Harahorn

Harahorn: the legendary beast behind the gin

We’ve been searching for the Harahorn gin for all our lives – we just didn’t know it.

Somewhere. way up in the rugged mountains of Norway, the Harahorn lives.  But few people have ever seen this mystical beast. In the high mountains, this elusive, shy creature has been glimpsed occasionally, but never captured.  Regardless, the mountain men of Norway have a clear recollection of what this magical creature looks like from their stolen glimpses over the centuries.  And this is what we are told.

Harahorn: The story of the beast

As its name suggests, the Harahorn is a large hare with the horns of a deer. It lives its reclusive existence far up between the majestic beauty of the Fjords and the heavenly show of the Northern Lights.  But this mystical creature is not unique. Similar legends appear in other remote areas across the world.  And for some reason, these mythical beasts have all become associated with gin.
In the USA, they talk about the Jackelope (but the basic story is the same). And, just as with the Harahorn, the Jackelope has also inspired a gin. In fact, Peach Street Distillers in Colorado have named their Jackelope Gin after it. And back in Ireland, one of my favourite distillers has been inspired by a similar legend. This time, it’s Drumshanbo Gin (infused with gunpowder tea and Irish botanicals) who claim to have seen this timid creature tiptoeing around the green fields of Co. Leitrim.

As rare as hen’s teeth…

But back in Norway, while the rugged mountain men have sworn to have seen the Harahorn, this extraordinary creature, nobody has actually managed to capture one on film – yet.
It is this shyness and timidity that keeps this creature so elusive. It is a rare and beautiful thing, like a great gin, waiting to be discovered.  So, imagine our delight when a bottle bearing an image of this mythical beast appeared in front of me on a gin shopping trip. With bunny-like grace, it almost hopped into my basket and this weekend, I cracked open a bottle to see if the gin really is as good as the back story – and I’m delighted to say, it is.

Juniper berries, blueberries and rhubarb

On the slopes of the mountain bearing its name, this mythical creature avoids the hunters. But the Harahorn need not fear them. These Norwegian hunters aren’t coming for him. They’re coming for the berries. Juniper berries, to be precise.
There, beneath the extraordinary majesty of the Northern Lights, on the gentle slopes of this Norwegian mountain, juniper berries grow.  They are picked by hand before being added to hand harvested rhubarb stalks from abandoned farms on the lowland slopes of the mountain. Natural blueberries are then plucked from thorny bushes in the deep forests of the lowlands.  They source carefully measured quantities of angelica and marjoram, which they add to the mix before it is all (as if by magic) transformed into a magnificent and unusual small batch gin from Norway.

What’s it like?

But does this interesting little gin with a big legend really stack up to the tale behind it?  Well, we think so!
And this is why.

Let’s start with the bottle. Small, but perfectly formed, this small, round-necked 50cl bottle is charming. With its blue-tinted glass and a beautiful etched image of the elusive Harahorn taking a starring role on the front, it’s topped by an attractive metallic silver top. This is an elegant bottle that will stand out on any gin shelf.
And it’s chock full of local Norwegian botanicals which contribute to its complex, well-balanced and distinctive flavour profile. The Norwegian juniper and the blueberries complement each other perfectly, while the fruity sharpness of the rhubarb shines through to give it a bit of an edge.
And at 46% ABV, it is strong enough to make you see things. Perhaps that’s the secret of the Harahorn after all?

The real deal – hand made in Norway

So, if you’re looking for a true craft gin experience, then this gin might just be the one for you. The folks at Harahorn are rightly obsessed with quality. That’s why they only make these gins in small batches of 300 litres at a time. And it features more unusual ingredients beyond the juniper and blueberries. You’ll find Bladderwrack seaweed from the Grimstad region, angelica from Oppdal and wild marjoram from Sunndal. The result is a delight for the senses.

Crisp, clear and deliciously complex

On the nose, it has a crisp, clear smell with strong, clean juniper notes backed up by citrus. Take a sip and you’ll unleash the fruitiness of the blueberries amidst the wild spiciness of the bladderwrack seaweed, the tartness of the rhubarb and the subtle and savoury taste of marjoram which comes through at the end.

The verdict:

This is a great drinking gin. Fruity, crisp, smooth and complex, it works beautifully in a simple gin and tonic (but there are a number of other great cocktail recipes on their website). In fact, here’s their recommended mix for the perfect G&T – easy to make in the comfort of your own home.

