In a new series called Hamiltonic, Northern Soul’s Gin Correspondent Robert Hamilton samples the best gin that the North has to offer and talks to the people who make it. This week, he chats to the good folk at Tarsier Gin in Manchester and sips a few samples.
A neat swallie of the clear liquid begins with sweet orange and citric notes followed by a peppery and spiced finish. My pal Betty says it reminds her of Cointreau, and she could imagine a snifter or two with just a cube of ice for company. Along with the usual botanicals, it includes calamansi, kampot pepper, Thai sweet basil and galangal to give it a unique palate.
Tarsier is a craft spirit made in Manchester and is named after the small, big-eyed Philippine Tarsier pictured on the bottle’s label. It symbolises Tarsier’s commitment to all things South East Asia, especially the flavours and botanicals of the region that includes the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I spoke to Driver this week and began by asking him for the origins of the spices.
“Tarsier grew out of a backpacking trip through South East Asia that we took in 2015 [with Sherwin Acebuche, co-founder and business partner]. It was a real sense of adventure into this untapped region. We loved the landscape, the people and especially the cooking.”
When they came back, Driver recalls a “real lightbulb moment” when they came up with the idea of using their experience of the tastes of the area to “develop a gin that reflected South East Asian cooking” and to give it a distinct brand.
Driver is a “self-taught” distiller and, with Sherwin’s contacts in the drinks industry, it took them “two-and-a-half years to develop Tarsier through various distilling techniques as I didn’t want to involve big name distillers. We were able to remain independent with the help of a government loan.”
“It was a really emotional day when the famous Raffles Hotel in Phnom Penh agreed to sell Tarsier,” says Driver, and you can hear the pride in his voice.
A recent visit to the Berlin Bar Show produced “incredible responses from Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine, USA and many more”. But Driver isn’t resting on his laurels. “You can stick a pin in a map and you’ll hit a gin. I want to make a global gin”. He has two more gins in development including a fruit gin and a rum. “I want Tarsier to have a wide portfolio. We want to forge our own path.”
Ethically-aware, the company donates 10 per cent of its profits to conservation projects in the area, and its first partner is the Philippine Tarsier Foundation that looks after the habitat of the wee animal. I wish Tarsier every success for this distinctive local gin with a global aim and a conscience.