The names Vallis. Jules Vallis.
Emerging from the exotic waters, like Bond Girl ‘Honey Ryder’ in the 1962 classic ‘Dr. No’, Julian (Jules) Vallis returns to the scene with World Martini Day’s 2nd ever birthday. And his latest project comes armed with a License to Thrill! As for who looks better in a white bikini, Honey Ryder or Jules…well, that’s a debate for another day.
The inaugural celebration of all things Martini was held on Saturday 19th June 2021. The brainchild of Julian Vallis, a guru of cocktails and a founding member of Martini Club UK, it is a date diarised as the third Saturday of each year going forwards. And the time is nearly upon us.
Each year, World Martini Day invites a distiller to create a one-off batch of something truly special and unique to celebrate the occasion. And it would be fair to say that Vallis opted to kick off proceedings in style, when collaborating with Sheffield based northern heroes Locksley Distilling Co.
And so on to the difficult second album. Sure, Jules had decided to ‘Dry (Martini) Another Day’, but how would year two go about matching up to its very successful launch?
Well it turns out that you pack up your Martini glass, head to Wales and seek out another Juniper powerhouse – this time in the form of Siân & Andrew, co-founders of The Gower Gin Company – to create a spirit inspired by James Bond…
When I approached Jules to ask for a follow up interview to hear all about what is in store for us on Saturday 18th June this year he asked; “Do you expect me to talk?…”. To which I responded “No Mr.Vallis. I expect you to Dry (Martini)”.
Then I realised that if he didn’t talk then the Q&A really wouldn’t work, so I quickly backtracked and said “yes please. It would be great if you could talk”.
And so, thankfully, he did.
#WorldMartiniDay Q&A with Julian Vallis
The Gin Shelf (TGS): Hi Jules! People will likely be a little more familiar with ‘World Martini Day’ after its inaugural celebration in 2021. But with the luxury of more time to plan for this years event, how have you approached ‘the difficult second album’?
Julian Vallis (VS): In 2021, with bars and brands still gearing up again after the pandemic, World Martini Day was always going to be a small affair.
This year, we have a couple of things happening in other countries, so we’re expanding, but Martinis still present such a small fraction of the overall cocktail scene that World Martini Day is always going to be a niche affair.
But when you get the message out that Martinis exist in many forms, such as the Martinez, Gibson and more esoteric ‘Club Martinis’ such as the Tuxedo No. 2, people suddenly realise there’s a lot more to the Martini than the extremely high brow Dry Martini. It’s eye opening to see people learn about this amazing drink.
Most importantly it’s a day where we can celebrate gin in its premier cocktail – indeed the King of Cocktails – on World Martini Day.
As for how I generally approach it, you have to understand Martini drinkers. You either have complete beginners, who don’t know what a Martini is, or Martini obsessives who live and die by them. There’s no such thing as someone who just ‘dabbles in Martinis’. They just don’t exist. It’s quite an extraordinarily polarised demographic.
For beginners, it’s just about getting bars to serve them and showing them different variations. A tried and tested method is to give them a flight of mini-Martinis: 1 Martinez, 1 Gibson and 1 Dry Martini, in that order. Take them on journey of discovery. Dry Martinis take time for your palate to adjust to handling dryness, but once it’s adjusted, you never go back. Martinis become required, not requested!
As for those who are absolutely pickled in Martinis, they see World Martini Day as a chance to express their opinion on their favourite drink as well as enjoy their favourite drink; always a win.
Meanwhile bars love serving Martinis (they’re really easy to make!), and brands also love Martinis as everyone wants to be a ‘Martini Gin’. So once people hear about it, it really is win/win/win/win and so I don’t have to do much other than just get the message out: “World Martini Day is the 3rd Saturday in June every year, 18 June 2022.”
TGS: So tell us all about this exciting, very new & very limited, gin launch in celebration of the second World Martini Day?!
JV: This year we had much more time to perfect the recipe, and is reflected in the gin as a much more thoroughly ‘complete’ gin, as we could really engineer and refine all parts of the palate. There is nothing we overlooked: Nose? Ominous yet delightful. Check. Palate? Fascinating sequence of destruction and redevelopment, Check. Mouthfeel? Explosive but poised creaminess. Check. Finish? Long and drying spice but doesn’t linger. Check.