Welcome to the classic Harahorn G&T – a few of these and you might start seeing things as well!

The perfect pour: the Harahorn G&T

Ingredients:

  • 4cl Harahorn gin
  • 2 cl freshly squeezed lemon juice (or lime juice)
  • Ice cubes
  • Premium tonic water (dry is better)
  • Blueberries

Method:

  1. Take a large highball glass
  2. Pour in 4cl of Harahorn Gin
  3. Fill with large ice cubes
  4. Wipe the rim of the glass with a wedge of lemon or lime
  5. Squeeze in the fresh lemon or lime juice
  6. Top up the glass with a freshly opened, premium, dry Indian Tonic water (such as Franklin and Sons)
  7. Garnish with blueberries (or your preferred choice of herbs or botanicals).

Sit back and sip (and keep your eyes peeled for giant, horned rabbits – you never know when one might pop up!)

As they say in Norway, Skol!



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.

American gin

Gin’s brave new world: the story of American gin

As an international, Barcelona-based gin blog, we tend to have a small, unwitting bias in favour of British and Spanish gins. They are two of the most innovative gin traditions and we have easy access to those brands.  But as we grow and welcome more North Americans to the group, we thought it was worth spending a little time looking at the contribution of America and Canada to the history of gin. These countries have had a long love affair with gin. They are now starting to have an influence on the development and future of our favourite drink.  We know that we have not yet reached “peak gin” in North America. But there are an increasing number of gin connoisseurs over the pond. And an increasing collection of new, innovative American and Canadian gins for us all to try.

So, let’s take the wraps off the American gin story. Let’s pay tribute to the increasing contribution of our transatlantic cousins to this great and glorious international drink.

Stepping back in time

Let’s wind back a bit to the 19th century.  In those days, New York was a bustling, growing city and the Dutch had a big influence.  In fact, Manhattan was originally known as New Amsterdam. And when the Dutch came to town, they brought with them their favourite drink.  Dutch immigrants brought high quality genever from the old country. It was far superior to anything they could get locally. It was also better than the stuff the English were bringing with them.
In fact, in the 19th century, 5 times as much “Holland Gin” was imported to the US than English gin. 

Ice, ice, baby!

Then, some time in the 1830s, ice started to make an appearance – and it was a gamechanger. Ice soon became a vital (and innovative) way to keep drinks cool in New York’s hot summer months.  Its widespread availability helped to inspire a new kind of drink, called a cocktail. Most Americans made their cocktails with whiskey at first. But gin wasn’t far behind and by the mid-1800s, there were as many as 6 distillers in New York. Brooklyn alone was distilling almost 3 million gallons of grain spirit per year, most of it used to fuel the American gin revolution.  By 1870, the first London Dry style gin distillery was opened in Cincinnati, Ohio and slowly, slowly the switch to a drier type of gin began.  In those days, the malty, sweet taste of Genever and Old Tom gin was perfect for mixing with punches or slings, but not so good for the more subtle and evolving art of cocktail making.

A tale of three Harrys

By 1888, Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual contained 19 different gin drinks, all of which required either Genever or Old Tom gin. By 1908, the gin switch was on with the appearance (and soon dominance) of drier gins.  And then after the end of World War 1, came prohibition and everything changed. 
For the next 13 years, alcohol was illegal in the US. The result was the closure of thousands of bars, breweries and distilleries as the cocktail revolution imploded stateside.  On the other hand, this elevated the status of stylish new international bars such as the Savoy’s American Bar in London to The Ritz in Paris. 

The United States elite simply sailed over to Europe to sip their alcohol in style and freedom. These sophisticated establishments created the world’s first superstar mixologists such as Harry Craddock and Harry McElhone, who carved themselves a permanent spot in cocktail’s hall of fame.  

Just as an aside, why are all the best bartenders called Harry?

The dawn of the cocktail

By the early 20th century, classic cocktails had started to build themselves a reputation with drinks such as the Aviation, the Negroni and the Dry Martini first making an appearance.

These are all classic gin drinks that we still sip on today.  But back in the UK, enterprising Brits started looking for ways to protect their potential post-prohibition market. They did this by bootlegging their gins to the US to fuel the illegal speakeasy gin trade that was thriving.  However, this bootleg gin did not come cheap, so DIY “bathtub gin” began to fill the void. This was often dodgy (to say the least). But those commercially savvy Brits had established a “brand bridgehead” in the States. This was to pay off post-prohibition when big players such as Gordon’s and Gilbey’s opening their first US distilleries.

