Sometimes life can feel like you’re about to fail an MOT test…
The tread on your ‘tyres’ starts to feel a little worn down. Your vision starts to feel blurred, as if your ‘wipers’ could do with replacing. And you feel like a lightbulb just went out. You’re just a little…‘tyred’.
And sometimes, life can feel EXACTLY like failing your MOT test. Just like my personal experience last week, resulting in needing a new tire, a replacement wiper blade and a new brake light. Perfect.
As I stood politely at the desk, trying my best to internalise my shell shocked indignation as the overly enthusiastic desk clerk informed me that it would “only be £250” for the pleasure, I contemplated explaining to her the concept of using the pre-fix “only” when sliding a bill across the counter. But I ultimately thought better if it and, in very British style, thanked her very much for everything. Luckily my ‘muffler’ was in full working order! (Note: Not a euphemism).
It’s funny how a little three letter acronym can strike such fear and angst in to the hearts and minds of motorists across the country. Seeing the smudged biro reminder of an upcoming ‘MOT’ on the calendar will usually illicit a corresponding response of ‘OMG’, ‘FFS’ or ‘FML’. Very rarely does it receive a ‘LOL’…
But a recent arrival in my inbox, promptly followed by a rat-a-tat-tat on my front door, provoked a reaction of a different kind; ‘TGIF’! (as it was also coincidentally a Friday). And bearing an acronym of its very own, this delivery was going to be a stress test on my future reaction to its shorthand naming convention.
Was this going to be ‘GR8’? Or more a case of ‘WTF’?! I was about to find out, through my introduction to the new kids on the block; ‘VRSD’.
Well, you know what they say. ‘YOLO’…
VRSD; Becoming well Versed
So who are VRSD (pronounced ‘Versed’)?
Carrying the meaning ‘to be highly experienced, practiced, or skilled’, VRSD founders Varun and Jamie have nearly 20 years experience in the drinks trade, creating brands and marketing wines and spirits.
Jamie, a self proclaimed foodie, was not only behind Majestic Wines award winning Definition wine, but he was also a finalist in Master Chef!
Whereas Varun, a Lawyer in his previous guise, has made a career out of seeking out the perfect Vodka Martini by setting up his own vodka brand. Now that’s what I call dedication to the cause!
Supported by an initial ‘crowdfunder’, the dynamic duo explain that VRSD was created to be the answer to a set of classic consumer questions;
. Which spirit do I buy?
. Which spirits are good value?
. Which spirits taste good?
. Which spirits will work well in my favourite cocktails?
“The world of spirits can be confusing. Lots of brands, styles, flavours and stories. How do you know which ones are exceptional?…What if there was one brand, uncompromising on quality, across all spirits?”…
Currently the team have three spirits in their core range, numbered in their order of coming to fruition; VRSD No.1 London Dry Gin, VRSD No.2 Rosso Vermouth and the VRSD No.3 Vodka.
At this point, I have to say that the origins of how and where the drinks are actually produced are…a little sketchy. Very little detail can be easily located on the labelling, website or marketing materials – if I’m honest, as a consumer, this does raise my eyebrow in wondering if this is just a lack of information or a lack of transparency. In my humble opinion, I think real value could be gained in shining a little more light on the botanicals, sourcing and production methods/location; in today’s market, this kind of openness is critical to building and maintaining trusted relationships with ever increasingly discerning drinkers.
In fairness to the guys, they do state on their website;
“We want our customers to have full visibility of our production process. From the suppliers we source ingredients from, to the mixologists we consult with and the producers we work with, we’ll make sure you have a clear view of the liquid that goes into your spirits”.
The hope is that this is a next phase of the project, to follow shortly in the footsteps of the recent releases.
That said, what the brand does emphasise is their dedication to truly understanding the heritage of every spirit they make, spending time consulting with world famous mixologists and bartenders. This, they say, is what gives them the insight they need to know the texture, balance, acidity and sweetness that people are looking for in their liquids. Each spirit then goes through a rigorous development process, with Jamie and Varun refusing to bottle them until they’re truly happy that they’ve found perfection.
VRSD; Label me not…
Armed with some of the backstory, we move to the look and feel of the bottle, which I can probably best describe as ‘minimalist’.
VRSD are at pains to explain that their focus is on the spirits and liquids, and “where other brands may spend lots of money on fancy bottles, packaging or marketing gimmickry, we keep things simple”. But this is where I take slight issue on two fronts…
First of all, where a brand is priding itself on quality and a ‘premium’ status, then I feel it can appear to be a contradiction to not dedicate the same finishing touch to the aesthetics. And secondly, and most importantly, there is very little scope in today’s market for not standing out from the crowd on the ‘eye test’.
Whilst I adore the VRSD sentiment of ‘substance over style’, which is sure to play well amongst the purists, it’s an unfortunate fact that branding and the metaphorical ‘bells & whistles’ are what generate mass appeal and open the doors to entice consumers to look deeper than the surface level.
I appreciate that it’s very early days for VRSD, but this is an aspect I would warn caution to and potentially revisit.
VRSD; Are you well Versed?…
Jamie and Varun very kindly shared with me their No.1 VRSD London Dry Gin & No.2 VRSD Rosso Vermouth. I must admit to having a giddy little chuckle of excitement in noting the scripture adorned by each bottle; ‘perfect for Negroni’. You know me too well…
Sure, it’s a bold claim and one that is made by many. And if you’re going to write it on the bottle, then you’d better hope it delivers! But I was looking forward to putting them to the test.
