Quite how we weren’t both covered in each other’s vomit I have no idea!
Wait. That’s a weird way to start…Let me go back a bit.
I guess I’ve always had something of an adventurous spirit, with a penchant for exploring the more usual and a persuasion for activities of the adrenaline inducing kind. And I’m fortunate enough to have a best friend who is equally as nuts as me! (no kidding, there’s more of us!).
Having formed a firm friendship from the age of 10years old, over a shared sense of hilarity when she was hit in the face by a football (well, I was laughing anyway!), we’re still the very best of friends nearly 25 years on! And during that time, we’ve taken in some pretty daring stunts including indoor skydiving, an indoor parachute drop that involved a free fall from a rather large warehouse building roof, tubing on rapids and wake-boarding across the lakes of Sheffield.
With our sense of mortality obviously residing at an all time low, this latest adventure to add to the scrapbook had come packaged in a snazzy slip of wrapping paper, which I duly handed over to my friend as a birthday gift. We were going ‘Zorbing’!
Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with the art of Zorbing…I very much recommend that you keep it that way! Though for the sake of this reviews opening gambit, I’ll guide you through the gritty details so that you can live vicariously through my…experience.
The set up, in its basic form, is that two people clamber in to a giant inflatable sphere, get strapped in, and are then pushed down a large hill at breakneck speed. For fun. What could possibly go wrong?!
Whilst I was still living up north at the time, my line of thinking had been that this would be a great opportunity to explore the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside, indulge in some lighthearted ‘take your life in your own hands’ family friendly fun, followed by a few birthday drinks.
After taking in the scenery, and waiting patiently in the queue to hurl ourselves down some hill in the Dales, I spotted a sign; ‘pay now for an extra go, only £20 per couple!’. It was a bargain and one that I wasn’t going to miss out on. I slid my crisp legal tender across the counter, with all of the confidence of an idiot who had no idea what he’d let himself in for, and strutted out of the door towards to the starting line.
Once we had taken our positions inside what has since become known as ‘the ball of hell’, I remember being surprised at how loose the strapping was…this was a fleeting moment of sense that was soon cast to one side by the inevitable drag of gravity.
The motion was gentle at first. After a few rotations I even remember us laughing! But as the giant sphere, with us inside it, started to pick up pace there was a very audible moment of silence where we caught each other’s panic stricken eyes and telepathically asked ourselves ‘what have we done?!’.
When we finally landed at the bottom of the hill, after falling for what felt like at least 20 minutes, I knew that we were upside down. And I knew that because the ‘proverbial’ was coming out of my collar! I have NEVER been quite so terrified. My heroic explorer facade was well and truly sitting at a kilter. Indiana Jones might think that running from a boulder is a scary experience – I say to him, try being the bloody boulder!
As we crawled from the wreckage of this ‘balloon on steroids’, we wobbled greenly back towards the office. I sheepishly retrieved my £20 note and we headed for the car (what – you thought I might have been tempted by another go?!). The only birthday drink that either of us had in mind on the drive home was a warm sweet tea to calm the nerves!
These days I tend to opt for a way of life that doesn’t dictate needing to pack fresh underwear! So when the opportunity arose to explore the Yorkshire hillsides again, only this time from the comfort of my own home, I was listening intently! And the name of this intrepid explorer offering to be my guide?; Yorkshire Explorer Gin!
Well, his name was Callum actually. And a very nice chap he is too.
The Yorkshire Spirit
Having only recently moved back to my Midlands birthplace, after having spent 10 years living and working in ‘my home from home’ Leeds, I always have a soft spot for gins that come from north of the border! So when a notification landed in my inbox from the Yorkshire Explorer himself, offering the chance to sample a gin that promised a taste of the Yorkshire wilderness, I was thrilled to accept.
As it turns out Callum Houston, the brands talisman, master forager and director also has a soft spot for Birmingham based bloggers due to his wife’s Sutton Coldfield based heritage! Is that a bromance I feel in the air?! It could possibly be…
So what’s the gin all about, I hear you ask?
Inspired by the natural beauty of the Yorkshire region, alongside a healthy appreciation for enjoying quality spirits, Callum decided to turn his hand to creating a range of gins that could capture and bottle the Yorkshire landscape across the seasons.
Based and created in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire Explorer have a simple aim, “to create amazing spirits which champion Yorkshire produce” using botanicals found whilst exploring the counties hillsides and hedgerows.
The ethos of the brand is to bring a connection to nature to the drinking experience, placing provenance at the heart of the unique seasonal recipes they curate. And whilst a love of innovation and experimentation are evident, the gin is also “deeply-rooted in the rich tradition of gin”. Indeed, Yorkshire Explorer for a long time resisted the temptation to move to mass production, opting instead to stick with their 100litre Still (‘Wendy’). Sure, it meant that the batches were smaller and the process was perhaps a little less efficient, but that wasn’t the point. The smaller scale operation was maintained to ensure a higher level of control over creating the desired complex and delicate flavour profiles. The team go on to explain on their website how the “botanicals are left to pre-soak for 24hrs, before an 8hr distillation, taking an extremely small yield of hearts” to create a smooth end spirit.
Having now perfected their recipe, Callum & co. have now ratcheted things up a notch, moving to a 300litre Still to help spread ‘the Yorkshire Spirit’ a little wider (and to give Wendy a well deserved rest!).