The rest is history

The rest, as they say, is history and ever since, gin has remained a staple cocktail ingredient across North America. From the Dry Martini to the classic G&T, gin has found a serious niche for itself in the biggest consumer market in the world.  Gin can be found in cocktails across the US from Long Island Iced Teas to Gimlets and from Singapore Slings to Hanky Pankys.

The new world of American gin

Not long ago, the craft beer revolution transformed the beer market in North America forever. Now, there are signs that the craft gin revolution is parking its tanks on the lawn. Great small batch gins such as Brooklyn’s No.209 Gin, New York’s Dorothy Parker, Washington’s Death’s Door and Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin.
And, in true New World style, new genres of gin are being created all the time. These include an increasing number of barrel-aged gins that are leading the charge for new flavour sensations that we can all enjoy!

Stay tuned for an article in the next few weeks with some of the best gins from New York and Canada. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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Indian gin

5 great Indian craft gins to watch out for in 2021

Indian gin is having its day in the sun. The world’s largest democracy is host to one of the most complex, diverse and varied cultures on the planet. This enormous and beautiful land is a heady mix of ancient religions, extraordinary food, incredible architecture and rich cultural diversity. Indian history and traditions are legendary and its influence over the centuries has been profound. 

This is a country that is proud to wear its history (and its heart) on its sleeve. Everybody from the Mughal emperors to Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great have left their mark here. The English, the French and the Portuguese took much away, but all added something unique to this rich culture.  The Chinese influence is there for all to see, wherever you go in India.

There is so much richness and diversity that nothing should surprise you – but, in India, it frequently does.

Recently, we posted a link to an article that identified that gin was the perfect pairing for a curry.  And that got us thinking about Indian gin. What is it? Is it any good? Where can I get it? 
The result is our handy guide to Indian gin and a top 5 list for you to try for yourselves. 

So, here’s what we found out…

Gin and India

Gin-making and India are not necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think about the Indian subcontinent.  I know that there are some half-decent Indian whiskey’s out there. I also know (from personal experience) that there are some pretty bad ones!

We all know that gin is usually served with Indian tonic water. In the context of India, it is a drink often associated with staid colonial clubs and wrap around verandas.  
Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that India has a fast growing (and innovative) craft gin industry.

And the even better news is that some of the Indian gins they produce taste pretty darned good! 

The Indian craft gin revolution

The same couldn’t have been said 5 years ago. Since 2015, the gin revolution in India has gone full throttle. India’s artisan gin makers are now producing some really interesting gins to sip alongside your curry and kebabs.

After all, India is where Indian tonic water first made an appearance as a way of making the antimalarial ingredient quinine, an easier sell. When added to their favourite imported gin tipple, this new “tonic” mixture became increasingly popular – and without it, there would be no gin and tonic! In 1870, Schweppes launched its first tonic water to the Indian market and since then, the G&T has never looked back.

The G&T is now one of the most widely drunk cocktails on the planet. As British colonial rule continued over the centuries, G&Ts became the preferred cooling drink for hot days at the colonial clubs and villas of Calcutta and Delhi.

From middle class tipple to cool craft cocktail

Over the last decade or so, gin has transformed itself from a middle class drink beloved in suburban English golf clubs to the sophisticated drink we know and love today.  Gin has become an exciting, dynamic drink that has captured the imagination of drinkers and distillers the world over.

Luckily for us, it has also led to a breathtaking variety of choice.  As the craft gin movement exploded, thousands of small craft gin distilleries began to appear around the world and India was no exception. Now there are a number of innovative new gin brands who are all tapping into the uniqueness of India.

So, here are some of the top Indian gins starting to make a name for themselves in the sub-continent and beyond. However, please be aware that many other brands use Indian names or references in their product names. But there are still only a dozen or so serious craft gin contenders in India, so choose your Indian gin carefully.

Get ready for a Gin-dian summer!

1. Terai: ABV 42.8%

This gorgeous Indian gin comes from Rajasthan, one of the most exotic and exciting parts of India.
It comes in a very attractive, ribbed glass bottle and is made by the India Craft Spirit Company. 

The team behind the gin took their inspiration from the countless local feasts and religious celebrations that India celebrates daily. They wanted the bottle to tap into this vibe without it becoming a pastiche of Indian cliches.

