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Langley’s No. 8

Written by Gin Foundry

We must admit that when Langley’s No. 8 Gin first came onto the scene in 2013, we weren’t all that enamoured with it. It was pitched as a masculine product, you see, and as a team formed of either women or men married to powerhouse women, we saw very little room in the market for such a distinction. Sanitary towels and beard oil you can gender, sure, but gin? Gin is for everyone.

At the time, there were a couple of sweet and floral gins that were deliberately trying to cater to ladies, but with more men getting into the spirit, there was a considerable gap in the market for masculine flavours. At least, that’s what co-founder Mark Dawkins claimed at the time. We, as you may tell, had no time for that tone; apart from buyers and panellists (which still need work, but we’re getting there) the Gin industry is one with a pretty good gender split; go to any festival and you’ll see an equal number of men and women behind the stands. Hendrick’s? Made by a woman. Opihr, Bloom, Thomas Dakin? Al made by Jo Moore. Basically, gin production is way ahead of the curve when it comes to smashing the glass ceiling, so you’ll have to forgive us if we’re more than a little snarky on the topic.

That said, we’re a forgiving bunch. Since its launch, Langley’s No. 8 has moved in a much more sensible direction, with its look and feel having shifted away from ‘manly’ and onto timeless. The leather has gone from the neck, that male-oriented language has disappeared and in its place is a product worth considering – one in a custom glass, with a couple of siblings by its side.

We’ll deal with the name side of things first. Langley’s is a name you may know. Established in 1902, the distillery was built by a group of local publicans who fancied earning a buck or two from the ever-present Gin drinkers in the country. This small team built the stills themselves, raising the distillery from the ground up.

In 1955 it was taken over by the W. H. Palmer Group, a family-run business that had, until then, been working in the science of chemical compounding. It wasn’t until they took a second or third glance at the dormant stills that they even considered pumping water through them, but once they did, the idea to make gin soon consumed them. This, in time, became the main source of business, and even now – over half a century later – the family is responsible for an incredible amount of contract spirits, those ‘craft’ gins that people so often believe to be the work of small, independent makers. It is our understanding that the volume of spirit made at the distillery is now so vast that the team there, allegedly, have very little ability to track who is actually buying it as the distribution chain is so convoluted (and the volumes so gargantuan), as to beggar belief.

With such history to the Langley’s name and such an industrious turnover, you’d expect the company, now run by the great, great grandson of Palmer Group founder Adam Wallis Palmer, to be quite protective of it. Thankfully for the gin’s co-founders, Mark Dawkins and Mark Crump, that wasn’t the case. When, in 2011, they approached the group with a view to making a gin there (and borrowing the name), they agreed. The distillery had been looking to put a gin to its own name for a while, so for a request to come at such a time felt like nothing but happy serendipity.

We can’t help but wonder, though - years later and with Gin at its highest heights - whether or not Langley’s sort of wishes it had kept the name for itself?

The number eight in the title isn’t for the eight botanicals featured in the gin, but rather because the final product was the eighth incarnation of the spirit. Langley’s Master Distiller at the time, Rob Dorsett had designed the recipe to the two Marks’ specification and presented them with 12 variations of the final gin recipe, each with a different ABV. It was the eighth sample, at 41.7% ABV, that hit home for the duo, and thus its fate was sealed.

The recipe is as classic as they come, with juniper (hand sifted five times to ensure consistency in the size of berries), nutmeg, coriander seeds, sweet orange, lemon peel and cassia bark amongst the ‘secret blend.’ All of the botanicals are soaked in a 100% ABV English grain spirit, though there is no real steeping period. Instead the machine is switched on swiftly and left to do its work.

The gin is made to a concentrate that varies between 77 and 88% ABV in strength. The liquid is sent to a site in Burlington, Essex, where it is blended down to strength, bottled and hand labelled.

Langley’s No. 8 Gin to taste…

On the nose, juniper positively sings out of the bottle, vibrant and lively. There’s an almost soapy, floral top note (ironic, given that this gin was designed to be everything but that), suggesting that one of the unlisted ingredients is a big fat dose of orris root. The spices bubble beneath the surface, never given the opportunity to cause a sting but instead suggesting a depth that delves down miles and miles. As far as gin smells go, this is inviting. Breathe deep enough and you can almost detect a chocolate-y note.