There are currently three Yorkshire Explorer expressions available, including the ‘Wild Winter Berries’ and ‘Midsummer Nights’ gins. I was sent a bottle of the teams ‘Springtime Bloom’ edition, fitting as spring has certainly blossomed all around us (at the time of writing)!
Springtime Bloom weighs in at 40% ABV and is comprised of juniper, pink peppercorns, strawberries, lemon verbena, basil, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, liquorice root and orris root. On paper, it sounds so spring like that it may as well be sat coiled tightly, ready and primed to walk itself down the stairs! (retro 80’s toy throw back to the ‘Slinky’ for you there).
Bottling up Springtime
Even the artwork on the bottles is sourced locally, employing the creative penmanship of York based designers ‘United by Design’ and ‘Dogeatcog’.
So it’s the bottle where we turn our attention to now. And for me, this is a game of two halves…
There are elements that I really, really like! The individually hand waxed and stamp sealed finish is a classy touch, that marries well with the small batch pursuit of quality seen in the gins crafting. It’s even captured in the claret colours of my own beloved Aston Villa (the Northern-Midlands connection continues!).
I’m also a big fan of the back label showing though the clear front end display, which depicts the foraged spring botanicals that make up the gin. It draws the eye, and really is as pretty as a picture. Literally.
However, I’m not a huge fan of the transparent sticker/label on the front of the bottle. I should add at this point that I appreciate that bottles aren’t cheap, and neither is fancy embossing or extravagant glass designs. That said, I do fear that the bottle could become lost amongst a crowd. Where so much effort has been expended in the foraging and distilling, I do wonder whether further USP’s could be found in the finishing touches of the aesthetics to really solidify the gins place on the back bar, where so many other bottles are vying for attention.
Springtime Bloom to taste
With a spring in my step, and by now also my glass, it was time to get down to the all important business of tasting the gin!
As soon as the stopper is removed from the bottle, with a satisfying ‘pop’, the surrounding air is engulfed with the scent of sweet pink peppercorns. And it’s the pink peppercorns that dominate the nose on first investigation, with a light and delicate spicing that brings a warmth, against an overwhelming purple haze of sweetness.
Given time to evolve in the glass, and a much stronger sense of strawberry begins to appear. I have to say that I had approached the neat gin wondering how accessible the strawberry would be, and whether the fruit would become lost in the mix; not at all. A cloud of plump strawberry brings a soft red fruit coulis vibe to the aromas. I don’t detect much greenery or citrus from the basil or lemon verbena, such is the perfumed dominance of the bolder scents. Perhaps more disappointingly is that it becomes very challenging to pick out the juniper amongst the power of the other botanicals in the mix.
To taste, and it is much the same story as the nose on the initial sip. The pink peppercorns and strawberry combine to deliver a sweet, warming finish that is unmistakable in its ability to live up to their respective flavour profiles. Neither backs down to the other, and both are easily identifiable.
But I am going to level with you here. I do have a slight concern that the strawberry presents as being slightly synthetic…Now, don’t take that in the wrong way! I’m not saying that it is. But purely when combined with the pink peppercorns, it takes on a kind of ‘pic n mix’ sweets flavour. I think you’ll agree, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! But I do find there is a clear difference from the fresh fruit tang that may have been expected.
Pleasingly, the basil does feel more present across the palate, in both providing a soft suggestion of herbaceousness and an added character to the mouthfeel. Juniper also makes its presence felt on the back of the throat, though perhaps as more of a support act, following in behind the brighter stars of the show. The main casualty here is the citrus, which is most noted by its absence… but then again, as a citrus forward fan boy, it’s always the profile I go looking for out of personal preference and it’s not really what this gin is about.
The neat gin, as promised, is very smooth drinking, with a medium length longevity and a light warmth. Whilst I can understand the sentiment that this could be drank without a mixer, I personally wouldn’t opt to drink it straight and would be looking for the longer serve options.
On the theme of longer serves, I went for a classic G&T with a difference. Callum recommends serving with a Pink Peppercorn tonic – so I did! Whilst I had expected the mixer to perhaps sit too sweetly alongside the gin, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they paired. Garnished with fresh strawberry and basil leaves and the whole experience comes together in bloom! Not only is it pleasing on the eye, but the garnish helps to bring the botanicals to life. The savoury nature of the basil helps to cut through some of the natural sweetness of the gin, whilst the strawberry helps to bring an added freshness.
I can imagine these going down very nicely a hot spring day (or summers day if you don’t want to limit yourself!). That said, while I would keep the garnish, I’d likely switch to a light tonic to further elevate the citrus and cut back the sweetness a little more.
Keep on exploring
In these time’s of virus lockdown, it’s perhaps never been more important to stop for a moment and take the opportunity to appreciate the landscape and environment around us – the things that we can sometimes take for granted. And that’s exactly what Yorkshire Explorer aim to deliver; a little taste of Yorkshire in your glass.
And whilst it might not currently be possible to explore the Dales in person, unless you have your own ‘Zorb’ sphere (which would ironically be perfect for social distancing!) we can at least all raise a glass to the better days to come.
With many thanks to Callum Houston, the ‘Yorkshire Explorer’, for my complementary bottle of Springtime Bloom gin!
You can find out more information on Yorkshire Explorer on the teams website and ‘explore’ more on their social media channels:
Website:http://www.theyorkshireexplorer.co.ukFacebook: Yorkshire Explorer Spirits
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!