The result is attractive and sophisticated, inspired by temple architecture, local handicrafts and religious icons. And as for the gin, Terai takes a “grain-to-glass” approach using home-made rice grain spirit as its base.

It’s distilled in a handmade German still before being infused with 11 botanicals including fennel and coriander. This brings a unique green freshness to the gin. There are also strong perfumed notes, driven by lavender and rose. And then there is a distinctive nutty flavour at the end. 

All the botanicals have been sourced from within India, with the exception of the juniper which is imported from Europe.  This dominant juniper taste places it firmly in the London Dry camp.

2. Hapusa: ABV 43%

Hapusa is Sanskrit for juniper.  And that’s what the team at Nao Spirits have called their latest premium Indian gin creation to avoid any doubt that this is an Indian gin.

With juniper berries sourced directly from the Himalayas, this unusual gin also includes coriander seeds, turmeric, almonds and even mango as its key botanicals.  The delicious result of all this hard work is a unique premium gin that tantalises with delicate floral notes up front before taking you on a journey towards an earthy spiciness that works beautifully in a fresh, ice-filled G&T. 

This gin is building quite a reputation in India and is currently only available in New Delhi, Goa and Mumbai.  But keep your eyes peeled, I think it might break out of the subcontinent soon! 

3. Stranger and Sons: ABV 42.8%

Stranger and Sons is a great gin.  It’s been around since 2018. It’s made by the Third Eye distillery in Goa, but it has gathered botanicals from across the country as well as some produced in their own garden. 

As with most Indian gins, there’s a healthy hit of juniper.  But then comes the spice – black pepper, mace, nutmeg, coriander seed, angelica, licorice, cassi and citrus peels all make an appearance.  The result is an intriguing mix of citrus and spice that makes an extraordinarily complex G&T. It has a citrus forward character, driven by Gondhoraj lemons from the East. sweet limes and nimbu from Goa.

This is best served in a delicious G&T, with a slice of lemon if you want to bring out the citrus. Alternatively, add a little piece of ginger to release some of that warming spice. However you try it, this is delicious.

4. Jaisalmer: ABV 43%

Now, here’s something a bit different.
Jaisalmer gin from the Golden City – one of the most exotic and beautiful places in the whole of India.  Rising out of the Thar desert lies a walled fortress city of gold, peaked with crenellations, towers and turrets. Inside the city gates lies a vibrant citadel city packed with twisted alleys, hidden surprises and stunning views across the desert towards the Pakistan borders in the far distance.
This is a place straight out of the Arabian Nights and one of the most unique and atmospheric towns in all of India. 
The last place I would expect a modern craft gin brand to appear.

Made by the Rampur Distillery, this gin features botanicals such as lemongrass, Darjeeling Green Tea, juniper, citrus peels and other Indian herbs.


This gin is triple distilled in a copper pot still and was recently named the Best gin in Asia in 2019 by the Gin Guide Awards, UK so it is building quite a reputation internationally.

It’s packed with complex spicy notes from the pepper and the tea and balanced with citrus and floral notes from the orange and lemon peel.  Then, it’s all rounded off with a little blast of licorice from the angelica, licorice and caraway seeds. A gorgeous blend of flavours, this gin has something for everyone.

5. Jin Jiji: ABV 43%

This beautiful gin is from Goa, an area rich in Portuguese heritage as well as its reputation for partying backpackers. In fact, this gin is appropriately named.  The name JiJi is a derivation of the world jijivisha, which is an ancient Hindi word used to describe a lust for life. 

The JiJi team wanted a gin that would showcase the extraordinary diversity of India’s botanicals. They started with Himalayan juniper, foraged in some pretty hard to reach places on the highest mountain range on earth.  The guys add some unique local ingredients including high quality, locally grown cashew nuts, which were first introduced here by Portuguese rulers over 400 years ago. Other ingredients such as tulsi (basil) and chamomile are distilled in a copper pot still in Goa resulting in a beautiful sipping gin. 

Juniper dominates here, but backing it up are citrus notes, floral chamomile and spicy cloves and peppers.  All of this is rounded off with spicy black pepper and tea and a distinctive nutty aftertaste from the cashew nuts. This is not a subtle gin and it packs a lot of flavour in tribute to all corners of the great Indian subcontinent. 

Keep an eye out for these Indian gins. When the world’s largest democracy, with the world’s fastest growing middle class catches on, Indian brands are bound to make their mark. 
Try them now and be the first to tell your friends.

