I’ve got a ‘tip’ for you…if you’re going to try and act silky smooth in front of an audience, then at least make sure you’ve done your maths right first. Otherwise it’ll all end in passive aggressive pleasantries, overly dramatic body language and a whole lot of eye rolling…
But perhaps at this point I should add a little context?
It was March 2009, and I was visiting my best friend in a freezing cold New York (shout out to Robbie ‘PeeWee’ Pass!).
Note to reader: It was so cold during my visit that my jeans genuinely froze a little whilst sat on an open top bus tour of the city (the chafing was real!). And no, I don’t know why I sat in the upstairs & outside portion of the bus either – put it down to the enthusiasm of a daft tourist!
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. ‘PeeWee’ Pass…
Though staying in my friends Brooklyn apartment, we had travelled in to Manhattan to meet some friends for dinner. Fresh out of university, my purse strings were still reflective of that of a student lifestyle; not a sentiment shared by the price scales of New York eateries. After locating the cheaper end of the menu, and loading up the table with bread baskets (student 101 right there folks) we set about enjoying our evening in the city that never sleeps.
After finding out the hard way that you quite literally get what you pay for, most notably in the scant portion size (don’t worry, we found a MacDonalds on the way home!), it was time to ‘pay the piper’. Sorry, I mean waiter.
Once funds had been gathered from around the table, I cooly informed our group that I’d sort the tip (what a big shot!). After hastily reviewing the receipt, and revisiting my GCSE days of ‘BODMAS’ Maths, I handed the money over to our expectant waiter and informed him that “whatever’s left after the bill is paid is all you my man”. I still cringe…
Within moments of him leaving the table, I realised a horrible error in my calculations (I think I must have done the multiplications before the brackets – that always tripped me up at school!) and had left him the princely sum of exactly 49cents. Ooops.
In being aware that tipping is a bigger deal in the US, I looked up to see whether I could rectify the wrong before it was noticed…just in time to see our waiter finishing his own workings out. At least I assume that’s why he looked so pissed off as he mouthed “what the fu…” to himself.
I grabbed a stack of notes (that sounds grander than it was – they were mostly $1 notes) and made a scene of putting them in a prominent position on the table. Though I’m not sure our diligent waiter could fully appreciate my performance through the haze of his own red mist.
As I attempted to make an over exaggerated thank you, informing him that the tip was on the table, I was made to feel about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit by the passive aggressive “oh thank you so much sir. No really. Bye bye now”. The insincerity of his tone, and accompanying eye roll, left me under no illusion that this was a VERY thinly veiled disguise for ‘Foxtrot Oscar’.
My attempt at being smooth had buffed up about as silky as piece of sandpaper. I left the premises embarrassed…and hungry.
Speaking of being cross about a bill, this leads me nicely on to the topic of my latest blog review; Crossbill Distillery. And more specifically their special edition dry gin, the Crossbill 200.
Was that a needlessly lavish opening to the blog, just to arrive at a simple bit of wordplay? Yes. But it’s also, unfortunately, 100% true.
Crossbill Distilling; A little bird told me…
Crossbill distillery first began their gin production in Aviemore (in the Scottish Highlands) in 2012, before relocating to the Barras in Glasgow’s East End in 2017.
So named after the Scottish Crossbill, a member of the Finch family that nests in the greenery surrounding the teams juniper crop, Crossbill Distillery create gins that are a celebration of the nature and beauty of the Scottish highlands. And with its unusual shaped ‘crossed’ beak, and being part of a declining population of only around 2000 birds, the brands ‘poster boy’ (poster bird?) is as special and unique as the liquids contained inside the bottle.
Having been a longtime admirer of the brand, my first formal introduction to Crossbill Distilling came at Junipalooza 2021.
With the weight of Covid restrictions eased somewhat, I was finally able to attend the greatest gin show on earth and had the opportunity to meet with my virtual gin buddy, from many a ‘lockdown’ gin event, Stuart Caldow from team Crossbill.
Crossbill 200; ‘The Good Guys’ bottle
Let me first say that the flagship gin, the Crossbill 100% Scottish Dry Gin, is fantastic.
As soon as I tried it neat, my eyes lit up. Comprising of just two botanicals, juniper & rose hips, it carries an impressively heavy hitting juniper forward profile and confident swagger that is difficult not to fall in love with. With the magical ability to transport the drinker to the landscapes of its origin, I all but parted with my cash immediately.
But then Stuart reached for what he described as ‘the good guys’ bottle. An unmarked, unassuming, bottle of clear liquid that was retrieved from under the table and reserved for ‘good guys’ only…I felt honoured to be considered in such high esteem (I only usually get called ‘sir’ in the context of ‘you’re making a scene’…). I was about to be introduced to something pretty special.
Described as being ‘a rare, special edition gin’, the Crossbill 200 is produced using juniper from a single specimen bush that grows wild in the Scottish highlands and that has been aged at around 200 years old. When you consider that many juniper bushes live to be c.20-40 years old, you’ll appreciate that this ‘old timer’ is clocking up some pretty unique miles!
Whenever feasible (the conifer doesn’t always produce a sufficient crop to harvest), the Crossbill team look to create a limited edition annual vintage gin. A two botanical ethos is retained, handpicking the juniper from the ancient bush, alongside the rose hips, before slowly macerating & distilling.
The result is a 59.8% ABV ‘Still Strength’ spirit that delivers a fitting tribute to the iconic evergreen, through its intensely fresh and concentrated end product.
