“Well, I don’t know what to tell you Matthew. The website states that it has been delivered and signed for, so it must be there!”… Oh dear. We had reached the point in the conversation where my full name was being used; my mom only calls me ‘Matthew’ when I’m in trouble or she is determined to make a point.
It was November 2020, and my wife and I were celebrating our 6th Wedding Anniversary. And whilst ‘celebrating’ was going to be a little different this time around, given the constraints of a global pandemic lockdown (jeez, those things will really cramp your style!), we had decided that we each still thought that the other was ‘a little bit of alright’. My parents had, to mark the occasion, sent flowers and chocolates, though from the introduction to this review I’m sure you’ll appreciate that things hadn’t quite gone to plan. All caught up? Cool. Then I’ll continue.
The conspiracy theories were now in full flow; “oh Matthew (there it is again!), you must have had them?”, “are you sure they’ve not been left ‘somewhere safe‘” (knowing the gentle touch of our local couriers, ‘somewhere safe’ could be upside down, in the middle of the road and set on fire) or “a neighbour must have taken them in?!”. The irony of all of this was that lockdown meant I had been working at home all week, sat directly over the front door, with little to no chance of missing a delivery. I confidently rebuffed the interrogation with all of the confidence of the same child who years earlier would sneak ‘Liquorice Allsorts’ from the kitchen side and then deny all knowledge!
The reading glasses came on as I watched her via FaceTime re-confirm the delivery details to me from another screen; “delivered today, at 2:35pm, to number 43”…
Now there’s just one problem. We don’t live at number 43. We never have done. Ever. As I broke this news, a moment of realisation appeared on my moms face… “Ah. Nuts.”
As I knocked on the door of number 43, retreating to a social distance from the door way, I tried to think of how to explain the situation. As an elderly gentleman appeared, I decided to go with “Hi, I’m sorry, has my mom sent you some flowers and chocolates?!”. Though to be honest, I needn’t have asked. Before he had, had time to answer me, I had already observed him sheepishly brushing the chocolate crumbs from around his mouth and could still see the evidence dusted on his pullover. And as if my suspicions needed any further confirmation, the lady of the household suddenly appeared from around the kitchen door in the distance to apologetically chime in with “the flowers are already in a vase…they’re beautiful”.
To spring to their defence, the couple had spent the afternoon chasing the delivery company to inform them of the mistake. But with no course of action available but to contact my parents and arrange a new delivery, and with the goods being perishable, they’d been informed to keep them as compensation for the inconvenience. And to be fair, if chocolates and flowers turn up on your doorstep, technically addressed to you, what are you going to do?! You’d likely follow the example of the portly chap in ‘Charlie & The Chocolate Factory’ and be swimming in the chocolate river before you’d even had time to change in to your Speedo’s! I couldn’t really blame them…
As I turned to leave, trying to mask my disappointment, insult was added to injury as I was handed the accompanying gift card; ‘Happy Anniversary!’ it read. Indeed.
Now some of you might think it harsh to give my well meaning mother grief. And I usually wouldn’t mind so much, particularly given that their ex-pat status has seen them stuck in France since COVID-19 struck. But you must understand that my mom has history in this field! In previous years she has got the house number correct, only to address the street name and postcode to my In-Laws village! Luckily I managed to wrangle the well intended gifts from the firm grip of the disgruntled recipient on that occasion!
Still, all’s well that ends well! The replacement chocolates and flowers did eventually arrive a week later, once my mom updated her address book, allowing us to extend our celebrations. Though you couldn’t have scripted that our bottle of fizz would have been missed from the shopping delivery for the same weekend!
But, you might be wondering, what does any of this have to do with gin?! Well my friends, you’re right to ask. As recently I received a floral delivery that promised to be a bouquet to delight the senses. These ‘flowers’ would not only be pretty on the eye, but aimed to be pretty spectacular on the palate too. And best of all? They arrived in a ‘flash’ at the right address first time of asking! (sorry number 43, not this time!…).
As I opened the package to reveal the contents, we were off with a ‘bang’! I was about to be introduced to ‘Thunderflower Gin’, and with a sample bottle of each of their expressions, it looks like lightening really can strike twice.
Thunderflower Gin; Thunder & Lightning, very very frightening…
Launched in 2018, and based in the beautiful coastal town of Teignmouth, Thunderflower Gin is the brainchild of dynamic Devonshire duo Anicca and Dominic O’Nions. Having grown sick to the back teeth of rocking up at ‘local’ gin festivals, that consistently and ironically never seemed to feature any locally made gins, the pair decided that they best do something about it!