So with my thirst for knowledge quenched, it was time to become better acquainted with the fruits of VRSD’s labour.
No.1 VRSD London Dry Gin to taste
The flagship ‘poster boy’ of the VRSD range is the teams No.1 London Dry Gin, designed and specifically engineered to work “perfectly in a Negroni”, whilst also having the credentials to enjoy neat over ice.
On the nose, and the aroma presents as being very citrus forwards – orange peels and pink grapefruit rise from the glass, with oily marmalade aromas feeling fresh and well balanced. The neat gin carries a savoury sense of herbaceousness, which works really well against the aforementioned citrus characters, with leafy greenery adding depth to the nosing.
Points of real interest, that become more and more evident in reviewing the botanical line up, are the notes of wild strawberry and blackcurrant leaf.
There is a pithy bitterness to the vapours that is both pleasant and enticing. And whilst I’m sure that the mind is likely predisposition to look for it, given the leading nature of the label, it does feel like it would be well suited to Negroni territory.
To taste, and I get an upfront wave of citrus as those pithy orange and grapefruit flavours found on the nose wash over the palate, supported by the zip of bergamot. The coriander is robust, bringing a zing of warmth and fresh herbal kicks.
The red fruits, which were really enjoyable on the aroma, carry through to the back notes of the neat gin; the soft, ripe strawberry vibes catch the back of the tongue and throat, lingering and evolving after each sip.
There is a notable warming spice to the finish, bringing a sense of earthiness, that catches the throat with a crack of black pepper. There’s an enjoyable continuation of flavour on the palate, with a mid-long range longevity.
There is a slight sting of ethanol on the mouthfeel that would prevent me from being able to call this ‘silky smooth’, and it’s perhaps slightly more aggressive in its heat than I would have anticipated for a 40% ABV, but I genuinely quite enjoy the attitude of the neat spirit. It reminds you that you’re drinking something of substance and worth paying attention to – and I actually find that the smoothness develops as the mouth acclimatises to the spirit.
No.2 VRSD Rosso Vermouth to taste
Second in the core range is the teams first vermouth; a Rosso that seeks to find balance between the complex and bitter botanicals that include angelica, quinine and wormwood against a rich wine base.
The use of fresh orange peel and Spanish PX Sherry pay homage to European traditions, with key points of note listed as rhubarb, cola, clove, orange/grapefruit, strawberries, toast, toffee and raisins.
The nosing is a strange but enjoyable experience. There’s the deep sweetness of cherry, cooked strawberries and burnt orange, alongside the mulled spicing of clove and herbal bitterness. But unlike other vermouths I’ve tried, this actually seems to border the territory of ‘Bitters’…in spending time enjoying the aroma, I questioned myself as to the sense of familiarity I was getting. It strikes me as having characteristics of botanically rich Bitters, like London Victory for example, which gives it a ‘pre-mixed Negroni’ like quality.
To taste, and the ‘pre-mix’ notion continues in full force. You could potentially lull me in to believing that this was a Negroni (of sorts) in its own right, such is the great balance of bitter & sweet. Bright notes of cherry and red fruits combine brilliantly with a depth of boozy currants, zested citrus and earthy spicing.
One minor criticism would be the aesthetics of the vermouth itself. It carries an opaque, cloudy look that feels… unfinished in some way. It’s not a huge issue, and it doesn’t alter my view on the quality of the flavour profile, but it does (rightly or wrongly) raise a question mark in my mind over the finesse.
I’ll be honest with you. This isn’t a vermouth I would naturally opt for in pairing with all of my Negroni serves; it already feels heavily weighted towards achieving star status in its own right, and I would worry about overpowering the other elements. But in isolation, it’s a very enjoyable liquid. Particularly given it’s designed to sit alongside its stablemate, the No.1 London Dry.
Speaking of which…
VRSD; The perfect Negroni?…
Ok, ok, to be fair, as a Negroni it’s a marriage made in heaven.
You can tell that these two liquids have been designed and purpose built to work together. They intertwine expertly and almost appear to finish each other’s sentences… The balance of sweet vs. savoury vs. bitter vs. herbaceous is spot on. And where I questioned the credentials of the gins mouthfeel when neat, as a Negroni it is silky smooth.
I really enjoy the citrus bitterness of the grapefruit, the cherry like fruit forward sweetness and the herbal bitterness that hits the back of the throat. The pithy peels and mulled spicing feel thoughtfully considered and harmonious, resulting in a delicious and aesthetically pleasing short serve cocktail. Impressive.
VRSD; Verse – Chorus – Verse
So what’s next for VRSD?
Clearly a gin, vermouth and vodka offering won’t satisfy the aim of satisfying all spirits drinkers and all cocktails. So it’s good news then that the innovation appears to be in full force, with four new additions to the range ‘coming soon’;
. No.4 VRSD Bourbon
. No.5 VRSD Tequila
. No.6 VRSD Dry Martini
. No.7 VRSD Dark Rum
Whilst such a broad portfolio, in near record time to market, continues to tug at my curiosity on how & where production is taking place, it is doubtlessly an exciting prospect and I really look forward to seeing (and tasting) the results when they land.
Still questioning which Spirits to buy? As far as Jamie and Varun are concerned, the answer is here.
The answer is VRSD.
Big thanks to Jamie, Varun and the VRSD team for my complementary bottles of their VRSD No.1 London Dry Gin & VRSD No.2 Rosso Vermouth.
Be sure to keep a close eye on all things VRSD, with a lot of exciting new product launches in the pipeline!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!