David T. Smith gives us the low-down on Strawberry & Balsamico Gin...
Strawberries and gin: that’s a pretty fantastic combination, right? Whether as a garnish (perhaps with some freshly cracked black pepper) in a Gin & Tonic or - perhaps more controversially* - in a serving of summer fruit cups such as Pimm’s; it’s a hit.
Some distillers have even started incorporating strawberries into the gins themselves; such was the case of the Great Strawberry Gin bubble of a few years ago. This all started when a Seville gin became exceptionally popular in south of Spain. This was a strawberry gin with a garishly pink colour that was often mixed with Lemon Fanta. Within months, many other Spanish brands followed suit by releasing their own expressions.
The main downside of this was that many of the gins had a character that was closer to a sweet strawberry vodka than gin; with some of the products, it’s doubtful if they had ever made the acquaintance of a juniper berry.
Now that the froth has settled somewhat, a new product has emerged to reclaim and revive the great combination of gin and strawberry; this time with a new friend, balsamic vinegar. Yes, balsamic vinegar. But not just any balsamic vinegar: Aceto di Balsamico tradizionale di Modena DOP, the finest variety money can buy.
Firstly, the Balsamico can only be made in the Province of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It must adhere to a strict set of criteria, including being aged in a series of different wooden casks for between 12 and 25 years. The barrels are small (no larger than 60 litres) and made of different woods such as: ash, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, oak, and - most interestingly - juniper.
The result is a sublimely luxurious product that has a distinctive, almost syrupy, density, a velvety texture, a dark lustrous sheen and a delightful balance of sweet and sour. It truly has to be tasted to be believed.
That Boutique-y Gin Company's Strawberry & Balsamico Gin starts out with a classic gin base made using botanicals that include juniper, coriander and angelica. To this, individual distillates of black pepper and strawberry are added. Strawberries are then added to the gin to give a bright fruitiness and deep scarlet hue. The final touch is the Aceto di Balsamico tradizionale di Modena DOP, which brings its unique texture and complex sweet and sour character to the spirit.
Atop a pile of juniper berries sits a plump, lone strawberry upon which a decadent splash of Balsamico is being drizzled. As the Balsamico cascades down the juniper berries it forms a luxurious pool of decadence.
Nose: Dark red fruits - cherry, strawberry and cranberry - mixed with the rich and mysterious darkness of the balsamic, creating a rich chocolate-treacle note.
Taste: A delightful balance between the plump, juicy strawberries and the complexity of the balsamic, which provides some woodiness and a touch of refined bitterness, but minimal acidity.
Finish: Cinder toffee and the lasting sweetness of strawberry. When it comes to flavours, you really do get two for the price of one with this gin!
Strawberry Balsamico Daiquiri
50ml Strawberry Balsamico Gin
25ml fresh lime juice
10ml sugar syrup
Shake vigorously with ice and fine strain into a cocktail glass.
Sublime. The delightful interplay of strawberry and lime, along with the deep complexity of the Balsamico and the botanical intensity of the gin, make this a drink that’s near perfection.
30ml Strawberry Balsamico Gin
15ml creme de cacao (preferably white, as this will preserve the gin’s colour)
A very creamy cocktail that works exceptionally well with the strawberry, which is, in turn, complemented by the chocolate. Unlike most cream cocktails, it has a very balanced sweetness and even a sly streak of dark bitterness. A great dessert cocktail for those who may usually just stick with coffee.
50ml Strawberry Balsamico Gin
150ml tonic water
Add ice, gin and tonic to a tumbler or wine glass - garnish with a thin piece of lime peel.
The bitterness of the quinine works really well with the deep, dark sweetness of the gin and the sweet strawberry note balances out the dryness of the tonic. Add a slice of lime peel for extra colour and zip.
* There was once an “Anti-Strawberry, Pro-Borage Pimm’s Pressure Group” on Facebook, whose members abhorred the inclusion of strawberries in the suggested garnish on the Pimm’s bottle and had started an online petition to remove it. Instead, they preferred lemon and borage leaves.