Guilty pleasures – we’ve all got them. But ‘in the year that was’ 2020, a lesson learned for all of us is that perhaps we need to start considering pleasure as being guilt free? You know, time is short and life’s for living and all that.
Take some of my personal experiences for example…
I spent the longest time cynically passing judgement on my wife’s choice of television programmes, whilst secretly always keeping one eye on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ to see who would be the ‘Star Baker’ & who would be leaving the tent. Now? I’m an avid fan, able to tell my dacquoise sponge from my victoria sponge, my Italian meringue from my French meringue and longing for a Hollywood handshake (from a social distance of course).
When it comes to food, I always used to raise an eyebrow when Stilton made it anywhere near our shopping list. Why would anyone eat mould?! These days, if panic buying were ever to reach a clear down of the middle class deli counter, I’d seriously consider leaving a Babybel to go out of date just to get a taste of the stuff!
Finally, I once remember giving in to the urge to sneakily listen to the 90’s throwback pop hit ‘Steal my Sunshine’ by LEN on a crowded train. Only to find that my headphones weren’t plugged in and I was inadvertently DJ’ing for the whole carriage of amused passengers! Ok. It turns out some pleasures should perhaps remain ‘guilty’ after all…But 2 out of 3 examples remain valid!
My point is this – when we give in to our curiosities, we can find that life is full of wonderful things. Good bakes, fine cheese and even cheesier pop music! And keeping this sentiment firmly in mind, there was absolutely no hiding my excitement as I unwrapped a present from under the tree this Christmas that gave that oh-so-satisfying ‘sloshing’ sound that indicated it wasn’t a jumper! As I peeled back the wrapping paper, I revealed a gin that had long been on my ‘hit list’, paying testament to the fact that if you whinge and drop enough unsubtle hints then you will get what you ask for! I was finally in possession of ‘Hidden Curiosities; Aranami Strength Gin’.
There is a quote that reads “blessed are the curious, for they shall have the adventures”. This was an adventure that I couldn’t wait to embark on.
Hidden Curiosities; Hitting the catwalk
The Hidden Curiosities background story is pretty typical of most gin brands really… Ok. It’s really not. Or perhaps I should say it’s really ‘knot’?…
Jenny, the creative force behind Hidden Curiosities, started out her entrepreneurial career as the director of ‘Cravat Club’ (www.cravat-club.com). Established in 2014, Cravat Club was designed to bring the cravat back in to UK fashion and address the serious lack of choice and variety available on the market. Since their inception, it would be fair to say that their start to life on the catwalk has been as silky smooth as their cravats! Indeed, they now operate in 60 countries across 6 continents – it would be suffice to say that they have made their venture a great success. You could say that they’ve got the silk handkerchief market ‘tucked in their pocket’!…(I’m so sorry Jenny).
Anyway, allow me to ‘tie’ this back in to the gin review. (Again. Sorry Jenny).
In 2017, Jenny decided to turn her entrepreneurial skill set to another of her passions. Though this time it was her taste in drinks, rather than men’s clothing, that would be brought in to the spotlight. Cue the beginnings of Hidden Curiosities Gin…
Having spent 5 years in Japan, Jenny dedicated time to refining her palate, sampling over 100 craft gins along the way. The aim behind the graft? To create a gin recipe of her very own, but with a unique and distinctive character that would make it stand out from the crowd.
With a little help from her friends at Silent Pool, and their 350 litre wood fired Still, Jenny went on to create her first juniper offering, which has since gone on to become an award winner & gracing the shelves of top end high street shops and Michelin star restaurants to boot!
The flagship Hidden Curiosities Gin is a combination of 20 botanicals, that result in a rounded but complex spirit. 5 types of peppercorns and green cardamom are used to provide a warming and aromatic profile, with yuzu, pink grapefruit, bergamot and lime providing a citrus balance against the sweetness of mulberries and the perfume of lavender.
And does it stand out from the crowd you ask? You bet it does! Back in April 2018, whilst attending and blogging for ‘Gin Festival’ at Manchester Baths, I unwittingly declared Hidden Curiosities to be my ‘gin of the day’ and the headline image for my write up! At the time I concluded;
“whilst curiosity may have killed the cat, in this case it’s a ‘crime passionnel’ and one that I’m hoping won’t stay hidden for too much longer as I’ll be coming back to re-satisfy my curiosity in the very near future…”
I couldn’t have anticipated that it would take me over two years to get better acquainted with the brand…but curiosity had definitely gotten the better of me!
