Roehill Springs Distillery; Gin No. 5

‘This music is terrible – I mean, the lyrics are just awful!’ my grandma said. ‘I don’t know how you can sit and listen to it’ she continued, with her face contorted in that special kind of disgust reserved for emphasising that something is truly horrific. But surely that’s part of the fun, right?…

I mean, one of the key aims growing up is to offend your elders with your choice of music. It’s how you stamp your mark of uniqueness on the world, in a way that metaphorically rolls the eyes as to say ‘oh, you just wouldn’t understand!’. I guess it’s the classic case of rebelling without a cause, but within the safe confines of the family home.

So what was this musical ‘middle finger in the air’ aimed towards ‘the man’ that I was blasting across the airwaves? Parental advisory required, if they were brave enough, I’m sure you’d be led to assume. A bit of NWA? No, I could only really get away with ‘Straight out of Middle Class Suburbia’. A rendition of The Prodigy classic ‘Fire Starter’? Sadly not – by this point, I wasn’t even allowed to operate the log burner unsupervised! (refer to previous ‘middle class’ reference). Perhaps the gentle serenading notes of the Slipknot’s ‘Wait and Bleed’? Alas, no. All guesses, whilst good, are tame in comparison.

So what then could have been causing such a stir, leading to ‘Everybody (to) Get Up’ whilst I was ‘Gettin’ Down’? Why would people enter the room, only to immediately leave and ‘Keep on Movin’’?! My stance against the system came courtesy of a Cockney 5 piece, who promised that they would. They would. ‘Rock you’… ok. Fine. It was 5ive.

Say what you want about this retro 90’s boy band, 5ive had some absolute bangers! What? Not ‘edgy’ enough for you?! I’ll have you know that Jason Paul Brown (that’s ‘Jay’ to his fans) was the ‘hard man’ of the group on pop rap duties, and more fool you if you were to go toe to toe with him! Not that he was my favourite of the bunch mind. (That was Abz. If you’re asking).

But what was it that had gotten my grandma so wound up about this group of national treasures? And why was she listening to them in the first place?…

Well. To cut a long story short, the CD (remember them?!) in question belonged to my brother, who would diligently read the album sleeve to learn the words and sing along to the stereo. In a fit of sibling rivalry, and clearly seeing me as a threat to his position on lead vocals, my brother refused to allow me near the lyrics to learn the words to be able to partake in hairbrush karaoke. Cue my nan stepping in to the fray to sort the dispute, by borrowing the glossy insert to sit and hand write the words to 12 tracks of pop gold for me, with each track patiently listened back to, to validate her handy work.

That woman was a hero with the patience of a saint! I still remember the vast majority of the words to ‘Slam Dunk Da Funk’ to this very day.

Sure. In the years going forwards, my musical tastes evolved. ‘Blue’ formed in 2000, changing the pop landscape forever. Though I respected my grandmas decision to have retired the biro by that point!

But really, I think there was a little more to 5ive than I appreciated. As, on reflection, the number 5 has always played a strangely significant part in my life. I was born on the 5th of February – I mean, without that event I wouldn’t be here now! My wife’s birthday is also the 5th (of January). We became an official couple (16+ years ago!) on 5th September. Without rhyme or reason, we seem to more often than not end up on ‘table 5’ or in ‘room 5’.

So, imagine my surprise when out of the ‘Blue’ (sorry, the boy band puns are hard to stop once you get started) I received an email asking whether I would like to try a flagship gin, from a new Scottish distillery, called ‘Number 5’. My interest was peaked, with the story behind the gin doing little to quell my enthusiasm – had this gin been made for me?! I was about to find out. Ladies & gentlemen, please ‘All Rise’ (sorry!) for Roehill Springs Distillery.

Old Duncan Morrison has a farm, e-i-e-i-o!

Based in the picturesque Burn of Aultmore Glen (near Keith), Scotland, Roehill Springs Distillery was established in 2019 by husband and wife duo Duncan and Shirley Morrison. Having spent years of enjoying gin from the drinkers side of the bar (haven’t we all!) Duncan decided that he’d like to have a crack at making his own juniper elixir.

Now. To put this in to context, Duncan had a ‘slight’ advantage on his side over your average ‘have a go Joe’. Having gained 12 years of experience as stillman in a whisky distillery, it’s fair to assume that Morrison embarked on his fledgling new career to become his own brands Master Distiller with more than a few transferable skills up his sleeve! A case of ‘been there, got the… Institute of Brewing & Distilling’s General Certificate in Distilling’ (not quite as catchy as the original saying, but more pertinent to this review).

