While London has seen the resurgence of gin distilleries in the city, just a one-hour scenic train ride out into the countryside in the castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, there's a new gin shaking things up, but with a history dating back to the Roman days.
Highclere Castle is the real name of the castle where the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon reside and where the fictional Crawleys call home. The first written records of the estate date back to 749AD when the Anglo-Saxon King Cuthred of Wessex granted Highclere to the Bishops of Winchester. And it was the Bishops of Winchester in the ninth century who first planted the botanicals in the vast castle gardens that now make up the brand new Highclere Castle Gin ($40), out just in time for Downton Abbey fans to sip while watching the new movie.
The super-premium London Dry Gin is made with a delicate balance of estate-grown juniper, lemon, orange peel, and a touch of lavender, but what really sets it apart from its boozy peers is the estate-grown oats that are added into the blend. Oats are a very unique addition to gin which adds a rich and creamy texture and make it the perfectly smooth gin for apprehensive non-gin drinkers. It also makes for a great sip on its own over ice.
Distilling is done outside of the estate but also comes with its own dose of history. It's inside an ancient underground water source, in England’s oldest gin distillery which has one of the oldest working copper gin stills dating back to the 1800’s.
To really imbibe the gin like a lord or lady, look to the castle archives. Recovered from the Carnarvon family archives stored deep within the castle, menus and letters reference gin cocktails from the early 1900’s. Enjoyed in the “Highclere Style” for over a century, the traditional method of indulgence involves a cocktail made with gin, tonic, a fresh orange squeeze, and peel, and finished with a rosemary sprig from the garden.
Although these days, head butler Louis is inventing new ways to drink gin. Lady Carnarvon (or, Lady C) is partial to one of Louis' "quite strong" gin mojitos or the "Louis Special" surprise mix, she tells Departures.
"The Castle is renowned for entertaining and hosting brilliant weekend house parties, so often beginning with a refreshing gin cocktail. With the family love of this glorious spirit, it was a natural step to make an exceptional gin inspired by the history and botanicals at Highclere," Lady Carnarvon stated on the gin's site.