I’ve recently been picturing myself wearing nothing more than a pair of Speedos and a smile…
I know. I paint quite a picture don’t I?
But if you can pull your minds out of the gutter for just a couple of minutes, I’ll explain why depictions evocative of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ have recently come to the fore (though in this case, perhaps more akin to Michelangelo the ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle’ than the Italian Renaissance artist).
We have very recently undergone some rather extensive house renovations, which saw our little family unit pack up our necessaries (yes there was gin in my suitcase, and what of it?) and ship out whilst our home became a building site for 5 months. Part of this process required the boxing up and lugging around of our worldly possessions to make way for the ‘facelift’, allowing many trips down ‘Memory Lane’ as forgotten blasts from the past were uncovered.
One such hidden gem was a box of my childhood swimming trophies from my days of racing and galas between the ages of 10-18. Whilst my younger self remembers the awards being far grander than the garish plastic relics that I found myself rifling through, I’ll admit that the nostalgia had me wondering whether I could once again pull on the lycra and splash my way to Victory. It was a thought process that was only encouraged by the excitement of seeing the success of the Team GB Olympic Swimming team, who ended their stay in Tokyo with enough gold to further my suspicions that my trophy haul really was more meagre than my memory serves.
It was a short lived fantasy.
It’s actually not too long ago that I did indeed slip in to something ‘a little less comfortable’ and head for the pool, convinced that the c.12 year hiatus since my last foray in to the chlorine abyss would be nothing more than a minor blip on the fitness levels I would clearly still possess. On reflection, hopping in to the ‘fast Lane’ with East Leeds Swimming Club was my first mistake. Sure, length number one was fine. I’d go as far as to say it was ‘easy’. Unfortunately, nothing could prepare me for the ironic ‘sinking feeling’ of length two, as the reality of the situation struck.
It turns out that years of university related ‘reduced activity’, amongst an increased emphasis on ‘rehydration’ (I write a gin blog for goodness sake, use your imagination) had made me more ‘peaty’ than Adam Peaty. I spent the rest of the training session swimming like I’d never swam before…which is a relatively accurate description of what it probably looked like as I tried to avoid drowning! I fast came to understand that Victory would have to wait…
I hadn’t anticipated that it would be the Summer of 2021 before Victory would finally be mine. But, as they say, good things come to those who wait. A case of hard work and perseverance in the pool you ask? Oh no. The trunks have been sleeping with the fishes for sometime now. And besides, this was far more exciting. The hard graft here had been done at the hands of the industry disrupters and innovation trailblazers from the ever awesome Victory London Distillery – and I would be reaping the rewards…
London Victory; Looking victorious…
On Sunday 1st August 2021, the London based team unveiled their new look, smacking their adoring fan base directly between the eyeballs with a metaphorical juniper branch as they kicked off their exciting brand re-launch.
I was incredibly honoured to have been offered the opportunity to take part in the launch by co-founding husband and wife duo Max & Máire Chater, with a humbling letter starting;
“You are one of the few people we’ve asked to help us shout about our relaunch”.
Sworn to secrecy until the big day itself, I couldn’t have been more excited to be involved in supporting a brand that I have long admired, not to mention who’s products I have long enjoyed. So before we go any further, just who are Victory London Distilling?
Victory London; V is for Victory
Describing themselves as “a London based, botanical focussed distillery”, Victory were founded by Max & Máire in 2015. From humble beginnings, the duo have gone on to create a brand that carries with it a cult-like following, renowned for their prowess at producing a core range of award-winning spirits in their Gin, Bitter, Vodka and Pink Gin alongside a whole host of feverishly anticipated (and very fast to sell out) limited releases, collaborations and batched cocktails.
Max Chater assumes the position of Master Distiller / ‘mad scientist’, a role that he’s been very much at home with since day one.
