I’ve always enjoyed a good after hours session but it has usually meant a lock-in at the local pub for a couple more illicit pints, tonight, however, it was a much more sophisticated affair being the launch of Royal Armouries Gin. Not only that, but the chaps at Rolling Social, Lee and Ben, had devised a cocktail especially for the occasion.

As the name suggests, the Royal Armouries is a building which is the home of the UK’s national collection of arms and armour. There are over 4,500 objects housed over five floors including Henry VIII’s foot combat armour made for the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 and the ‘Horned Helmet’ presented to the same monarch by the Holy Roman Emperor in 1514.

We were given a tour of the Oriental Gallery which displays the most spectacular exhibit of them all, an armoured elephant. I had been allowed in for a preview before the main tour took place and the room had an eerie menacing air about it. The beast was huge and would have weighed about four tons, I don’t think the armour can have been much lighter.

The proper tour was conducted by David who prowled around the animal whilst giving us all the gory details. Those of you of a nervous disposition might want to cover your eyes while you read the next bit. (Hang on, that can’t be right.) Anyway, there were a few armies who utilised elephants in battle, mostly in the Middle East and Asia, and very effective they were as well. Their role was, as you would expect, to charge the opposing troops and give them a terminal trampling. Another strategy was to attach a chain between the legs of two of them at about human waist height and they would then rush through the opposing ranks using the chain as a huge cheese wire thus separating the enemy’s tops from their bottoms, so to speak.

David in full flow

Obviously, a defence mechanism needed to be devised and they came up with a small spike which had several prongs on it so that no matter how you threw it in the elephant’s path it would always have one of them pointing straight up. Surprisingly the most effective measure devised was the use of a far smaller animal. It seems that elephants are really spooked by the sound of a pig squealing so the soldiers on the other side would always have a passel of them. Here’s where it gets gross, the soldiers, when faced with a charging elephant would set fire to the pigs, thus making them squeal, and release them towards the aggressors. If they were trying to prevent the opposition from storming a compound they would harness the porkers and hang them from the gate, a little more humane but still a tad uncomfortable I would imagine. There were elephant on elephant charges but these were really gruesome so I will spare you the details. With the advent of muskets and canon, the use of elephants was abandoned and soldiers moved on to more efficient ways of disposing of one another, along with any civilian who might be in their way.

Those who elected to use the staircase to reach the Oriental Gallery, were rewarded by the sight of an impressive display of swords and shields which line the walls of the hexagonal stairwell. Because of the state of my knees, I knew I shouldn’t have got in the way of those two chained elephants, I opted to use the lift but fortunately I could get a great view from the top.

After all that trauma regarding warfare I was in need of a drink and so sampled one of the cocktails, which was named Sora and comprises; mandarin soda, lemon juice, plum saki, rose water and, of course the new Royal Armouries Gin. I am not a huge cocktail fan as, apart from the traditional ones, I find them too sweet, this one, however, was very enjoyable being quite refreshing and beautifully presented, even if I did get the odd bit of greenery in my gob. I obviously need some more cocktail drinking experience.


Duly refreshed, I spoke to the chaps from Coastal Distillery who created this particular spirit, and had another taste, neat this time. I found it to be quite a bit drier than the ones I have tasted before and very pleasant.

They told me that it was a classic gin of the kind which would have been made before the 1940s, so very Noel Coward then. They use botanicals of the type imported along the spice trail, along with a hint of liquorice, which makes all the difference. If you are from Leeds and of a certain age, then you will know liquorice is called Spanish.

The gin is sold in bottles – obviously – but these have an ornate print on the reverse side to the name which is a replica of an Indian carpet, in deference to the country from which the elephant upstairs originates. It is on sale in the gift shop and on-line now https://shop.royalarmouries.org/

While you are there buying your gin, why not take a look around the Armouries Museum, it is open Tuesday to Sunday 10.00am until 5.00pm during term time and every day during school holidays, except for 24th, 25th and 26th December when it is closed. Admission is free.

For full details of the Royal Armouries and the events which are in the pipeline please go to https://royalarmouries.org/venue/royal-armouries-museum/

All photographs by Stan Graham

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