Reaching for a bottle of Champagne, going for a beer or pouring an ice-cold gin & tonic has long been a way to mark celebrations and special occasions or cheer yourself up after getting bad news. Either way, drinking alcohol is a well trodden path of exaggerating your mood … so whether your celebrating a new job or feeling miserable after the breakup of a love affair you might reach for some comfort in a glass. Although I only advise it only when celebrating! However, as in the Simon & Garfunkel song’ Blues Run the Game” the lyrics ‘Send out for whiskey, baby Send out for gin’ speak of loss and trying to beat the blues… ‘Wherever I have gone, The blues are all the same’.
So with that in mind here are some gins from artisanal and expert makers that are changing our relationship with this drink and some ideas of where to spend a day learning the craft of gin distilling.
Over the past few year British gin’s popularity in the US has grown as consumers seek to recreate James Bond’s Martinis and taste the Downtown Abbey life. Our interest in the drink has grown at the same time with increasing numbers of bar-staff trained to engage customers with a bits of background to the various drinks on the back bar …where was it made, what botanicals were used (the herbs and spices flavouring the spirit), who is the distiller? All gins are flavoured with juniper, with the amount of the berries relative to the other botanicals giving each gin its distinctive flavour.
Alongside the rise of the artisanal gin maker, soft drink makers and entrepreneurs are offering new ranges of tonics, soda waters and ginger beers. In the UK, Fever-Tree, Fentimans (sweetened with cane sugar for a natural sweetness) and Thomas Henry are using natural ingredients producing robust tonics with a bitterness that is squaring up to the once ubiquitous mixers produced by brands such as Schweppes.
Here is our pick of fantastic bunch of gins, a few tips on getting the best out of your G&T and three top gin destinations in the UK!
1) Bombay Sapphire
With its distinctive blue bottle and engravings of its nine botanicals etched on the bottle’s side, Bombay Sapphire is flavoured with such exotics as lemon peel, grains of paradise and orris (the root of the iris flower). Tasting Bombay you’ll probably notice it being bright, floral and fruity in character. This gin is oe of those leading the current renaissance and is particularly popular as a gin & tonic or Martini (gin, vermouth, ice, twist of lemon).
Flavoured with four botanicals, juniper, coriander, angelica and liquorice Tanquery is produced as dry London (43.15 ABV, hints of liquorice) or the stronger No 10 (47.3%, citrusy with grapefruit, vanilla and lime notes). It’s distilled in Scotland.
A new distillation in the market, created in Cambridge, England Givinity is aiming for the premium market. Priced at around £50 for 700ml, the bottle is reminiscent of a cognac bottle, with gold writing and flamboyant top adding to the visual appeal. Flavoured with nine botanicals including rose petals, mandarin zest and Szechuan pepper Giviity offers the drinker a taste of light juniper and raspberries at the start ending with a light, dry finish with a creamy texture.
4) Silent Pool
A new distillery based in the Surrey countryside, Silent Pool uses 24 botanicals including Bosnian juniper, coriander seeds and honey. A new distillation named Toujours 21, is available only on Eurostar trains shuttling between the UK and France and Belgium. Composed of a mélange of French botanicals and classic floral scents of the British countryside, the rich juniper flavours and citrus traces are blended with the subtle sweetness of honey, creating a balanced gin that is classic yet unique. The gin was created in partnership with chef Raymond Blanc OBE, Eurostar’s Business Premier Culinary Director, who said: “When designing the gin, my vision was to take travellers on a journey of taste that played upon all the subtleties of the brand. The aromatic notes of lavender hint to Eurostar’s latest Provencal destination, while the delicate yet clean taste of the angelica evoke memories of the British countryside”.
Perhaps the most well known of the new gineration (sic), Sipsmith distill in copper stills in west London and produce a colourful, eclectic range of gins including the feisty 57.7% ABV VJOP (Very Junipery Over Proof) and its classic London Dry, a dry, spicy drink and full of character made using ten carefully selected botanicals from around the globe including Macedonian juniper, Italian orris root and ground almond from Spain.
Three gin drinking tips
1) Put ice into glass first, so bits of fruit don’t get stuck in your straw.
2) Pour in tonic gently, perhaps down the stem of a cocktail spoon, slowing the bubble burst.
3) To capture the aroma of your G&T use lemon as a garnish. Do not squeeze into the glass, it’s overpowering.
THREE TOP GIN DESTINATIONS
1) Scotland Gin Trail
Dozens of new gin distilleries have opened up around the UK in the past few years, will several setting up across Scotland. The most famous probably being Hendricks, Gordon’s and Tanqueray
Around 70% of gin produced in the UK now comes from Scotland. The Scottish capital of Edinburgh drinks more gin per head than any other British city, so it isn’t surprising that it has been nurturing a taste for the good stuff in Scotland since the 1700s, says the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. To promote gin tourism in the country, the group has a created trail around the country taking in distilleries as far north as Dunnet Bay, in Caithness and further south in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
For example, the WSTA notes that for centuries Scotland’s fragrant juniper was exported to Holland to produce Jenever, although that tradition died out 200 years ago. Now Crossbill Gin in Aviemore, with the help of the Forestry Commission and PlantLife.org, has revived Scotland’s juniper production enabling them to make the only gin to use 100% Scottish juniper. The distillery is a former henhouse and won television’s Channel 4’s shed of the year in 2015.
2) Bombay Sapphire glass houses
Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, he of the fiery cauldron of the 2012 London Olympics, these glasshouses reflect the curving pipes of the gin distilling process and showcase the botanicals used in thei various Bombay Sapphire recipes. Cocktail making courses are on offer, alongside distillery tours in this very rural location set on the River Test. For the more curious, master distiller Nik Fordham will share his expert knowledge of gin making in a bespoke tour.
3) Make your own gin
The only manufacturing company in the UK’s financial capital, the City of London Distillery offers you the chance to create your own flavoured gin, taking a bottle of it home to share with friends and family. The Gin Lab Experience allows to create a unique recipe with your choice of botanicals, for example, coriander, elderflower and of course juniper. The process starts with a neutral grain spirit and a miniature copper pot still and ends with your own 700ml bottle of gin.