With Dom (may I call you Dom?!) being a dab hand in the kitchen and running a successful Culinary School, a passion for distilling was found in 2016 when researching new courses to add to the schools programme. A period of experimentation began, spending the next 12 months honing in on a personal project to create a gin that would satisfy its distillers yearning for a complex and spiced take on a classic London Dry base.
Fast forward back to 2018, and it was time to test their homegrown juniper elixir on a more than willing public. A small number of bottles were labelled up and shipped out to critical acclaim. It turned out that others liked their gin just as much as they did!
To allow an official launch, a suitable name would need to be found, to represent the gins heritage and locality. The team landed on an old Dartmoor legend that proclaims that the tiny white ‘thunderflowers’ that can sometimes be found growing in the roofs of thatched cottages, can ward off both lightening and witchcraft. It was perfect!
Over the last two years, it would be fair to say that demand of the baying public has grown significantly! Indeed, there is a semi cult like following that has developed across the gin scene that had me longing for a Thunderflower Negroni long before this review was underway (but more on that shortly…). Though while production has steadily been increased, Anicca and Dominic have stayed true to their nano-distillery principles of only producing in very small batches to ensure that quality is never sacrificed in the name of quantity.
To this very day, the team only produce batches of 150 hand signed bottles, keeping one for themselves to enjoy and sharing 149 with the rest of the world. Well, it is thirsty work after all!
Thunderflower Gin; Lightning strikes twice…
Since launching, Thunderflower Gin now boast two expressions to their armoury; their flagship ‘Devon Dry Gin’, where the journey began, and the newest addition of the ‘Fire-Ship 58’ Navy Strength gin.
Thunderflower Devon Dry Gin is made using a ‘One Shot’ vapour infusion process, delicately extracting the flavour of their intriguing botanical line up, which includes Macedonian juniper, English coriander, green cardamom, black cardamom, pink peppercorns, liquorice, angelica root, elderflower, sage and cassia bark (amongst those that they are willing to disclose!). It aims to be unapologetically full bodied, with a spiced profile able to stand up to any mixer.
In wanting to expand the range, I couldn’t be more pleased that Anicca and Dominic opted to add a Navy Strength string to their bow! But as a break from the traditional path trodden by many, this isn’t simply a stronger version of their classic gin; it’s an entirely different gin altogether! Way to not make things easy for yourselves guys!…
Inspired by the 17th century naval warfare tactic, of loading up wooden ships with gunpowder before setting them alight and steering them in to the path of enemy fleets, Fire-Ship 58 uses the same distilling processes as the original gin. However, in this expression you will find cubebs, grains of paradise, calamus root, lemon peel, orange peel, lemon grass, liquorice, angelica root, green cardamom, allspice, cassia, heather, marjoram, coriander and (of course) juniper. Bottled at 58% ABV, it’s a nod to the navy having found the perfect strength at which gun powder will still burn, even if inadvertently soaked in gin if it were to be spilled onboard a ship. Nice to see that the navy had their priorities in order; I’ll drink to that!
Thunderflower; ‘Striking’ a pose…
For a team who have obviously put a lot of thought in to the making of their gin, it seems fitting that the same level of time and attention has clearly gone in to the design of the labels and artwork, ensuring a beautiful end product on the inside and out.
The bottles arrived beautifully packaged, cloaked in suggestions of their colour schemes, and hand tied with a little yarn of string to give an inkling of the TLC that is at the core of this brand.
Gently unwrapped, and the deep purples and navy blues of the two respective gins provide the perfect canvas on which to paint the elegant golden script declaring the Thunderflower name, alongside decorative floral suggestions of the botanical mixes.
The aforementioned thunderflowers appear on both the centre of the label and the wooden stopper. But, in a surprise ‘twist’ (pun intended) the bottles are screw tops! Whilst I love the ‘pop’ of a cork stopper, there’s something to be said for the convenience of the old ‘twist & pour’, whilst retaining the pleasing on the eye aesthetics.
I have to admit to being smitten with the design. Whilst on one hand it feels classic and refined, the team have managed to also create a look and feel of fun and youthful exuberance. It’s a difficult thing to nail, but nail it they have! Not only does this stand out on the back bar, but I speak from experience in saying that it jumps off the page online too; the eye catching imagery is what first drew my attention and intrigue to HAVE TO delve deeper!
