DrinkWire is Liquor.com’s showcase for the best articles, recipe and reviews from the web’s top writers and bloggers. In this post, Into the Blue offers a guide to gin.
So you want to join the gin club? Well whether your curiosity has been piqued by the striking bottles on the back shelf of your local, or if you're simply fed up of not understanding what all the fuss is about, you're in good company. After all, 2016 was a record breaking success for gin sales, as over 40 million bottles were sold in the UK alone – equating to roughly 1.12 billion G&Ts satisfying the thirsty nation.
With nearly 250 UK distilleries producing at least one type of gin (up from only 116 in 2010), it can be tricky knowing where start your foray into the gin world. Rest assured though that after a quick read of this gin cheat-sheet, your next trip to the bar will have you brimming with Dutch Courage.
Gin History 101:
Gin is derived from the Dutch liquor Jenever, and both spirits are named for their distinctive juniper flavour (without which it legally can't be called "gin"). Although it's hard to pinpoint the very first distilled Jenever drink, it's widely accepted that it was consumed by English soldiers for warmth and bravery during the Thirty Years' War – hence the term "Dutch Courage".
Gin saw a huge surge in popularity in the UK in the late 1600s, mainly due to the Government lifting the requirements for distilleries to be licensed, and encouraging people to make the spirit using the cheap grains that were too low-quality for beer or ale production.
While this was intended to boost the economy and reduce the volume of imported spirits (which were also banned or heavily taxed), it also led to a period call the Gin Craze, where gin was so cheap and readily available that cities - particularly London – suffered from their working class being perpetually drunk, causing considerable public concern. Fun.
So, what's in gin?
Gin is made by taking a neutral spirit – vodka for example – and re-distilling it with juniper berries and other natural ingredients, known as botanicals, to create a subtle blend of flavours. Every gin will use a slightly different selection of botanicals, but they will often include:
- Angelica root
- Orris root
- Liquorice or anise
- Citrus peel
- Angelica root
- Locally found herbs, flowers and spices
If you can't get your tastebuds to accept mass-market gins, then you might find a local distillery's combination of botanicals much more palatable – some are soft and floral, some are sharp and zesty, others are fruity or even spicy. Seriously, no two gins are alike.
How should I drink it?
Gin is always best mixed. The delicate flavours of the botanicals diffuse nicely through a mixer, and can be excellently complemented with specific cocktail ingredients (for example, Plymouth Gin and angostura in a Pink Gin). Here's a quick run down of the best ways to (responsibly) enjoy your gin:
The most popular gin-based beverage. Some people are perfectly happy accepting any house gin mixed with tonic from a soda gun, but chances are this is why you're not already on the gin bandwagon. Ask what gins the bar stocks, and don't be shy to get a bartender's recommendation (this might seem backward if you're trying to look like a pro, but will actually show your friends how sensitive you are to the nuances of the spirit).
Always choose bottled tonic, and be aware that these come in a range of flavours – Fever-tree currently offer six. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a wedge of lime in the top of your G&T, but you might want to experiment with other garnishes if they're available; try mint, lemon, orange peel or grapefruit.
- If in doubt, start with a local gin – you'll look very discerning.
- Hendrick's tastes best with cucumber
- Caorunn should be paired with slices of red apple
If you can't stand the quinine taste of tonic, you can still look like a pro by ordering a Gin Rickey. Somewhere between a Mojito and a G&T, a Gin Rickey is served in a highball glass filled with ice, with a measure of gin is topped with a healthy squeeze of fresh lime (dropped into the glass once juiced) and finished with soda water instead of tonic. It sounds way fancier than simply asking for soda, although it might get awkward if your bartender isn't a mixologist.
- Snag a few bonus points by name dropping The Great Gatsby (Tom Buchanan serves some up in Chapter 7).
For a bit of fun, try an Aviation. Best poured with Aviation gin (infused with botanicals including orange peel and lavender), it mixes maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and a squeeze of lemon juice and sugar syrup for a sweet treat that tastes like Parma Violets.
- Avoid it if you don't like Parma Violets.
One last thing to look out for is Navy Strength gin. It used to be that every ship in the Royal Navy had to carry a certain amount of gin, to use as a health drink for sailors – mixed with lime cordial and quinine, it would help to protect them against scurvy and malaria. To make sure their gin wasn't being diluted, the liquid had to have a high enough alcohol content that if it spilled over a crate of gunpowder, the powder could still be ignited. It's an excellent story, and also means if you see a bottle labelled "Navy Strength" (sometimes colloquially called "gunpowder proof"), it's going to be at least 57% ABV.
- Stick with a single, sailor.
Congratulations! You're now ready to blag your way into the gin scene, and start getting a taste for what you've been missing out on. Once you've got your head around the basics, the next step is to try a gin tasting session – like those available at experience day companies like Into The Blue – where a true connoisseur will be able to guide you around the subtleties of distillation methods, botanical selection and choosing the right mixer for your gin. You'll be an expert in no time!