Victory started in a basement cocktail bar in Tower Bridge, London, having purchased pharmaceutical equipment to support the creation of experimental spirits…as you do. Having initially started out by making distilled flavour spirits to pair with craft beer, Chater revealed to the ‘Thirst of All’ Podcast (hosted by Rory Faiers, AKA @theginlord) how he quickly realised that the world was probably still a good few years away from being ready for a “purple carrot, coriander & jalapeño spirit to pair with a new Danish IPA that nobody’s heard of”. So it really was only a matter of time before proceedings would turn to the distilling of juniper to create their own house pour gin. By Chater’s own admission, the first iterations (labelled simply as ‘Gin’ – can’t say fairer than that for transparency ey!), was far too botanically rich and flavourful. But it was fun to make…
In eventually adopting the title ‘Victory Gin’, the naming that we all know and love today is a playful nod towards George Orwell’s literary classic ‘1984’, and the monopoly held by a spirit in the book of the same name, owing to it being THE gin on offer (both in the book and their bar). There is a highbrow undercurrent to this homage to Orwell that continues to pulse through the veins of Victory to this very day, with the recent release of their four ‘Ministry Cocktail’ RTD’s, which spanned the Martini, Negroni, Gimlet and a riff on a Cosmopolitan.
Niche? Yes. A little bit nerdy (in a ‘too cool for school’ kinda way)? Yes. Clever? Very. But then again, Victory have never been ones to play by the rules of convention.
Case and point; their Pink Gin. It was meant to be a pilot only, as ‘a bit of fun’, with Max admitting that they were “taking the piss…a bit”. It was never meant to be a permanent fixture; more a retort to a market facinated with the new craze for all thing’s glittery and ‘Barbie’ inspired. Chocked full of cherry, cranberry and green plum, owing to the use of red verjus (the pressed juice of unripened grapes) it became a hit.
In an attempting a sarcastic middle finger in the air to the market, they still couldn’t help but nail it and create something so ace that it’s now a mainstay. This was never about making it cheap and selling in volumes; as with all of the Victory products, it’s all about quality, passion and doing it properly. ‘It’s a Pink Gin that isn’t’ – it’s grown up!
Victory; The Bitter truth…
I first got to know the brand through their Bitter, and the ironically bitter sense of FOMO I had at seeing fellow bloggers and enthusiasts raving about a rival to Campari that I hadn’t had to pleasure of acquainting myself with.
Emanating a ruby red haze from a glass bottle, with an enticing and mysterious ‘V’ label, I was captivated… With both Max & Máire coming from Italian decent, whose family homes were surrounded by Italian Amaro / vermouth based drinks and spirits, it’s hardly surprising that this was a product that would make its way to the fore of the brands core range.
In the Bitter, Chater believes that Victory have bettered what was already available to consumers; with a level of herbaceousness and a complex depth of flavour that has meant I now rarely stray far from the shadow of my own bottle. Perhaps the biggest point of difference is that where Campari use c.28% sugar, Victory Bitter is made up of only c.9%, a move inspired by Max’s bar tending background and desire to create products that can support the making of great cocktails. The luxurious mouth feel, viscous properties and unique character come from the use of fresh (and expensive!) ingredients and the natural glucose of apricots, dates and figs. Yes, the end product costs more to buy. But it’s bloody worth it!
Victory Distilling; BYE PLASTIC!
Back to current day, and the matter at hand. In always looking for new ways to reduce their carbon footprint, the innovative spirit that belies the ethos engrained in Victory is leading the brand in exciting new directions.
With a core mission being to work towards their packaging being 100% plastic-free, the team already made the switch from plastic refill pouches (which were an admirable initiative in their own right) to 100% recyclable, plastic-free aluminium cans.
But August’s relaunch sees the introduction of a lighter, locally made bottle, which will now house all of their liquids. The labels are a by-product of the sugar cane industry, with plant based materials used for the tamper seal to ensure that it is completely biodegradable.
Best of all; the bottles are not intended to be single-use. They are permanent and refillable. Now you can glug away guilt free (and responsibly please…) safe in the knowledge that you’re only ever a few clicks away from ordering a refill!
And as for the design? It’s clean, crisp and carries a vibe of DIY Punk Rock. I like it a lot…
“The simple typography-led design is a reflection of our pursuit to make accessible, mixable products. In contrast to our old brand image, we hope that having more information on the front of the bottle encourages approachability and transparency about who we are and what we do.”
Victory Gin to taste
Already a huge fan of the Bitter, and a more recent convert to their Vodka (for some of the best Vesper Martinis in town!), I was honoured to be sent a bottle of the teams flagship gin to bring the rebrand to life.
Excited to have the opportunity go back to the teams roots and explore where everything had first started, I reached for my tasting glass. I was poised for Victory…
Victory Gin, made using a cold distillation method, is a combination of 10 botanicals, including juniper, cardamom, orris root, black pepper, liquorice root, coriander, angelica, cassia and orange zest. Classic sounding enough on paper, but for the intriguing addition of chestnut.
