5th February; a day that a ‘Very Special’ legend was born…I’ll admit that legend is a word that gets thrown around quite a lot. But in this case, I think it’s more than warranted!
Now, despite also being born on 5th February, I hope that after getting to know each other over these last few years that you will know that my own sense of self depreciation wouldn’t allow me to be referring to myself in such pedestal bestowing heights.
So then to whom do I refer? A simple google search will unravel a whole host of prospective candidates who share my Birthday and could claim the title of ‘legend’;
. The footballing royalty of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar?
. Hollywood ‘A-Lister’ and actor Martin Sheen?
. YouTuber Steven Suptic? (yeah, I know, I had to look him up too…But that’s ok, he probably doesn’t know who I am either!)
All good guesses but, alas, all incorrect. You see, I reserve such lofty titles for only the very strongest of ‘Spirits’. The legend that I refer to is someone who takes from the rich (…est of botanicals on offer) and gives to the ‘pour’. She is also one part of Locksley Distilling, the brand who are responsible for making some of my very favourite gins. She is, of course, the brilliantly bubbly and ever effervescent Cynthia King!
It is therefore fitting then, that on such a Very Special day, which I share with a Very Special person, that I should raise a glass filled with something Very Special… luckily my wife and mom (FYI: they’re also Very Special) had been on the case, and granted me a bottle that had sat at the top of my wish list for some time. Having had the opportunity to taste on a number of occasions, falling in love with it again on each sip, I was now the proud owner of something Very Special indeed; Locksley Distilling’s Very Special Old Tom. Or ‘VSOT’ as all us cool kids call it.
Locksley Distilling; They’re a bit Special…
There’s no point in denying it. Whenever I start taking about Locksley Distilling, I hit true ‘fan boi’ territory! I have got A LOT of love for this brand, and the team behind it. The flagship gin, and original expression, ‘Sir Robin of Locksley’ is an ever present in my Top 5 gins of all time!
It’s usually at this point that I would point you towards my previous review of ‘Sir Robin of Locksley’ gin, where you can find the fuller lowdown on the brand and their raison d’être. And, never one to shy away from a shameless plug, I am indeed going to point you in the direction of my previous blog, which you can find here:
But it would be remiss of me to leave it at that point, and not acknowledge the impressive pace of change that husband and wife founders John Cherry and Cynthia King have spearheaded since my 2018 write up.
The fuller range now also boasts the ‘Real Raspberry & Cardamom infused Sir Robin of Locksley’, the ‘Morocello’ (think limoncello but made with blood oranges – it’s as utterly delicious as it sounds!) and the VSOT (which we’ll come on to in more detail shortly!).
You want more?! They’ll give you more! You can add to that two exquisite sounding collaborations. The first with Sheffield Chocolatier Bullion Craft Chocolate, creating a ‘Cocoa Nib Liqueur’, and the second with local bean roaster Foundry Coffee Roasters for their ‘Specialty Coffee Liqueur’. Anyone for chocolate or espresso gin Martinis?!…
The full range is also now available in 70ml, 20ml and 5ml bottle sizes, meaning that there is a Locksley serve for all occasions!
Perhaps most excitingly of all, John & Cynthia have branched out in to the ‘experience’ market, allowing people to connect with the brand on a whole new level.
For £15pp you can now join the team for an intimate guided tour of the distillery and an expert led tasting session. For £95pp you can ratchet things up a notch and add to that a hands-on gin making experience. Here you’ll not only benefit from the tour & tasting experience, but you’ll be using the mini stills of the teams ‘Gin School’ to walk away with a 70ml bottle of gin crafted by your own fair hands! Talk about quenching your thirst for knowledge and…well…gin!
I have long been an advocate that ‘gin tourism’ is the route to longevity, and couldn’t be more thrilled to see this thriving ‘behind the scenes’ experience on offer. You really will have the opportunity to see where genuine magic happens!
And whilst I can’t wait to get back to Sheffield to visit the team in person, with recent government announcements suggesting that brighter days are on the cards, head to the website and check out the ‘Virtual Gin School’ options available, for all of you’re socially distanced juniper based needs.
As if that wasn’t enough (I told you they’ve been busy!) the Locksley Distilling Instagram Live events are not to be missed! Be sure to keep a watchful eye on upcoming events for unrivalled cocktail inspiration (live from John and Cynthia’s kitchen!).
VSOT; A Special delivery
So now to the matter at hand; the VSOT.
When John & Cynthia set out on their distilling journey, they always knew that they wanted to make a variety of different gins. And in their flagship distilled gin, they were amongst the first to create a gin that I would genuinely consider to be a true ‘sipping gin’, that can be enjoyed neat thanks in part to the addition of the palate softening elderflower, grapefruit and dandelion.
In the VSOT, bottled at 57.5% ABV, the team have pioneered once again in merging the stylings of an ‘Old Tom’ and ‘Navy Strength’ to create the first hybrid of its kind!
