Knowing your cucumber from your liquorice botanicals is now akin to knowing your merlot from your shiraz. Now is the time to swot up on your gin knowledge
Words: Niamh Shields, Photos: Getty Images
"Vodka for grownups.” That’s how some people see gin, the distinctive smell of juniper setting it apart from its clear, odourless neighbour at the bar. And it’s an opinion that’s gaining quite a following; gin is now the drink du jour for Hoxton hipsters and educated drinkers alike. Finally it’s getting the respect it deserves.
Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row says bartenders are driving this trend: “Gin is great to play with and manipulate. People are moving away from the anonymous tastes of the Eighties and Nineties.” Rich and diverse, it’s usually made from grain with complicated botanical flavours overlaying predominant juniper notes. Each distillery has its own secret recipe to bring out fruit or spice elements and because of this most bartenders love to use it.
Gin’s revival has led to an explosion of micro distilleries in the past few years, including Sipsmith and Sacred in London, that have brought boutique gins to market. Gin bars, such as The Ginstitute in Notting Hill and speakeasies such as the Stac Polly in Edinburgh have popped up, as well as an underworld of exclusive gin websites (thelondonginclub.com; thepurveyor.com) dedicated to the craft of gin.
The success of modern gin distilleries lies in a willingness to work with old recipes and techniques as Jared Brown, master distiller at Sipsmith, explains: “Gin was perfected 150 years ago but we can use the phenomenal equipment that we have today to deliver an even better product.”
Now the onus is on making fascinating cocktails with unusual ingredients that play on this new generation of gin’s versatile and complex nature. So forget vodka, make gin your signature spirit. After all, everyone is at it.
Taste gin like a pro
Jared Brown of Sipsmith (sipsmith.com) tells us how to get the best out of your gin
"Before you embark on a spot of gin tasting, it’s vital to remember a few things. Firstly, it’s a spirit, so go easy. Secondly, it’s not like tasting wine; with wine you’re looking to aerate it to release the flavours. With gin, the flavours are far more direct, so you want to locate the botanical notes so you know what to mix it with."
- Taste the gin straight and at ‘old room temperature’ (about 12-15°C).
- Swill it around your mouth – good gin will have an assertive warmth, but no burn. Head and tail notes produce burn which should be removed in the distillation process.
- Add a splash of cold water, then sip and swish it around your mouth. The water encourages the release of the botanical flavours within, as the oils are released into the water.
- Taste it as you drink it and explore the flavours. All gins are juniperbased and have botanicals superimposed, which can be quite diverse. As a rule, you’ll find cucumber in Martin Miller’s and Hendrick’s, spice in Williams GB and citrus in Tanqueray 10.
Stock your cabinet
Dominic Jacobs, director of bars at Sketch in London’s Mayfair, reveals his top six gins and the best way to drink them
A new gin from the awardwinning Chase Distillery in Herefordshire, Williams GB was developed in response to demands for a lighter, 40% everyday gin. Complex and full flavoured with a potato vodka base, this gin has lots of juniper, zesty citrus flavours and warm, spicy notes of cloves and cinnamon. £35; fortnumandmason.com
Dominic says: “This is a drink I like to serve simply with a slice of fresh ginger to draw out the spicy botanicals. It also works very well in a G&T.”
This Suffolk gin from Southwold is also a relative newcomer. With a bold flavour profile, charged with juniper, it’s a rich gin, infused with the bitter, floral fruit flavours of the hibiscus petal. £27; adnams.co.uk
Dominic says: “I serve this in a simple cocktail of gin, lemon and sugar syrup over ice with hibiscus syrup drizzled on top.”
Produced in London since 1876, this classic gin has been made by the same distiller, Desmond Payne, for over 40 years and is a great standard everyday gin. Juniper heavy, it is steeped with Seville oranges and lemon peel before distillation. £16.90; waitrose.com.
Dominic says: “To extract the citrus notes, serve with lemon juice and Earl Grey tea syrup, topped with ginger beer and garnish with orange zest. It also works simply served with lemon.”
Made from 10 botanicals, Martin Miller’s was one of the first gin makers to use cucumber for a light refreshing gin. His search for the purest, softest water led him to Iceland in 1998, and the company still uses Icelandic water to distill its gin today. £29; majestic.co.uk
Dominic says: “This is smooth and elegant on its own with ice, and perfect in a cocktail with cucumber, elderflower and champagne.”
Tanqueray has been making gin since 1830. Usually made with dried peel, Tanqueray 10 is made in small batches with fresh fruit and peels and it is the only gin in the World Spirits Hall of Fame. With grapefruit, orange, lime and chamomile, Tanqueray 10 is a smooth, fresh tasting citrus gin. £39.57; thedrinkshop.com
Dominic says: “This is great as a wet martini with Lillet Blanc vermouth and grapefruit zest.”
Sipsmith Sloe Gin
The sugar content of sloes varies from year to year by as much as 25% so it is impossible to get consistent results. Sipsmith steeps the sloes in the gin for three months, adding sugar to taste at the end. The result is an exquisite balance of sweet and sour. £24.15; thewhiskyexchange.com
Dominic says: “This is excellent with lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white, topped with soda.”