(OK not so much of a test, as an excuse – but shhhh…. let me have some fun….)
So the Negroni cocktail (named after Italian Count Negroni) can be a little divisive. You could argue it is from the same stable as Marmite – some love it and some hate it.
It is a really simple cocktail that can (if you desire) be made much more complicated when you get to know it, and wish to tweak it to suit your particular desires :’Ginnier’ (not a word but I’m going with it), Sweeter, More bitter etc
(🏴🏴🏴🏴🏴 Hey! I’m here for the Gin I don’t want to know about your Negroni habits….If you want to skip my words about Negroni and skip to the Scottish Gins I used click HERE 🏴🏴🏴🏴🏴)
At its base a Negroni it is made up of three liquid components:
Gin – of course – no special instructions here. However, if you are not sure if what you have in the bottle in front of you is Gin, then please feel free to take a few minutes looking at my Gin Flowchart page and then come back for more fun….
Vermouth – Traditionally this is the red ‘sweet’ variety. Vermouth is what is called an Aromatised Fortified Wine: Aromatised (herbs and stuff added) Fortified (something distilled eg brandy has been added) Wine (well it’s mainly wine). because it is mainly wine it will not have a great shelf life before it goes downhill so a few weeks in the fridge after which it is still drinkable but just not as good as it was. I mentioned traditionally sweet red but this is one of the items you may just choose to throw caution to the wind, and go mad and well use a sweet white vermouth! (I used Cocchi (pronounced ‘Cocky’) Di Torino)
Bitter Aperitif – not to be confused with cocktail bitters, which have quite a high ABV and can come in frankly quite scary eye dropper bottles. No, a Bitter Aperitif is more of a bitter liqueur and in a Negroni it has traditionally been Campari – you know that really bright red drink that some people drink with soda. Well although it has a bitter side it also has a really sweet side. 1/3 of a bottle of Campari is sugar!
Campari is not the only Bitter aperitif in the world, but for the purposes of this experiment I used Campari.
Traditional Negroni liquid ratio:
Traditionally a Negroni is made of equal parts. what could be simpler – you don’t even need a cocktail measure select anything that will hold liquid and pour in one quantity of each – just be a little sensible, start off small – so no pint glasses or buckets. dont have a jigger, Try using an egg cup… and this is where we come to my little experiment. International Scottish Gin day is on the horizon (Oct 24th 2020) and this is what got me thinking. I am not a great Gin and tonic drinker as I feel both the sweetness of tonic and its bitterness detracts from my personal enjoyment of Gin – I don’t hate it, but if given a choice of G&T or neat – I will select neat or as part of a booze only cocktail…. like a Negroni.
Constructing my Negroni:
This sounds a bit ominous, but it really isn’t. At its simplest a Negroni is a pour in to the Glass and add some big ice orange slice, stir and drink.
Some go a bit further and to be honest if I was buying a cocktail in a bar who wouldn’t want the theatre of freshly cut ice being nibbled down by a very sharp spike to just fit the selected drinking glass. Then to have the liquid ingredients (Gin, Vermouth, Bitter Aperitif) added to a mixing glass filled with more ice, stirred 15 times and then strained in to the final glass that holds your now lovingly hewn perfectly clear tempered ice. mmmm…. sounds great – but hey this is a home test, there is no way I do that at home.
The glass tends to be a traditional short stubby rocks glass, but a little vintage style stemmed cocktail glass is also good.
No construction is ever complete without the ‘topping off’ ceremony and a Negroni is no different. A Negroni traditionally is garnished with a slice or the peel from an orange. If it is just the peel then a spray of the oils from the peel is ejected over the drink by quickly folding the peel. This orange step is I feel essential to a good Negroni.
So your Negroni may look a little like this:
on to The test:
Now that all of the Negroni explaining is out of the way… on to my little test. A Negroni is a boozy cocktail it is just made of the 3 liquid alcoholic ingredients and as such should be approached with caution. For this experiment I selected some small stemmed glasses as each mini negroni was going to be no more than 25ml in total.
