The story of our collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
As I write this blog, I’m travelling by train to attend the opening concert of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra season in London. We’ve been on something of a journey of discovery together this last six months, and we are relishing the opportunity to create a new gin as the orchestra enters its 76th year; the new gin will launch this weekend.
As I speed along on the GWR service from Hereford – The Cathedrals Express – I’m listening to Elgar’s Sea Pictures. I first heard these only in May, with Vasily Petrenko and the RPO. I love that my life leads me on seemingly endless journeys of discovery, both musically, professionally and through sharing many friendships. The soloist in that concert was Kathryn Rudge, familiar to Ludlow audiences as a regular at the Ludlow English Song Weekend. In music there are always connections and interlocking circles of interest.
How do all these strands connect with gin? I’m a master distiller, founder of Ludlow Gin, but until four years ago I enjoyed 12 rewarding years as Director of Music at Ludlow’s historic Parish Church, the home of the Ludlow English Song Festival. Through various friends and connections, the idea came that we should create a gin for the RPO, and so this new journey of discovery began, attending a few concerts to establish links, meeting players, discovering new and rediscovering old repertoire in this new partnership.
Like a composer, I like to let the ideas form naturally in my mind: music helps me think, and dream important dreams, and allows ideas to ferment and distil. These early summer concerts set the cogs in motion. A late summer trip took me to Bavaria, hiking, enjoying German wines and delicious ripe figs.
So how do I create a recipe? Behind every London Dry gin is a firm foundation of the four big gin botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica and orris. In many ways these four ingredients are like the string section of the orchestra, the backbone to which other colours can be added. Juniper-led gin is one of the key components that make a London Dry a London Dry, it’s not actually about whether it’s dry or not, and it doesn’t have to be made in London.
Citrus is usually a bedfellow with a juniper-led gin, and there are a multitude of citrus to use. I wanted to be super classic here – Lemon was shouting out to be the forerunner. Citrus is a little like adding the brass section: all are bold in nature, but Lemon cuts through the texture of the big four. Lemon is believed to have originally been native to Asia. The Romans imported it to Italy, by which time it was well established in the Arab world. It’s in the ancient world that our copper stills were first designed and used: simple technology, alembic stills, the exposure to copper makes our spirit super smooth and perfect for the neat gin martini. I digress…I did think of Walton enjoying his gardens in Ischia, lemons abounding; his music was played at one of those first concerts I attended with the RPO. It was written in the stars.
Herbs and spices often form further colours in any gin recipe, in fact before the London Dry Gin Act, they were used to mask the poor quality of the gin. We all know the Hogarth engravings of Gin Alley; in Hogarth’s time, one in four houses had gin stills. With no duty to pay it was the cheapest way of staving off the cold and hunger of poverty. The London Dry Gin Act saw all of that off. The distillers of the grain spirit were separated from the gin distilling, ensuring a pure and clean base spirit, leaving what were to become famous household named companies to create their unique dry gins.
So, what to add to our merry band to create a balanced and exciting orchestral palate? What about some woodwind? I started with a classic Mediterranean herb: Thyme, known throughout ancient history for its healing, antiseptic, calming and relaxing qualities. Many years ago, before they were open to the public, I visited the gardens at Highgrove, where I saw first-hand a paved pathway leading from the house, covered in thyme. His Majesty King Charles III would look forward to savouring the unique experience of the fragrance of the thyme being released under his footsteps.
What other colours would complement our herbaceous opus? Something common in London? Common in Tudor gardens and much used by Nicolas Culpepper at his apothecary in Smithfield (in fact it eventually spread further afield to the Americas, first being planted in Thomas Jefferson’s gardens): Lemon Balm. This is herb has a strong scent, so we just need a touch to support the strong citrus notes of Lemon.
And finally, one last touch, inspired by my Bavarian travels: fig leaves. During our summer hike, breakfast tables were often adorned with fresh figs, simply delicious and mouth-watering. I remembered that a friend who lives in Hereford had given me some fig leaves and suggested I dehydrate them. Their fragrance is simply sublime, soft, jammy, fruity and the perfect flavour to blend our new citrus-led gin.
So, what does the juniper- and citrus-led, herbaceous wonder taste like? Well, simply sublime as the RPO will tell you. Perfect as a simply delicious G&T, breath-taking as a very dry martini and easily savoured in an amber negroni. As we sat in the Clerkenwell office of the RPO, I realised that in our own little way we had brought gin back to its London home, for this is where the distillers of Booths, Gordon’s and Tanqueray were situated. Could this be the first gin created in these parts in modern history? We’re proud of our little journey of discovery and look forward to an exciting year with the RPO.
James Williams, Managing Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra said:
“The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is proud this weekend to be launching its own label gin in partnership with our friends at Ludlow Gin. The timing could not be more perfect: the launch of the RPO’s 2022/23 Season entitled Journeys of Discovery, inviting audiences to explore with us the fascinating and varied world of orchestral music and how it makes us feel as human beings. Taste is one of our senses not often associated with appreciating great music but the partnership, with Shaun and his Ludlow Gin team has opened up to us a whole realm of possibilities for future partnership which we know our audiences (and artists!) are going to enjoy. We’re looking forward to raising a glass of RPO gin and tonic tomorrow to toast the new Season and the dawn of a great new partnership with Ludlow Gin”