If you’ve ever had a Gin cocktail while on a plane and thought it didn’t taste quite right, you’re not alone.
Pickering’s Gin has created a new Gin (in conjunction with British Airways) that transcends this problem and is just as tasty on the ground as it is at 20,000 feet.
We ask Head Distiller, Matt Gammell, how they did it, why it works and what cocktails work with it really well.
[00:01:52] – Scottish Gin
[00:02:40] – 1947 Bombay recipe
[00:04:20] – And now you’re working with British Airways
[00:05:33] – Who suggested working with the altitude?
[00:06:46] – What botanicals have you used?
[00:07:22] – How do they change with altitude?
[00:09:07] – How does the taste of the Gin change?
[00:10:40] – Travelling for work to test the Gin
[00:11:40] – Will this limited edition expression be extended?
[00:12:21] – How long to the centenary celebrations last?
[00:12:30] – Did you create any cocktail suggestions to accompany the Gin?
[00:13:15] – How important is a good cocktail on a long haul flight?
[00:14:14] – How exactly does your Gin differ in taste?
[00:15:34] – Were there some botanicals that didn’t work at certain altitudes?
[00:16:53] – Was it hard to balance the taste you got on the ground with that in the air?
[00:17:30] – How long from brief to presenting?
[00:18:09] – How will it change how people drink in the air?
[00:19:10] – What food pairings go well with the Gin?
[00:19:50] – Would that change with altitude?
[00:20:24] – Is the Centenary Gin’s botanicals similar to your brand Gins?
[00:21:43] – Where can people purchase the Gin?
[00:22:22] – Your Gin part of the future of drinking aviation
[00:23:10] – What flavours does your Gin work with?
[00:24:32] – What else is Pickering’s working on?
Today we are joined by Mat Gammel from Pickering’s Gin. The distillery has just teamed up with British Airways to release a new expression, Pickering’s British Airways Centenary Gin, a gin which has been specifically developed with a flavour profile to eliminate taste blindness that often occurs at different altitudes. We might start off with you telling us a little bit about Pickering’s
The Pickering’s Gin was formed in 2014 when we launched Pickering’s Gin In March 2014 which wasn’t that long ago, must over 5 years. Our history bases from a Bombay recipe from 1947 which is where the DNA of all our gins comes from but we are based in the small animal hospital of the formal Royal xxx in Edinburgh, so the distillery is actually in the dog kennels – a fairly unique location.
Scottish Gin is taking on quite a high profile these days
Absolutely. Gin itself in Scotland sits alongside whiskey. A lot of people may not be as familiar with the two spirits being synonymous with each other but always Scotland has been seen as the centre of the Scots Whiskey but gin has sat alongside there and the main fact of that is that gin doesn’t need to be aged and therefore is a better source of cash flow for a lot of these whiskey distilleries. So the expertise and skills are there and it’s just become more popular with the rise of craft gins. We had 5 distilleries making gin when we started, there are now over 70. A massive increase.
Do you want to tell us more about your 1947 Bombay recipe
Marcus and I started experimenting with gin and the conceptual idea of perhaps setting up a distillery in early 2013 and we were walking with a number of flavours and looking at what we might make and how we might achieve our goal which was to create our perfect gin for a gin and tonic. That was the original goal we set out with because we felt what was commercially available wasn’t really hitting the brief. So in doing that and as a result of the fact that basically Marcus’ father had passed away and he had been talking about this idea at his funeral with various of his father’s friends and it was one of his father’s friends that passed us this Bombay recipe from 1947 written down in Mt Mary in Bombay. It was like ‘I have no idea what it tastes like and I have never made it, it’s a family recipe. I don’t know anything about it but guys if you are working on a gin distillery why not give it a go.’ So that’s exactly what we did and you can imagine being Indian influenced it’s got large amounts of spice in it; you’ve got good cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, anise are the key characteristics of it but alongside juniper and the citruses as well. We then developed that recipe to create Pickering’s.
How do you go from that to doing something with British Airways?