Fascinating fact: Apparently, there’s no specific word for cheers in India. They just say cheers.

Cheers!



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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Corpen Gin

How Corpen launched a no-nonsense gin brand in the middle of a pandemic

Corpen Gin is the most recent addition to the Barcelona gin scene. In the middle of a global pandemic, with shutters going down in businesses across the globe, somehow the company has managed to launch a unique craft gin brand. 

At Corpen, the focus is firmly on the gin, not the marketing: no extravagant back stories written by PR teams here. Corpen concentrates on making a unique gin with modest ambitions and a fabulous taste. 

Barcelona-based founders Brian Burgess (from the US) and Pablo Barrera (from Colombia) met while pursuing master’s degrees and are making their dreams come true. A few weeks ago, they invited us to join them for a socially distanced tour of their small distillery in Barcelona’s bohemian Poblenou district, where we tried their gin. 

It was delicious. And here’s their story.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves

Brian: I was an officer in the United States Navy for eight years before moving to Barcelona to study. My real passions are graphic design, travel, trying unusual spirits and pretty much anything to do with food. Oh, and barbecue, lots of barbecue. But we both enjoy getting deep inside the minds of our customers. 

We love understanding what motivates them, and coming up with new ideas. In this case we’re starting with gin, but we’ve always considered adding other spirits in the future.

Pablo: I have a different background altogether. I began my career as an industrial designer but I’ve done lots of things since then. What I really love is observing people’s behaviour. I love trying to work out what makes them tick. I’ve done that all through my business life and I still try to apply it to any project I get involved in.

How did you meet?

Pablo: We were both studying for our master’s degrees at the Istituto Europeo di Design in 2014. Brian was studying design management and I was going for a master’s in fashion management. Brian came to the city to get back into the design world after being in the Navy. 

I did it to internationalise my career after owning and growing a fashion business in my home city of Medellín. We quickly discovered that we shared the same passion for home brewing. It was that initial shared interest that made us start to think about the opportunities. 

The ideas that would eventually become Corpen really all started at that moment. 

What made you switch from brewing beer to think about starting a gin distillery?

Brian: At the start, our top priority was finding a way of building our careers so that we could remain in Spain. It all began with some casual conversations about how to start a craft brewing business. But then I traveled to the UK and spotted another opportunity.  

One of the things I noticed was that wherever there was a craft beer revolution, a wave of craft distillation soon followed. That’s the evolution that we mapped out and once we identified it, we saw it all over the UK, US and Australia, among others. 

There were consistent shifts in the market away from industrial spirits which made room for small, bespoke craft distilleries.

What gin experience did you have before you started this project?

Pablo: Our experience with gin was limited. We were fully accustomed to the mass consumer brands and we both liked experimenting with new cocktails, but we had no deep connection with the distillation process. Brian also brought a lot of entrepreneurial knowledge with him from the US and spotted an opportunity.

Brian: Yes. At the beginning we really saw the opportunity in craft distilling, but the actual product wasn’t as clear. Truth be told, my gin experiences were not good ones until I had a craft gin at a distillery in Washington DC. The light bulb really came on for me at that moment.  

We dove into gin after that, and spent considerable time studying the market, the process, the profiles of gins we liked, the equipment and space we’d need, before we decided gin was the place to start.  

How did you learn distilling and what equipment did you use?

Corpen Gin

Pablo: We started off using a small, basic 1-litre copper still that we bought online from a Portuguese company. It was very traditional in style, shape and functionality. But that small still gave us a chance to learn the principles of distillation. We did all our first experiments on this little still. It allowed us to create our first recipes, conduct tests. 

We even held some personal workshops, which was a great way for us to validate our ideas and test our recipes.

Brian: Absolutely. That was our starting point. And slowly, as we learned more about the process, it led to larger production batches. We learned about distillation the old fashioned way: by reading, watching videos and talking with other more experienced distillers. That’s the way most businesses start. 

It was a process of mistakes and errors and try and try again.

There are loads of craft gins out there now. What makes Corpen Gin distillery different from other Barcelona gin distillers?

Brian: There are lots of things that make Corpen gin different from the rest. One of those is flexibility. We react quickly to changes. That makes us ideal for companies or special clients who want to customise or personalise their products for events or for their own businesses. 

We can help them make unique, branded personalised gins in small batches at a sensible price.  

