By Will Lowe
Excitement is mounting in anticipation of the Bibendum’s Annual Tasting, this year themed “A Matter of Taste“.
One of the seminars involves what at first sight seems an unlikely pairing: a gin distillery and a perfumer. The Cambridge Distillery and Penhaligon’s are coming together to explain how their two worlds overlap more than you might think.
Both gin and perfume are products of two processes: distillation and blending. The common ground for The Cambridge Distillery and Penhaligon’s is the use of vacuum distillation. In short, this involves lowering the atmospheric pressure within the still which in turn reduces the boiling points of any liquid contained therein. The result is a fine botanical distillate of a quality simply not achievable through conventional methods. Which brings me to my next point: botanicals.
This ‘catch all’ term for the various fruits, roots, herbs, barks, flowers and spices which combine to make both gin and perfume is often used and, almost as often, abused. Within the gin world it is simply a by-word for ‘ingredients’. Though the practice differs from one distillery to the next, The Cambridge Distillery deals with each of its botanicals individually – another practice shared by Penhaligon’s. Rather than distilling all the constituent botanicals of a blend at the same time, dealing with each ingredient individually enables the identification of precisely the right maceration (steeping) period and distillation pressure and temperature for each botanical. This is rather like cooking a meal, where each element of the dish is cooked at different temperatures for different times before being served together.
Once distilled, the process of blending can begin. This delicate combination of art and science requires careful balancing of flavours and physical properties. When blending, various distillates are selected to play one of three roles (in both gin and perfume): head notes, heart notes and base notes. The base forms the structure upon which the recipe is built, the heart carries the core ‘character’ and the head notes (or ‘top notes’) provide the aromatic qualities.
In the seminar we will be considering these similarities and differences, talking through the blending process and offering the unique opportunity to compare individual gin and perfume botanical distillates side by side.
I hope you can join us on February 6th at Bibendum’s Annual Tasting, A Matter of Taste, for what will be a one-of-a-kind experience.