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Vodka and gin made in Dorset that you have to try

PUBLISHED: 16:06 16 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:53 22 February 2018

Rupert Holloway of Conker Gin

Rupert Holloway of Conker Gin


Gorse, wasabi and watercress, Susanne Masters fills her cocktail shaker with some exciting local spirits that would be a talking point at any occasion

Black Cow Vodka

Martini using Black Cow VodkaMartini using Black Cow Vodka

Like Smugglers Vodka, distillation transforms a commonplace liquid into something remarkable. Made by Jason Barber, a west Dorset dairy farmer, this unusual vodka is made entirely from the milk of his grass grazed dairy herd. The whey from the milk is fermented and distilled to make this exceptionally smooth vodka with a unique creamy character. The curds make Barber’s 1833 Cheese and Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar.

You won’t just find Black Cow Vodka in a Dirty Cow Martini it’s also in an award- winning chocolate. Claire and Andy Burnet, founders of the award-winning Chococo, the Purbeck chocolatiers, met Helen and Archie of Black Cow Vodka when they had adjacent stalls at a River Cottage Easter Fair. “At the end of the fair I left with a bottle of Black Cow to test chocolate ideas and Helen and Archie left with a box of chocolates,” Claire reveals. “The resulting creation was our Brilliant Black Cow chocolate. We added their vodka to a chocolate ganache infused with a hint of lime zest and black pepper – a combination which gained bronze medals in both the International Chocolate Awards and Academy of Chocolate Awards.”

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Twisted Nose Watercress Gin & Wasbi Vodka

Twisted Nose Gin infused with Dorset watercressTwisted Nose Gin infused with Dorset watercress

Chococo have also used Dorset watercress-infused dry gin as an ingredient, as Claire explains: “We hooked up with Twisted Nose Gin in 2014 after running a competition for a new chocolate flavour. Gin was suggested by a customer at the same time as I came across Paul from Winchester Distillery tweeting about Twisted Nose on Twitter – a lovely bit of serendipity!” The Romans called watercress Nasturtium, meaning “twisted nose”, from which the gin takes its name, and Twisted Nose uses watercress and lavender along with seven other botanicals to complement the classic juniper. As Chococo had also just started working with The Watercress Company based at Waddock, the Totally Twisted Nose chocolate also contains their fresh Dorset watercress. “It is a great combination,” says Claire. “We subsequently went on to work with their sister business The Wasabi Company to develop our Wasabi Wonder chocolate, which won a Gold Academy of Chocolate Award.”

Wasabi is more usually found growing alongside spring fed streams in the Japanese mountains. But a Dorset or Hampshire watercress farm, with its abundance of springs that are naturally rich in minerals and nutrients, is a pretty good alternative. Since being planted here a few years ago the wasabi has thrived, although in a fine English summer these shade-loving plants sometimes require some extra shade from a thoughtfully draped cloth. Freshly grated Dorset grown wasabi is combined with six other botanicals to create Twisted Nose Wasabi Vodka. Full of flavour and spice, it’s the perfect vodka to add extra punch to a Bloody Mary.

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Porters Perfection Vodka

Liberty FieldsLiberty Fields

Dorset is famous for its eponymous apple cake as well as a dazzling array of local cider. Now the essence of Dorset apples has been captured in vodka. Liberty Fields have been “exploring the taste of apples” since turning their enthusiasm for organic heritage apples into an orchard in 2009. Vicky Morland is part of Liberty Field’s team which includes Robert Imlach and Pete and Alison Lemmey. She takes up the story. “Liberty Field started with re-establishing an orchard at Pete’s family dairy farm Liberty Farm in Halstock. We used a grant from Chalk & Cheese to convert some derelict farm buildings for production and planted 1600 apple trees which enabled us to get going.”

Inspired by a trip to Modena the apple-mad friends started experimenting with making Apple Balsamic Vinegar in the traditional Italian method. Following this success they made an Apple Aperitif using heritage apples from their orchard. In May they launched their latest apple creation - Porters Perfection Vodka. Made with a deep red heritage apple renowned for its taste and curiously fused fruit; this is combined with wheat grain and Jurassic spring water to create an exciting new vodka with a flavour like the first bite of a crisp apple. No wonder it was a finalist in the 2016 Dorset Magazine Food, Drink and Farming Awards.

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Pothecary Gin

Pothecary GinPothecary Gin

A new blended gin for Bournemouth which arrived earlier this year is Pothecary Gin made by friends Martin Jennings and Łukasz Dwornik (aka Soapbox Spirits) who share a passion for organic, handcrafted, artisan produce. Smooth with a strong swish of juniper it can be treated like a whisky and enjoyed neat, as well as in gin and tonic and myriad other cocktail combinations. Łukasz described their quest as “wanting a gin that you can enjoy without anything, not even tonic.”

The duo tried out 90 different botanicals and whittled them down to five that worked well together. At the stills in Martin’s house they distil these separately and then blend juniper, black mulberry, lavender, lemon, and linden blossom. Martin described perfecting the note of Sicilian lemons: “Fresh lemons give a zesty note, while dried lemons have more flavour and add an aspect of marmalade. Mixing both fresh and dried lemon gives the full range of lemon aroma.”

In fact there is a story with every ingredient in this gin from the linden blossom familiar to Łukasz as a tea and the inspiration of mulberry from a tree in a neighbour’s garden. Not only did Pothecary Gin win a double gold at the globally renowned San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year, it also won Drink Product of the Year at Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards.

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Conker Spirit Dorset Dry Gin

Conker SpiritConker Spirit

In contrast to the very selective conditions that wasabi needs gorse will grow anywhere. Including along the paths down to the beaches in Southbourne, which on a hot spring day are perfumed with the coconut aroma of these golden yellow flowers. Rupert Holloway makes Conker Spirit Dorset Dry Gin in Bournemouth using gorse flowers collected in a range of places from Golden Cap in West Dorset to the New Forest in Hampshire. It’s one of the locally sourced ingredients in his gin, the others include samphire and elderberry. Rupert creates his award-winning gin in small batches at Conker HQ in Southbourne where those Dorset botanicals are combined with classic juniper, coriander seed, angelica, orris, cassia and Seville orange livened up with lime peel which adds a crisp, almost dry sweetness. Conker Spirit is Dorset’s first Gin Distiller and won Drinks Product of the Year in the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards in 2015.

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Dorset Smugglers Vodka

Smooth with a surprising depth of flavour Dorset Smugglers Vodka from the Bournemouth Brewing Company distillery is made by Cristophe Mathers. After studying chemistry Cristophe became a brewer making award-winning ales at the Bournemouth Brewery. The vodka was happenstance as Cristophe explains: “A home distiller came in to see us out of the blue and asked what we did with our ullage (waste beer) at which point I gave him some and he distilled it. Voila he had created beer vodka from our old beer – and so I thought maybe I’d give it go.”

And so in June 2015 the first bottle of Dorset Smugglers Vodka was released into the wild. It is the beer base that gives Smugglers Vodka a flavour quite different to anything else on the market. Cristophe describes it as “a true sipping vodka.”

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