Ultimately the purpose was to find which of my Scottish Gins would make particularly good Negroni. My tastebuds are not too bad, but I find they work best when comparing between drinks directly. So each Negroni was made with equal quantities of Gin, Vermouth and Bitter Aperitif. They were constructed not in the glass but I used a number of 50ml small bottles so that I could place them in my freezer to chill, rather than having to stir ice and clean the mixing glass each time – this also avoided cross contamination. The Gin was the only element that was changed and the measuring Jigger was cleaned between pouring each Gin.
Ice obviously melts a little, and this adds to the drink and so, although not necessary for this experiment I wanted to give myself the best Negroni I could, but in mini form, so a few ml of water was added to each bottle. the bottles then ended up in the Freezer for a couple of hours to chill them down and negate having to add ice.
Finally time to pour:
The very cold mini Negroni mix was taken out of the freezer. As the alcohol content is quite high there isn’t much chance of freezing – but I would suggest a couple of hours should be enough.
Not having mini glasses that look like mini rocks glasses, I went with four Edwardian liqueur glasses and a single Jenever glass – as that is all that I had that was a similar size.
As you can see from the picture above, I opted for thin slices of orange peel and I spritzed the glasses with a little orange oil from a larger piece of peel.
The Scottish Gins:
As the main title says – this was to be a 🏴 Scottish 🏴 Gin Mini Negroni tasting and so for this I selected the following Gins:
- Lussa Gin
- North Uist – Downpour Gin
- Isle of Arran Gin
- John Crabbies – Old Tom Gin
- John Crabbies – Citrus Orange Gin
All of the gins were ones that I have purchased myself, and are just on my shelves – they were picked with International Scottish Gin Day in mind – of which I am an avid supporter. If you want to read a little bit about why I think Scottish distilleries as a whole have an edge over some other countries you may want to read this post.
The distilleries are marked on the map below:
A note about my tasting notes:
I’m not going to go into each Distillery in much detail in this post, but may choose to highlight some of them separately in the near future.
From a tasting perspective I tend to avoid overly deconstructing Gins as I prefer to encourage the tasting of a Gin as a whole rather than trying to identify each and every botanical. I have tasted enough spirits to know that the taste buds can be deceived when flavours combine, and so I preferer to describe the feel and taste as a whole if at all possible.
In any case, some of these Gins have unusual locally foraged botanicals, that I would have a tough time honestly deconstructing, as I cannot remember tasting any of them as individual distillates. I wouldn’t know their flavour even if they came up behind me and did a Tango-man impression in my face! (sorry showing my age there)
Lussa Gin is produced on the Isle of Jura. It makes great use of foraged and grown local botanicals. The label of the Gin proudly displays the names and signatures of the three ladies that grow, forage and finally distill to make this Gin. The piece of tweed produced on the island is a nice touch on the bottle, as is the etching of the Paps of Jura that can be viewed through the bottle.
I like to drink my Gin neat and this is an excellent sipping Gin. with there being enough of the special botanicals shining through to interest the palate – it’s a smooth texture with a very satisfying finish. I struggled at first to pin down what the taste reminded me of beyond the obvious Juniper. I decided on a hint of mint and herby lemon.
Reading their lovely website along with other interviews, it really does seem to be a Jura community effort as some of the botanicals are grown by other islanders to boost the possible yield – I really love this idea. Hopefully, I can have a chat with this distillery team and gain a bit more insight.
In a Negroni the Gin was evident, with its signature mint and citrus taste Just shining through the other Negroni ingredients. It make a good negroni with a slight twist.
Downpour Gin Is produced by North Uist Distillery which is based now on Benbecula which is ‘nextdoor’ to North Uist. I have fond memories of both Benbecula and North Uist when we had a fun family driving tour of the Inner and Outer Hebrides staying in YHA blackhouses.
It’s almost as if DownPour was made for me. It has a great oily mouthfeel and a huge flavour profile of both Juniper and Cardamom. The Cardamom I am informed by the North Uist team is crushed prior to distillation, so that it is more upfront in the final spirit.
The name comes from its ‘louching’ when water or tonic is added – this is the suspended oils breaking free and has the pet name of a flavour cloud – well it’s a bit more than a cloud in this Gin… it’s a flavour “Downpour” – hence the name.
In a Negroni it is not lost, and for me it really enhances the cocktail. This is definitely a Gin that does not get lost in amongst the other flavours – in a great way.