We are fortunate enough that in July 2014 we became the official gin of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and that’s taken us all over the well with them as their official gin and with that accolade we then continued and we now have the official gin of the Royal Yacht Britannia and also we have 3 signature gins uniquely distilled for Cunard’s, the cruise line company; Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary II and Queen Victoria. So these are all prestigious British institutions for want of a better word and as such we were almost out of the blue then approached by British Airways who phoned us and said this is the concept we are putting this package of centennial products together, handpicked from throughout the UK and we would like to see if you could make a gin for us basically which we clearly said yes.
So did they suggest trying to work it in with the altitude?
We received a call from British Airways and they let us know that they were putting together a selection of centennial products to celebrate British Airways Centenary and we were asked if we were able and interested in doing the gin for them, which clearly the answer was yes. As for the concept of the gin and then there was further discussion with them in the creation of the flavour and what botanicals might be included, using some classic British botanicals and how that might influence it. But one of the things that came to our mind and recollection was in relation to food and how its perception with changed altitude and then looking at gin and how that would be affected in a similar way. So we then looked at trying to make sure that the gin we were creating was also going to taste as good in the air as it did on the ground.
Can you explain the botanicals that you have used
So the botanicals themselves we have got your classical juniper which is obviously required, we have lemon and lime peel, coriander seed and angelica root, which are all quite commonly used botanicals, cardamom and cinnamon adding some spice, lemon myrtle, heather and rose petal. So a nice balance of botanicals coming from a number of different locations.
And how do these change depending on the altitude
So the big thing was us looking at the altitude and looking at what changes with altitude so we were able to establish with research that has been done that both the humidity and our sense of smell are affected by altitude which therefore our perception of sweet and salt are reduced. So these things were key when we were looking at how basically the botanicals we were looking in but also the amount of these botanicals and therefore trying to bring those to the forefront. So we increased the amount of juniper in the gin significantly to ensure that we got that lovely classic juniper flavour and that was still able to be tasted and still there at altitude. With the spices, we had in there cinnamon was used because it is just a little bit sweeter as a spice and to try and add some of that sweetness back in. Alongside the botanicals which I really like is the lemon myrtle provides us with a lovely citrus flavour but also quite a sweet citrus flavour which helps to boost the sweetness but also the citrus notes within the gin and working alongside the really lovely classic British botanicals of heather and rose petal help bring those lovely sweet floral notes into the gin. So all of these things were put in there and it was just about the amount of botanical we put in to try and enhance those flavours and fill some of the gaps for want of a better word that you get at altitude.
I believe the way gin’s taste does change at different levels of altitude is that actually the case
Absolutely. So in creating the gin both Marcus and I were on various flights with different samples of the product in its different conceptual stages and in those I had created different flavours, using the same botanicals but using different amounts of each botanical and looking at the effect they had at different altitudes. So we were able to taste them at different points through a flight. Doing it on a short haul flight allows you to get up to cruising altitude but also as you are coming down and the altitudes changing you can taste the perception of the citruses and the juniper particularly. Up to about 15-20,000 feet they are really, really bold, beyond that they start to mute down slightly and it’s just the balance of all these different botanicals and the difference variance I was able to do from the first flight to taking the multiple flights thereafter to try and fill in the gaps that I could taste on our palettes was a really interesting process and looking at all those different parts in order to try and get as fantastic a gin that both tasted good on the ground but also tasted fantastic in the air. It was clearly designed to be drunk as a gin and tonic in the air, that was its primary role but yes it was about getting a great tasting gin.
Well that must have been a lovely bonus being able to travel for work as much as you did
Yes but it’s always exciting. It’s an interesting one when you are trying to convince people that you are drinking for research and science purposes rather than just the sake of a fear of flying or anything like that. It was great and it’s always nice to try and look at a different angle I think particularly in this what is becoming quite a crowded gin market particularly in the UK anyway, if you are going to present a new gin to the market trying to understand the reason for it is an important one because there are hundreds and hundreds of gins in the UK and it’s trying to understand what is it’s unique purpose and point because another gin is lovely but it has to have a specific point to it and therefore the creation of this was a really exciting project.
