I’ve never been a fan of Harry Potter. I don’t know what to tell you – I could just never get on board with the lad…
I remember picking up the first book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoned’ I think it was called. After suffering through the first 2 and a half pages, I’d decided that there must be more interesting and enjoyable pass times out there that I could take up instead; blowtorching my own feet for instance.
Here’s a selection of my qualms with the story.
The scar. I’m meant to believe that the scar on his forehead has something to do his magical abilities? If that’s all it took then, by rights, I demand to be inaugurated in to the ‘Magic Circle’ with immediate effect. As a child, I slipped and fell face first in to a coffee table, puncturing my lip with my own tooth and leaving a visible scar. Did a large man, with questionable teaching credentials, suddenly appear to exclaim ‘you’re a Wizard Matty!’?! No. But then again, I did get the ‘Paul Daniels Magic Kit’ for Christmas that year, so it wasn’t all bad (I’m pretty sure I can still perform the trick of tying a knot in a rope without letting go of either side if you’re interested!).
It’s unrealistic. Hazza rocks up to the train station, without a care in the world, to find his train is not only on time but also has an embarrassment of available seating. With British Rail? Are you kidding me! If they wanted to make it believable, Harry would have been sat on his suitcase in the vestibule for 2 hours, before being unremorsefully informed that he would need to disembark at Oxford Parkway and await a replacement bus service due to leaves on the track. Trust me – having lived in Basingstoke for a year, and regularly made visits back to the Midlands, this was an all too frequent delight to endure.
Then there’s the ‘Houses’ and ‘House Points’; ‘Gryffindor’, ‘Hufflepuff’, ‘Ravenclaw’, and ‘Slytherin’. Whilst it’s a concept I remember from my own youth, I do feel that an element of realism could have been introduced to reflect British high schools. I remember we once lost our entire bank of house points when a small group set fire to a science lab work bench in our form room, whilst messing about with the gas taps. Doctor Mosley, our usually sedate form tutor, was less than impressed as he flung his spectacles across the room with a trademark ‘CRIKEY!’. In fact, the only magic I ever witnessed in ‘Form A’ (see, even the naming conventions are out of touch) was a child somersaulting over 5 science lab stools on to a crash mat of generously scattered rucksacks – genuinely impressive.
Note to reader; The same kid also put magnets up his nose and had to be taken to hospital for them to be removed…you know the sort.
And finally, ‘Quidditch’? Don’t even get me started. I’d have much preferred to watch the team selection scene, where the ritual humiliation of ‘being picked last’ is played out in front of a crowd of baying teenagers, as one unwitting contestant is inevitably ‘kegged’ by the class bully (an act where someone’s shorts & boxers are unexpectedly pulled down to a surprised victims ankles…the Midlands ladies and gentlemen!).
I think that the only bit I can really buy in to is Ron being the kid that bares the brunt of some of the ridicule; at my school, it would have been merciless!
But I’ve recently found reason to start believing in magic again. And it turns out that there’s even a ‘house’ that I’m interested in joining. Encapsulating all of the allure of potions and Spirits, but with none of the owls and nonsense, grab your broomstick and get ready to head north to Aberdeen; I’m talking about ‘The House of Botanicals’.
The House of Botanicals; Where the magic happens…
The House of Botanicals, originally founded in 2009, hails from Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland. And as a family run operation, Adam & Steffie Elan-Elmegirab will proudly tell you that this is the oldest bartender-owned brand in the United Kingdom.
With Steffie at the helm as ‘Events & Tour Manager’ for the teams onsite tasting room, Adam is the ‘flavour Wizard’ of the operation, working his magic across their three core brands; The House of Botanicals Gins, the Doctor.Adam’s Cocktail Bitters portfolio, and the Italian influenced Pietro Nicola (named after Adam’s Grandmother) range of Aperitivi & Digestivo.
And let’s not forget Margaux, the Distillery Dog.
