balance to eradicate such indecision by always having two bottles at hand… I’m willing to acknowledge the ‘first world problems’ stature of that dilemma!
One point of personal complaint; the stopper. The glass bottle top looks slick and elegant, and well within the minimalistic fashionista design. But practically, I found it a real struggle…Despite being advised by James that “the best way to open the glass stopper is to put your palm over it (like a gearstick) and just rock it forward” it wasn’t a trick I easily mastered. With little purchase to be had on the outer part of the lid, I did worry at times that my approach to opening might crack the glass. That said, I’m not sure I come baring answers to the minor problem that I point out. A cork design, or coloured wooden stopper, would perhaps detract from the wider concept. Whilst a screw top is a ‘no go’ and offensive to the senses. It’s not a showstopper, and it’s still great to look at. But, for me at least, it was a source of mild inconvenience. Still pretty unique though, I’ll give them that!
The final unique part of the Zeiver experience? The handwritten letter that accompanied the bottle. And I’m not talking about a couple of nice words on a postcard. There was a full A4 page, signed, introduction to Zeiver along with well wishes. This is a duo who not only care about the look and taste of what they make. They care about how their gin makes people feel, and about building relationships with those who drink their product.
And so to the important part. Would great taste in design deliver on the palate?…
Zeiver gin to taste
There’s a grapefruit and lime sharpness on the nose when you first approach the neat gin. It’s blended nicely against a back drop of light, warming spice, suggestive of a cinnamon sweetness and a bite of coriander – weird, considering neither are in the botanical mix!
Is it juniper forward you ask? Is it ever! Crunchy pine laps at the side of the glass as you swill it about and admire its credentials.
As the neat spirit opens up in the glass, there’s a real freshness to the scent. Aloe vera is a fairly niche inclusion, and a botanical that I’ve only seen used on a number of occasions. But once you pick it out, it has an unmistakable cleansing quality that helps cut through other flavours, and is one that has really grown on me.
You can pick up notes of crisp green apple, supported by vibes of fresh cut grass. Whilst I wouldn’t say that I can pick out the distinctive flavour profiles of cherry or peach on the aroma, the fruit characteristics of both are certainly at play, with time allowing the sweetness to elevate as the booziness subsides.
That said, as a 47% ABV, the gin is not overtly macho on the nostrils. It’s got muscles for sure, but it doesn’t seek to intimidate.
On tasting, there’s a robustness to the gin that’s notable from the first sip. It’s assured and confident, with a luxurious mouthfeel.
Juniper forward would be the summary of events here. And I couldn’t be happier about that! Oily and pungent, it coats the tongue and lingers on the after taste. To describe this as being a ‘ginny gin’ sounds daft, and insincere, but I mean that as the utmost compliment. It’s unashamedly brilliant, and unexpectedly classic, in taste!
I get hints of sliced apples, against a very light sense of citrus. But if I’m honest, the citrus is a little too amped back on the taste to what I had hoped for from the nosing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still wearing a massive grin from the juniper! But my citrus loving sensibilities are left wanting slightly…
The aloe vera and inclusion of nuts does help to smooth out what could potentially come across as heavy handed with the strength of the booze at play. You’d have to say it’s a clever move, and to the credit of the gin and its makers.
When paired with a light tonic and, in my case, blood orange garnish, Zeiver serves to make a powerful and refreshing gin and tonic (or Z&T as it were). But no matter how hard I try, I can not force that peach and cherry to come to the forefront on the taste. I’d half expected this to be hefty on the fruit and sweetness. But instead I find a juniper powerhouse, that’s packing a dusting of spice and a suggestion of fruit.
Now. One does not simply sample a high strength, juniper heavy, gin with a diverse botanical list and not chuck it in to a Negorni to see how it floats!
In the short serve cocktail, Zeiver is undoubtedly juniper forward with a profile that refuses to be lost. Allow me to tell you at this point – it is very, very good! I tried it across two serves, using Discarded and Byrrh respectively. In both versions, the vermouth helps to pull forward the fruit flavours, and offers an elevated sense of sweetness. I was bowled over by just how smooth drinking it was…they almost go down too easy!
Within a Dry Martini, Zeiver takes on a more citrus forward character, with a lime sharpness and pithy grapefruit helped out by the addition of a lemon peel garnish. There’s a warming sting of booze to the first sip, hardly surprising given the gin to vermouth ratio, but it still comes across as smooth and well balanced. Delightfully, the juniper remains an ever present monster and there’s an oil like mouth feel from the heady botanicals that coat the tongue. The green hue of aloe vera feels quite pronounced and there’s even a wink of delicate peach on the finish (hurrah!). Though to my taste, wider botanicals, like the cherry, unfortunately remain at bay – but all in all this is a very enjoyable, very drinkable cocktail, tailor made for summer nights in the garden!
Zeiver in summary
Wow. For a brand that is less than a year old to be producing such a powerhouse of a gin? I’m impressed. It’s hard not to be!
Going back to my analogy of the ‘unusual lineup’, there was a risk of this gin being a repeat of ‘The Philanthropist’ but in liquid form. Full of great individual stars, but ultimately no end result. But that’s not the case here at all. My lasting take away is that I was excited at the prospect of finding a full on ‘slap in the face’ fruit explosion. What was delivered was a gin of huge classical integrity, executed via the most unusual methods. It’s different, it’s unexpected and it’s certainly unique. But it’s very bloody good and to be applauded (unlike the stage show).
So what’s next for Zeiver Gin?
There can at times be a temptation to jump straight in to the market with both ‘size 9’s’ and want to introduce a portfolio over night to cater for the full range of gin drinking preferences. And whilst the future will likely see the introduction of further expressions, the team are currently focussed on their flagship gin seeing “the value of doing one thing exceptionally well”.
It would be fair to say that Coronavirus has thrown a ‘slight’ spanner in the works. Any plans for securing mass bar, restaurant and hotel deals are temporarily on hold. Though far from seeing this as a disaster, Bilson & Patterson have sought to find the opportunities, focussing heavily on their online presence and brand awareness. And from their early foray in to the social jungle, the early rumblings are very positive!
With shows lined up and interest already flooding in from other countries in both Europe and the US, it’s only a matter of time before the duo are going to find themselves extremely busy spreading the Zeiver word on a global scale – just as soon as border restrictions allow!
With huge thanks to James Bilson & Clayton Patterson for my complementary bottle of Zeiver gin and for their time to take part in a socially distanced Q&A interview!
If you’d like more information on Zeiver, straight from the mouth of one part of the founding duo, then stay tuned! I’ll be publishing my exclusive Q&A with James Bilson in the very near future!
Until then, be sure to follow the team with interest across their social media and web pages:
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Come and say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!