I got the impression it was just for the centenary and somewhat of a limited edition but is it going to continue beyond that
Yes, you are absolutely right, at this moment of time it is a centenary product and as such we haven’t entered into any discussions further to take it any further beyond the centenary. We would love to continue to discuss that with British Airways or indeed looking at the opportunity with other airlines but at this moment in time, the concept has only been put together for the centenary.
How long does that last for
The middle of the year to the end of December. All the centenary products are available throughout the year until the end of December this year. There is still a little while.
Did you guys create any cocktail suggestions for people drinking the gin on board
Specifically, the gin itself was conceived and designed specifically to be drunk as a gin and tonic but that is not to say it couldn’t be drunk as a cocktail. Due to the balance of flavours even just drinking it with a soda or a ginger ale will give you a lovely drink which is different to a gin and tonic but the flavour profile would work particularly well in a Red Snapper or even the classic Martini or Negroni, all of which would work really, really well with it on board.
How important do you think a good cocktail is especially for a long haul flight
I certainly think it is a nice opportunity on a long haul flight to have a nice cocktail. A lot of the drinking culture has become drink a better quality drink and drink less of them rather than drinking huge volumes. I am clearly not advocating that one should drink huge quantities and dehydration is something we all have to be aware of but taking one or two drinks and really being able to enjoy them in a cocktail is a lovely way to spend a flight. I suspect it has the added bonus of aiding you to get off to a nice restful sleep as well.
Obviously, you had tried other gins, how will people perceive the difference in taste between your specially engineered gin and an average gin they might have formerly drunk on board
I think the difference is, depending on how much attention people pay to their gin when they are on board, there is a distinct perception difference in flavour. You have got a much more full-bodied and rounded flavour. For me it was about knowing what a gin tastes like in the air and understanding the flavour profile of a particular gin and then when tasting it in the air and then internally referencing the difference between the two which is quite significant and flavours you know should be in that gin are just lacking and you think why has this changed so much. So in essence by putting the elevation of the different botanicals within our gin you are retaining those so that in the air you are able to compensate for some of this taste blindness and actually give yourself that lovely gin in the air. Clearly that because of the increase of those botanicals in the product, on the ground is just giving you an elevated and enhanced flavour profile so you have a really bold Gin on the ground which then just becomes what would be perceived as a regular gin than in the air.
Were there some botanicals you perhaps wanted to work with but found just didn’t work at all when you got it up to a certain altitude
Certainly, the spices were the ones I had to be most careful because they are the ones that really start to become more prevalent so it was a question of balance of those spices. As I said we used cinnamon which has that little bit of sweetness to the spice as well but balancing the cinnamon and the cardamom particularly, just trying to get those spices whereby they were there when you were tasting it on the ground and they weren’t overpowering but also then that they didn’t become so dominant in the air and it was balancing those between the sweetness and the citrus to get a really balanced gin. That was probably the biggest challenge, there was nothing specific, we I guess it was more about the quantities because as I said using the lemon myrtle and the cinnamon particularly to kind of have influence in the sweeter versions of the spice and the citrus in those two was a decision that was taken and then helps influence that.
I imagine it must have been quite hard to balance between a high altitude and no altitude taste because what was too strong on one was not enough on the other, it must have been quite a procedure
Exactly yes, I mean as you made mention there were a number of different trials done with a number of different flavours taken to try and get those balance of flavours and as you said it was trying to get that balance where it works in both sets of circumstances without comprising on either and that was definitely a challenge to get that balance with the botanicals to really deliver a fantastic gin.
How long was the process from when you got the brief to when you presented the final gin to BA
We had just done 2 months to get from the concept of presenting the final gin for signoff, a short time scale. It was certainly a short time scale. There wasn’t a huge amount of time in it but we were prepared to rise to the challenge and it was a really exciting project.