The distillery has been set up in a building on the teams family-run (third generation no less!) farm, where family members have been roped in to helping get the brand off the ground and in to the bottle! Duncan explains that, as well as continuing to run the family farm, the gin ‘is distilled, bottled, labelled, waxed and packaged by hand, on-site at our farm which has been in the Morrison family for over 60 years’.

Photo Credit: Roehill Springs Distillery – the distillery conversion in progress

This is very much an example of a small batch operation at work. Having fallen in love with traditional distilling methods in his previous endeavours, and wanting to imprint ‘the copper kiss’ (terminology to describe being left with the lighter fruity spirit that is encouraged through the copper swan neck and in condenser of the Still) on his very own spirit, Duncan opted to start out with 30 litre copper pot Still – which he still uses to this day! And just for context…that’s tiny! In fact, the team are currently operating one of the smallest Stills in Scotland for their main production. Impressive stuff.

(R)Oh Deer…

With all the gear, and plenty of idea, in place you may be forgiven for asking at this point…where does the name come from? Well, firstly, I guess that opting for the classic approach of slapping your family name on the bottle was off the table, given that ‘Morrison‘s’ was unfortunately snagged by a large supermarket chain (you may have heard of them?).

Photo Credit: Roehill Springs Distillery

Instead, Duncan & Shirley were inspired by the land on which their spring rises (providing the fresh water used in the gin), known as ‘Roehill’. So called because of the large number of roe deer that roam freely on the land and can be spotted grazing in the early mornings & late evenings. The team go on to explain that (much like myself) ‘Roe deer are elegant, graceful and rather secretive’; qualities which they aim to deliver through their gin.

Photo Credit: Roehill Springs Distillery

Botanicals? I’ve ‘no eye deer’…

Team Roehill invite you to ‘immerse your senses in the fresh taste and aroma of rural North East Scotland’.

Photo Credit: Roehill Springs Distillery

Number 5 Gin is comprised of ‘only the finest quality botanicals’, including juniper (shock horror!) coriander, angelica root, cassia bark and pink peppercorns. To this mix, and to ensure that provenance sits at pride of place at the table, a number of other locally foraged botanicals are added. What are they you ask? Duncan has sworn to take on any ‘would be investigator’ to a duel to death rather than give away his recipe! Well…that’s not strictly true. They just like to keep it a secret! Adds a tad air of intrigue I guess.

And speaking of the botanical mix, secrets and all, this is where the team’s flagship expression takes its name…

The team created a variety of different batches of gin, each using different ratios and quantities of botanicals and interchanging ingredients. Each recipe was recorded, and after a thorough sampling, the duo sought feedback from willing friends and family members (let’s be honest – I’m not sure they struggled to find volunteers for that job!). Overwhelmingly, recipe number 5 was the runaway winner and a crowd favourite! In a move to mark their resounding success, the suggestion of naming the final product ‘Gin No. 5’ seemed a no brainier!

Doh. A Deer.

Before we get in to the liquid itself, let’s first take a moment to appreciate the bottle itself. Because, it’s rather pleasing on the eye! Everything about it screams classy, sophisticated and ‘very grown up’.

A royal blue canvas acts as the backdrop for the elegant gold print and detail of the design. The Roehill Spirits brand sits proudly on the front & centre, seductively catching the light as well as your gaze.

The deer head logos, paying homage to those local roe deer, are printed around the label so as to frame the ‘Gin No. 5’ name, the scroll font of which could easily be mistaken for that of a high end perfume.

The gold wax sealed bottle top is a refined and accomplished way to round off the look and feel. It is indicative of the hands on approach and attention to detail that goes in to the making of the gin, with each bottle receiving the same level of individual treatment from start to finish.

A deer in the headlights (spotlight)!

With a thirst building, and secrets to unlock, it was time to put this deer in the headlights, to see just exactly what’s going on beneath that wax seal…

On first inspection there is a grassy, citrus fizz on the nose, with the coriander bringing it’s oh so familiar lemon like heat to the aroma. Suggestions of orange and grapefruit peel, there or imagined, do well to lean against my citrus forward persuasions.

When first poured, the ethanol hit seems way bigger than I would have expected for the 43% ABV – but the aggression very quickly subsides and mellows as the gin opens up to its surroundings.

The coriander is beautifully offset and balanced by the sweet and warming spice of both the cassia and plump pink peppercorns that seem to pop on the nose each time you return to the glass.

The juniper is reassuringly bold, standing tall in the glass and showing a bit of muscle. It helps to ground the neat spirit in the realms of classic sensibilities, which can at times be lost when pink peppercorns are at play and not carefully managed.

