Negroni Club UK… at Sacred distillery

The Negroni Club UK is a smallish group of Spirits fans with an interest (a healthy one) in the Negroni Cocktail.

The Negroni: For those that have not been introduced to this bitter sweet cocktail. It is made traditionally from 3 equal portions of Gin, sweet (red) Vermouth and Bitters, not the strong cocktail bitters that you add single drops of but Bitters like Campari stirred either in a mixing glass with ice or constructed in a glass with some ice. Then garnished with a slice of orange or peel:

(image from Sacred web site)

Whilst the tradition is for 3 equal parts, if you depart from this, the combination is endless… As Ian Hart (owner and head distiller for Sacred) put it… Its like playing a one armed bandit where instead of fruit on the wheels it is Gin, Vermouth and Bitter.

Back to the evening at hand, because of the ongoing ban on group gatherings (because of Covid-19), tonight’s gathering was via the medium of Zoom… We had all bought a tasting set from Sacred a month in advance and all except one set had been delivered intact. Quick work from Siobhan of Sacred ensured that this was replaced in plenty of time for the Negroni evening

The tasting set comprised of 5 miniatures (50ml):

  • Sacred Grapefruit Gin
  • Sacred Old Tom Gin
  • Sacred English Amber Vermouth
  • Sacred Spiced Vermouth
  • Sacred Rosehip Cup

Prep work for the remote tasting comprised of placing the small 50ml bottles in the freezer at midday (a bit risky as I don’t know at what temperature Vermouth freezes). Then just before the call filling a thermos with ice (I have a wide neck stanless steel food thermos that I always use for this), cutting some peel from an orange and setting up the PC and collecting together 5 small glasses each (my wife was joining me).

(picture from Sandra)

Along with around 30 eager Negroni explorers my wife and I sat down in the glow of the PC, and waited for the proceedings to begin. Taking the few minutes before the start to place an ice cube in each glass to chill each glass. Our Zoom ‘MC’ Anthony kicked proceedings off with a welcome and some ground rules… The customary no spitting or gauging, and don’t forget to place a ‘?’ in front of any questions in the chat window. This was closely followed by the “sorry”/”not sorry” that precedes the mute-all action and we were handed over to the new Sacred Distillery and shop.

(Image from Sacred twitter feed)

Sara-Jane the architect of the Negroni Club UK introduced us to Siobhan one of the Distillers and brand representatives who was going to lead on the tasting. The live feed was coming from the new Sacred shop and distillery in Highgate in London… something that had been completed during the London Covid-19 lockdown:

Before the tasting we were taken on a ‘phone in hand’ virtual tour of the shops contents which along with Gin, Vermouth and Bitters includes Sake, Wine, Whisky, Vodka and other spirits. Also available it would appear is a fine selection of glassware for each drink type and occasion.

One of the features of Sacred, is that they do not use traditional stills but use vacuum distillation. During the Q&A session Ian later revealed that to go alongside the unconventional stills, was the decision to further buck tradition and not name (or number them).

archive image of a still before it was moved to its new home

One of the three stills can even be viewed outside through the shop front window. I’m sure the much lower distillation temperature (30 degrees C) was a godsend during the recent heatwave. I wont go into the differences in distilling at such a low temperature, however it would appear that the resulting distillate appears fresher and brighter – certainly with citrus at least.

I’m not going to go through the combinations that were suggested by Siobhan or any tasting notes, as I would not be able to do them justice, other than to say that the Gins and the Vermouths were fantastic. We were informed that the shop always has opened bottles for customers to try before they buy. You can be sure that I will be visiting as soon as I am next in the area, and will most likely buy a few bottles of vermouth in the mean-time just to drink on their own!

the samples after they had been “exercised”

My favourite combination was the Grapefruit Gin with Spiced Vermouth and Rosehip Cup. this made a wonderfully fresh Negroni.

Towards the end of the tasting Ian and Hillary (along with the obligatory Distillery dog – Pearl) turned up at the shop in order to answer any questions, that we may have (collated by Sandra who was monitoring the chat window), and impart some knowledge built up over the years of being a distiller. There were some very unusual distillates that Ian has produced over the years, including distilled clay! If you want to know more about that one I suggest you take a visit to the shop and ask some questions in person (although don’t expect that one to be on offer to taste).

All in all it was a really excellent evening, and I do urge any one that has a geekish tendency towards spirits to look in to the method of distilling and to make time to visit the shop and distillery. I think it was the best format for a Negroni Club evening yet and it worked really well remotely.

Lastly a huge shout out to all involved in making this evening possible.