The initial nose carries with it bouquets of herbal greenery, with coriander delivering its ‘oh-so-familiar’ leafy and citrus bite.
Thick juniper pine, alongside wafts of pithy orange peel, play to my classic sensibilities and personal citrus fan boi preferences.
A light dusting of cassia and liquorice root bring a welcome hit of sweetness, helping to bring balance and poise to the more savoury character of the herbal greenery.
There’s a reassuring feel of muscle to the neat vapours. Whilst in no way overwhelming, it leaves you in little doubt of the gins ‘grown up’ credentials. It’s a fact that makes the tasting itself all the more surprising…
On the palate the gin is as smooth as silk! The clever addition of the chestnut helps to deliver a character and personality that I hadn’t been expecting – so much so, that I turned to my wife and said “well, I wasn’t expecting that” (see – told you). The neat gin has an effortlessly cool and easy drinking vibe, encroaching on ‘direct serve from the freezer’ territory. I could more than happily sit and sip the gin neat, leaving me in absolutely no doubt that it will work as a great Martini (spoiler alert!).
There’s a delicate and well rounded cardamom spicing that sits beautifully alongside the crack of black pepper that lies in wait on the finish. With a mid range longevity of restrained warmth, it leaves you wanting to return to the glass, whilst always retaining that remarkable smoothness.
The liquorice and cassia continue to deliver sweetness to taste, with the orange peel lending itself to a vibrant citrus freshness. But all of that said, this gin maintains a more savoury and herbal led profile. Throughout it all, juniper knits everything together in to a tidy and delicious package.
Gin is in the title. Gin is in your glass. But that is to overly simplify what’s been achieved here. This is a spirit that has taken the core foundations of what it means to be gin and delivered a well executed expression. But moreover, they’ve done it their way and true to their own ethos and style. There are no gimmicks or quirks for attention. Everything has been done for a reason, with points of difference and ‘wow factor’ delivered through a refined precision and attention to detail. Brilliant.
The Victory G&T
The addition of tonic brings with it a surprising, but very enjoyable, reveal of more floral layers. I find that suggestions of lavender and English hedgerow step forwards, underpinned by a juniper hum.
Effortlessly smooth and ridiculously drinkable, this is a G&T you could reach for time and time again.
But my head had already been turned in the direction of some equally classic short serves…
The Victory Martini
Let’s get this stated upfront; this gin was made to go in to a Martini. It’s bloody superb!
There’s a real purity to the serve; a beautifully refined simplicity, where the gin and vermouth (Cocchi Americano Bianco in this case) work in perfect harmony.
The savoury herbaceousness of the gin, alongside its citrus undercurrent, play off perfectly against the sweeter stone fruits profile of the vermouth. Both the juniper and spicing of the gin seem to grow in strength and depth, with a really enjoyable crispness to the finish. Served ice cold, it is an absolute powerhouse.
The addition of the Victory Vodka, to create a Vesper Martini that has to be tried to be believed, only serves to enhance the drinking experience further.
In partnering with Rob Dunne, co-founder of Dunnefrankowski Coffee Consultancy, Victory have used the lesser explored unroasted green coffee (there’s that Chater experimental edge again!) to create a vodka that brings an extra layer of interest. But it does nothing to detract from the main event of the cocktail, adding an almost vegetal savoury nod that works hand in hand with the gin.
It is a perfect demonstration of how the Victory products are designed to work with one another.
The Victory Negroni
In a very similar vein to the gin and vodka, the Victory Gin and Bitter have been purpose built to mix together, based on Max and Máire’s taste profiles.
The gins entwines perfectly with the herbal backbone of the bitters, whilst the vermouth helps to drive some much needed sweetness to help ensure body and balance.
This was a Negroni I had been waiting for far too long to try; I was not left disappointed.
Victory London Distillery; Take Victory
At the cutting edge of innovation, and consistently able to retain an originality within their core ethos amongst a growing fan base, the rebrand is a good look on Victory. A very good look. And with no compromises being taken on their approach to sustainability or the crafting of their unique and expertly crafted liquids, it’s no wonder that the plaudits are continuing to roll in.
I may not be raising trophies above my head these days. But when the spirits are this fine, then raising a glass in recognition of something truly special is more than a suitable replacement. I’ll drink to that.
With huge thanks to Max & Máire Chater from Victory London Distilling for my complementary bottle of Victory Gin and for allowing me the privilege to be part of their brand relaunch.
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