Cross Keys gin, from the Latvian capital of Rīga, takes inspiration from the bittersweet tastes of the Baltic.
Price: ~ £26
For those who have seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, the symbol of crossed keys will be very familiar to you. For those who haven’t, I would suggest you remedy that immediately! In the meantime, I can tell you that this gin is named after this ancient symbol of urban hospitality and is part of Riga’s heraldry.
It is also influenced by Riga Black Balsam, a Latvian bitter herbal liqueur that dates back to 1792. A pharmacist named Kunze crafted the famous recipe using a blend of 24 natural ingredients, including valerian, wormwood, black pepper, and ginger, as well as rarer botanicals like gentian and Peruvian balsamic oil. Cross Keys gin was created by the same master distiller who blends Balsam today.
Eagle eyed readers might notice that this is Batch #01.
As you can see, it’s quite distinctive! The bottle is a natural black clay (like the Balsam mentioned above) reminiscent of the old stoneware gin and genever bottles, and despite looking about a foot and a half tall, it’s not the tallest bottle I have, and does actually fit on a shelf of decent height, so no worries there. Not only is it adorned with a beautiful set of labels, printed in gold (with a little black) and featuring lovely illustrations, the bottle itself is lightly embossed with floral patterns around the labels (just visible in the image near the top of the bottle). On the back is another label with a blurb about the gin and process, as well as the usual legal info. It’s probably one of my favourite bottles. I love it.
A dark, spicy juniper creeps from the glass like a flowing mist. It’s full of pepper and treacle notes, thick and black, giving it a bittersweet aroma. There are some lighter florals in there too, and even a hint of cola. It’s really interesting. The makers describe it as an ‘interplay’ of ingredients and that describes it perfectly. There’s a dance of aromas here: rich, sweet, pungent, peppery, bitter, spiced, and fresh. It smells great.
Neat, I’m amazed how different the taste is to the aroma. Right away I get the chamomile, smooth and with that classic earthy floral taste. After that I get the juniper and a mild peppery note, that slowly transforms into a dark green herbal flavour. It’s more bitter that the nose suggests, but not overly so, with a definite underlying sweetness that makes me think of treacle again. Running alongside it all, just at the edges is a warm clove-like spice.
With water the chamomile takes a step back, while more peppery notes come forward along with the rosemary, which becomes clearer in the herbal notes. It’s greener, a little more pungent and earthy, but also with a little more freshness. The rich treacle diminishes greatly, but it doesn’t make the flavour any more bitter.
Finally, a G&T (2:1 Lamb & Watt Light Tonic) with a sprig of rosemary and lemon twist to garnish, as recommended by the makers. The result is yet another unexpected twist! There’s more sweetness here than I expected, and less of the peppery spice. It’s lovely and refreshing, with a clean, crisp taste and a little bite to it that’s very difficult to describe. It’s like a herbal bitters, which is very nice, but there’s also something catching a bit at the back of my throat (which to be fair I think is as much down to the tonic) that spoils it a little for me.
I think Cross Keys is a really good, interesting gin that has good potential and versatility. It’s perhaps on the bitter side for some, though I think it is most definitely a classic gin at heart. I would have to say it didn’t live up to its wonderful aroma, but I still think it’s really good and I’ll definitely be trying it in other things (and with other tonics, in particular the L&W Basil). It’s probably safest to say try before you buy, but for the price I think it’s great.
Remove half a feather if you prefer your gin a little more sweet/citrus flavoured
Cross Keys is available online
All reviews are of the author’s personal collection, bought and paid for by the author, unless otherwise stated.