Oxley Gin Arrives on American Shores
Oxley brand gin is "Cold Distilled London Dry Gin" with a "Distinctive Fresh Taste." It says so right on the label, and it's no lie: Oxley carries a bright, clean flavor unlike any other gin. It also makes for the best martini I've ever imbibed.
Two cocktails are on offer at the Oxley media event hosted by Gem Lounge in Boston's Financial District. Gem Lounge is a classy joint, with dark wood paneling and recessed lighting. Tiny red lampshades decorate the sconces that jut from the walls here and there around the room, and mini-chandeliers hang over the bar, which also enshrines two flat screen TVs. (I know TVs are now de rigeur in bars, but in this setting they feel out of place. This is no sports bar; it has a more intimate atmosphere. It's the kind of place you might go for a heaping side of conversation to go with your drink.)
One of tonight's drink options is the "C'est La Vie," a concoction made with Oxley gin, grapefruit juice, Saint Germain elderflower liqueur, and a sprig of fresh rosemary. The cocktail's flavor is characterized by Saint Germain, but the gin's presence is solidly reassuring, like a canvas to a painting.
The other drink being offered is the afore-mentioned best-ever martini, which allows the gin's clean, polished character to shine through. Oxley is quite subtle and lush; among the 14 botanicals used in its production are lemon, lime, and grapefruit peels, as well as vanilla, cocoa, and exotic sounding plants like Meadow Sweet, Orris Root, and Angelica. Oxley also incorporates more familiar, but unexpected, botanicals such as Nutmeg and Coriander.
I'm none too sure what, exactly, Angelica and Meadow Sweet might be, but as it turns out, Orris Root is also used in perfumes; as I hear later from the brand ambassador, "It's kind of a backbone that an awful lot of other flavors latch onto." Well, it's in plenty of good company here.
Oxley has a kick to it, but no burn; it’s a smooth drinking gin with an almost vodka-like substantiality. It’s pretty strong, and I hesitate about finishing both drinks. In the end, I abandon the C’est la Vie and stick with the martini. Good choice, because even so I end up pretty buzzed.
Gem has supplied some delectable nibbles to help take the edge off: a luscious charcuterie, and a couple of different kinds of pizza. It’s all fresh and tasty, rather like tonight’s star spirit.
Speaking of fresh and tasty, the Oxley brand ambassador is a friendly young fellow named Jamie Evans, who comes complete with a classic gin drinker’s accent -- that is to say, he’s English.
It’s with that English accent that Jamie explains Oxley’s unique cold distillation process, a method that allows the gin to retain more of the flavors from the 14 herbs that go into its production than would be possible with the traditional method. It’s a mini-physics lesson, but even after two cocktails it’s fascinating to hear.
"The way that we create this gin is unique to us," Jamie begins. "In fact, we have a patent on the process. It took eight years to develop.
"Essentially, what we do is, rather than using heat as a source of energy to excite the mascera enough to vaporize and then to condense at a later stage, we create a vacuum within the still. What that does is reduce the need for energy in order for that liquid to vaporize. The mere nature of the vacuum in the still causes the temperature to plummet in the same way that at the top of a mountain it’s colder because there’s less air pressure.
"At around minus five degrees Celsius, which is about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, the liquid starts to vaporize and boil. As the liquid vaporizes, the ethanol molecules turn into a gas and it carries through all the flavors from our botanicals. Interesting, because we’re not heating any of this, we don’t cook any of the botanicals so it’s the perfect extraction of flavors from the botanicals that we use.
"Also, because we’re not adding heat, we don’t alter any of the ethanol molecules either. We start with a very high grade ethanol spirit, and because we don’t add enough energy to break those molecules apart and create methanol or to join together into longer molecular chains, it means we have one of the highest grade alcohols of virtually anyone out there."
Limited Supply, Exuberant Taste
Another upside is a the virtual absence of any undesirable byproducts from the distillation process. "We don’t have any need to get rid of anything that we’re distilling; everything that we distill, we put into a bottle," Jamie tells me.
"Unfortunately, the only kind of restriction is that we only produce very limited amounts: We produce about 120 liters per run of our still, versus, say, Beefeater, which produces 8,000 liters. They have two stills, so they produce 16,000 liters per day, and we’re only producing 120.
"We not saying that one technique is better than another," Jamie continues - though, obviously, he already has more or less said this - "far from it. It’s just that we’ve managed to capture the botanicals in their purest form. Also, because we’re not adding heat, we are able to use some fairly delicate botanicals that would ordinarily be subject to degradation by cooking.
"If you imagine cooking a rose, you destroy the subtle flavors and beautiful floral notes. We don’t use rose, but we use fresh citrus peels, and we don’t have to dry them in the sun as is normally done. When you dry them in the sun, the essential oils break down into sugars and it creates a jammy texture.
"Whereas with us, because we use those fresh citrus peels, if you taste the spirit neat, those aromas will hit you on the nose, literally: Those essential oils bounce out of the glass and it’s a very zingy, zesty, and vibrant spirit.
"Most spirits fall into one of two categories. Bourbons or brown spirits tend to be quite warming, but closed. You drink them and it’s kind of a snug feeling that almost makes you go into the fetal position. Then there are other spirits that, when you taste them, create an opening, they have an exuberance."
Efficient Production, Reasonable Cost
Fourteen botanicals sounds like, well, rather a lot.
"It is quite a lot," Jamie allows. "Something like Tanqueray is a two-dimensional spirit -- a fabulously, wonderfully made spirit. It only has four botanicals. Juniper, of course, and there’s a little bit of citrus on it. It’s probably the best to mix with tonic."
This, I know from experimentation, is true: Tanqueray makes the best gin and tonics.
"Then you move up," Jamie continues. "Beefeater uses eight botanicals; Bombay original uses eight, Bombay Sapphire uses ten. There are a few others that bounce around the ten and twelve mark, and then you have us at fourteen. I think the highest number of botanicals on the market is a gin called Citadel that uses 19."
Jamie goes on to talk about small-batch gin brands that use far less traditional botanicals such as lavender, but EDGE is thinking about a problem of scale of the economics involved. If Oxley produces only one-seventieth of a brand like Beefeater, then how are they able to charge less than seventy times what you’d pay for Beefeater gin?
"We have to charge more," Jamie acknowledges, "but not that much more. At the end of the day one of the biggest costs to each gin producer is buying the neutral grain alcohol. We don’t have to balance the amount we buy against the amount we sell; we don’t have to throw any of it away. We can bottle all of it.
"We’re at about ninety percent of being able to turn around and sell all the alcohol we buy. It’s not a perfect system, so we do lose a little bit out to the air. But if you go to someone like Beefeater, in order to produce those 8,000 liters of end product, they have to buy in something like 14,000 liters of neutral grain spirit, which they lose an awful lot of.
"Our costs are very different, is the short answer."
Jamie has a posse of three American girls, all of them associated with the world of spirits. They seem sweet and young, and one in particular seems terrifying at first glance -- sort of a Goth Snookie. The posse are talking with a fellow dressed like a high-end mixologist, with crisp white shirt, porkpie hat, and woolen vest.
He turns out not to be a mixologist, but a former executive chef. His verdict on Oxley gin is that this is one of the few gins he would want to sip at room temperature.
Sipping on the celebrated Best Martini I Have Ever Tasted, I have to agree with him there: Oxley gin is unlike any other gin I’ve ever sampled, and gin is my drink. Here’s looking at you, Oxley!