Crossbill 200; ‘The Good Guys list’
As I reached for my wallet, my wife’s glare burnt a hole through my forehead. It would be fair to say that a gin of such supreme quality and rare resources comes at a cost. Indeed, a 50cl bottle will set you back around £90. But in a learning that goes full circle to the opening of this review…you get what you pay for!
With a suitable scolding delivered by my spouse, I parted ways with Stuart on the promise that my wife would be heading his way to buy a bottle for me for Christmas – though this was very much dependant on me making her ‘good guys list’.
Crossbill 200 Gin (2020 vintage) to taste
Did I make the list you ask?…
Yes. Of course I did. I mean, this would have been a huge build up to then announce I’d been unsuccessful in my pursuit of a bottle!
So having made my way on to the ‘Nice List’ in time for Christmas, and with a larger sample to play with, it was time to examine the Crossbill 200 a little more closely.
On the nose, you are greeted by a HUGE hit of pungent juniper pine. The depth of complexity to the aroma is stunning, particularly when you consider that it is the result of juniper & rose hip alone! Rich, oily textures of forest floor hit the nostrils first, with earthy warming notes. Given time to evolve in the glass, and the juniper transitions in to brighter and more vibrant territory – citrus like sensations start to emerge and tease the senses.
The rose hip delivers a touch of floral tartness, which feels well balanced against the aforementioned juniper; the bitter tang it provides to the vapours seems to deliver a ying to the yang of the little berries that so clearly sit at centre stage.
To taste…I’m blown away. An expletive, that rhymes with ‘truck’, genuinely passed my lips in an mark of impressed respect. It was a remark uttered with what little breath I had left, such is the power and massive flavour profile of the neat spirit! It literally took the air from my lungs…in a good way!
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this gin is going to pack a punch. I mean, the ABV alone is going to tell you that ‘parental warning’ is advised. The first sip is one of raw aggression and ferocious power, but not in an intimidating or overwhelming fashion. It feels sophisticated and grown up, and acts as a reminder of this gins top shelf credentials.
The first taste is dominated by juniper; it engulfs the palate and arrests the senses, as it washes over the tongue and plasters a huge grin to your face in appreciation that this really is what gin is supposed to be all about. The mouthfeel is almost ‘thick’ and tangible, such is the level of flavour that has been harnessed.
On second approach you’re left to fully understand the spirits true character. Nods to the Scottish hedgerow heritage of the juniper berries is at the forefront, with a herbaceous and leafy freshness growing larger. I almost expected to lose an eye from a protruding (and rhetorical) branch as I went back for another sip, such is the gins special ability to celebrate its provenance by transporting you to its birth place through the drinking experience.
The rose hip brings a lively and zippy brightness that rounds off the ripe and beautifully pervasive influence of the juniper. In the absence of more commonplace inclusions of citrus, sweet spice (cinnamon & liquorice) or the greenery of coriander, the rose hip delivers with aplomb.
Crossbill 200 Gin to serve
Crossbill 200 G&T
In a G&T, the rose hips are elevated to loftier heights, with the bitterness of the quinine playing in perfect harmony with the tartness of the little red botanical. The resinous juniper continues to wax lyrical – in fact it is absolutely bloody brilliant – with the longer serve offering a lighter and more refreshing way to approach the Scottish landscape if necking neat gin isn’t your thing (really?!…wow).
The fact that it louches wildly with the addition of a cold mixer, such is the oily botanical make up, is a pleasing aesthetic side bar. Lovely stuff.
Crossbill 200 Negroni
As a negroni, it’s utterly sumptuous. Wait… sumptuous? Can I get away with that description? Sod it. I’m using it; it’s sumptuous alright?!
Any gin that can stand its ground in a Negroni is ok in my books, and boy does this gin stand its ground! The warming power of the spirit pushes through the mix, with gigantic notes of plump juniper present throughout. When paired with the bitterness of London Victory Bitters and the dark cherry sweetness of the Byrrh, it’s a triple threat made in heaven.
Crossbill 200 Dry Martini
This is a gin that screams for the limelight. And there can surely be no better stage to provide than the dry Martini?! Against a splash of vermouth (in this case, not strictly a vermouth but the equally delicious Pietro Nicola Pescaro from House of Botanicals) the Crossbill 200 is allowed to shine brightly.
I often dodge sticking Navy Strength (and then some in the 200’s case) gins in to a Martini. The height of the ABV can struggle in a serve where there is no space for passengers and can become overwhelming. That’s just not the case here. The power is retained, whilst the aggression is tamed.
The juniper is the lead act, obviously, but the bright rose hip continues to stand tall and is encouraged further by the bitterness and stone fruit profile of the ‘vermouth’ in this particular serve.
Note to reader: Head to http://www.thehouseofbotanicals.co.uk or find Adam & the team across social media if you want more information on the Pescaro. It’s ace!
Crossbill 200; Tip is included
If I have one ‘tip’ to leave you with, it is this; get this gin in your life. Unlike the hapless waiter, where this whole story began, I promise that I’m not short changing you.
I’m at pains to reiterate again – there are only TWO botanicals at play here. And one of them is TWO HUNDRED frickin’ years old!
In a world of crying unicorns, and sparkly liquids that dare to print the words ‘Gin’ anywhere near their labels, this is a gin that has nailed it for me. The stripped back approach delivers a drink where there is nowhere to hide, yet achieves everything I ever hoped for (and then some). Where others seek plaudits for over engineering, Crossbill have proven that beauty can be found in simplicity.
And that’s just it. It really is beautiful.
My final ‘Tip’ (and cheaply constructed throwback to the blog opening) is to get following the Crossbill Distilling team across their social media & website:
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!