We first wrote about the release of Bathtub Gin in September 2011, giving it a mixed review filled with both praise and at the same time, a good kicking in the teeth. We’ve always liked the gin, the look and feel of the packaging, but we took massive exception to how it was positioned and to the spin surrounding it. At the time we felt it was both un-called for and, in our opinion, naive marketing lacking in sincerity. It was the only time where we’ve accepted to post a response from those behind a product as a form of rebuttal. Whilst there was nothing acrimonious, it was certainly a difference of opinion worthy of a read. For those who have never read it (deleted now so you can’t) – the difference was essentially based around us taking brand identity and PR as a big part of any product whilst Master Malt opt for a more light hearted approach in this area – leading to some, let’s say, confusion.
In the year since our original write up, Bathtub Gin has moved from being a single product and The Professor Ampleforth series (which it’s a part of), now constitutes of Bathtub Gin, an Old Tom Gin, a Sloe Gin, a Summer Fruit Cup, a Cask Aged version of Bathtub Gin and a Navy Strength Gin (as well as a few spirits outside of the Gin category). Yes, they have been busy! Because of this and also, because of the way the gins are now positioned and presented by the team at Master of Malt (who have opted to shift their emphasis when describing it), we have started again and are re-writing the entire post.
Made in incredibly small quantities – between 30 and 60 bottles at a time – Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin is made using a technique called cold compounding. Technically speaking, compound gin involves flavourings (such as botanicals) simply being added to neutral grain spirit and then filtered out before bottling. Although there are many other technicalities surrounding how it is done, ABV content etc… in layman’s terms – compound gins just infuse whereas distilled gins infuse and then distil.
Many of the cheapest supermarket home brands used to employ cold compounding as when doing so on a commercial scale using artificial flavourings, it used to result in much cheaper production and thus larger profit margins. Because of this it has long been seen as an inferior method of creating gin. By-en-large, we agree that over long periods of time cold compound gins could dispel their flavour and for the most, those that tended to use cold compounding were solely doing so because it’s cheap and not because they wanted to create great tasting gin. However, the technique is not used that frequently anymore as it’s actually a lot easier and faster to create consistent gin in high volumes by doing colossal distillation runs rather than macerating botanicals and filtering it or by simply adding artificial flavorings to Vodka. It is worth stressing that it has always been possible to create a good gin using this cold compounding and with care and attention, the spirit created can be a balanced, well rounded gin. Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin goes a long way in demonstrating this.
The term “bathtub gin” often conjures up glamorous images of flapper girls, speakeasies and the Roaring Twenties however the precise origin of how the term “bathtub gin” came about is hard to categorically state. From what we can tell it could have its origins during Prohibition but the exact reason as to where the name came from is again, unclear. Some say bootleggers used to create spirits in their home using stills and then watered the liquid down to drinking strength with tap water, but had to use the taps in the bathtub as the large bottles wouldn’t fit in the sink. Others say that the term comes from the bootleggers actually using their bathtubs to infuse the spirit with various fruits and botanicals (often needed to cover up the repulsive taste of the poor quality spirit itself). In reality, both of these are likely to have occurred and the “bathtub gin” name has since been closely associated with poor quality, cheap gin from that era.
Thankfully for Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin, the quality of the ingredients are greatly superior. Here the gin is infused with 6 botanicals including juniper, coriander, orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and the length of the compounding period is controlled entirely by periodic sampling at the Master of Malt HQ in Tunbridge Wells. The final spirit is a bottled at 43.3% ABV and has a very slight hue caused by the infusion process.
On the nose warm citrus and juniper come to the fore. On the palate the gin has a slight viscosity to it and warm notes of waxy pine, gentle citrus and cardamom. The overall effect is smooth and quite earthy. We are brought back to what Ben Ellefsen, the Sales Director at Master of Malt mentioned when asked what they were trying to create and responded with “a more manly kind of gin”. While this may sound a little strange, it is also about right for what they have achieved with Bathtub Gin – it feels almost outdoorsy.
