Aviation American Gin – recapturing the spirit of The Arnold Scheme –
There are many aspects of American culture which have proved readily transferable to ours and other nations across the globe; with some of the factors behind its influence stemming from the way America’s economy boomed in the 1940s as it became the production powerhouse behind the Allied war effort.
Seven decades on, like Apple and Amazon, Aviation Gin is just one of the modern phenomena making the trans-Atlantic transition with style. And as it would have been my Dad’s birthday this Sunday I’d like to start this review by reflecting briefly on how the United States influenced his flying career.
Back in 1941 when he reached the age to enlist, the RAF was not only short of planes, but also instructors: and so the fresh faced Jack Meechan left Edinburgh as one of the first recruits to be sent to Lakeland in Florida; for training by the US Army Air Corps. America’s Lend Lease support for the UK had already begun, but the less famous Arnold Scheme allowed him to earn his ‘Wings’ flying Harvards before returning here and graduating to operations with a Hawker Typhoon squadron.
Classed as a fighter-bomber, Typhoons were the tank-busters of their day, and he saw active service in North Africa, as well as throughout the European campaign, from D-Day to the crossing of the Rhine.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and campaign medals along the way, as well as the ‘Caterpillar’ and ‘Goldfish’ badges from the RAF’s parachutes and dinghy manufacturers for what he called his “Dip in the Channel”: one of six crashes during his career.
Demobbed after WW2, he rejoined a year later to become one of the new generation of jet pilots, flying Meteors, Vampires and Hunters. Also during a lengthy spell with the ‘Ferry Squadron’ he earned the Air Force Medal (AFM) for helping bring over the super-sonic Sabres that the Canadian Government gave us as part of their contribution to the Cold War – where, together with the US, we protected Europe from the Russians for another four decades.
Oh and I ought to mention – known on one squadron as ‘Drunken Jack’ – my old man liked a drink: though oddly for a Scotsman, whisky wasn’t amongst his preferred tipples. Beer, wine, brandy – all went down with equal rapidity. And rather like myself he enjoyed gin and tonic on a warm day, so I’m pretty sure he would have been happy to join me in sampling an Aviation Gin, produced on the west side of the US and attracting a growing following here.
I first tasted it at Pennyhill Park last year though they have been serving it lately near us in the Dolphin Hotel. It is very much a premium brand with some celebrity pundits declaring it the best to be found.
“The Arnold Scheme allowed him to earn his ‘Wings’ flying Harvards before returning here and graduating to the Hawker Typhoon.”
The makers describe their chosen botanicals as coming from around the world, though as the ‘Sunshine State’ produces 90% of America’s orange juice, it is quite possible that the two varieties of orange peel included along with the juniper and grain spirit also started out in Florida. The others are French lavender, cardamom, coriander, aniseed and sarsaparilla – which is produced from the dried roots of Smilax: a tropical climbing plant.
Definitely not a ‘small batch’ enterprise, the botanicals are suspended in nylon bags within the macerating tanks for 18 hours. The distillation process produces a heart cut (the good stuff) at 142 proof, which is then blended with pure water to take it down to 84 proof.
The bottles we see on shelves here or behind the bar at Pennyhill are rated at 42%ABV – still enough to give Aviation Gin a kick approaching that of a Typhoon’s four 20mm cannons.
Meanwhile, we’ve treated ourselves to a bottle and an ample stock of Fever Tree to toast my dad, and all his fellow pilots who learned to fly in Florida; though we should remember many of them never made it back to Good Old Blighty and civilian life after the war.
Crashing in the Channel earned Jack Meechan the Caterpillar and Goldfish badges from the RAF’s parachute and dinghy suppliers