Thunderflower Gin to taste…
And so delve deeper I must…In taking the approach of starting at the beginning, I was kicking things off with the Devon Dry, where it all began.
Thunderflower Devon Dry
On the nose there is a heady mix of aromatic and earthy spice, with BIG notes of warming cardamom.
There is a grassy zip of citrusy coriander that provides a herbal greenery, and a more savoury feel than you’d get from the inclusion of fruit peels to deliver the citrus kick.
There is a sweetness of pungent pink peppercorns that pop on the nose and seem to ebb and flow through the aromas. When the vapours combine with the sweet dusting of cinnamon spicing it really does present an inviting profile that draws you in to want to taste.
The neat spirit feels dank and earthy on the nose, but it still manages to maintain an elegant and deft touch. Sage provides a complementary savoury and herbal element that is balanced perfectly by the addition of elderflower, which gives a kiss of floral sweetness to the neat spirit.
To taste, and it is the pink pepper that initially floods the palate, supported by a weighty depth of cardamom that brings with it layers of dense and flavourful aromatics.
The sage and coriander add a leafy green herbaceousness, with soft coriander ‘citrus’ flowing gently through the mix. But there is also an elevated level of sweetness that sits against the savoury core, that was less evident on the scent. And it’s to the gins credit! The elderflower, liquorice, cassia bark and pink peppercorns join forces to give an intriguing and delicious kick of sweetness that I perhaps hadn’t expected but heartily welcomed.
Delightfully there are big, big notes of juniper – I get plumes of brilliant purple and blue jumping from the glass. It is resinous, rich and oily as it coats the palate.
To finish, the spirit is rounded off with a warming and generous hug of liquorice on the back of the throat and a midrange longevity that creates a moreish liquid that’ll have you returning to the glass.
To serve, I had this nailed on as a Dry Martini, with a twist. But you know what? For me, it didn’t really work. I found it was just too cardamom forwards, with the lemon peel garnish seemingly at odds with the flavour profile. It did grow on me as it evolved over time, and I’m not saying that I would kick it out of bed, but I don’t think the Martini showed the gin in its best light.
So then to the G&T. Whilst the most note worthy botanical flavours identified from initial inspection more than stand up for themselves against the mixer, the addition of tonic softens the gin to reveal sweeter notes of cardamom, sage and cinnamon.
The elderflower grows in prominence, with a slightly dampened hit of pink peppercorn, and a sweet warming finish of liquorice over the palate. It adopts more of a perfumed take on the spiced profile, that makes for a really enjoyable longer serve.
Thunderflower; Fire-Ship 58
On the nose, I still pick out an initial hit of that green cardamom, providing a sense of familiarity of the flagship expression. But make no doubt about the fact that this is an all together different beast…
I get a good waft of the allspice, which brings a real pungent sense of the aromatic, and a savoury character that is lifted to sweeter territory by a dusting of cassia.
The real point of difference here is the use of citrus – and to my citrus forward sensibilities it is a very welcome addition! Lemon and orange peels, alongside a more herbaceous lemon grass, combine to bring a more vivid fruit feel than is evident on the Devon Dry. With a balance of both the pithy and zippy characteristics of the citrus fruits, it seems to bring a brighter and livelier profile. When sat alongside the heather, with a warming green spike of the coriander, and there’s a real perfumed scent to the neat spirit.
As with the Devon Dry, I find that it’s the liquorice that provides a sweet and earthy finish on the backend of the vapours, lingering like the delinquent child at the back of the classroom. Throughout it all, the juniper is bold and confidently assured, bringing a ‘thick’ plume of resinous pine to the nose.
To taste and WHOOSH! There’s a frenzied rush of flavour across the palate that overwhelms the senses momentarily as the mind races to catch up with the taste buds to fully appreciate an onslaught of the best possible kind! It requires, ney demands, that you return for a second sip!
At 58% ABV the neat spirit obviously packs a punch. You’d expect, and probably, hope for that to be the case. But there are no ‘bully boy’ tactics at play. There is sufficient power to ensure that you don’t feel short changed, whilst never threatening to be raw aggression for intimidation’s sake!
It is a spice mix of the pungent allspice, BIG chunky notes of aromatic cardamom, earthy sweet liquorice and warmth of cassia that combine to allow a much sweeter, earthier, flavour profile to emerge on the tasting – far more so than I’d expected from the nosing.