Whilst she can often be found napping her way through her core responsibilities of overseeing production, with all products created at the production facility within the railway arches behind Union Square to a soundtrack of hip-hop, she’s still a very good girl.
But like all good magicians, Adam will never reveal his secrets…nah, just kidding. You genuinely can’t shut the chap up, such is his level of knowledge and passion for sharing quality booze and the history behind its origins!;
“Our sole desire is to create a range of unique, quality, hand-crafted products for the growing demands of the beverage industry, with the spotlight shone on botanicals and the influence they have in the world of mixed drinks.”
The House of Botanicals; The Wiz(ard) Kid
Adam started his career in the drinks scene in 2001 as a bartender, spending more and more time reading the fine print on spirits bottles and bitters in his pursuit of building his knowledge of an industry that was to become a passion.
After spending a decade throwing himself in the world of bars, cocktail making and national & international cocktail competitions, Adam rose to fame in 2009 when he reformulated and revived the ‘Bokers Bitters’; a coveted bitter of the drinks trade that had been lost to the passing of time over a century earlier.
It would see him go on to establish Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters Ltd (now trading as The House of Botanicals), before broadening the range of spirits and beverages over the years that followed.
He is even a published author of the ‘Book of Bitters’, published in 2017, and writes extensively on social media to share his wealth of knowledge.
Basically, he is a booze nerd; in the BEST possible way.
The House of Botanicals; The Doctor will see you now…
I first became aware of ‘The House of Botanicals’ in 2017, upon trying a sample of the teams ‘Maple Old Tom Gin’, which left me seriously impressed – particularly as it stemmed from a genre of the gin categories I’d previously been less aware of.
But it was a social media post from founder Adam, asserting the credentials of the teams ‘Pietro Nicola Pescaro’ (their peach aperitif wine) for the creation of a banging Martini that really snared me…to be honest, he had me at Martini.
I fell in love with the aesthetics of the bottle & accompanying description, which was followed up by one hell of a sales pitch from the good doctor himself.
The verdict? Bloody delicious!
Served neat, and it carries a kick of bitterness that feels foreign in comparison to the sweeter vermouths I tend to opt for, for a Martini serve. There’s a warming spiced finish, supporting the plump and ripe pangs of peach and stone fruits. It feels weightier than it’s modest ABV, with an element of punk rock excitement.
In the Martini, served ice cold, it just works! This is a fruit forward, perfumed, delicate take on the classic cocktail; it feels sophisticated and refined.
The lingering heat and background hit of bitterness is an intriguing point of difference that I really enjoy.
House of Botanicals; A box of tricks
Following an exchange to share my views on the Pescaro, and noting the aperitifs other available serves, I innocently mentioned that I’d never tried making a ‘Corpse Reviver No.2’ – a classic cocktail that features gin, triple sec, vermouth and absinthe.
Say no more.
Within hours I had been sent a photo of a package labelled up to my home address for express delivery, signed off with an intriguing tag line; ‘I think you’re going to enjoy this…’
As I opened the brown paper package, tied up with string, I uncovered a few of Adam’s favourite things; a miniature selection of the teams core Old Tom Gin range; the Classic Old Tom, the Maple Old Tom and the Raspberry Old Tom. It was also accompanied by a little unmarked bottle that I would later discover to be ‘Lost Loch Spirits’ absinthe (included for making the aforementioned cocktail).
Adam explains the concept of the range best on the website;
“Every element of our Old Tom Gin’s production – from the ABV it is bottled to the weight of sugar we use per litre of gin – stays true to what Old Tom originally was back in the 18th century whilst dragging it into the current day to suit modern tastes”.
With production of the gin starting out in London, the spirit is shipped to Aberdeen where it is compounded with a whole host of natural ingredients.
The aesthetics are sleek and cool, paying homage to the historical backstories of the Old Tom Gin heritage, with the black panther/cat guarding the coat of arms (to represent both Aberdeen & London).