Isle of Arran Gin
Isle of Arran Gin Is produced from botanicals foraged on the Isle of Arran. As of Summer 2020 it is distilled using the Persie Distillery still on the scottish mainland. The Arran Micro distillery is in the process of being built near Brodick on the island though.
Arran is another island I have fond memories of, we have scottish friends and we accompanied them a few times to Arran for summer holidays when our children were much younger – they say it is Scotland in miniature as all terrains are catered for.
Whilst not distilled on the island (yet) the special botanicals are foraged from the island and there are some interesting ones that combine to create a huge explosion of flavour. I would almost go as far as saying the Juniper can be a little lost such is the force of some of them. Can I describe it? well it’s a little difficult as it is quite unlike other Gins I have and I could not pick out the other botanicals other than I am guessing that the Hogweed seed and Meadowsweet. they combine to produce an almost (but not quite) medicinal Gin – This sounds bad but it is in a way that means that I cannot put it down, it is smooth and the flavour swirls around with each taste – this would not be for everyone as it is quite distinctive. Having not tried the individual botanicals I could not tell you which is the most predominant.
In the mini Negroni, I am not sure it entirely works for me. The flavour profile is so strong that it overpowers the other elements – perhaps it is worthwhile experimenting further with a smaller measure of Gin. Still, my bottle of this Gin is emptying quickly, and that probably says more than I can say in words here
There is also an apt quote from “The Tempest” on the bottle.
John Crabbie’s – 1891 Old Tom
Whilst the name for me conjures up Crabbies Ginger beer, the history of John Crabbie’s involvement in wines and spirits dates back to 1801. The recipe for this Gin has come from archived materials from 1891, although this has been adapted for current botanicals and modern tastes it still retains the inclusion of sea salt which has been supplied from the Isle of Skye. Now I didn’t think that this would make much of a difference, but it is definitely there in the finish and as a lover of the more savoury Gins this finish definitely appeals.
This Gin is based on the Crabbie 1837 London Dry recipe – except it has the recipe tweaked with more Orange, Coriander and Angelica and then Aged in ex sherry butt for around 2 weeks . All of this imparts a slight straw colour to the liquid and a slightly more mellow sweetness. Although interestingly the slight salt finish is still evident. I suppose in much the same way as Campari can be both bitter and sweet at the same time.
In a Negroni this was the closest so far to a classic Negroni flavour although to my surprise the salt on the finish was still just discernible – which was a great and welcome surprise.
John Crabbie’s – Citrus Orange Gin
This was in as a bit of wild card owing to my interest in the mix of Orange peel along with more green herbal botanicals such as Rosemary and Bay Leaf and Parsley.
This Gin has been named after one of John Crabbie’s descendants – George Crabbie, who along with his brother (Jack) represented Scotland in Rugby Union. This keys in nicely with the distiller’s partnership with Scottish Rugby, and something that was discovered in the archives after the partnership had been formed.
The Gin is still juniper led but the Orange and herbs play well together making a very pleasant Gin
This had to be poured in to my Jenever glass as I had run out of my little Edwardian ones, hence why it looks a slightly different colour to the others – the Gin is however clear but in an orange bottle.
Having an orangey Gin in a Negroni is one of my common options, as I love how the orange plays off of the Vermouth and Bitters – this was no exception and I found it very pleasant.
I might like to try this to put a twist on a Hanky Panky just to see how it plays with the Fernet Branca.
As experiments go, creating a number of smaller cocktails (in this case Negroni) and tasting them together was a great success. It gave me the opportunity to compare how different Gins can affect the drink, and gave me just a little bit more insight about my personal preferences when it comes to Gin and also to the Negroni. What is always surprising is how much of a difference the Gin can make in any cocktail, something you may not realise until you have done side by side taste tests like this.
I love smaller cocktails when experimenting so that any disasters are not too damaging to your bottles, and I don’t feel duty bound to finish it if I really do not like it (I finished all of these).
All these Gins have something to offer, and are worthwhile seeking out in bars or to purchase from the distillers.
I would urge any Gin fans to carry out your own side by side tasting. For me it really helps to understand the differences, and identify what it is I like. It is also a great deal of fun and something I am likely to repeat with other Scottish Gins on the run up to International Scottish Gin day 2020 🏴