Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Gin-stitutionalised... A Quick Guide to Modern Craft Gin.

Taken from Janet Ramsden's photostream under the CCL

Thanks to the boom in popularity of TV cooking shows, social media and blogging, Britain has gone food and drink mad. The trend for organic, locally-sourced food and crafted artisan ingredients has allowed low-priced, mass produce to be sacrificed for quality both in supermarkets and restaurants alike.

This has been replicated right back to source with producers.  What better a personification of this is there than in the rise of craft gin?

In general this is fantastic news for all of us who have been campaigning for people to drink better, discover smaller brands and care about what they buy.  However, flashy labels, un-heard of ingredients, 'creative' marketing and the use of quadruple filtered, specially chilled, ethically-sourced iceberg water aside... How many of these new gins have enough quality in the liquid to help a stable rise back to the top for the most British of liquid pleasures?

On the one hand Gin has always been rather good at moving with the times. Over the years since its first incarnation as a bastardised form of Dutch Genever, much had to change before arriving at the drink we love today;

Once it arrived in England it lost any form of ageing in order to thrive as a quickly and cheaply produced drink of the people.  Sugar was added to aid the palate (and hide some flaws) and it wasn't until the late nineteenth century that the 'London Dry' style we are so familiar with came to prominence.
The darling of the upper classes in America during the golden age of the cocktail, it even survived the revival of rum and the birth of Tiki.  It was only the rise of vodka in the 1970s that started its decline, moving gin firmly to the back of the cabinet.  

The Rebirth

So how have we arrived at our current love affair with this resilient spirit?

 In 1987 Bombay launched Sapphire which made a huge step in re-affirming gin as the nation's favourite.  Lighter in style with an open recipe book on its ten botanicals, it suited the vodka drinkers of the day.  Its iconic blue bottle and back story, with connotations of the empire and colonial Britain, Bombay Sapphire was probably the first step in making gin sexy. Although it's now dismissed by many, and isn't a bartender favourite in anything more complex than a G&T, you could argue that Bombay Sapphire paved the way for the modern gin market.

Since gin's renaissance there have been some excellent quality new products launched. The ease at which it can be produced (in essence it's still a flavoured vodka) has led to many companies producing using a dizzying variety of new ingredients and techniques.  One common marketing practice is to glorify one or two key botanicals, but some argue that this route - while sometimes producing excellent liquor - is potentially just one fad away from losing brand identity or the longevity so important to gin's success.

New Kids on the Block

One brand to pioneer this idea successfully is Hendrick's.  Small-batch produced with a strong ABV
Taken from jlastras' photostream under CCL
(41.4%) and beautiful apothecary bottle, it has now become synonymous with cucumber and tonic.  While for me the rose is a little lost and personally the only cucumber I want near my G&T is in a sandwich, Hendrick's is a real modern brand success story.

In a similar vein, Tanqueray's No.10 geared itself directly at the Martini market during it launch in the late 90s, whilst emphasising the inclusion of its key components, chamomile and grapefruit.  Sporting another example of an iconic bottle, Tanqueray Ten has re-branded again this year and I fully expect its latest incarnation to pick up where the last left off.

Of the more interesting recent releases, Monkey 47's high number of ingredients (you have 47 guesses how many) has gone down really well with bartenders, despite its baffling array of flavour components. Dutch gin Sloanes has won international accolades aplenty with its traditional style, and excellent small-batch brand Death's Door from across the pond has brought yet another slant to the market.

So here to help you through the ever growing sea of juniper  here is my top three brands you may not be so familiar with , that are great on shelf and better in the glass:

1. Caorunn - Scotland, 41.8% - (£27, Ocado) A great example of local botanicals (think rowan, dandelion and heather) are used to build a truly unique flavour profile.  Smooth, affordable and versatile.  Bars should start stocking up on rowan berries, this is the new Hendrick's.

2. Oxley - England, 47% - (£55.10, Master of Malt) Beautifully British in design. A pioneer of the cold distillation technique, the result is fresh and robust, which mixes really well but comes into its own with fresh citrus and quality tonic.  If James Bond had been written in 2010, this is what he'd be drinking.

3. Junipero - USA, . (£44.70 Drink Shop) Twelve botanicals, but as the name suggests it's all about the juniper. Worth every penny (and the maker of a stunning martini), Junipero has actually been around since 1993. A true gin lover's gin.

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