Two real treats arrived for me off the plane from England. First, my good friend Marty, back from a couple of years as Brand Ambassador and general rapscallion for 42 Below over in England. The second treat was the hip flask of Oxley Gin Martin had slipped into his luggage.
I had first heard bout Oxley over at the Dizzy Fizz, and a few times on Twitter. Marty managed to fill in a few more juicy details.
Oxley has been developed by Bacardi, in response to an acknowledgement that the traditional style, premium Gin segment is growing very quickly and that the stalwart of their portfolio, Bombay Sapphire, doesn’t really deliver a good enough juniper hit amongst its 12 beautiful, if a little floral, botanicals. Bombay uses the Carter Head still, reckoned by many to be the pinnacle of distillation.
Oxley is a big step away from the Carter Head still. Bacardi have patented a new type of still, to produce the spirit at sub zero temperatures. At sea level, the world over, alcohol is known to boil away at 78.3 degrees Celsius and water at 100. It is precisely this gap that makes the wonderful process of distillation possible. What some smart bastard at Bacardi must have noticed is that boiling points drop at higher altitude. Boiling a pot of water on Everest will only be tepid, as opposed to piping hot. Getting stuff to boil at sub zero temperature requires considerably more effort, there being no mountains higher than Everest and running a still in an unpressurized plane being frightfully expensive.
Now, according to the marketing spiel, the process is a closely guarded secret, distillation occurs at -5, then at -100 the vapour is cooled back into pure, lovely Gin. It does sound very fancy and hard to work out. However, it’s really not. Those standard temperatures for boiling are at 760 mm Hg, which is an expression of pressure, as measured by mercury in a vacuum, or barometer, as it has come to be known. What Bacardi have done is to create a still whose pressure can be cranked down to a mere 12.6mm Hg approximately 1/350 of the normal pressure on earth. Which pretty much means they create an environment pretty close to the atmospheric pressure on the Moon. (actually about ten times the Moon’s pressure, but it’s a factor of ten we can’t really measure). Water would boil around 11 degrees at that pressure.
The point of all this physics (for any of you who are still reading) is that in normal distallation, the heat quite literally cooks the botanicals, degrading them and bringing out odd tastes, the freezy method means the 14 botanicals that Oxley includes stay snap frozen fresh. The result is a Gin that is very smooth, with good juniper and a nice balance of grapefruits. A little less spicy than the Beefeater 24, but very much its own thing as well.
The leather strapping, the tin bucket, the four day a week production schedule, the 240 bottle batches, the individual numbers all point toward a pretty special product. The 60 pound price tag will be seen by many (including me) as taking the piss, in the same way Absolut’s Level did with vodka.
All that said, I can’t wait to try it in a martini.