Ant (@BrimAndTonic), Sandra (@juniperchick), and I were primarily occupied with the flavour of the gin, working with Andrew to make it excellent, while Siân was more engaged in linking the story of Casino Royale and the Vesper into the gin (Note to reader: James Bond references, if the theme hasn’t clicked yet!).
I also designed the label for Gower, wanting to keep it as a ‘Gowerish’ as possible, and we have extensive use of gold foiling which made me very happy.
Night Star is a big and brawny gin, but it carries this powerful gravitas with extreme poise and refinement. For me, Night Star conjures the image of James Bond – a muscular brute, but simultaneously extremely eloquent and refined, and gives a threatening air that being beaten up is just as bad as the threat of being cut down by his wit and charm.
The nose is quite pronounced. Threat sensors are put on red alert by an ominous juniper that hangs like a thick fog over the glass. However, the brighter elements, particularly this complex marriage of three citruses – bergamot, lemon and orange – is beautifully seductive.
That citrus blend meets the palate first, which is heavily accentuated by the grape base to be really juicy and mouth-watering. Then the coriander seed ignites the juniper (distilled in both its chopped and whole form), creating a multi megaton detonation that wreaks absolute havoc and takes ages to dissipate. A complex set of botanicals provide the ‘juniper relief’: cinchona (working like cassia on the palate), oak to give a hint of vanilla, apricot providing it’s unique citrus-like fleshiness and the more floral jasmine.
Then we have the finish. It changes in flavour, and while we couldn’t use actual rye spirit, we did engineer the effect of rye. The oats already gave the milky cream mouthfeel, but the chopped rye leaves an ever so slight maltiness accentuated by the spice of the white pepper – the finish (long, but not an eternity) is extremely reminiscent of the Vesper Martini.
TGS: People will already have a lot of love for ‘The Gower Gin Company’ (and Siân & Andrew as the people behind the brand) – why did you pick them to collaborate with on this project, and what made them the perfect fit for this World Martini Day special edition?
VS: Although this is ‘World’ Martini Day, at the moment, I have to be pragmatic and I only have any real presence in the UK with it being promoted solely by me. But, obviously being ‘World’, it has to be from different countries.
Thanks to vagaries of the UK, we have 4 home countries in the UK. Before going global, I wanted to establish the tradition and World Martini Day in the UK as it’s the most important gin market in the world; it’s something I’d figured even before we launched World Martini Day last year.
The choice for Gower was a bit of a no-brainer as they’re the only Welsh distiller with the size and pedigree necessary to take on this project. But my reasoning was:
2. Out of loyalty to our Martini Club members, for whom Gower is probably their favourite gin. Call me old fashioned, but decency, loyalty and keeping friends happy matters a lot to me (that and the fact I also love Gower too!)
3. Finally, a simple business risk assessment – I have to choose a distiller who can make this gin ‘in their stride’ as it were, where adding another product to their line-up is not an unsurmountable risk nor too much extra trouble for them to make and sell an entire batch of gin in roughly a year
TGS: Tell us a little more about the name; ‘Night Star’ / ‘Seren y Nos’. Sounds like there is a story behind it?
VS: This is 100% Siân’s idea through and through. All of Gower’s gins are named both in English and in Welsh; it’s really important to Siân & Andrew and keeps that consistency across their range.
From my perspective, if it’s important to the distiller, it’s important. Period. I keep saying this because I really mean it: this is as much their gin as it is mine and it’s a product of true partnership.
The name was something Siân had thought up even for the first sample. She found all the links between what we could do with the gin to really tie it to both Casino Royale and the Vesper (the ABV and distillation date relating to the publication date), and she also found out the meaning of ‘Vesper’ is that it’s the Roman name of the Greek god Hesperus and that he was the ‘Evening Star’.
As to why it’s called ‘Night Star’ not ‘Evening Star’, it’s due to the Welsh translation for night (nos) is better than evening (noswaith) and also ‘evening’ is a bit more gentrified than the more glamourous and edgy ‘night’, particularly in lieu of its purpose for Martinis.
TGS: How did you guys come up with the recipe? And how was the creative process split between yourself and Siân/Andrew?
JV: The story with Gower started at Junipalooza when I first invited them to make the gin, and we got started the month after. This is already a far cry from mid-March when we started 2021’s process!
In the initial meeting we discussed the brief and while I have hundreds of ideas for gins, I wanted to find something meaningful to link Wales and Martinis. The only thing I could find that could possibly link Wales and spirits is oak – as the Druids, who were also Welsh, literally means ‘oak people’. But what on earth does oak have to do with Martinis?
