Think that all gins are the same? Struggle to tell the difference between a Sloane's and a Sipsmith? Don't know your Plymouth from your London Dry? We asked Charlene Holt, Bar Manager at Apotheca, to share her gin wisdom - guiding DesignMyNight readers through the wonderful world of this most diverse of spirits.
Gin. It' s a British institution like Wimbledon, horse racing and afternoon tea. But what is gin, where did it come from and how is it best enjoyed?
A little background
Gin has a chequered past, falling in and out of favour over the decades, usually coinciding with the raise and fall of Cocktail trends. But one thing is certain in today’s market; gin is big again.
Juniper flavoured tinctures and elixirs have been used for hundreds of years as medicines, and gin was consumed for its believed health benefits. Over the years gin became more and more popular and by the 18th century although the sale of gin was officially outlawed, ‘consumption was equivalent to every man, woman and child drinking two pints every week’. Gin developed a bad reputation. The consumption and intoxication level was so high that the death rate was substantially higher than the birth rate and it is from this point in history that the famous phrase ‘Mother’s ruin’ came from. A famous painting from that time called 'Gin Lane' by William Hogarth depicts the level of destitute in London and further added to the negativity associated with gin.
Luckily, by the 19th Century London had its drunkenness under control and gin saw a boom in popularity. Gin Palaces began to appear and famous cocktails, such as the Tom Collins and Ramos Gin Fizz, were invented. By the early 20th Century the Cocktail Boom was upon us and other classic drinks, such as the Clover Club, Singapore Sling, Negroni and White Lady appeared - and still remain popular today. By the 1980s, the popularity of vodka meant that gin started to fall out of favour again with the masses, but in recent years with the appearance of new boutique brands, gin has once again got its mojo back and is fast becoming the tipple of choice. It certainly is mine.
What is gin?
Gin is, essentially, a juniper flavoured vodka. A neutral spirit is flavoured with juniper and other botanicals and usually bottled at between 37.5-43% abv, but it’s the production method and style which really sets one gin apart from another. Distillation is essential in producing a high quality gin and it is the various methods of distillation, styles of gin and gin recipes employed during production that have created the astounding array of gin brands available today.
There are several styles of gin available but a good rule of thumb for identifying a decent gin is to pick a ‘Distilled’ or ‘London Dry’, as both of these have strict laws surround production and will, generally, result in a better quality gin. The different styles of gin available in today’s market are Genever, Old Tom, London Dry, Plymouth, Xoriguer, New Western and Navy Strength. Each of these categories produces a distinct character in their gin but ultimately, each brand will vary depending on their production method, botanicals and secret recipes used. The key is to try lots of brands and styles to find what you prefer. Ask bartenders for their recommendation or take a chance is a supermarket and buy a brand you’ve never heard of. It’s surprising the scope of variety that gin has to offer so I would recommend trying as many different things as possible;
Genever; this is the Dutch spirit that paved the way for the gin we know today. It is made from both botanically infused neutral spirit and malt wine which gives it a distinct whisky-like quality. I like this in a Martinez.
Old Tom; this is a sweeter style of gin originating from 18th century when roughly made gins were masked with sweet botanical, and later sugar, to hide their taste. Luckily, today’s Old Tom’s are high quality spirits and benefit from the sweeter finish to produce a different type of gin. Great in a Tom Collins.
London Dry; this is the most popular style of gin, known as the ‘pure style’ as its flavour profile is what is traditionally associated with gin. Despite the name London Dry’s can be produced anywhere in the world. Perfect for a classic G&T.
Plymouth; this has a similar taste profile to London dry’s but they have to be produced in Plymouth using water from Dartmoor.
Xoriguer; this is a Spanish style of gin that can only be made on the island of Menorca.
New Western; this is a relatively new category of gin and refers to products which, although contain juniper, don’t have that big hitting juniper flavour and instead will have another botanical as the key flavour. Some gin purest would argue they shouldn’t be classified as a gin…….
Navy Strength; these gins tend to have a rich Navel history and will be a much higher abv than standard gins, as high as 60%. I like them in a Martini as the high abv means the gin retains a lot more of its flavour.
What's in a name?
Within these categories of gins is a vast array of different brands. The brand of gin is just as important as the style in terms of the flavour the drink will produce and different brands work well in different cocktails, G&Ts or simply sipped neat.
Here is a list of my favourite brands, how I like to drink them and the unique cocktails offerings available at Apotheca:
Established in 1830 this iconic gin brand is easily recognisable and renowned for the quality of the liquid produced. The four traditional botanicals in Tanqueray are Tuscan Juniper, angelica root, coriander and liquorice. Tanqueray is a great all-rounder; it mixes well in cocktails, makes a mean Martini and is perfect for a classic G&T.
Tanqueray served tall over ice with lemon, lime, tonic and rhubarb bitters.