I find the design to be synonymous with The House of Botanicals brand; the slender bottle and playfully stacked font, with bursts of colour against the stark black characters, is both eye catching and unmistakable.
But what of the potions inside?…
House of Botanical Gin to taste
I opted to start from a classic base, with Paul Daniels words still ringing in my ears in anticipation; ‘You’ll like this, not a lot, but you’ll like it’…I was hoping for some magic.
Classic Old Tom Gin
On the nose, I’m first greeted by a combination of warming spice, herbal wafts of coriander and pleasingly deep scents of piney juniper. There’s a depth and richness to the vapours, which feel weighty and robust, with a earthy edge to the character.
Left to evolve in the glass, and a sharper sense of citrus starts to come in to view. The sweetness that you’d expect from an Old Tom becomes more pronounced, with tones of cinnamon and ginger biscuits the most notable to my nose.
To taste, and juniper continues to flex its muscles and ensure a smile is plastered on the faces of the purists. The warmth of the first approach translates directly to the taste, with a bite of coriander on the tongue replaced by a longer lasting spiced finish on the back of the throat.
There’s a definite sweetness across the palate. Orange and lemon citrus wash over the tongue, adding a level of brightness to the tasting. And whilst I maintain the characters of cinnamon and ginger are key players, subtle hits of chamomile and vanilla bring a rounded complexity to the neat spirit.
Classic Old Tom; To serve
The recommended addition of Folkington’s ginger ale, to create a refreshing longer serve, complements the gin in every way.
The sweetness is lengthened, with the ginger biscuit vibes lifted to crumblier heights. The ginger ale helps the temperature of the spicing ratchet up by a few degrees, while the citrus is made to feel more vivid.
This is a summer sipper for sure!
Maple Old Tom Gin
Having originally tried this gin when it started it’s life as a limited edition production, I couldn’t be more pleased that it has taken its rightful place amongst the core range. And for good reason! This is an absolute powerhouse, where classic gin sensibilities meet classy points of difference.
On the nose, there are big, punchy notes of juniper, with orange citrus weaving between the sweetness of cinnamon. It feels hefty on the booze front, but in nothing but an inviting way!
To taste neat, and there’s an aggressive bite of ginger spice, that’s bouncing off of a more soothing warmth of sweet cassia. There’s a sense of liquorice, bringing an earthy sweetness.
Maple syrup is added post distillation, but there are no gimmicks here. Whilst it does add a sticky dark toffee sensation to the background, juniper is big & powerful throughout. There’s an almost liqueur like quality, the 47% ABV adding a depth of power and complexity to the gin. It’s extremely well balanced, with a long and luxurious mouth feel.
Maple Old Tom Gin; To serve
Now I was told that I should try this with tonic. But as the rebel I am, I opted to stick with the ginger ale (I know. Very rebellious). I wasn’t disappointed.
The heat of the maple expression seems slightly warmer. The sweetness seems slightly sweeter (thank you Canada!). The whole thing just feels…sumptuous. Yes, I said sumptuous, move on…
I know, like children, you shouldn’t be able to pick favourites. But, much like children, you can…and this is it. Delicious.
I did toy with Adam that I’d garnished with maple syrup – a claim I quickly revoked before he’d had time to unleash the hounds on me!
Raspberry Old Tom Gin
It’s a weird one. On the nose I detect…very little at first. I get a slight whiff of floral perfume, alongside an underlying spiced warmth that I’m struggling to put my finger on. Clearly I went in looking for a fruit forward heavy hitter in the raspberry department, but on the nose I just don’t get the ‘right hook’ I was hoping for.
On the taste, you definitely get red fruits. That’s a fact. But would I know it was raspberry if you didn’t tell me? I’m not sure.
There is a determined jamminess to the neat spirit, which (to me at least) conjures imagery of cooked strawberries and stewing fruit on the hob. Raspberry is there in the mix, but it’s not leaping out.
There is a classic overtone through the tasting of confident juniper and candied citrus across the palate and a crack of black pepper on the back of the throat for the finish.