They then went away and I got a bit worried they forgot about us, only for Siân to send a bottle in the run up to Christmas with a sample.
They’d apparently got an idea about the Vesper from another distiller at Junipalooza, and taken the oak idea and associated it with Kina Lillet, and then developed the gin around Casino Royale and the Vesper. Siân had already named the gin Night Star. They used an extremely tasty base spirit made from Bergerac wine and they also distilled in some of their Damson vodka – they had already figured out a good 85% of the botanical bill you see today.
While it was very interesting and certainly very drinkable, the spirit was neither really a ‘ginny gin’ nor was it a Ready To Drink Martini, but somewhere in between and we figured that was a bit confusing from a positioning perspective. They (Siân & Andrew) had never actually had a real Vesper Martini, and I was amazed at how close they got to what a Vesper should taste like from tasting notes and research alone, so I sent a few pouches of real Vesper Martinis, including an exact replica of the Duke’s Vesper, to give their taste buds a crash course.
In the New Year, a new set of three samples arrived. Even at this first iteration, and one round of feedback, all three samples were already properly good gins. Andrew really is a Master Distiller!
One sample used 100% grape base, the second had 100% Neutral Grain Spirit (NGS) and the third was 1/6th grape and 5/6ths NGS, following the proportions of 6:1 Martini, with the botanical bill kept the same across all 3. It was already at 53% ABV, as Siân had already linked that to Casino Royale’s year of publication. However, there were still a few tweaks to make:
1. The base. The grape and grain base made two very different gins as they accentuate different botanicals. The grape was much ‘juicier’ and emphasised the fruit. The NGS supports a much longer finish and brings some of the earthier flavours out. So, we asked them to double the grape proportion to 1/3rd within the split base. This provides the length, while the grape accentuates the botanicals – it’s more complex, but it’s also more balanced and just more ‘sorted out’ as a result
2. Not enough juniper! Andrew was really astonished. He’d already used a boatload of juniper, and Gower isn’t known to be stingy on juniper, but we demanded more. This included suggesting the use of chopped juniper as lessons learned from Locksley last year (and so he learned something new too!). Siân also thought of using Serbian juniper to tie the gin more to Casino Royale
3. A good finish will always be a hallmark in any gin I create. I was longing for the light white-pepper spicy finish that rye gives, and asked if they could use Rye NGS instead of the Wheat NGS
4. Andrew also wanted to add Scots Pine, which just helps to bridge juniper to the barks and is symbolic of a lot of Gower’s gins
A further two samples arrived, and differed only in that one was chopped juniper and the other whole juniper. The answer was obvious: it had to be half/half (though the unavailability of rye spirit required the use of chopped rye, oats, and white pepper as botanicals in the gin instead).
Siân and Andrew then sent the genuine article to do a final check and we were there with the recipe. At this point Siân asked if they could distil on 13 April so the final tie-in to Casino Royale could be achieved.
And that’s Night Star’s story!
TGS: Ok, so there’s clearly a big James Bond influence at play here…but still I need to ask. How are you serving yours?! (Vesper. It’s a Vesper isn’t it.)
VS: Of course it’s a Vesper. It’s really ironic however that the Vesper, and the one James Bond is drinking in Casino Royale, is arguably the most famous Martini of them all, yet it’s almost completely unknown in the fact you simply can’t make the real thing today and very few people actually know what it should even taste. For starters, Kina Lillet ceased being made in 1982, and the current Lillet has changed recipe, factory and barrels twice since then so bears absolutely no relation to Kina Lillet! But after a decade researching the genuine article and 1000’s of trials, errors and tastings (and also tasting Kina Lillet), yours truly is one who does.
The main problem with the Vesper is the original quote in Casino Royale calls for 3 parts Gordon’s, 1 part vodka, half part Kina Lillet, a slice of lemon and shaken. It may not seem like it, but there are so many problems, omissions and faults with this recipe that many get confused with it and how it should taste.
This has led to some shocking interpretations for Vespers – if you use a completely neutral vodka then you drown out the botanicals rather than add complexity. Shaking of course dilutes the Martini heavily and most think of the Vesper as Dry Martini so use dry vermouth. Do all three and you have mildly alcoholic water and it can easily become an awful Martini. But made well it can be exceptional, complex and thoroughly inspiring Martini. So great care is required.
