Gin has been around for a long time, but it doesn’t take a long time to make, compared to drinks such as wine or whisky. In fact, many whisky companies also make gin so they’ll have product to sell while they wait for the whisky to mature! The main requirement of gin (differentiating itself from a spirit like Vodka) is that it’s juniper led – but beyond that, it’s a wide playground for distillers; and there are all sorts of wild and wonderful expressions out there. And we’re not just talking about flavours here, folks, we’re talking looks. While gin is typically clear, there has been a recent wave of pink gins hitting the market, getting their colour from all sorts of fruits and botanicals: rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, rose, etc. In my mind, it has a nice summery appeal (most likely based off the rosé wine craze), but eh, it doesn’t really grab my attention. A BLACK gin, however? Now THERE’S something interesting!
Scapegrace (launched in 2014 under the name Rogue Society) is a New Zealand gin company owned by Mark Neal and Daniel McLaughlin. They’re Kiwi, and they’re gin; already winners in Julia’s book. But they do a black gin? What does that even mean and how do they do it??
Billed as “The world’s first naturally black gin”, they’re not just adding food colouring chemicals or extracts to the spirit and calling it a day. They needed to find natural ingredients which would produce that colour; or, rather the lack of colour. Because black, according to scientists, is not actually a colour. As the narration for Scapegrace says, black exists “for what it isn’t, rather than what it is.” So, how do they make their gin black?
Not only were they going for a literal black look, but they wanted to capture the flavour essence of what a Black gin would be. Understanding that black, while not a colour in and of itself, is made up of colours (namely red, orange, yellow, blue, and purple), they set off to find where in nature they could attain these colours, also keeping in mind it would need to be palatable.
Describing the process as “modern-day botany”, after months of testing, they came up with a unique mix of botanicals, each utilized for their colour properties and flavour profiles:
Aronia Berries for red
Saffron for orange
Pineapple for yellow
Butterfly Pea for blue
Sweet Potato for purple
These ingredients, distilled at precise temperatures and integrated in a specific order, create the one of a kind (for now) Scapegrace Black; which, when mixed with tonic, turns a captivating purplish pink.
This is the third label for the Scapegrace line; they also have Scapegrace Classic and Scapegrace Gold. Their Classic London Dry gin won best in its category at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, beating over 600 other gins from 90 countries, and also marked the first distillery in New Zealand to take home the prize.
Scapegrace has arguably helped catapult New Zealand onto the gin scene. When they launched back in 2014, they were one of two gin brands in the country. In 2019, that number had risen to 38. There’s obviously a growing interest in and demand for gin – in fact, after their announcement and launch of Black back in late 2019, their 3 month supply of the stuff sold out in 1 day!
While Scapegrace is sold in 35 different countries, good luck trying to find a bottle of the Black (retailing at NZ$79.99) Stateside (although you may get lucky and find their Classic or Gold labels).