No. 3 Gin, 1816 in St Tropez Vodka

by Chikashi Miyamoto

Here are two tipples of high quality and with distinctive characteristics. Many will find it difficult to remain ambivalent about either of them.

Berry Bros & Rudd No 3 Gin

I discovered No.3 by accident, at my local supermarket of all places. Gin has its origin in the Low Countries so perhaps it is not so surprising that a niche brand made its way to a supermarket chain here albeit it is still something of an effort to find a Hendricks stockist in my neck of the woods. The striking bottle first caught my eyes, but what got me interested enough to actually buy it is the fact that it is by the venerable London wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd. Gin being my favourite tipple, I did not need any other reason to take one home.

You can read the No.3 story at their web site, which I visited only this week and found to be very well done, but also confirmed the impression I got from having a couple of servings.

Firstly, it is a very smooth gin. The Dutch production is of very high standard. There is nothing harsh or coarse about it. It is up there amongst the best. But then, you would expect nothing less from Berry Bros & Rudd. And, it is 92 proof, unlike some of the lesser, mass-produced gins that are only 70 proof.

The fundamentals are solid, and it is evident that they had set out to create a product that is distinctive, with a flavour that sets it apart from all other London dry gins. I think they succeeded, as there is no chance that you will mistake No.3 for another gin in a blind tasting session. However, or consequently, the result will not allow you to be ambivalent about No.3. The juniper and citrus peels are, to put it mildly, very dominant. I actually find them a bit overwhelming.

You may find that No.3 plays well with a bit of vermouth, or you may find that they clash violently. You’ll need to judge for yourself.

Once the warmer months arrive and tomatoes are back in season, I plan to make a No. 3 Bloody Mary to see if I can take advantage of the screaming juniper and citrus peels.

1816 in St Tropez Vodka

Another supermarket find (south of France) is 1816 in St Tropez vodka, 2011 vintage. The name is a mouthful in any language and so is the elixir itself, in a good way. 1816 and No.3 prove that a visit to the supermarket isn’t always dull. Unlike some French vodkas, this is not made from grape. Rather, it is made from certified organic wheat.

I am suspicious of anything labelled organic or fair trade. They tend to command higher prices even though neither label actually says anything about the product itself. One is supposed to be about the cultivation process (organic) of the main ingredient(s) and the other one is supposed to be about business practices upstream (fair trade), neither of which says anything about whether the product is any good.

I recently received a magnum bottle of Negroamaro produced by a Salentino winery, whose name now eludes me, that specialises in certified organic Negroamaro grapes. I adore Negroamaro. However, if my first encounter with Negroamaro were this organic one, then I probably would not be inclined to touch another Negroamaro without being prompted by someone very persuasive.

The fair trade black peppercorns marketed by Oxfam have as much flavour as a piece of cardboard. Demanding a premium price for an inferior product indicates that the notion of fair trade does not include consideration of fairness to the end consumer.

Admittedly, that was a bit harsh. A marketer understands that both ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ sell ideas, not products. As with any other idea, there is a problem when the product fails to live up to the idea, or the price premium charged for the idea, for whatever reason. I did not buy 1816 because it is organic, so the idea was not my reference point for the product’s performance. Rather, I bought it out of curiosity, curiosity that was strong enough to overcome my reservations about anything labelled organic. How could I not be supremely curious about a vodka produced in St Tropez?

As it is evident from the empty bottle, I rather like 1816. It is exceptionally clean and smooth. Very creamy too. It is the sort of vodka that ought to be had neat and cold, undiluted and pure. There is not a hint of coarseness that requires grinding some black pepper (but not from Oxfam) as you would with the harsh and coarse ‘best selling vodka in Russia’, Russian Standard Vodka. 1816 reminds me of Stolichnaya Elit in many ways, other than one element.

On the distinction of being the best selling product in a given market, I find it interesting how people interpret it. All it actually says is something about the annual sell-through value or volume; it says nothing about the product itself. I think the popular, and dare I say natural, conclusion drawn from the premise is that the product must be good if it is the most popular product in its category. I accept that it is possible that it is true at times, for certain products. However, more often than not, you will find that the reason for its popularity is because it is cheap and cheerful and is supported by an extensive distribution network and a large marketing spend. And, you would not really go so far as to recommend it to someone you consider a friend. The best selling beer in the US is Bud Light. The best selling sake in Japan is Ozeki One Cup. Popular, obviously, but would you really recommend them to your friends if you were familiar with alternative options in the same product category? Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, you might simply state the fact that it is the best selling item and leave the unsuspecting punter to his own devices to interpret the fact…

1816 has a chocolate flavour, not exaggerated but not subtle either. It was unexpected, but it was a pleasant surprise. Because of its creaminess, I find it tempting to roll it around in my mouth as the chocolate note changes to something that reminds me of Baileys. Like I said, I don’t think you can be ambivalent about 1816, but it is definitely worth a sip or three. If you decide that you don’t like it, you can send the remainder to me.