For World Martini Day, we’ll be making it even more special. We’re using Dima’s vodka (barley, wheat and rye) which is Ukrainian and also given the complexity of the gin – why not make the Vesper Martini equally as delicious and complex? Also, it’s by no coincidence that we’re using a Ukrainian vodka, because 100% of the vodka’s proceeds – a third of the Martini’s price – is being donated to Ukraine.
I’ve also created a special blend of Amber which uses 4 different wines including Gower’s Vermouth and a real Sauternes. You can buy this premixed in 100ml pouches from either us or Gower shortly (Martini Club on May 16 gets first dibs!):
– 2 parts Night Star / World Martini Day 2022
– 1 part Dima’s Ukrainian 3-grain vodka
– ½ part 4-Wine Semisweet Vermouth (2 of which are Gower Vermouth & Sauternes)
– 1 dash Angostura bitter
– Garnish: Lemon
– Method: Stirred or Direct
Of course, you can buy Night Star and Dima’s separately (we stock both) and, just replace the secret blend with Sacred Amber or Gower Vermouth and you can make it yourself following the recipe exactly as above.
I’ll be selling this shortly in pouches for you to buy directly from us or via Gower, so you don’t have to make it and get an example of the genuine article using Night Star!
TGS: Any other serves of note that you’d call out?
JV: It works in any Martini – not just the Vesper. It makes a great Martinez and a very powerful Dry Martini especially. Works best with a twist of lemon or orange rather than an olive.
But a gin that works in a Martini will work in anything. It’s a complex but very ‘complete’ flavour, so you want to hero it. It works better with cocktails that have added depth and dimensionality of flavour. This is what I’ve tried:
– Lemon & Lime Gimlet
As it’s quite high ABV at 53% it lends itself well to a Gimlet. Mixing different types of citruses changes the character and adds complexity. With lemon and lime it’s closer to Yuzu than lime.
– Amber Negroni
This gin is more than potent enough for any Negroni and Campari & Rosso will not overpower it. However, if you want something special, I created an Amber Negroni.
– Tom Collins
Given the use of bergamot, lemon, and orange in the gin a Tom Collins with both lemon and orange works beautifully. Like the Gimlet, mix up that citrus!
Ant & Andrew checked it works absolutely great in a G&T too. They said a full fat (not light) Indian tonic is best with this to stand up to the ABV in the standard 3:1 proportion.
TGS: How will you be celebrating World Martini Day 2022?
JV: Between now and Junipalooza, we’ll be running around like headless chickens selling the gin, getting bars on board with World Martini Day and somehow taking a short break to see Sandra in Malaysia.
Then I’ll be seeing everyone at Junipalooza helping Siân and Andrew man the Gower stand and hosting a ‘Martini Hour’ where we talk about the gin and Martini in general, and serve out small tasters of the Vesper Martini for you to try!
In the week after, I’ll be visiting all the participating bars in London and checking in, sorting out any problems and drumming up publicity for them.
And finally on the day itself, just like Emma Stokes on World Gin Day: sitting at home permanently on the phone keeping up with the socials! As cat-herder-in-chief, organising these events does require a fair bit of graft and sacrifice…
If you see me afterwards, I’d be most grateful if you bought me a drink!
TGS: What does the future hold for World Martini Day and any future releases? You’ve created a Martini gin (with Locksley Distilling), a Vesper gin with a grape base (with The Gower Gin Company)… could there be a vermouth on the horizon? (AKA where is my money going next year?!)
JV: Yes, it is a World Martini Day limited edition spirit every year. There could indeed be a vermouth, a vodka or a gin – any of the three primary ingredients for a Martini.
I’ll give away one thing only: Next year, it will be Scottish…
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Q&A for World Martini Day 2022, where I’ll be catching up with Siân and Andrew from The Gower Gin Company to hear about the creative process from the brands perspective
With huge thanks to Julian Villas for his time and enthusiasm! Be sure to follow the World Martini Day event across social media – it’s sure to be a blast!
Facebook: World Martini Day
You will also want to check out Martini Club UK (@MartiniClubUK) – with a range of events throughout the year to celebrate the classic short serve cocktail, it’s a club that you’re going to want to be a part of…
Make sure you’re following my good friends Siân & Andrew (AKA Siândrew) and The Gower Gin Company across social media, and head to their website to grab your limited edition bottle of Night Star now!
Facebook: @GŴYR – Gower Gin – TM
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!