Shaken AND Stirred in Mallorca’s Gin Lane
Although I had tasted it before, all I really knew about gin was the famous print by William Hogarth: Beer Street and Gin Lane.
According to the cheeky Hogarth as well as lawmakers at the time (late 1600 to early 1700s) gin drinking would lead to all sorts of criminal behaviour including rape and infanticide, as well as laziness, extreme thinness and taking bones out of the mouths of dogs.
The more beer you drank, on the other hand, the healthier, kinder and more law abiding you would become. In my younger days I took this admonition to heart and spent my life drinking only beer, until I realised by ‘beer’ they meant ‘ale’ and not lager.
Anyone interested in the fascinating history of gin from its origin as a medicine through the ‘Gin craze” and ‘mother’s ruin’ of 18th century Britain to the elegant cocktail staple it is today should hop over to the distillery in Son Castello for one of two types of gin tastings organised by clever start-up Mallorca Distillery.
As it turns out, production of spirits has a long and proud tradition on this island, but it took a couple of newcomers, Byron Holland and his wife Amber, to start a proper Mallorcan Distillery.
No start-up can exist for long without attracting the attention of Olive Valley’s idea machine Melanie Kirkpatrick, and off we went to Cami dels Reis to meet Holland and see what all the fuss was about. Yes, fuss. Because a quick search of the internet shows that this newly established distillery – the launch was in September 2018 – has already created quite a stir (yes, a Martini-related joke) in the media and at parties and events.
When we spotted the company logo on a modest little sign hanging discreetly on a nondescript factory wall, we exclaimed in unison: What a beautiful sign! There was something familiar about it. Ornate yet simple, slightly oriental-looking but European …?
It was the rose window in Palma’s cathedral.
Inside the cavernous, sunlit distillery, the affable Holland welcomes us to sit at the stylish tasting area and starts lining up bottles of gin. And, oh! Even if you don’t like gin, you will want the bottles Palma Gin comes in. The shape and design, so simple, so elegant, so cool, and why oh why hasn’t anyone thought of it before? The pattern is instantly recognisable from a thousand floors and walls around the island: Huguet’s iconic Mallorcan tiles.
“Yes, we spent a long time trying to figure out what our logo and bottle design would be,” Holland smiles, pouring alarmingly large shots of gin into glasses. “In the end it was so simple. My wife and I love Mallorca, and what can be more Mallorca than the rose window and those tiles?”
The bar is surrounded by see-through glass jars full of ‘botanicals’ as the flavouring agents are known; dried orange peel, coriander, cassia bark, cardamom, almond flowers and lavender, as well as the main ingredient of gin: Juniper. In fact, the word ‘gin’ comes from the Dutch word for juniper, genever.. Most of the botanicals are harvested on Mallorca – another win.
Melanie and I hover over our glasses for a few moments. Just the fragrance wafting into my nostrils makes me think of summer and Mediterranean sunshine. The first sip shoots straight through my system like a Balearis missile, so smooth, a riot of flavours concentrated in one sunray going straight to my heart.
It is delicious.
Byron Holland smiles from ear to ear. I get the feeling it’s not the first time he has seen people melting with joy on these bar stools. We ask him to tell us a bit about the company history.
“We were running a restaurant in Edinburgh and noticed how many craft beer breweries were popping up everywhere. That trend shows no sign of abating, but we also noticed a new trend towards spirits, gin in particular. We had fallen in love with Mallorca when we were working together on yachts here and didn’t fancy the cold in Edinburgh, so we decided: Mallorca Distillery it is! We found James Givens, a chemical engineer, in December 2017 and after a lot of work…” he spreads his hands, indicating the distillery.
I take another sip. The lingering aftertaste of – oh, I don’t know, so many lovely things like orange, rhubarb and liquorice root, – makes me smile into my glass like an idiot. It also makes me want to dance. Not because I’m drunk, you understand, but because the taste is just so sunny, so Mallorca.
And so, so medicinal. I can feel the health tearing through me. Now I understand why so many languages use the word ‘health’ for ‘Cheers’!
It’s almost a pity to dilute the deliciousness with tonic, but seeing I’m actually at work, it’s probably for the best. And the tonic tastes great anyway.
To your health!
Holland and his wife, both originally from Newcastle “do everything together.” They are bursting with good ideas, of which the bottle design is only one.
“We have gin tastings which take place in the distillery in Son Castello, and we also offer a Make Your own Gin master class.”
Oh, count me in! You get to pick the various flavours/infusions/botanicals you want and also label your bottle with your own name. Or the name of someone else. A personalised bottle of Palma Gin – now wouldn’t that be just the perfect gift for the person who has everything?
That’s it, I’m going over from Lager Street to Gin Lane! And if I were a betting man, I’d say this company will soon become as instantly recognisably Mallorcan as the tiles and cathedral window on its products.
Our visit to Mallorca Distillery obviously took place before the Corona lockdown, and the company is now under enforced rest like everybody else. I call Holland ostensibly to ask about Mallorca Distillery but my real agenda is of course to ask if they can deliver some gin to my house.
“We are allowed to stay open, but because most of our clients; bars, restaurants and of course tourists, are not around, there is nobody to sell our gin to. I’m getting loads of paperwork done.”
Fortunately they have stock ready to go out at short notice, and gin, being in essence a medicine, should be on top of everyone’s list of real essential “non-essentials”.
And for those abroad who are dying to come to Mallorca but can’t, an export lifeline is already in place to get Mallorca Distillery’s products to Germany, UK, Sweden and beyond.
To our health! And that of our economy!