Twelve Keys was conceived by Norfolk micro-farmer Matthew Clifford in 2015 after a chance meeting with the duo behind Pickering’s Gin, Matt Gammell and Marcus Pickering. With a Norfolk farmer’s unerring instinct for business, the company Sartorial Spirits was founded soon after and Matthew Clifford set about developing his gin recipe.
Twelve Keys Gin is so named from the 16th-century alchemical text The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine. Each of the mysterious keys was a step in the process of alchemy, the process of turning base metal into the elixir of life, aka. the philosopher’s stone. But before this all gets very Harry Potter lets get back to what this is really about: gin.
I’m getting ever so slightly bored by all the tenuous romantic backstories from gin distillers. Gin distillers make gin because (hopefully) they like the stuff and enjoy the real chemistry of making it. It is also not a bad way to earn a buck or two at the moment.
Twelve Keys Gin boasts not unexpectedly twelve botanicals: the usual juniper, angelica root, orris root and cinnamon, as well as the more unusual frankincense, caraway seeds, gentian root, his own Norfolk honey, basil, apricot, caramelised quince and fig. It must have been quite a challenge to bring all those strapping flavours together in harmony and balance. Particularly perfumed quince and frankincense which can overwhelm with a soapy taste. And that is where the real alchemy lies.
Fast forward to its successful launch at Junipalooza in 2018 (and an encore in 2019) and onto when the gin was awarded a silver medal at the International Spirits Challenge (ISC) 2019. And whether you buy into the alchemy story or not this is one handsome bottle with a lovely sophisticated dark blue label.
Given the meticulous attention to the quality of the botanicals and branding, it is slightly surprising that this is a 3rd party gin made by Glasgow Distillery. This is no way denigrates this gin, just that I would expect Matthew Clifford to follow the lead of some of the other Norfolk gin producers and make his own on-site. But perhaps that is to follow.
So how does it taste?
Norfolk honey from their own bees.
On the nose Twelve Keys Gin has a well-balanced juniper and honey fragrance with a hint of perfumed fruit from the quince.
To taste Twelve Keys gin punches above its respectable weight with clear strong juniper notes, a bright zingy citrus-forward taste and honeyed overtones. There is a slight rooty finish among the juniper from the orris root and a hint of perfume from the frankincense and quince.
If gin had a gender this would definitely be a masculine gin, juniper-forward, but not overly so, and mellowed by the honey. Classic in a black-tie sort of way.
Twelve Keys gin is designed to be best served neat as a sipping gin but it is also superb with light tonic as long as you don’t swamp it and knock out the flavours. We found the perfect ratio was 1:2 and no more. You can garnish it with coffee and figs as the website suggests if you like but we found it wasn’t necessary and we much preferred to drink it neat.
To find out more about Twelve Keys Gin and where to buy visit their website.