Pablo: We also take a unique approach to our customers. We include them in our decisions. We want to be really clear about what they expect from their spirit.  We want to involve them in the process right from the start. We work with them to create new recipes. For us, the customer is the starting point for any product development. 

When we make our gins, the customer is the beginning and the end of everything we do.

What is your mission at Corpen Gin?

Brian: We are distillers that literally started from scratch. We’ve learned everything from the bottom up. And, actually, the fact that we didn’t know too much at the start was probably a good thing. It made us think that many spirits drinkers were in the same boat. 

They’d love to know more about the actual gin that lies behind the glossy branding and marketing hype. We also noticed that many craft spirit brands had started to develop convoluted back stories. Lots of fancy narratives about ancient processes and local legends. This struck us as a bit fake. 

In reality, distillation is a very simple process. You can do it in your kitchen.

Pablo: Yes, part of what we want to do is to open our brand up to the public. We want to empower them to understand how these gins are made. That way, they can make better buying decisions. 

With all the gin choices available on the market right now, we want customers to choose the exact gin that’s right for their tastes, not just the ones the industry decides to push. We want to educate people about gin and other spirits. Distilling alcohol has been done for centuries. 

These days,we are lucky enough to make much better spirits than ever before, even with relatively simple equipment.

Tell us about your brand philosophy

Brian: Our philosophy is built around one of the most important values of business: transparency. We want to show people exactly what our gin is all about. In the same way as the craft brewing industry did in the beer business. 

These days customers already know exactly what type of beer they like, they make an informed choice and have it in their mind at the point of purchase. In the same way that beer drinkers understand about hops, we want gin drinkers to understand about juniper berries.

What makes Corpen gin different from other gin brands?

Pablo: When it comes down to it, a brand is as simple as perception. We want people to think of us as their ‘spirit guides’.  We want them to understand where we’re coming from and what goes into their drink. We don’t want to do this as the sole proprietors of knowledge.

Brian: Yes. Ideally we want people to think of Corpen as open-source, freely sharing what we know. We don’t want to invent imaginative back stories to convince people of their fantasies. You won’t find us telling tales of ancient forgotten recipes found in great-grandma’s drawer in the attic. 

We want to bring our gin to life in practical terms. The ultimate test is in the taste and we think people react better to that reality. Not the one created by marketers.

What are your plans for Corpen going forward?

Brian: We want to scale up our production although we’ll still only do small batches. That’s enough for us to cover the demand that we already know about. We also want to start developing new recipes and collaborate with some companies who we’ve been talking to. 

Some of them are already waiting for us to start working on projects. Once we get rolling, we hope we will find other partnerships with industries, businesses and private customers.

How hard has it been to set up a craft gin business?

Brian: The process has actually been really hard, and especially long. By hard, what we mean is that we’ve been challenged by bureaucracy. No single task was that hard by itself, but the accumulation and sequencing of those tasks definitely tested our patience and resolve. 

Also, since we’re the first official distillery operating in the city of Barcelona, we needed to navigate fresh ground to get the appropriate activity license to sell and distribute across the EU. Being the first is never easy.

Pablo: I agree. Understanding the governmental procedures and regulations here has been our biggest challenge.  Also it was clear that some government institutions, agents and inspectors didn’t know how to deal with us, since nobody had asked these questions before. Time has also been a constant challenge. 

It’s been more than five years since we had our first conversation about this. But it’s all been worth it. We’ve managed to open a new craft distillery in Poblenou, right in the heart of Barcelona. We’re surrounded by some of the most innovative businesses in Europe but we operate from a small facility. 

This is just right for us to produce the volume we need and helps us to control the quality and the production capacity while retaining our flexibility.

What have been your highest moments so far–and your lowest?

Pablo: Thankfully there have been lots of high moments to punctuate some long periods of slogging away. One of the best moments was when we finally found the great location we’re in now. It is an amazing spot, beyond what we could have hoped for. 

After that, the day we got our activity license approved by the Ajuntament of Barcelona was a big day, and it allowed us to start operating. 

Brian: Yeah, that licence was really the capstone of a long process that included a half dozen other licences and permissions, which of course had to be done beforehand. So when we finally got it, it was a cause for real celebration, with a Corpen G&T of course! 

We’ve had our down moments as well, like when the Spanish government rejected our business plan in our applications for entrepreneur visas. They argued that starting an urban distillery in the city of Barcelona lacked innovation and made no positive contribution to the national economy. 