I’m conscious that my notes may come across as negative. Not in the slightest.
You see, if you’re after a fruit liqueur or a synthetic sipper (each to their own), then yeah this ones likely not for you. But this is a very grown up spirit, that uses fruit as a botanical to harness its best bits. And at 47% ABV, we’re not messing about.
Raspberry Old Tom Gin; To serve
That said…wait for it. Wait for it. BOOM! There it is!
The addition of tonic unlocks those plump raspberries, the red of the berries bleeding in to the tonic. But all whilst retaining the juniper backbone and black pepper finish.
It really is quite clever. A middle finger in the air to the pink gin generation and a fruit expression done well and with restraint.
Sure, it’s not my personal taste or even my favourite of the range. But this is one that even the purists can enjoy and admire.
House of Botanicals; Corpse Reviver No.2
Now to the cocktail that started this whole journey. And I’ll admit to having had a little trepidation. The name alone brings with it an element of intimidation; will this drink leave me in a stupor?! Absinthe in particular, with its higher ABV and sinister reputation in some quarters, had led me to shy away.
But in reality, there’s nothing scary here! The ‘Corpse Reviver’ title is actually in reference to the drink having been designed to cure hangovers & raise any unfortunate overindulgers from their self inflicted corpse status! And the absinthe, when used sparingly & with a deft hand, brings a little magic in to the equation.
Here’s what you’ll need;
. 25ml House of Botanicals Old Tom Gin
. 20ml Triple Sec
. 20ml Pietro Nicola Pescaro
. 20ml lemon juice
. 1 teaspoons sugar
. A couple of dashes of Lost Loch Spirits absinthe
Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice in your cocktail shaker. Add a fistful of ice, and pour in the other spirits. Shake heartily until the shaker frosts, and pour delicately in to a frozen glass. Finally, garnish with a lemon twist for the win!
As a fan of a Martini (totes obvs) and the sharpness of a ‘White Lady’, the Corpse Reviver No.2 is a perfect marriage of the two styles, with the game changing addition of the aniseed hit of the absinthe. The sweetness of the Old Tom gin is the key to the success of this serve, with the juniper muscle and warming spice shining through.
It also made the perfect accompaniment to the football (up the Villa!). God I’m middle class…
Can I see this taking off at football stadiums around the country? No. Probably not. Shame really, but just means all the more for me!
The House of Botanicals; Spell binding…
So what’s next for Adam, Steffie, Margaux and ‘bump’ (for The House of Botanicals clan is due to introduce a new member in 2022!)?
It’s fair to say that the future is looking bright for the team, with a brand that is sustainable both in the quality of its product range, but also in its ethos.
With a keen focus on operating with a zero-waste policy, and strict ethical sourcing of raw materials, the team were recently rewarded for their efforts by qualifying as a Certified B Corp organisation. As one of only four spirits companies who have achieved the status, businesses must receive a score of 80 points within a rigorous review of governance, treatment of the workforce & customer base and the impact they have on their communities and the environment. The House of Botanicals received a very impressive 102.1 points! Adam eloquently summarises that “quite simply we align our need to make profit with our impact and influence on people and the planet”.
And with the recent addition of the ABZ Dry Gin to the range, a lighter evolution from their Old Tom stomping ground that is both distilled and compounded, the innovation shows little sign of slowing down.
As I settled down to enjoy my Corpse Reviver, I watched in elated amazement as my teams new signing, Phillipe Coutinho, hammered the ball in to the net to save a last minute point against the odds. His nickname?; ‘The little magician’.
It was like it was meant to be. What can I say…you’re a Wizard Adam.
Huge thanks to Adam and Steffie (and Margaux & bump!) for my complementary The House of Botanicals samples and Lost Loch Spirits absinthe (the Pietro Nicola Pescaro was purchased).
Be sure to keep a close watch on what Aberdeen’s finest are getting up to over on their website and social media channels!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!