Hayman’s Royal Dock navy strength gin.
Last time around we were talking about the Pink Gin which is a drink that (once fixed) demands a punchy gin to stand up to the powerful force of all those dashes of Angostura bitters. Yes, it’s time to look at navy strength gin. Hayman’s is a smallish London distiller who have been supplying a navy strength gin to the British Royal Navy since 1863, according to themselves. Is this going to be the gin we put in our Pink Gin, Gimlet or NeGrogni? Let’s find out! But before we do perhaps I should explain exactly what “navy strength” means.
We need to wind the clock back a couple of hundred years when the Royal Navy decided to replace the daily ration of a gallon(!) of beer per seaman with rum because it kept potable for longer and saved (a lot) of space. And because they’d captured Jamaica*. Other alcoholic beverages were also issued (mostly wine and brandy) but by the middle of the 19th century things had pretty much settled on rum for the seamen and gin for the officers. Now if you get into a bit of barney with some pirates or someone else’s navy and feel the need to fire some large chunks of iron at them the last thing you want is your crew spilling their copious rum ration on the gunpowder. However science says that if your booze is at least 57% alcohol your powder will still go bang instead of fizz. Problem solved. Thus seamen got half a imperial pint (284ml) of 57% rum per day. Every day. Meanwhile in the wardroom the gin the officers preferred was the same strength. In 1866 the Royal Navy reduced the strength to 54.5% (booo!) so either of those numbers are valid as a definition of navy strength today. The last Royal Navy rum ration was issued at 6 bells on 31st July 1970 (a day now known as Black Tot Day) and replaced by a can of lager (hisss!). History does not record whether the officers got to keep their gin**.
Hayman’s Royal Dock.
Our navy gin comes in a clear square bottle with embossed lettering, a synthetic cork seal and a simple vaguely antique looking paper label. It looks and feels just right for this kind of product. I also thought the blue and gold foil with an anchor motif was a particularly nice touch. Hayman have gone for the 57% ABV interpretation of navy strength as do most distillers. So far, so good. Sniffed Royal Dock is surprisingly mild and neutral and to be honest I was expecting, and indeed hoping for, more of a slap in the chops. Sipped it’s much the same story; while there is initially a nice oily texture and a little heat (though less than expected at this proof) the flavours are not magnified as I had expected. In terms of style the Navy Dock falls between the juniper-forward and citrus-forward types of gin. I could be critical and call it unexciting or I could be generous and call it balanced. The label only mentions juniper, coriander and citrus as botanicals and indeed it seems to be something of an equal balance of these three. If it really is a 150 year old recipe that might explain the somewhat simplistic profile. I’m initially left a bit deflated as I had high hopes for my first real navy gin. So it’s not really a gin for sipping neat? Well, no surprise – what gin is? The reviews I write here are based on a spirit’s mixing qualities and when mixed with Hayman’s naval offering does something quite surprising. It seems to punch its way through the other ingredients where most other gins are subdued in the mix. Despite my early impressions this is a gin that delivers exactly what I wanted from it. It gives my Gimlet a stiff upper lip, my Pink Gin a bit of backbone and gives my NeGrogni some extra legitimacy. It also makes a great Negroni and a nice punchy Gin & Tonic which makes me want to push its uses outside of the realm of naval and faux-naval cocktails. My timbers have never been so shivered. In these parts Hayman’s Royal Dock is a pretty reasonable €25-28 which is significantly less than the few other navy strength gins so we can add value for money to the equation along with the excellent mixability, pedigree and authenticity. Loyal shipmates, I’ve no choice but to award Hayman’s Royal Dock navy gin an:
*God knows how if they were all drinking a gallon of beer per day.
**I bet they did!