Sipped neat, the spices come to life, exploding on the tongue like a firecracker. There’s a berry-like sweetness preventing the cassia and nutmeg from setting a full fire to the mouth, and the juniper has such chewy, piny viscosity that it really and truly tastes as if you’ve eaten the entire bush. It lasts and lasts and lasts on the tongue, with that green pine taste following you through your next meal. It is, dare we say it, fantastic gin, and while it may not have the exciting weirdness of the modern day scene, it has enough juniper to flatter the most discerning of Gin palates.

Unusually, tonic appears to up the juniper dosage, with the pine levels so strong as to almost drown out the other botanicals. For us, this is a blessing, rather than a curse. It’s a G&T as G&Ts were designed to be, so much so that we wouldn’t bother serving this any other way than traditional British boozer style. Slightly murky glass, wilting lime. Splash of tonic. Lovely.

As we mentioned earlier, the Langley’s No. 8 Gin family is one that has grown, and one of the newest members just so happens to fall into our favourite Gin sub-category – Old Tom. With juniper, fennel, nutmeg, lemon peel, tangerine and coriander amongst the line-up, this is a typically traditional affair, albeit with a syrupy sugary kick at the end.

Bottled at 40%, the Langley’s Old Tom Gin was most definitely a good way for the two Marks to follow their ideology further down the path of tradition. “The expression is intrinsically inked to 18th and 19th Century England,” Dawkins explained. “One of the things we loved about Gin’s history was its evolution from a barely drinkable harsh gin, masked by sugar, to a great liquid that is experiencing a resurgence.

“We discovered a recipe from that time and for two years we refined it until we reached the ideal balance of sweetness that would bring the essence of the style to life as well as complimenting a modern palate. Our Old Tom is delicately sweet without being overpowering.”

Langley’s Old Tom Gin to taste…

On the nose, caramelised citrus peels and an almost oaky spice. The sweet berry, lightly floral qualities of the flagship remain, but the juniper is lessened. It smells a little like hot, sweet, dry sauna wood - familiar, comforting and almost luxurious.

To taste, sugar latches onto the tongue instantly, but its joined by a big bushy green and then pushed away by those sparking spices. It’s a totally different proposition, not only to Langley’s No. 8 Gin but to Old Tom’s in general. It’s not too sweet, instead they’ve placed a focus on intensity. This isn’t just sipping a spirit, this is getting in the ring for 10 rounds with Ali at his peak. Bruising, brilliant and bold as brass.

With tonic it’s delicious – furry green leaves on the tongue, sweet berries at the back and a piny juniper aftertaste that sits in the mouth for a good while afterwards. Serve it with a huge, juice orange wheel for a primo cocktail. And while we’re on the topic, this was made for a Martinez. Try it with a square of dark chocolate on the side and thank us later!

While Langley’s Old Tom has gone for an old school brown tinted bottle and a slightly faded paper label, Langley’s No. 8 Gin is housed in a clear cut, specially made glass bottle that, while a little safe (and a little boring), is thankfully neutral. This isn’t aiming itself at men or women, at young or old, at the arty, artisanal, crafty or supermarket shopper; it’s pretty plain, and confident enough in the liquid to avoid feeling the need to shout.

So yes, Langley’s is a third party product with a borrowed name (and thus, borrowed heritage) and nowhere to call home. There isn’t a distillery you can visit nor a bar to represent it (nor will they be, as far as Dawkins is concerned, “England is part of our name, but we’ve always seen ourselves as a global gin brand aimed at an international audience.” As such, a brand home is not perceived as necessary). And yes, it got off to a very shaky start, but it quickly learnt from its mistakes. While it may not offer gin fans much in the way of a character driven, rags to riches, accountant-turned-distiller story, what it does do is offer two utterly, divinely delicious spirits that reflect the heritage of the category in an absurdly flattering light. This is one we will have on our shelves from here on out and one to enjoy as an everyday luxury.

For more information about Langley’s No. 8 Gin, visit langleysgin.com

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Langley's No. 8 Gin review English gin 1