We also had a subcontractor do some terrible construction work that we had to tear out and completely redo. Luckily, we’re not easily deterred!

What is your ultimate ambition for Corpen gin?

Brian: Our ultimate goal is to encourage people to think of these new gins in the same transparent way that they have begun to apply to craft beer. We want them to appreciate the ingredients and understand how they impact taste. We also want to make sure that the processes are visible for all to see. 

If we do this in the right way, then we’ll have helped people to make better decisions when they go to buy their gin, and really understand what they’re drinking.

How did you cope with the Coronavirus? Did it set you back or spur you on?

Pablo: It certainly slowed things down. We had initially planned to launch in May 2020, but this crisis has been tricky for many people. Despite the fact that the crisis has driven higher domestic alcohol consumption, the industry actually shrank by 40% in 2020. 

We managed to avoid the impact of this drop, since we were only just getting started. We had no track record, no sales to anniversary and no customer base to disappoint.

Brian: Actually, it gave us a great opportunity to understand a new post-pandemic scenario. There will be new rules and new opportunities and we’re agile enough to position ourselves appropriately. For us, existing during the crisis while building the facilities allowed us to keep working, while avoiding any potential bigger impact. 

We wouldn’t call that completely ‘positive’, but the situation we are leaving maybe has favoured us. 

What does Corpen mean and why did you choose that name?

Brian: This is a nod to my naval background. The word corpen is the term used for a naval signal flag used by NATO countries. When a ship formation needs to communicate, they often use flags. The corpen flag literally means a change of course, a change of direction.  

We chose this name after sharing some ideas with a group of trusted friends. We held a creative workshop in which we analysed each name to understand the feelings they evoked and their potential to represent our product truthfully. 

In the end, we listened to all the feedback and decided that Corpen was the most appropriate name for us. Plus it was a visual expression of choosing a new route, which is exactly what we are trying to do with this brand.

Now that you’ve officially launched, what is your business strategy?

Brian: Initially we plan to target the people who are already curious about spirits. People who like to explore new things and who appreciate the love and effort that goes into making a gin with craft processes and unique ingredients. People who want to experiment with new things. 

We want to tap into people’s curiosity for a new gin brand, located in the heart of the city of Barcelona with Mediterranean spirit. We also want to let them know that we’re respectful of the environment. We want them to see beyond the marketing stories to understand the real value of the craft gin process. 

Those are the people that we want to reach.

Pablo: We also don’t intend to only make one recipe forever and ever. Our plan is to have three or four gins at a time, each named after a classic Mediterranean wind. Ideally we’ll have two all year, and rotate seasonal recipes in the spring/summer and autumn/winter, using seasonal ingredients. 

Tell us about the process. How did you settle on the right flavours and balances?

Brian: This is a real collaborative effort. In the early stages, we both worked together experimenting with about 40 different botanicals. Then we validated our findings in a workshop with people close to us. We asked them to mix things up. We wanted them to experience different flavours and combinations. 

Based on their feedback, we started mapping out our first recipes. 

Pablo: Yes, that’s the same way we do all our product development these days. We try not to decide on any recipes without testing them with somebody who gives us independent feedback. We like to try different combinations of flavours.  

These are then adjusted to a small scale for the initial tests before being ramped up to see how it works in a bigger production run. Then we test the final result, check what is right regarding the balance and complexity we’re after and figure out what needs to be fixed.

Tell us about your gin. What is its flavour profile? What are the botanicals? Why did you choose them?

Corpen Gin botanicals

Brian: Clients will always have significant input into the product development. Of course, juniper is a given. But in our recipe profiles, we try to build deeper combinations of flavours that are different from what the market usually offers, which tends to be led by  fruity/floral or citrus/spicy flavours. 

We want to discover more rooty, moody, earthy, herbal and dry flavours. But we want to be careful that we don’t stray into eccentric or extravagant combinations just for the sake of being different. That requires some discipline. 

Many of our inspirations for flavor combinations come from the food world, and translating those into liquid is fascinating and fun. 

Pablo: We chose these flavour profiles not just to offer variety and choice to the market, but also because we believe that gin is a drink that is good enough to be consumed in cocktails but also good enough to be sipped neat. Corpen is a gin full of complex and complementary flavours. 

