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The expat artisan gin makers in Cognac

Man sniffs a glass of gin in a distillery

Meet the expat gin makers distilling an award winning gin in the living room of a house in Cognac…

“The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire…” So said Winston Churchill, and it has to be said, gin is generally thought of as an “English” drink. However, gin originated as a medicinal drink (yes really), distilled by monks and alchemists in the Netherlands and later in Europe including in Flanders, now northern France. Then it was called “genever”, an eau de vie made from juniper berries. But when William III of England banned imports of foreign alcohol, English distillers created ‘gin’, a cheaper version, which wreaked havoc on the working classes and earned it the nickname “mother’s ruin.” Eventually controls over production were brought in and the gin and tonic became a popular drink around the world.

In France “le gin and tonic” has never been more popular than now, inspiring a legion of artisan distillers to create new, exciting gins. And in the heart of Cognac country, in the living room of his house, a distiller called Miko has been quietly creating his intoxicating and sensational Pink Pepper Gin…

The Man in the Lab

Miko, AKA “the man in the lab”, from Sydney, Australia looks every inch a mad scientist! He moved to Cognac from London where he’d been working, in 2008 and worked as a Cognac distiller. But his real passion was for gin. Inspired since he was a teen by his mum Nici who made fruit liqueurs from family recipes and dad Michel to understand the process and flavours of spirits, he’d long been experimenting but it was in Cognac that he has his Eureka moment. He developed a honey-led gin but felt it wasn’t quiet there. Remembering a pink peppercorn tree in the family garden, he added some of the spicy pods to another 8 botanicals (herb and plant derivatives) in the mix – and a star was born.

In 2014 Miko met Ian, an English expat who moved to Cognac in 2008 to do up a farmhouse. Ian set up a soup stall in the local market and when Miko offered to swap gin for soup, Ian was so impressed he joined Miko’s newly formed company Audemus Spirits. The taste of Pink Pepper Gin has wowed all who taste it and the company has taken off but, says Ian, production is still done in the front room of Miko’s house.

How to make gin

Distillery in the front room of a house in Cognac

Ian explains how Audemus Spirits have become one of the best gin-makers in France:

The Audemus Distillery is a little atypical for the Cognac region. Here you usually encounter giant copper beasts which can churn out hundreds of litres of their spirit a day. In fact, there are only a handful of distilleries around the globe that create the way we do.

We operate a vacuum distillery out of Miko’s living room. Every botanical we distil is done individually, with its own specific method. The maceration time, botanical ratio, alcohol ABV, distillation time, pressure and temperature will all depend on the botanical’s character. If we’re looking for delicate flavours, everything will be done with a gentle touch. If we’re looking for spicier and stronger notes, we will increase the intensity at which we extract flavour.

Once we have distilled all the botanicals which go into the gin – we blend them together in their specific ratios with a French neutral grain spirit and filter it lightly before bottling; giving the different elements time to rest before every stage of production.

Perfumery meet chemistry

Our form of distillation is at the cross-roads between distillation, perfumery and chemistry. It’s an entirely empirical operation. There are no textbooks that give us direction. Everything is born from experimentation and a love for the work we do. We don’t just make gin, we make all sorts of products – liqueurs, bitters, hybrid spirits that don’t fit into any category and so on. Our methodology changes depending on what we’re making.

Being in the heart of the ‘Spirits Valley‘ in Cognac, we have numerous resources at our fingertips, from coopers to traditional distilleries. While we work with innovative and new technologies to produce drinks that are representative of our epoch, we maintain absolute respect for the time, passion and effort needed to create beautiful things.

Infused with love

Bottles fill an ancient stone fireplace in the home distillery

Each new batch of Pink Pepper Gin is dedicated to someone we love. People that have helped us on our journey. But we also make different gins – Umami Gin is another member in our permanent range (or family) of products. And we make limited edition gins (Hoppy, Dive Bar, Old Ma’s) and bespoke gins for other people (Anne Sophie Pic Gin for example).

We only work with fresh, dried botanicals – nothing artificial. Pink Pepper Gin has 9 botanicals: Pink Peppercorns and Cinnamon from Madagascar, Italian Juniper, Cardamom from Guatamala, Honey from the Cognac region, Tonka Bean from Brazil and Vanilla from Sāo Tomé. Plus two secret ingredients.

We work closely with all our suppliers and ensure that each botanical used is grown and harvested sustainably. For the vanilla for example we have partnered with a small co-operative on the tiny island of São Tomé. Miko visited and invested in the co-op who are trying to re-establish the vanilla production following years of neglect. We receive a small percentage of each crop as a return on our investment.

Bold and bright

We just won the highest award at the 2022 IWSC spirits challenge, a Gold Outstanding. I’ll quote the judges here: “Bold and bright. Here we have fantastic notes of black pepper spice on the nose, alongside a charming perfume of dried herbs. Fresh and crisp, yet beautifully round. An absolutely fascinating flavour profile and an exquisite example of its kind.”

For us it’s all about experimentation, being inspired by the things around us. Covert Fig Leaf Liqueur is a perfect example of this, it was inspired by the fig tree next door! The recipes take months of tweaking and development. Nothing leaves the Lab (living room), however many times we have to taste a product, unless Miko is 100% happy with the finished result.

You can buy Pink Pepper Gin and all the liqueurs online (and find details of outlets around the world) at: audemus-spirits.com

Shaken and stirred…

Audemus Spirits tips for making a great Gin & Tonic: Fill the glass with as much ice as you can possibly fit into it.  When the ice melts it dilutes the flavours and can ruin a G&T, and the more ice you put into the glass, the slower it melts. We love a 50ml shot of Pink Pepper Gin and roughly twice the amount of premium tonic. And – experiment with garnishes! Try something herbal, a bay leaf or sprig of rosemary for example. Citrus is also good – pink grapefruit or a slice of lemon.

French 75 gin cocktail

French 75, also called a 75 Cocktail, or in French simply a Soixante-Quinze is a classic gin cocktail. It is named for the French 75-millimeter gun used by Allied troops, including, according to one story, Capt. Harry S. Truman.

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon sugar syrup, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 50ml( 1oz) gin, Champagne, lemon twist (optional).

Pour the lemon juice, sugar syrup and gin into a cocktail shaker then fill up with ice. Shake well then strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne, leave to settle (as it will bubble up) then fill up with more champagne. Swirl gently and garnish with a strip of lemon zest if you like.

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