Also part of the Professor Ampleforth series is a Cask aged version of Bathtub Gin (the one we are tasting is from batch one, each batch will vary slightly). You can find a full post about cask aged gins HERE, which will help give some context to what this small sub section of gins are all about. The Cask Aged Bathtub Gin is to date the best example of what barrel ageing can do to a gin. The original gin already has orangey citrus notes and gentle but pronounced juniper, which is further accentuated by more caramelized citrus, soft spice and added viscosity. The resulting liquid is slightly sweet with a soft and buttery feel. Juniper carries all the way while the finish lingers nicely with the spice from the coriander and cloves appearing alongside a warm citrus. The Cask Aged Master of Malt Gin is in our eyes one of the best examples of the potential of the ageing process as, whilst it still carries all the flavour profiles one would want to work with in a gin when making cocktails, it adds certain new elements that make drinks like a Martinez, Negroni, Tom Collins or even a Breakfast Martini that little bit different – in a good way. It is still clearly a gin and not an entirely new malty spirit or sub category, just with a noticeable difference that won’t fade at the slightest contact with another mixer, nor on the other hand is too strong to make you wonder what to do with it.
The Old Tom Gin in the Professor Ampleforth series is quite an interesting proposition too. It is almost the very definition of what an Old Tom style Gin should be. Sweet on the nose from the liquorice root. Sugary mouth feel and a lingering finish. It has a slightly earthy warmth but the sugary element seems to bring out the citrussy, juniper note. While it seems to have less character than Hayman’s Old Tom, when tasting the two side by side it’s easier to see what an “Old Tom” style gin is when tasting Master of Malt’s. We would recommend it to any gin lover looking to find a bench mark for what Old Tom gin’s are about, as while they all differ in flavour, this seems to be a classic of the genre.
To us, The Bathtub Gin Navy Strength is quite a departure. While there has been differences in all of the gins within the series, they have all shared enough to be considered as a family. Similar botanical contents leading to warm, soft juniper and orangey citrus notes perhaps being the linking factor between them. The Navy Strength leaves this behind and combines its high 57% ABV with spices and other botanicals that make it stand out as different to the rest. A black swan of sorts and compelling for much the same reasons. Spirity high alcohol level is apparent on the nose and so too on the palate – it certainly warms the cheeks! Cinnamon and Cardamom along with other spices are obvious on the palate, as too is the juniper and citrus. These are supported by an earthier clove like note, leading to a long cinnamon and juniper finish. This definitely feels Christmassy and it’s easy to see this working in a hot toddy. The alcoholic strength adds to the punch but it’s the amount of dried spice, curry’d flavour that sets you back. It’s like being hit in the face by a firecracker during Diwali.
We haven’t had the opportunity to taste the Summer Fruit cup yet so for now, last but not least in the Professor Ampleforth series is the Sloe Gin. Almond and marzipan on the nose. Almond once again on the palate accompanied with familiar sloe type black forrest fruit notes. Leaves a surprisingly dry finish after such a sweet palate. All in all, a very enjoyable Sloe Gin where the tannins are well balanced. Perhaps it’s more a Sloe Gin for gin lovers rather than one for those who like theirs super sloe’d. It’s certainly a good one for using in cocktails calling for Sloe Gin.
Considered as a series of gins, it’s an impressive achievement for the Master of Malt team as it’s rare to see all the styles and sub categories of Gin represented in one producer’s portfolio. Many simply opt for different gins and not different styles of gin (James Hayman being a noteworthy exception to this). On top of this, and perhaps the crowning achievement is that the range is available in 30ml tasters. A set of them surely has to be a must purchase as to be able to taste gins in all their different sub sections and styles is quite hard to do at once.
Gin aside, there is no arguing that the packaging across the series looks good. Brown wrapping and illustrations keep it all consistent and the copy on the label is always witty. We mentioned at the start of the post that PR and marketing were the root of our previous objections to Bathtub Gin, but having had a quick look around the internet, there are clear signs that the positioning has changed. No longer is it labeled as authentic or from the Victorian era (the references are still there but the emphasis has changed and it is a lot more credible because of it). Even sites that have just copied and pasted the entire Press Release essentially say the same thing as we’ve been hearing when the team at Master of Malt describe it – to paraphrase – we wanted to make some great tasting products which we’ve packaged in a way to appeal and to keep it all visibly part of the same series.
As such, our response can only be a 180% turn around and say – well done guys, mission achieved. No nonsense faux references, no spin, just tasty gins all beautifully packaged. It’s a series of gins that stand their ground for all the right reasons.