I was lucky enough to be very kindly gifted a bottle of the Locksley VSOT Sauternes Barrel Finished Gin back in 2018, which blew my both my mind and my socks clean off. Despite it being described as ‘an experiment’, with Cherry having gone on to play with a variety of other barrelled liquids, it remains one of my very favourite gins. To this day I still retain a small amount in my bottle and refer to it as ‘my special occasions gin’!
I went on to try a dram of the VSOT standard edition as part of the Gin Foundry 2019 #Ginvent Advent Calendar and was thrilled to discover a whole new character and personality that I fell just a little bit in love with.
Dressed to kill in a blue haze, the bottled end product is as seductive on the eye as it is to taste, with its ‘V for Vendetta’ centre piece cleverly depicting representations of its respective stylings (a cat for Old Tom & a ship for the Navy) alongside suggestions of the botanical inclusions.
A Very Special tasting was about to ensue…
Locksley Distilling VSOT gin to taste
Big, muscled up tones of sweet juniper are waiting to rush straight up your nose, immediately letting you know you are on safe ground here. There is an almost menthol freshness to the aroma, backed up by a bite of grapefruit and orange citrus freshness.
As a Navy Strength, the vapours are obviously going to have a bit of weight behind them; but it’s a controlled & delicious aggression! It’s big, bright, punchy & incredibly exciting – it draws you in to want to taste. Resistance is futile!
To taste, there is a definite amped up liquorice quality on the tongue, with perhaps more rootiness than suggested on the nose, with an aniseed heat on the back of the throat. Sweet, piney juniper flows throughout, with suggestions of grapefruit and orange citrus notes providing continuity from the nose. Cassia and cinnamon wash over the palate, bringing a sweet and gently spiced warmth – they combine to act as a perfect accompaniment to the winter season.
There’s a mouth feel that is at times reminiscent of a Glava or syrupy liqueur, with a heady mix of sweetness and spice. Yet despite the raw power behind the gin, Team Locksley somehow manage to maintain the ability for this to quite easily be a neat sipping gin – it is absolutely incredible! Some might even say it’s ‘Very Special’…
But how best to serve such a beast?! I’m glad you asked…
This works incredibly as a sipper over ice – the complexity of its flavour profile means that there is more than enough to keep even the most astute gin aficionado entertained for hours! A slither of grapefruit peel will help to pull forward those citrus notes, and when served alongside a premium light tonic you’ll open up a powerhouse of a G&T for a longer serve, with a fresh grapefruit or orange wedge garnish for the win.
The Sauternes edition is the perfect bed partner for a ginger beer, with a fresh slice of orange, which makes for a heavenly drinking experience. And whilst the classic VSOT obviously lacks the barrel aged characteristics of its experimental sibling, it still works wonders as an alternative longer serve.
But where else could all of this be leading to.? Surely I’ve missed a gulp for those of a more bitter disposition? Yep, you guessed it…The VSOT Negroni. And it’s an absolute stunner!
The resinous pine of the juniper and citrus kick of the grapefruit are always going to lend themselves to the short serve classic, whilst the chunky notes of liquorice and balanced sweetness of the Old Tom profile work to harmonise with the bitter elements, making for a well rounded cocktail.
The strength of the gin ensures that it is never once lost or intimidated by the bold flavours at play, sitting proudly centre stage for what is one of my favourite Negroni lineups.
One point of caution is that, to my taste, Campari can tip the balance of the serve given the sweetness that the gin is already bringing to the party. But in using Victory London bitters, with a reduced sugar content, this really is an absolute monster and a great big punk rock middle finger in the air in liquid form.
VSOT; Something Very Special
As with the rest of the Locksley range, I simply can not pick a fault in the VSOT! This is both a cleverly crafted and expertly balanced gin. In bringing the best of both a Navy Strength & Old Tom style, what you have here is a perfect balance of sweetness, spice, citrus, jUnIpEr, well considered power and good times all round! What Locksley Distilling have delivered here is something new and exciting for the gin category, bringing innovation & pushing the boundaries, without ever losing sight of their core values and what gin is all about.
And that’s what I love about them. For ‘Locksley’ the brand, the team behind the liquids and the spirits themselves, this about far more than just producing and bottling tasty beverages to flog and support the bottom line. There’s a vibe and an attitude that underpins everything that they do. There’s a grit and a dogged determination to never accept anything but the highest levels of quality in what they make. There’s a relentless passion to push the boundaries and to innovate. And perhaps most notably of all, there is a real sense of love, not only for what they do but for the people they do it for. There is a genuine warmth and friendliness to the relationships that they build, where you feel like more than just a ‘punter’; you’re family. To me, they are the epitome of Rock n’ Roll gin making – ‘Very Special’ indeed.
Sorry. I did tell you I was going to fan boi didn’t I….
Make sure to follow John, Cynthia and the Locksley Distilling story at their website and across social media – you can bet there are a whole host of exciting plans heading your way!
Facebook: Locksley Distilling Co. Ltd.
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!