At Apotheca Tanqueray is our house gin and is also available in our cocktail promotions; 2 for £9 cocktails and 2 for £12 sparkling cocktails.
Tanqueray No 10
Launched in 2000, Tanqueray No 10 is a super premium gin combining the four traditional botanicals found in Tanqueray with camomile, lemon, lime and grapefruit. This is exceptional in a dry martini, sipped neat or in a G&T with a slice of grapefruit.
This sweeter, Old Tom style of Tanqueray gin was introduced in the early 1990s but discontinued after a short lifespan. Thankfully, and partly due to its cult status within the bartender industry, it was relaunched this year and is a great example of the Old Tom style of gins; perfect in a classic Tom Collins.
This is a Dutch brand of gin inspired by Sir Hans Sloane’s. Each botanical; orange, angelica root, iris root, coriander seeds, juniper berries, vanilla pods, cardamom pod, liquorice root and lemon, are individually distilled then married together to produce the finished product.
A spoonful of Sloane’s helps the medicine go down; my signature Sloane’s cocktail available at Apotheca. Sloane’s gin shaken with Kamm & Sons ginseng liqueur, Chartreuse, lavender, teacup bitters, grape juice and garnished with blue food colouring and candy floss!
This is the brain child of Gerard Feltham, Jake F Burger and Paul Andrew Lane licensed victuallers of the Ginstitute Messrs and distilled by 8th generation distiller Charles Maxwell. It is a modern, London dry combining traditional and new botanicals including nutmeg and cassia bark. One of the few London dry’s to be produced in London.
Aviation; a classic cocktail combining Portobello road gin, crème de violette liqueur, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and, when I make it, a dash of grapefruit bitters.
Is ‘a most unusual gin’. It is know for its different ingredients of rose and cucumber essence but also contains eleven classic gin botanicals which are juniper berries, angelica root, coriander seeds, cubeb berries, orris root, camomile flowers, caraway seeds, elderflowers, meadowsweet, lemon and orange peel. Its black bottle and vintage label give it a Victorian feel and has produced several quirky marketing campaigns. Hendrick’s was produced in Scotland in 1999 and launched in the UK in 2003.
An English Country Garden; an Apotheca twist on the garden martini, combining Hendrick’s gin with cucumber, basil, mint, elderflower, lime, dandelion and burdock bitters and pressed apple juice.
This small batch, boutique gin was first distilled 14th May 2009 on a quiet street in Hammersmith from a still called Prudence. Apotheca are proud to boast being Sipsmith’s first account in Manchester. The micro distillery is no bigger than a double garage and Sipsmith were the first to be granted a distillers licence in London in 200 years. It is proudly framed and displayed next to prudence.
Ten traditional botanicals make up their London dry gin; Macedonia juniper, Bulgarian coriander seeds, French angelica root, Spanish liquorice root, Italian orris root, Spanish ground almond, Chinese cassia bark, Madagascan cinnamon, Seville orange and Spanish lemon peel.
Enter the Dragon; an original cocktail I invented for the Asahi Rising Star cocktail competition in 2011 and available on the menu at Apotheca. Sipsmith gin combined with wasabi, chilli, green tea, jasmine, lime and apple juice.
Beefeater gin was launched in London in1876 and is one of the oldest and well known brands of gin still made in London today. In 2008 the master distiller, Desmond Payne, created Beefeater 24. It contains 12 botanicals, including rare teas, and is called ‘24’ as reference to the amount of time the botanicals are steeped in alcohol before distillation. The botanicals include; grapefruit, bitter almond, orris root, Seville orange peel, Japanese Sencha tea and Chinese Greet tea.
French 75; a classic cocktail combining lemon, sugar and champagne, the tea elements of Beefeater 24 shine in this drink.
‘Born of love, obsession and some degree of madness’ Martin Miller’s gin started life in 1999 as the result of a bad gin and tonic. The story goes that Miller decided to invest his own gin so he would never have a bad G&T again! The botanicals in Miller’s include juniper, florentine iris, cassia bark, liquorice root, coriander, angelica and is reduced to bottling strength using only pure Icelandic water.
Negroni; a bitter, dry, tasty drink combining Martin Miller’s Westbourne strength 45.2% with Campari and sweet vermouth, served with an orange twist.
Is made in a beautiful 19th centaury church in the traditional fishing town of Vilanova i la Geltru on Spain’s Golden Cost just 50 kilometres from Barcelona. The gin is inspired by botanicals and herbs found in the region and contains Arbequina olives, thyme, basil and rosemary as well as traditional botanicals juniper berries, coriander, cardamom and citrus. This is a bold, herbaceous gin and is great sipped neat over ice and in martinis.
Twisted Dirty Martini; Gin Mare stirred with dry vermouth, celery bitters, olive brine and fresh rosemary. Savoury and herbaceous.
There are plenty of other fantastic gin brands available and unfortunately I cannot list them all, but I hope you try and test them yourself as you enjoy the wonderful world of gin.