Written by Gin Foundry
Chapter One Gin may be the name of Temple Distilling’s first gin but we’re going to jump in a little earlier, beginning right at the beginning, the B of the Bang so to speak, when young AJ Temple took a trip to England from his home of Washington, USA.
“The interest in gin came to me when I was twelve years old and visited the Plymouth Distillery” AJ recalls. “My father knew Sean, the Head Distiller, and he gave us a private tour of the distillery and showed us where the botanicals were kept. I had received my first cookbook around the age of five and have been obsessed with flavour creation ever since, so being introduced to the smell of juniper berries and the heat coming off the still really planted a seed in my head.”
Ten-years-on from that fateful trip, AJ and his high school sweetheart wife, Jamie, were looking to build their own business. They wanted to create a legacy; something that would tell their story for years to come. That love of spirits and of flavour creation started to coalesce, and in 2013 they began laying the foundations for Temple Distilling, drawing up a business plan, doing research and taking classes.
Gin was always going to be the first step. AJ wanted to make a spirit that was truly unique to him. “I’ve yet to taste two gins that are exactly alike and I loved the challenge of building our flavour profile while deciding when to be bold and when to be subtle,” he says. “The complexity is what draws me in to a gin, unlike a vodka which tends to have one flavour dimension. Life’s too short for bland spirits!”
It wasn’t until 2015 that Temple Distilling turned its stills on for the first time, around five weeks after Jamie gave birth to the couple’s first child (their son currently spends a vast portion of his time in a playpen in the corner of the distillery). Working as a team has so far been fantastic for the Temple family; both AJ and Jamie understand their own and each others strengths, so they work to them accordingly, with the former overseeing the creative arm of the business, while the latter takes over the business aspects.
As much as AJ wanted to make his own mark on the gin, he also wanted it to be, first and foremost, a gin. One measly juniper berry in the still may make a gin a gin for some, but he wanted his to be as true to the spirit as possible, whilst still telling the Temple story. As a result, Chapter One Gin has a fairly classic line up: juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, grains of paradise, cubeb, angelica, cardamom and orris.
To create their recipe, he and Jamie got hold of around 30 botanicals and built up a library of distillates to work from on a one-litre table-top still. They then tasted and blended the distillates, creating small batches and working out how temperature and maceration time affected each one. From there, they started creating full test batches in their big still, settling on their final line up after six attempts.
CHAPTER ONE GIN TO TASTE…
A deep, resinous juniper rises up out of the glass, flanked on one side by a bright, tart citrus. Beneath that sits the dusty spices, which seem to hold almost eucalyptol-like properties (presumably brought on by cardamom). There’s a touch of spirity’ness but at 45% ABV that’s to be expected. The overall aroma is crisp and medicinal, leading the mouth to expect something that is pretty classic overall.
An initial sweetness laps at the tongue, a mix of angelica and orange that is all at once fresh and rooty. The spices soon step in, hitting the palate like a bolt of electricity and filling the tongue with flavour. Juniper comes in to round this off; it’s sappy and fresh, as clear as if you’d popped one of the berries into your mouth. Tasted neat the spice is well integrated into the ensemble and doesn’t dominate, rather it provides a dark outline that helps the more vivid citrus and juniper stand out.
Chapter One Gin is wonderfully concentrated; it stands up to tonic exceptionally well, with the spices taking on a more herbal, savoury role and the juniper’s resinous qualities painting a film across the tongue. The orange and lemon take something of a back seat while the cubeb’s violet-like floral dimensions emerge, so we’d garnish with a wedge of fleshy pink grapefruit to bring the citrus back up while not overshadowing the subtlety of cubeb’s performance.
For those of you who like to know more about the technical process – to make Chapter One Gin, AJ charges his still with neutral grain spirit at an ABV of 50%, then loads in most of the botanicals and leaves them to macerate overnight. Temple Distilling use a bain marie pot, which is heated by recycled vegetable oil.
Each distillation run takes 12 – 13 hours, yielding 400 bottles of London Dry. Temple Distilling also makes a Navy Strength edition of their gin. This follows a similar method, though the recipe is tweaked a little, with grains of paradise and cubeb out, and lime peel, grapefruit peel and cassia in. Only around round 275 bottles of Chapter One Navy Strength Gin are produced in each run due to the higher ABV.
