It took me almost two decades to appreciate gin. In my early drinking years, it was one of two spirits that I would always decline, as more than a glass made me sick (the other being ouzo). And let's face it, what else would you do with spirits in your late teenage years than have more than a glass? In the following, vaguely wiser years I enjoyed wine and stayed away from spirits - until I moved to gin central: London. Not only did I learn to appreciate a good gin and tonic, in those dire pubs where you are stuck between the Scylla of tart Sauvignon Blanc and the Charybdis of offensively dull lager even a mediocre G&T is a life (although perhaps not liver) saver. Today's gin is of a different calibre though, and an unusual beast too: a dry gin made in Germany, and intriguingly it is infused with late harvest Riesling grapes from a first class vineyard! So when I was offered a tasting sample of "Ferdinand's Saar Dry Gin" I had to say yes, and I brought along a gin expert to help me taste it.
The gin is named after Royal Prussian Forest Superintendent Ferdinand Geltz, the founder of the Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken estate at the river Saar. With a history going back to 1742, Geltz-Zilliken is a well-respected name in the German wine world, and they focus exclusively on Riesling. Ferdinand's Saar Dry gin is a collaboration between Dorothee Ziliken, who manages the estate with her parents, and master distiller Andreas Vallendar, whose family has been distilling spirits in the Saar area for almost two hundred years. The late-harvested Riesling grapes used to infuse the gin come from the Saarburger Rausch vineyard ("Rausch" literally means intoxication), whereas many of the ~30 botanicals used in it are grown near the distillery, and some in or around vineyards. They include elderflower, sloe, apple mint, coriander, bergamot, rose hip, angelica and lavender. And that is nicely reflected in the actual gin, which I enjoyed last night with London-based food and spirits writer Jassy, aka Gin and Crumpets - because she is an enjoyable drinking companion, but also for her gin expertise and to avoid any bias I might have. And generally I am quite biased to anything that involves hand-picked, late-harvest Riesling grapes. The nose of the Saar Dry Gin is delicate yet expressive with lots of herbs, including angelica, lavender - very similar to the lavender moth balls I just happen to have bought last week - and lots of juniper, but also pine. It is very easy to drink, pleasantly spicy, really smooth, not harsh at all, with flavours of orange candy, angelica, juniper and other herbs, and a pleasant touch of sweetness. It was so easy to drink I did not feel the need to add tonic, and in fact we found that the flavours did not come out quite as well when we tried it with tonic, but Jassy reckons it would make a great cocktail gin. I am aware my gin knowledge is rather limited, so I shall just say I found it an absolute pleasure to drink and I will make sure to resupply. The expert said that the Germans are on to a winner with the Ferdinand's. So there you go, Riesling and delicious gin in the same bottle! Ferdinand's Saar Dry Gin, 44%: http://www.saar-gin.com/ UK: £20.25 for 200CL bottle from http://www.amathusdrinks.com/