Inspired by the scents of the ‘fragrant harbour’, Perfume Trees gin attempts to capture the essence of Hong Kong.
Price: ~ £75 (50cl)
Aged tangerine peel
Longjing green tea
White champaca blossom
Imported exclusively for Craft Gin Club’s April offering, Perfume Trees is made using botanicals from one of my favourite cities in the world: Hong Kong (I understand however, that it is distilled in Holland!). Taking inspiration from the history of the harbour’s trading in fragrant goods (the name Hong Kong being a literal translation of the Cantonese for ‘fragrant harbour’ or ‘spice harbour’), the makers of the gin, Kit Cheung and Joseph Cheung, also wanted to capture the essence of the city itself. This is no mean task as despite initial appearances, Hong Kong is one of the most culturally and historically diverse cities in the world. A city of rich history and futuristic design, there is a lot of contrast here, and such a thing is not easy to translate into flavour.
The bottle itself as a standard squared flask shape, but that it not where the design has been focused. Everything this gin represents is in the label, which is back printed to show through the liquid inside. On the front is a narrow label giving the name of the gin in gold.
It doesn’t take a keen eye to notice that the image is in the design of a tree, but that’s certainly not where the story ends. The shape of the tree spells out ‘beneath the perfume tree’ in Chinese calligraphy. Around that, forming the leaves of the tree are the botanicals, written in Cantonese. It suits the branding and name of the gin perfectly, evoking a sense of fragrant tranquillity.
On the back of the label is a somewhat pretentious, self-indulgent sounding ‘walk’ through the city, describing the experience of the main botanicals in the gin. Finally, above all the usual legal info, is a Cantonese poem by Yan Shu. All nice touches and, from a Western perspective, help the bottle to stand out.
On the nose, Perfume Trees lives up to its name from the moment it leaves the bottle. It’s a stunning mix of exotic fragrances that flitter between perfume, aromatic, and fruity. Juniper is not the dominant botanical here, though it is still there, just. For me, the champaca blossom and tangerine peel (from 15-year-old tangerines no less!) are the stars, creating a mouthwatering combination of orange blossom notes. At the risk of doing this gin a great disservice, if you’ve ever had an orange Opal Fruit (Starburst for you youngsters) (and it’s been years for me), you might remember the strength of the flavour making your mouth water as you chew. That’s what it reminds me of: sweet, sweet, tangy orange. The green tea is fairly prominent too, along with the spices that lend the aroma a satisfying bitter-stewed freshness to counteract the sweet orange. It may not be a classic gin profile, but it is divine.
Neat juniper is noticeably present, proudly carrying a flag with the word ‘gin’ on it while leading a parade of flavours. From there the taste is a lot less sweet than on the nose, which I think is a good thing. There’s an earthy note from the angelica, and a wonderful stewed flavour from the tea that blends nicely with the rich fragrant blossom. The citrus does not overpower at all, instead it creates a lovely backdrop to everything else, with the spices, particularly the cinnamon and cardamom showing towards the end. There is an incredible amount of flavour here, and the care taken in the botanicals shows.
Water brings out some of the more bitter, earthy notes with the grapefruit and sandalwood in particular for me showing themselves. I often find that water can bring out overly bitter or sour flavours for my tastes, but this is not the case here, there are still some beautiful sensations to the flavour, with the fresh champaca blossoms still shining through. The tea though adds an extra layer of depth along with the headier spices and thick liquorice. It’s almost a completely different drink, but one I am extremely happy with. The more I drink this, the more I like it.
Finally, a G&T (3:1 The London Essence Original Indian) with dried kumquat to garnish. The result is… disappointing.
Finally, a G&T (2:1 The London Essence Original Indian) with dried kumquat to garnish. The result is very good, though in my opinion this particular tonic is too strong/harsh for the flavours in the gin. There’s a significant degree of louching, which shows how full of essential oils and flavours the gin is. The flavours come through well, but have to fight their way there and in my opinion some important factors are lost along the way. This is not, for me, a gin I want in a dry, bitter G&T but unfortunately that’s what this is on the way to becoming. It’s only really the stronger citrus and aromatic spice notes that come through, and for me that’s not where the magic of this gin lies. I am wondering whether a Mediterranean tonic is the better option for this gin, or indeed another drink altogether. What I have here is by no means bad, there are some interesting flavours coming through, but I know this isn’t the best this gin can be.
For me, Perfume Trees is a wonderful journey of flavours that constitute a genuine drinking experience. It’s a gin to really sit with and consider, because there really is so very much to taste, both neat and with water. As for longer drinks, I will have to put serious consideration to what would best highlight this gin’s unique profile, because for me a G&T ain’t it! Perhaps a Bramble or Bees Knees to start. My advice though would be to try a small G&T before committing too much of what is in reality, an incredibly expensive gin to the glass. In short, I absolutely love it. But…
Let’s be real. Firstly, the only place I can find to buy it is from the distiller, and ignoring shipping and taxes it’s already £75 for a 50cl bottle (CGC members got a 70cl bottle which is frankly mind blowing value). That is A LOT. Now, I have broadened my horizons over the past few months when it comes to gin pricing (my friends at The Gin Foundry wrote a wonderful article on it recently) and thankfully my access to the Gin Club magazine gives me a greater insight into the specifics of this particular gin (i.e. the cost of using fresh White Champaca Blossom rather than dried etc.) so I am certain that this particular gin costs a lot to produce. That doesn’t change the fact that it is easily the most expensive gin I have ever come across. Add that to the fact that it’s extremely difficult to get hold of, I would say two things. First, I’m going to have to deduct a little from the overall score, and second, bravo CGC!
In very short. If you get a chance to try this gin, I definitely recommend it. If you get a chance to buy it… see if you can try it first as I’d hate for you to spend that much and not like it!
Add half a feather if money is no object. Add another half if you live in HK and can get it!
Remove up to 1 feather if you prefer classic, juniper led gin.
Perfume Trees is available from the distiller, in Hong Kong
All reviews are of the author’s personal collection, bought and paid for by the author, unless otherwise stated.