How do you like your gin? In a glass with ice and tonic, or dabbed on the inside of your wrist? It’s a question that’s not quite as silly as it sounds: in the 18th century, botanical eaux de cologne were elixirs that could be worn as well as imbibed. And today, the gin and perfume industries still have many techniques and ingredients in common: Plymouth Gin’s master distiller, Sean Harrison, once told me he was having trouble getting hold of his usual consignment of orris because it had all been snapped up by Chanel.
44°N (€75 for 50cl) is a new gin from the south of France that takes this spirit/perfume connection to the next level. Distilled in Grasse – the heartland of the French perfume industry – it uses methods more commonly associated with the production of scent: ultrasonic maceration, vacuum distillation and, my favourite, CO2 supercritical extraction. Gentler than copper-pot distillation, these techniques are often good for drawing out the aromas of delicate ingredients such as herbs and flowers. Many ingredients in 44°N come from around Grasse: cade (a type of juniper), orange peel, honey and samphire, and a riot of flora including lavender, mimosa, jasmine and sweet immortelle. The result is a gin with a huge perfume: powdery lavender, citrus oils and wet petals followed by a long sillage of pepper, patchouli and rose. I’d find it a bit overwhelming in a martini, but it makes a lovely sour (the azure bottle is rather splendid too).
If 44°N represents the traditional perfume industry, Olfactor-y Gins (£42 for 50cl) from the playful Boutique-y Gin Company represent the scent world at its most avant-garde. Created in collaboration with scent expert Lizzie Ostrom, they take the traditional gin recipe in evocative and unexpected directions. Fresh Rain is based on petrichor, or the smell of rain on dry earth; Big Dipper recalls candy and generator fumes at a fairground; Dead King echoes Ancient Egyptian embalming ingredients, such as rosemary, honey, moss and myrrh; and Beware of the Woods draws out gin’s pine notes with a spooky palette of moss, nutmeg and cubeb. “We’re seeing a move to more esoteric aroma profiles,” says Ostrom. “People want to be challenged and told stories, rather than just smell attractive.” My favourite is Fresh Rain, a drenched mix of earthy and green notes (created with botanicals such as beetroot and edible clay). It’s original and exciting, but always recognisably “gin”. I’ll definitely put it in my G&T. Whether I’ll dab it behind my ears is another matter.