CHAPTER ONE NAVY STRENGTH GIN TO TASTE…
The Navy Strength edition has a more dusty, earthy profile to nose. The juniper is just as present, but it has a quality that could only be described as dry and helps disguise the potent 57% ABV. To taste, the cassia approaches the tongue with an attitude that is nothing short of violent. It floods the mouth and lights a fire, one that can only be put out by cutting it down with water. Once the alcohol has been subdued – the lighter notes of lime peel, grapefruit and a bold juniper can be noted.
With tonic, the spice is somewhat mollified and the overall profile is a herbal one. It’s slightly dusty and a hint mentholic, with the quinine conspiring with the herbal juniper to create a tart, sappy flavour that feels freshly plucked.
It’s a dominant beast in a G&T and less accessible than their original. Try it if you like the sound of a gin having a brooding sense of imminent palate domination; one for which the central protagonists are an emboldened juniper flanked by a foreboding cassia. It split the team here at Gin Foundry HQ and caused much intrigue to say the least… It would work well in a cocktail that called for such booming flavours, though, and we reckon it’d give a Gimlet a good run for its money.
CHAPTER ONE BARREL RESTED GIN TO TASTE…
Like many craft gin makers, Temple Distilling have also released a Barrel Aged variant. Resting the Navy Strength in barrels and then cutting it to 45% ABV before bottling, the resulting spirit is a light golden colour. There’s subtle nougat notes on the nose and an underlying soft citrus and cassia.
To taste, the vanillin heavy sweet tones of the oak have added a dimension to the citrus upfront, but haven’t diminished the overall botanical brightness. There’s palpable oak ageing for sure, but not too much and this allows the gin to emerge enriched rather than battle worn. The caramelised citrus finish lingers long after the sip and it’s an expression that many fans of the genre would enjoy.
The Chapter One Gin series come in big, clear glass bottles with the name emblazoned across the front, as bold as brass. The typeface is distinctive and old school; it talks of the tradition the gin upholds, but also excites. In many ways the iconography nods to an aesthetic that many associate with American Craft Spirits, non corporate or conformist yet with structure and a touch of Western nostalgia. A simple glance at the package lets you know you’re dealing with something that comes from the land of stars and stripes. Chapter One Gin, it says, is almost certainly a story you want to delve into.
AJ and Jamie had focused so much on flavour and production that they put design on the backburner, realising somewhat late in the day that they just weren’t very good at it. Luckily, at about the same time as this little nugget dawned, Scott Wetzel of Fresh Bread Designs got in touch. “We had a vision of what we wanted our package to feel and look like; something that is bold but traditional. We met and discussed all of our products and vision at length, then let him work his design magic,” AJ told us, adding that they “couldn’t be more pleased. They are bottles you want to hold and feel on first look. You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it sure helps to have a good one!”
AJ refers to himself as an “author of spirits,” and it’s clear to see that storytelling is of great importance to him. He explains: “Spirits and literature are a perfect pair. Not one story is the same and all have the unique touch of that particular author. I treat my bar like a library and I want my spirits to reflect my passion for flavour and my signature touch, while not losing their own original character and story. I hope we can weave spirits that you won’t want to put down and will look forward to coming back to time and time again.”
Their distilling story is just getting started, but with a wealth of products to their name, including a limoncello made using the gin as a base, Temple Distilling are off to a great start. Their first foray into distilling has deliberately introduced several characters and in many ways (to borrow their analogy), just like a book, lays out the direction and intent behind the distillery as a whole. They are dedicated to their craft, enjoying each day at work as much as they enjoy each evening at home. Such is AJ’s determination to twist with tradition that he’s planted his own sloe tree; the berries don’t grow natively in the US, but he’s keen to make the first American-sloe American Sloe Gin.
The distillery has already taken home some gongs too, but perhaps the sweetest moment for the Temple family was when AJ and his wife went for a pint a month of so after signing with a distributor. AJ stole a glance at the bar, only to see his Chapter One Gin staring back at him. “It was so unexpected that I had to double take,” he told us. “It’s times like these that we are able to forget about the stress of production and finances and appreciate the fruits of our labour.”
It’s a reminder that Gins, much like the timber of someone’s voice when they tell a story, can say something quite independent of the words actually spoken. The Chapter One Gin series speak of a self assured and confident journey that lies ahead, but they do so with considered poise and a surprising subtlety in tone. Delve in if you come across them!