When you’re tasting a gin, the least that you can ask for is that the juniper is easily identifiable. And that’s what I absolutely love here – it has a flipping massive part to play! The juniper is rich, oily and deeply indulgent. As with the nose, it provides a robust ‘thickness’ to the liquid that gives the sense that you could take a slice! It’s a pretty remarkable thing.
The lemon and orange peels really speak to me here – the addition of the citrus kick adds a brightness to the spirit and elevates the other botanicals to loftier heights. As with the nose, I feel that the coriander and heather in particular benefit from the use of the peels, with their grassy herbal greenery made to feel fresher somehow.
This is, without a doubt, a gin that is weighted towards placing spice in the spotlight. But it is done with poise and balance, rather than engulfing the palate at the expense of any other flavours. And whilst it is perhaps a profile that wouldn’t traditionally be my bag, there are just so many points of interest to keep the imagination entertained that I can’t help but keep returning to the glass! The use of the citrus peels, alongside a huge slug of juniper, is more than enough to slap a smile on my face!
To serve, and I find that the Navy Strength works extremely well with a light tonic. The allspice and cardamom are retained for sure, but the orange in particular takes a stride forward and becomes more pronounced in the longer serve. The liquorice and cassia sweetness are lifted by the addition of the mixer, with the juniper also seemingly amped up, maintaining its rich and oily profile.
But what of the Fire-Ship 58 Negroni you ask? Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!
The spiced profile of cardamom and allspice just works so bloody well as a Negroni, playing off the bitter sweetness of the bitters and vermouth.
The orange and lemon peels, in combination with the lemon grass and coriander, provide a complementary zippy kick, and a welcome bitterness to the finish, that allows the gin to take to the cocktail like a duck to water.
Perhaps most impressive of all is how tall the juniper is allowed to stand, which I find can be disguised amongst such powerful flavours at times. Not here.
The gin is never once lost and plays the role of ‘Navy Strength’ perfectly – the flavour is in full force, whilst the ABV demonstrates a commendable understanding of restraint. You wouldn’t know that you were drinking a 58% ABV. That is as impressive as it is deliciously dangerous! Effortlessly smooth, I could happily drink this as a Negroni endlessly.
Thunderflower; Sunshine follows thunder…
So how to summarise my Thunderflower experience.
This isn’t my normal ‘go to’ gin profile. The citrus, most obvious by its absence in the Devon Dry, is not the star attraction – I even found it to feel oddly oriental at times with the spiced characteristics. That’s not a criticism or a flaw, in fact it was a purposeful style decision that has been executed to an extremely high level.
But don’t get me wrong – this isn’t to say that I don’t have a whole heap of respect and admiration for what Anicca and Dominic have achieved with their gins, nor that I didn’t enjoy tasting the range. I absolutely did!
The Devon Dry in particular is an intriguing liquid, which definitely lifted me by the scruff of my neck and took me out of my comfort zone, challenging my taste buds with bold flavours that I wouldn’t usually go in search of. I thoroughly enjoyed the deep complexity of the gin, layered to the rafters with flavours that evolve and unravel as you pull on the threads. And whilst perhaps not my favourite Martini, you can’t help but smile and ‘air high five’ in the direction of any gin bottle who’s spirit simply refuses to be masked by a mixer!
The Fire-Ship 58 Navy expression, more finely tuned in to my personal taste preferences, takes to the Negroni masterfully and delivers a rich and stunningly smooth short serve classic. It’s here that the spiced nature of the gin really comes in to its own, complemented by the addition of citrus and a juniper kick so large that you’ll be looking in the mirror for the size 9 footprint planted on your face. Artistry in a glass.
As I reflect on my experience, I feel that Thunderflower really could be the gin to broaden my horizons in to new flavour territories that I’m yet to fully explore. The thrill of being challenged, and to have your awareness of wider parts of the tasting wheel stretched, is enough to bring you back to the bottle to reassess and to seek out new serves.
Is that me clapping? Or is that thunder? Maybe it’s a little of both. But you have to applaud a gin that can ‘strike’ on so many levels.
My huge thanks to Anicca and Dominic O’Nions from Thunderflower Gin for my 200ml sample bottles of both the Devon Dry & Fire-Ship 58 expressions.
I also got this natty little pin badge!
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