Award-Winning UK ‘Bathtub Gin’ Arrives In Australia
Historically, bathtub gin was poor quality hooch made clandestinely in back rooms and cellars. It seems an unlikely inspiration for an award-winning craft gin, but that’s exactly where the idea for Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin originated.
When childhood friends Justin Petszaft, Ben Ellefsen and Tom McGuinness were looking to create the perfect gin in the Kent countryside, they turned to the history books for inspiration and discovered the old technique of cold compound infusion that was the basis for bathtub gin.
Fast forward to today, and their creation, Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin, has made it to Australia, available at outlets including Vintage Cellars, Nick’s Wine Merchants and Dan Murphy’s.
Modernising a classic
In today’s day and age, most distilleries flavour their gin by letting it pass as vapour through baskets containing juniper and a range of other botanicals. It’s a sophisticated method that takes far more equipment than most bootleggers possessed, and it was far more likely to be discovered. So they would instead allow the botanicals to sit in the room temperature gin for up to a week and flavour it that way.
Because bathtub gin was usually made with poor quality liquor and cheap ingredients, the associated methods developed a nasty reputation and unsurprisingly fell out of favour with modern brands trying to impress increasingly savvy consumers.
But Ableforth’s is reviving the practice with the highest quality ingredients and modern technology to create a vibrant, subtle spirit that is at home in any modern cocktail bar. And they haven’t stopped at making a great-tasting gin – Global Brand Ambassador Sophie Strang says the founders have also “made it their mission to revive the much-maligned practice of compounding spirits”.
The best of both worlds
In contrast to the hastily made bootleg spirits of old, Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin takes a week to make, and has two distinct steps. But when it’s possible to make excellent gin in just a few hours (and many top distilleries do), why would Ableforth’s use a method that takes seven days? “The answer is simple,” says Strang: “it’s all about flavour”.
And the secret to getting the best flavour is double infusion. Instead of starting with neutral alcohol, Ableforth’s begins with an already delicious London Dry Gin made from wheat spirit in a traditional steam-fired copper pot still. That base gin has ten botanicals and Ableforth’s infuses an additional six botanicals over the course of a week.
During that time the extra juniper, orange peel, cardamom, clove, coriander and cassia bark slowly release their flavour. Not only does this cold compound infusion give Bathtub Gin its name, it also allows Ableforth’s to extract the maximum flavour from each botanical, adding delicate extra layers to the final product.
Strang explains that “this secondary infusion process, where flavours have been extracted at ambient temperatures, captures fresher flavours which don’t survive traditional, high temperature distillation. The result is a crisper and more vibrant-tasting gin”.
By combining the two methods, Ableforth’s Bathtub gin gets the best of both worlds, and the infusion also adds a touch of colour to the finished product, which has a pale golden hue.
A hand-made success story
Clearly the system is working well and the brand has gone from strength to strength since launching in 2011. When Petszaft, Ellefsen and McGuinness began Ableforth’s in a tin shed on a farm in Sussex, Ellefsen literally had to clear his desk to fit the 30-litre glass vessel used for the first batches.
They’ve since scaled up significantly and are infusing 1000 litres at a time in custom stainless-steel tanks to meet the growing global demand (including in Australia). Meanwhile, the awards keep piling up, including Best Compound Gin, Best Contemporary Gin and a slew of gold medals at competitions around the world.
As well as the signature Bathtub Gin, Ableforth’s also uses the same labor-intensive method to make three other products. There’s a slightly sweetened Old Tom style gin, a robust Navy Strength gin with a higher alcohol content and more concentrated botanical flavour and a rich, buttery Cask-Aged gin that’s spent three to six months in ex-American whiskey casks before being bottled.
And all of them are easy to recognise on the shelf. As an homage to the historical methods that inspired the brand, every bottle is wrapped in brown paper, tied up with string and waxed by hand. It requires a small army of people to wrap, string and dip every bottle but Strang says that’s just the way they want it. “We like the fact that there’s no machine in the world that can do what we do to package our gin.”
(All images: Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin / supplied)
Published 03 September, 2019