It’s been made to be enjoyed in the right atmosphere. We think it’s best served in an elegant glass with a large ice cube and a generous serving of our 45% ABV gin. 

Anybody can enjoy the elegant taste of our gin, whether it’s sipped in their living room, enjoyed while reading a beautiful book, relaxing in a calm space or with people you love. That is what it’s all about. 

What production method do you use?

Brian: We use two different capacity stainless steel stills. Each of them has different copper plates that help us to purify the spirit in the distillation process. Having two still sizes gives us flexibility for different batch sizes. 

We’re happy to do short personalised distillations or medium/small industry size batches for bigger, more specialised demand.

What’s your perfect recommended serve for your gin?

Pablo: Our gin began its life during the explosion of gin and tonic consumption here in Spain. Classic G&Ts really let our gin shine and we garnish with a squeeze of fresh orange peel. We always recommend using a neutral, high-quality tonic water. The brands may vary, but key is that it’s made with natural flavours and no artificial stuff. 

That way, you’ll be able to appreciate the ingredients better, with no interferences of distractions from unnecessary flavours. The classic gin cocktail will always be the Dry Martini. We think that our first gin, Corpen Llevant, is the perfect pour for a Dry Martini, allowing its delicate and complex flavours to stand out in the drink. 

We like Dolin Dry vermouth in ours, but we’re always open to experimentation. 

What is your personal favourite gin and why?

Brian: I’m not sure if I have a singular favorite, but I have favorites in certain categories. We’re lucky in Spain, we have many good Spanish gin brands and a great tradition of gin drinking here and I love Gin Mare as a new-style gin. On the traditional end, I love Plymouth Gin, and not just for its historical connection to the Navy. 

Also that distillery in Washington DC that opened my eyes to craft gin all those years ago must be mentioned: it’s called New Columbia Distillery and they make Green Hat Gin. 

Do you have a particular gin hero?

Pablo: There’s not one in particular. But all those whose curiosity has led them to experiment at home have taken the first step. They will be the ones who drive change in the next phase of gin production. We encourage all of these gin heroes to be a part of a new generation, taking this old spirit to new places. 

Besides those, Brian is definitely an unstoppable entrepreneur who has put his passion into the development of the company but also into gathering all the processes and technical knowledge that have helped us both to understand gin and the distillation process.

Can you recommend a great cocktail to make with Corpen Gin?

Pablo: Corpen gin is packed full of flavours. Our recipes suggest different aromas and tastes that we think are enjoyed best with as few additional flavours as possible. But we would love to hear back from any bartenders or gin enthusiasts to find other combinations. 

The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and your personal tastes. There is a perfect gin for everyone.

Brian: We have received lots of positive feedback from people who’ve tried our gin, including many suggestions about how they think we should pair our gins. We believe in the sense of community, sharing. 

So, we’re happy to share all the results of our experiments with gin and all its possible combinations with anybody who might share our passion. That’s how we’ll be able to identify the right combinations for each palate and for every taste.

Any unusual anecdotes or stories?

Brian: During our three-year research and development phase, we were able to share our recipes with more than 1,000 people visiting Barcelona. We did this in a workshop called ‘Make Your Own Gin’. In those workshops we discovered many things that helped us to prove our assumptions. 

We held these workshops in a beautiful historical protected building in Plaça Real, Barcelona. They were held in a small room on the third floor, with no lift. We had many guests complaining about the stairs on the way up. But for some reason, they seemed more than happy on the way down. 

Pablo: It was wonderful to see them arrive and watch their surprise as they discovered that gin doesn’t come from fermented juniper, but juniper infused into a neutral spirit, vodka. We watched the smiles appear on their faces as they watched the first drops of gin appear in their little personal stills. 

But the less beautiful thing was hand-washing dozens of valuable glasses and fragile equipment in a 20 cm² stone sink in the corner of a 17th century building in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter. That made us dream about having the fastest and biggest dishwasher on the market. Luckily, we have already bought it and it’s working. 

So feel free to join us any time you like. One thing we won’t have to worry about is the washing up.

What’s next for Corpen gin?

Pablo: Now we’re up and running, we’d like to spend as much time as possible delighting people with our creations and exceeding their expectations. We want to show people what gin is about so that we can build this craft industry together, not only in Barcelona but also across Spain and Europe. 

We understand that by combining our knowledge and enthusiasm we can reveal to you the joy behind the gin that some of the bigger spirit brands hide under a blanket of made up marketing.

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