LONDON — Mert Alas of the fashion photography duo Mert and Marcus likes to have gin on the rocks with a group of close friends at night.
Of course, he won’t get offended if others mix gin with tonic or Diet Coke, “but that’s not my choice. I like it on the rocks and I try to convert my friends to try it on the rocks, but no force,” he said over a Zoom call.
His fondness for that particular drink propelled him to spend more than four years creating a one-of-a-kind gin, and the result is Seventy One, an after-hours gin in a bottle the shape of an Art Deco luxury perfume — and it smells like one, too.
“Everything I did on this gin is an ode to the beautiful, mysterious night. I want to have a nightlife that is inspiring, creative, stylish, that is mesmerizing, and mysterious. Seventy One is definitely a very nocturnal gin,” he said.
The brand is named after its unique resting technique, as the gin is matured in three different oak casks for 71 nights for the ideal taste.
“It was an unplanned perfect timing,” he added. “We were testing the period of resting like every 30 days. We happened to be in the distillery and one night we were working on some stuff at the distillery and we all said let’s taste this, let’s see how it is anyway, it doesn’t matter if we have 30 days more to go, 20 days more to go. When we tasted it, we all said, ‘Oh my God. This is fantastic. So let’s stop here,’ and the distillation said that today is the 71st day, so we were like, ‘great, this is the name of the brand.'”
Gin has followed Alas all the way from the very beginning. “It transports me back to my youth. Memories with my mum and my family making a summer gin and adding hazelnuts into it and I remember the smell. When I started this journey, I was looking for the sense that I didn’t know about it was in my subconscious; this taste. My love of the gin and my memories headed me in that direction,” he said.
The photographer said the gin brand is not a vanity project. He was involved in every stage, even filling the casks and the choice of botanicals.
“I am an obsessive fan of gin. I drink every kind of gin. I taste and I critique and I change, and I add things to it. I spent a lot of time on creating Seventy One to make it deeper, rounder, bolder, smoother and more characterful.
“I’ve tried probably 700 distillations. I’ve tried everything. It was like, when I do things, that I like to be in control of every stage of it. That’s the only way I know, I don’t know any better so I have to gain knowledge, I have to work with it so I can perfect it. For me, it was like an orchestra and I am the conductor,” he said.
To match the name Eau De Nuit, and the fact that the gin, in the end, was made in a similar fashion to perfume making, Alas added the queen of the night, or Selenicereus grandiflorus, a rare, sweet-scented night-blooming cactus flower, on top of juniper, angelica, rose, grapefruit and cinchona to round up the final blend.
“It’s a rare plant that has the sort of a raw jasmine-like sense which is beautiful, earthy jasmine — I don’t know how to describe it better than that. It only blooms one night in the summer and by the first raise of the sun it dies, so it’s actually a night flower and it’s a nocturnal flower so it’s the beauty of it, the story of it mesmerized me for many years,” he explained.
Toward the end of the project, for a final seal of approval, Alas asked his friend, the French perfumer Dominique Ropion, to taste and smell the gin.
“He didn’t change anything. He enhanced and reassured me of the things that I was feeling when I was tasting Seventy One. He assured me that I was tasting the right things and I was smelling the right way and it gave me a confidence boost.”
Made in a small batch in the Netherlands, the premium gin will be available first on its official website for 140 pounds a bottle from July 12. Chiltern Firehouse in London will be its first stockist worldwide.
Alas said he didn’t make the gin with “the commercial power in mind.”
“I never start a game with that. If it turns in that direction, I am happy but for me, making this was about me, I was doing this for myself and my friends and family, it started with an obsession.
“It’s very tricky to make it. It takes a long time to make it. It has a lot of difficult techniques, lot of expensive ingredients so the price point justifies itself, and most importantly it’s not going to be everywhere. It’s going to be in selected places that are probably owned by my friends or a bar that I love going to, or the hotel that I like to stay in. It’s going to start small, a very small badge with small reachability,” he added.