Note: If you would like to read my fuller write up on Gin Festival at Manchester Baths, featuring Hidden Curiosities Gin, you can find it here:
Aranami Strength; Raging waves
So what do you do once you’ve tasted success with you’re debut gin expression? Sit back, pour a tall one and rest on your laurels? Not if you’re Jenny you don’t! Having already ‘sewn up’ her own little part of the gin market (yes, that was another cravat related pun there), and creating a cult like following amongst bloggers and gin enthusiasts alike, Jenny decided it was time to release the sequel. And faced with the classic dilemma of ‘go big or go home’ Jenny opted to go big. Very big!
In 2018, during a chance meeting at a ‘Negroni Club UK’ Christmas party, at the legendary London based gin bar ‘The Oliver Conquest’ (sadly no longer), Jenny mentioned to me her impending new launch, which I find myself putting pen to paper about today.
Hidden Curiosities ‘Aranami Strength’ weighs in at a hefty 59% ABV, making this a Navy Strength and then some! But understand that this isn’t a case of looking to bottle a gin at a high strength for the purposes of gimmicks and shock factor – this is a well considered and purposeful move.
Jenny explained to me “the reason why I distilled it to 59% (ABV), as opposed to 57%, is because it really brings out the optimum flavour profile from the botanicals. I tested with other ABVs, and 59 worked wonderfully”.
Perhaps rather fittingly then, the Japanese word ‘Aranami’ also translates as ‘raging waves’. And whilst this may be an acknowledgement of its near war ship sinking Navy Strength muscle, it is also a signpost of what’s to come; the profile is designed to burst with flavour, like being overwhelmed by raging waves.
In a fitting tie back (that pun was genuinely inadvertent!) to the gins Japanese routes, Jenny went on to explain “…in Japanese ‘59’ is ‘五九’ which, in my opinion, sort of looks like waves”. Like I say, the ABV is a well considered and purposeful move.
The Aranami Stregth continues to be distilled under contract at Silent Pool Distillery in the Surrey Hills, though Jenny diligently oversees each and every production. And in a similar way to the original gin, the Aranami Strength is also comprised of 20 botanicals, 7 of which hail from Japan. Though it’s probably fair to say that this isn’t your standard botanical menu listing. Those that the bottle discloses include yuzu, salted sakura, furano lavender, kabosu, sansho pepper, vanilla ume and shiso leaf. One ‘for the curious’ for sure!
When even the unboxing ceremony is a thing of beauty, you know that you’re going to be in for a treat! Packaged with such care and attention to detail, it seemed a shame to wake it from its slumber.
But not that much of a shame – it was a fleeting moment and I’d excitedly torn it from the box within seconds!
Presented in the, by now, iconic Hidden Curiosities square and stubby bottle (I’m pretty sure I could pick it out from a silhouette alone!) Jenny’s firm footing in the design world is there for all to admire. To say that the art is as ‘pretty as a picture’ is an understatement – it wouldn’t look out of place framed and hung on the wall.
A simple glance at the bottle is enough to recognise that this is going to be something special. Though in a juxtaposition to the power of the liquid within, the subtle and calming colour scheme and pretty pink cherry blossom punctuations across the label could lull you in to a false sense of the demure. But twist the bottle around to its naked side, and you’ll reveal the stunning artwork hidden on the reverse of the label. The dragon emerging from the fierce waters gives a stronger indication of what lays in wait…
So with curiosity now peaking at cat killing levels (Note to reader: no cats were harmed in the writing of this blog!) it was time to put on my metaphorical armbands, attach the nose clip and apply the swimming goggles. I’d heard the waves were raging, but I was hoping that the waters would be warm. I was going in…
Hidden Curiosities Aranami Strength Gin to taste
On the nose, there is an initial lemon style citrus sharpness of yuzu and (I’m reliably informed, having never tried it before) kabosu. In following up with some background reading, the use of kumquat can also be attributed some of the jammy marmalade notes that come through. As a lover of all things citrus forward, it’s a great start! But in using fruits from further afield, it’s a recognisable zing with an exotic twist on the classic aromas found elsewhere.
I can pick out the delicate floral character of lavender and perfumed suggestions of the cherry blossoms depicted on the bottles label. A soft juniper hue rises from the glass, but it carries with it a less familiar but intriguing feel of spiced aromatics on the nose, with a warming peppered heat giving a subtle nod to the ABV that lays in wait.
To round off the neat spirit, there is some fiery greenery at play for sure. Whilst not instantly recognisable to my internal flavour wheel, which would perhaps lean towards coriander, it is the shiso leaf providing the herbaceous undertones.
