There are many differentiating and even unique elements that contribute to Castle Freke Gin’s journey from conception to finished and matured spirit ready to delight the palette of the most discriminating of Dry Martini lovers. Broadly they belong within three critical categories: The Ingredients, The Still and The Process.
This journey started with careful selection of every ingredient that goes into the finished spirit. The starting material is laboratory-grade organic wheat alcohol from Holland.
After experimenting with numerous junipers from different countries, we have adopted a blend of organic junipers from Tuscany and the Balkans, along with organic coriander, myrtle and other materials harvested from the Castle Freke estate, and a proprietary formula of organic or wild-harvested botanicals, many of them from exotic parts of the world.
The water we use is drawn from our own deep well at the castle, before being finely filtered and UV treated to ensure total purity. Citrus is an important part of a fine gin’s taste palette, and so we have established an exclusive collaboration with Agrumes Baches, whose orchards on the foothill slopes of the French Pyrenees boast the world’s largest collection of rare citrus varieties in private hands. Many of the world’s top Michelin starred chefs rely on Agrumes Baches for their citrus supplies, and up-and-coming chefs find they have to compete to gain access to the unique quality of their fruit.
Working with Etienne and Perrine Schaler, its proprietors, we experimented with many rare citrus varieties before arriving at a truly unique recipe for the citrus element to Castle Freke Gin that is a critical contributor to the depth of flavor and the delightfully long aftertaste.
The Still – “Algy”
Castle Freke Gin is distilled in Algy, truly a RollsRoyce among copper pot stills. Algy is a highly sophisticated hand-made 150L copper pot still fabricated by the family-owned Bavarian company Kothe Gmbh, traditional copper and steel craftsmen producing very high end distillation systems. Since such stills are not used typically for the production of gin, Algy has been customized for us with special features, including a unique design of gin basket that allows us to control the temperature at which different botanicals are exposed to the alcohol vapors rising through the basket. The controls and gauges throughout Algy allow a very precise level of control over flow rates and temperatures at every step of the process. The key characteristic of Algy is its combination of efficiency, stability and shape.
A steam bath heats the starting material in the specially constructed copper still. The still has a covering made of stainless steel which is insulated to help maintain heat and conserve energy throughout the life of the still. The copper pot features a smooth internal surface, achieved by means of a welded construction without appendages. The shape of the still ensures a consistent heating process without localized overheating. The really distinctive heart of Algy is called the “super aromator” with its four distillation plates. This is a special distillation column, including a novel design of bubblecaps with increased copper surface and turbulent motion of the liquid at each level of the column. This causes a high quality of smooth and aromatic distillates and a reduction of higherboiling compounds.
Intensive contact between fluid and vapour is achieved by a variable filling level on the bubblecaps, yielding enriched levels of the lower boiling alcohol. The “super aromator” also includes another system to increase the alcohol content of the distillates called the “dephlegmator”. The “dephlegmator” is the last part of the distillation column and consists of a special cooling system that serves to further separate the alcoholic vapor from higher boiling compounds such as water. The net effect is that after leaving the pot still, the alcohol vapor passes through five additional distillation steps before reaching the gin basket. This is key to the extraordinary smoothness of Castle Freke Gin.
Empiricism: the theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses. Empiricism defines Castle Freke Distillery’s approach to everything we are doing. We are working with the finest ingredients obtainable throughout the world, a state of the art copper pot still, and an almost infinite amount of inputs that contribute to the finished product. Our approach to this challenge is both rigorously scientific and relentlessly experimental.
Over five years of focused development since Algy’s arrival in West Cork, driven by a relentless pursuit of perfection, have led us to the first 2022 limited release of Castle Freke Gin that in our first foray into ‘Prime Time’ was awarded Silver Medal in the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, probably the most competitive and prestigious challenge in the global spirits industry. The Process protocol for 2022 Castle Freke Gin involves no less than 50 critical steps for each and every batch of our product from initiation to finished product entering the stainless steel maturation tanks. It starts with maceration of the organic wheat alcohol with specific ingredients for 24-36 hours before introduction into the pot still ‘kettle’ with a custom basket of ingredients suspended above the fluid in the kettle. The temperature and flow rate of the alcohol vapor from the kettle are carefully monitored and titrated as it passes into and through the five levels of the distillation column before reaching the gin basket with its layers of carefully proportioned botanicals at different temperatures, and from there to the condensation column to reduce the vapor to its precious liquid. At that stage is the critical – and in our case severe – cut taken of the ‘hearts’ from the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’. The first spirit through the process has a lot of harsh volatiles still present, while as you progress into the later stages of each distillation run the output becomes heavier and more ‘oily’.
The hearts are the sweetest part of each distillation process, and in most gin distillation 70-80 percent of the whole run goes straight into dilution and bottling. We take about 35 percen of the output as our ‘Hearts’, and then… We launch into a second round of maceration with different ingredients for another 24 hours before returning the batch into the still for another complete distillation run with different process protocols and different ingredients in the gin basket…and once again take an aggressive cut of the ‘Hearts’ from the ‘Heads’ and ‘Tail’. This nearly finished product then enters a maturation process borrowed from the perfume industry’s knowledge of the importance of maceration in stabilizing the molecular composition of the finished product. Three months later Castle Freke Gin is ready for bottling.
The end result of this is that our yield from each batch of gin run through our 150L still is only 150 750ml bottles, and we can only run two batches per week. This is the price of our pursuit of perfection as a ‘sipping gin’, and the reason that Castle Freke Gin is so expensive…Only you, the Dry Martini drinker, can judge whether it is worth the price!
The Journey Continues…
Mass produced gin distilleries strive for consistency in their product year from year. Castle Freke Distillery takes a radically different approach. In the first place all our natural ingredients will vary somewhat in their contributions to the overall palette impact due to y ear on year climate variations. Beyond that natural authenticity, however, we view the pursuit of perfection as the ultimate gin for the Dry Martini lover as an ongoing – probably never ending – journey.
Each year we will be introducing new ingredients and new refinements into our process, constantly striving to improve on our last release. Of course matters of taste are inherently subjective, so we accept that others may find one year’s release prerable to its predecessor or successor years… but that is the magic of gin! Unlike other spirits, gin has truly an inifinty of possibilities with all the inputs we have to work with, so we invite our fellow Dry Martini lovers to join us on this journey.