When seeking out other ‘non disclosed’ inclusions that may be lurking, my senses are drawn towards tart red berry territory; my suspicions would be rosehip, with a slight hit of jammy tanginess to the vapours. There’s a gentle feel of vanilla to the background, which works beautifully against what feels to be a lush and green herbal backdrop. I’d struggle to name individual members of the bouquet, but suffice to say that it is transportive to the foothills of the Scottish landscape, with metaphorical hedgerows rising from the glass.

Wow. On the taste there is a lot going on! Some of it expected and some of it not!

Initially, a sharp citrus bite grips the tongue, brining the fiery and satisfying sting of the coriander. However, this sensation is very quickly replaced by a shift change in to earthier territory. Big, brash helpings of liquorice wash over the palate, with the sensation leaving you to imagine having to pick the it from your teeth! It leaves a sweet and aniseed like coating on the tongue that draws you back for another sip.

There is a purple and crunchy quality to that juniper pine, that is present with every sip and seems to harmonise against each of the other botanicals to stand pleasingly tall in the mix.

There’s a level of power to the neat gin that far outweighs expectations, delivering a longevity that simply refuses to backdown! It’s not aggression for aggressions sake, and you’re left in little doubt that this is a gin that is going to stand up for itself in a mixer! In time, much like the nose, the initial rawness subsides and offers a softer mouthfeel.

To my palate, the citrus elements from the nose are far more subtle on the tasting, with bolder herbal spicing coming to the forefront. That said, when you add a splash of water to dial down the booze, you’re presented with much brighter notes of orange, almost tangerine like on the front of the tongue and enough to bring a smile to this citrus fan boys face.

There is an easily distinguishable sweetness that runs through the core of the gin, with the pink pepper being the most deliciously discernible. I’m still clinging on to the notion that some form of locally foraged red berries are at play here, with a tart finish sat on the back notes of the gin.

To serve, and we are in to pure and unadulterated G&T territory here ladies and gentlemen! There’s enough intensity amongst the rich and oily botanical inclusions to more than hold their own against a premium light tonic water. You’re going to want to get yourself a fistful of ice, and garnish with a generous sprinkling of fresh pink peppercorns to emphasise that moreish sweet spice.

A more than deserving alternative option to add to your armoury would be a dual garnish of a cinnamon stick and an orange wedge (dehydrated if you have the option) to deliver a festive twist to play on those deep spiced flavours and citrus edge – particularly poignant as we head in to the colder weather and winter months.

Rounding up (the herd…of deer)

Since launching ‘Gin No. 5’ Roehill Springs Distillery have already begun to diversify their range…though perhaps not in the (One) Direction you would have perhaps considered to be the next obvious move!

Photo Credit: Roehill Springs Distillery

Rather than expand in to the flavoured gin arena, team Roehill opted to launch a colour changing gin! And what did they call their latest trick?… ‘Roehill Springs Blue’. BLUE! Honestly, sometimes this stuff writes itself. But this isn’t a gimmicky move or created through the use of nasties…Made harnessing the power of the Butterfly Pea Flower, more commonly found in Southeast Asia, the gin turns from blue to pink (there’s another pop star reference there, but I’ll leave it alone) with the addition of tonic water.

And perhaps most excitingly of all, the innovation isn’t slowing down anytime soon. With rumours of a Navy Strength on the way, you can ‘colour’ this particular blogger very excited indeed.

And as I return to my ‘Gin No. 5’ G&T (not my 5th, I promise), I’m left to admire what the team have created here in such a short space of time, and which they are continuing to evolve.

This is very much a case of, ‘if you’ve got the feeling, jump to the ceiling, Five (gin) will make you feel alright’! Oh yeah. If you like your classic London dries, but with an edge of sweet, warming spice, then ‘Gin No. 5’ will make you get down now…

Contact us

Big thanks to Duncan Morrison and the Roehill Springs team for my complementary bottle of their flagship ‘Gin No. 5’!

Make sure to follow the team at Roehill Springs Distillery to keep on top of all of the latest news and keep your eyes peeled for future additions to the range!:

Instagram: @roehillspringsgin

Facebook: @RoehillSprings

Website: http://www.roehillsprings.com

This blog is also brought to you in recognition and celebration of International Scottish Gin Day 2020! Hitting your calendars on 24th October this year, the team at ‘The Gin Cooperative’ (www.thegincooperative.com) are doing an incredible job of setting up the events second annual outing! Make sure you’re following the team to keep up with all of the latest in the build up to the big day:

Instagram: @international_scottish_gin_day

Facebook: @internationalscottishginday

Twitter: @IntScotGinDay

Website: http://www.internationalscottishginday.com

And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!

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