To taste, and I found myself gasping for air on initial sip. WOWZERS! It is all encompassing – like being engulfed in the namesake waves, drowning in flavour (in the very best possible way!).
This really is a case of a triple threat on the tasting, where all of the sense are brought to life in a balanced and equally measured way.
Firstly, there is sharp citrus on the front of the tongue; it’s similar to having tried sansho berries previously, where their raw power sends your tastebuds in to a giddy overdrive. Secondly, there are the aromatic spices that sits across the middle of the palate. And then the fruited floral characters (namely cherry blossom, lavender, soft orange and candied lemon peels) and juniper seem to appear on the back of the throat with a warming peppered finish. But this all goes hand in hand with a dusting of sweet, cassia like, spicing and a healthy hit of deliciously calming vanilla.
Tasted neat, and there is a longevity that refuses to relent! The gin coats the palate with rich, juniper led oils, that hold your tastebuds hostage for minutes after each sip. It’s as deliciously impressive as it is moreish.
Oh and the juniper. Let’s talk about the juniper for a moment. Because it is everywhere. EVERYWHERE! It’s almost oozing from the bottle, so sappy it feels ‘thick’ in the glass. It’s ridiculously brilliant.
But don’t let my notes suggest that this is raw aggression to meet an ABV quota! As with my introduction to the reasoning for the 59%, it is nothing of the sort. The gin is measured and expertly balanced – rather than it being a ferocity for ferocities sake, I would describe it as being more of a fiery passion in the pursuit of perfection. Which it achieves and then some.
By adding a splash of premium tonic, the alcohol power is eased slightly, with the booze reigned in a little to suggest a softer longer serve. The juniper is still massive, as it washes over your palate. But the citrus profile becomes elevated, as do the more floral characteristics, demonstrating a sophisticated elegance in the G&T serve.
Cocktails to create a storm…
But I only had one end destination in mind for this gin. Having devoured endless glowing reviews of the Aranami Strength Negroni, a serve which Jenny herself admits to being her favourite, I was reaching for my stirring glass. And I wouldn’t be left disappointed!
The juniper remains grandiose, with notes of candied orange complementing both the vermouth and bitters. It works hand in hand with a perfectly weighted yuzu hit, offering a brilliant twist on the classic citrus character of the cocktail.
The sweet nature of the cherry and orange blossoms stand tall in the short serve classic, brining a gentle and soothing edge. In a similar way, the soft floral lavender and vanilla help to offset some of the more traditional bitterness.
There are suggestions of herbal aromatics, bringing a complexity that adds intrigue and excitement but without distracting or overwhelming the drink. It’s supported by a faint chilli style warming heat, which develops in the distant background. It’s not overbearing – just visible, and providing an assured and confident finish.
The balance of florals, herbs, citrus, spice and juniper is done with such expertise, that I have to describe this as faultless; it really does have it all. It is the epitome of what a smooth and perfectly rounded Negroni should be. Stunning.
For a gin geek, who is a sucker for juniper and citrus led gins, the Aranami Strength is a dream. It packs enough juniper to make a juniper tree blush, packed in alongside a blast of exotic citrus that brings the classic and the extraordinary to the drinking experience in equal measure.
Expectations had been set extremely high for this gin based on the reviews I’d read and seen across the gin scene, by fellow reviewers and influences whose opinions I respect. But it was almost to the point that I wondered whether the lofty heights would be unassailable. I’m thrilled to confirm that my expectations have been well and truly smashed. THIS. Is a triumph.
There are some gins that I try and immediately declare as being a gin I never want to find myself without. There aren’t that many of them. Is this one of them? You bet your ass it’s one of them. I can not see myself ever wanting to be without this gin being within reaching distance.
And it seems I’m not alone. Since its launch, the Aranami Strength has gone on to snag a whole host of awards, including two stars in the ‘Great Taste Awards 2020’, a gold medal in the ‘Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards 2020’, the ‘Industry Choice Award’ in ‘The Gin Guide Awards 2020’ and was named the ‘Best Navy Strength Gin’ in the ‘World Gin Awards 2020’. Here’s better there are lots more plaudits and podium finishes to come!
They say that, in life, you should never stop being curious. And that the one thing that we should strive for is untameable curiosity. Because in the end, it’s the people who are curious who change the world. Aranami Strength; I’ll drink to that.
If you’re ‘curious’ to learn more about Hidden Curiosities, then be sure to find Jenny across social media or over on her website for all of the latest news and updates:
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!