Do you see the Centenary Gin changing the way people drink in the air, do you see it as having a larger impact
I would like to think that it is about the education process, as I said earlier, the drinking less and drinking better quality products and I think it brings back to the work that was done some time ago when a number of airlines worked with some of the key chefs, Blumenthal and various others, did some research with the airlines looking at the food and how to make it taste optimum in the air so I think hopefully it brings something back to the community of people who are drinking and understand what it does do and what happens to your palette when you are flying so I would like to think it drives to more people making an informed decision about what they are drinking and how they are drinking in the air. There’s clearly a lot of people and airlines and yes a lot of alcohol is consumed when flying so it is certainly a sector I would be keen to look at further.
What food pairings would you say would go well with this particular gin
Given the botanicals that are in it for me, it would be something that would pair really nicely with shellfish or fish in general. Gin tends to pair well with fish and I think the balance of the floral notes with the lovely bold juniper and the citrus alongside the spices can really work with fish. That would be my personal preference with it but I think it would complement a number of different foods.
Would that change whether they were on the ground or in the air
There would certainly be changes absolutely. I think it would be how to use it but I think marinating a fish in it would give you some wonderful flavours that I think would carry through in the same way they do in the drink and they would carry through in the air very, very well. There are so many different things you could do both in pairing a drink with your food but also within using it within the cooking of the food as well.
If people haven’t necessarily drunk Pickering’s Gin before but they do try this Centenary Gin, will that give them a good feel for the brand the sort of flavours you are trying to bring out for your other gins
Absolutely, all the different Gins we have created over the years are all influenced effectively back from the DNA of our original Bombay recipe and the experiences and growth that we have got with all the different products, so you have got the lovely balance of the juniper and the citrus alongside the spices so they all complement each other and there is definitely common parts of it but within this one specifically we looked to incorporate some British botanicals in the heather and the rose petal so they both help really help bring that to it and a little bit of a floral note to it as well so yes there is definitely an influence. We also have now board as well alongside the gin there is a triple gift pack which gives our two other products so you can see all three sitting side by side which is a great way to experience the whole portfolio of products.
Obviously, if people are travelling on BA they can purchase it on board and through the gift pack you mentioned if they are not and they want to try it on the ground can they buy it through your website
They can’t buy it through us. The triple pack is available through the High Life shop which is online so the BA High Life magazine which you can buy online and I believe it is also available in Terminal 5 at Heathrow. It is available but through British Airways channels rather than our own channel.
It must be wonderful to think that your gin will be part of the future of drinking aviation.
It will be wonderful if we started to influence and the concept of this gin was taken forward to be a benchmark in influencing the way products are created and designed from a drinks point of view in the air. I know there has been work done and this project has highlighted that and it will be fantastic. The volume potentially is there for brands to look at it and it certainly has to be something to bear in mind, as I said given the service of alcohol on flights, I don’t think that is going to change, so it would be great to think we have had an influence in looking at that going forwards.
Now if people are experimenting with the gin while they are on a flight, what flavours do you think they could mix up to make their own little cocktail creations that would work well with the rose and the heather that’s within this gin
I think on a flight given the limited availabilities of what else is there, I think as a long drink with a Ginger Ale or something like that, the gin would really give you a lovely balance of flavours up there. That works particularly well. I think a really classic martini or a twist on that is going to give you something very interesting or even maybe an Aviation depending on the airline and whatever drinks are available. The Red Snapper which is the gin equivalent to the Bloody Mary would work fantastically well with the bold flavours in there and the gin, I know that works incredibly well and that set of ingredients is generally available on most flights, always a good one.
Matt thank you so much to tell us about the Centenary Gin, what else is Pickering’s working on at the moment
There are no other specific products we are working on right at this second. We have got a fairly extensive range of gins now and we are focusing on all the different markets that we are already in but into America, Australia and New Zealand and into Europe so we are focusing on the growth of the products that we have. We have got our 4 core gins, a liqueur and a slow gin as well so it’s a question of working with those and looking at all the flavours. We are now looking forward over here to a fantastic summer with the Edinburgh Festival coming up in August which clearly transforms Edinburgh and hopefully, the sun will shine as well.
For more information on Pickering’s go to pickeringsgin.com
To buy the British Airways Centenary Gin go to highlifeshop.com