Chalkstream Gold is a special edition from The River Test distillery for Craft Gin Club
Price: ~ £NA
Grains of Paradise
Maris otter barley
Sarah and Jon Nelson are the team behind The River Test Distillery, named after the river that flows through the heart of Hampshire where the couple have lived for over 30 years, in the village of Longparish. If there is a more quintessentially English description of the beginnings of a bottle of gin, I think we would struggle to find it! Indeed, visit the website and you will be greeted with images of glorious British countryside, lush green trees, and the clear waters of the river Test. The brand isn’t just selling you gin, it’s selling you the apotheosis of the English countryside.
Having decided to take the plunge into the world of gin, the couple converted an old building on the 33-acre family estate, home to Sarah, Jon, their four daughters, and Sarah’s parents, and situated on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The distillery overlooks the river Test, and it’s here that the pair took their inspiration, picking botanicals local to the estate and river, so that they could tell the story of their surroundings in their gin. The SSSI also means that they are responsible for maintaining the flora and fauna of the area, so the couple were keen to make sure their project was environmentally friendly, and their bottles are made of 55% recycled glass.
In 2020 they entered their London Dry into the World Gin Awards, and were overjoyed when it won Best London Dry Gin in England. At the end of the year they also picked up a Gin Master medal at The Spirits Business Awards.
For the CGC edition the pair picked a local barley, Maris Otter, bred especially for craft brewing, for their key botanical. Bred in the 1960’s, it is considrered the gold standard for brewers and distillers, having a unique flavour, and great environmental credentials.
The bottle is a tall, rounded shape with oblong footprint, but don’t let the word ‘oblong’ sway you into thinking this is at all dull! It’s a stunner. Topped with a dark wooden stopper ringed at the base in metallic bronze, there’s a narrow label around the neck that mirrors the stopper in bronze and brown, with the master distiller signature above a statement that the gin is ‘made for Craft Gin Club members’. The bottle itself is debossed with diagonal lines, split by the front and back labels that wrap around almost the entire body of the glass. When looking through the clear glass, the lines give the impression of a cris-cross pattern that is designed to resemble the pattern of a fishing net in the water. The real magic here though is the colouring, which for this edition is a lovely warm amber (their original is green, to match the colour of the riverbed) that begins at the base and fades up leaving the top all but colourless. It has a gorgeous richness to it, chosen to mirror the golden hue of the barley, and the colour is quite rare in gin so it definitely stands out. The front label, in deep slightly metallic brown shows the logo of a flyfishing lureabove the name of the distillery and edition name, as well as the volume and abv in the corners. On the back there’s a blurb about the distillery and gin, as well as the usual info. Though I know that ‘brown’ isn’t for everyone, I absolutely love this bottle and the feel it gives.
Sweet, citrusy juniper leaps from the glass, fresh and vibrant, along with hints of florals and spice. It’s a lovely aroma, and if you had told me elderflower and cinnamon feature I would have utterly believed you! I am wondering whether those notes are courtesy of the barley, which has a creamy element for me. The citrus comes through very well, fleshy and sweet rather than tangy, and for me that’s where the main body of the aroma stays and it’s positively mouthwatering. Further in the background, notes of dry, herbaceous leaves snap and crumble to mix with the angelica and coriander. Overall it’s a fairly classic, warm citrus gin profile, but a lovely one at that.
Neat, the juniper is stronger and more dry than on the nose, providing a little kick that quickly warms to a slightly bitter, green flavour, full of citrus and slight herbal elements. It’s definitely on the drier end of the spectrum, as opposed to the nose which for me comes across quite sweet, but that lends it an air of maturity which I think will work well in drinks. The grains of paradise provide a nice bite amongst the baseline of citrus, and there are lovely flashes of sweetness along with a soft, creamy texture. There’s definitely plenty of flavour here, and a complexity that provides a good body to the liquid.
Water opens up the more earthy flavours, with angelica making a proud appearance, along with orris. The profile remains dry and a little bitter, but here the darker notes as I like to call them, come through further: earthy, bitter, dry, and vegetal. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not one for folks with a sweet tooth. I’m beginning to think this gin’s for mixing.
Finally, a G&T (3:1 Franklin & Sons Indian Tonic with dried lemon and cucumber to garnish). The result is understated but very tasty (Note: I removed the dried cucumber after my first sip, and added another glug of gin!). For me, the citrus works well, and the earthy notes compliment the tonic nicely. It has a good balance of sweet and dry, with a nice lemony punch thanks to the garnish. For me, it could push through the tonic a little more (I know some people like a G&T at 2:1 but for me that takes it from a long drink to something else, and that’s personally not what I’m after in a G&T), and show a bit more depth.
Chalkstream gold is a solid gin with a great flavour, I just don’t think I’ve found the best way to help it shine yet (though I get the feeling it would make a good Martini!). Though it’s sweet on the nose, I think this would be a good choice for fans of dry, slightly bitter gins and while there’s plenty of warm citrus in there, there’s a definite herbal edge that comes through nicely. There’s nothing that really jumps out in terms of uniqueness, but that is sometimes an overrated target for distillers to aim for. What matters is it’s well made, and tastes good, and this definitely ticks those boxes!
Add half a feather if you’re a fan of dry, bitter gin
Chalkstream Gold is available only through Craft Gin Club (at the time of writing)
All reviews are of the author’s personal collection, bought and paid for by the author, unless otherwise stated.