South-west cities showdown – Round 1.
Our previous post, about Deck Chair Gin from Brixham, reminded us that while we’ve covered close to a dozen distillations from the villages and coastal towns hereabouts in Devon, we’d neglected to review the county’s biggest name brand, or its rival from the second largest city west of Bristol.
Well, as Plymouth’s distillery dates back to the late 18th century, and the spirit it produces is woven into the port’s naval history, we will leave Exeter’s offering till next time.
Provided to UK consumers in its traditional 41.2% form, Plymouth Gin quite literally sells worldwide in the shape of a 47% ABV; and in some quarters enjoys generic perception in the same way as does ‘Geneva’. And though we have bought many bottles over the years, we have yet to sample the 57% version, which the Royal Navy would have taken on voyages to many distant outposts. In fact, there was a tradition of new ships being given a “Plymouth Gin Commissioning Kit” containing two bottles of the Navy Strength spirit and appropriate glassware; while sailors apparently toasted success with a concoction called Mahogany: a drink made by beating Plymouth Gin into warmed black treacle.
The Black Friars Distillery in Southside Street has become a stand out destination for many visitors to the city, where they can enjoy tours and tastings, to get a flavour of the process which employs seven traditional botanicals including the juniper and different roots. To our palates it is certainly a far more interesting and enjoyable gin than the Beefeater which was acquired by the same French owners, Pernod Ricard, in 2008.
Despite its deep water harbour and iconic Hoe, Plymouth has long struggled for status and investment – waiting five decades to replace its desolate concrete shopping complex and losing its airport – but development linked to the burgeoning university and businesses like Princess Yachts have revived its fortunes. I’m afraid though you’re going to have to wait till next week to find out if its gin has kept the Exeter upstart in its place.