Thursday, 21 August 2014

Gintastic! - The London Gin Club

Time for a mea culpa: for many years of my life I just didn't appreciate gin. There, I said it. I couldn't understand people who wanted to drink it; it just tasted bitter and sour and seemed to lack any flavour of merit. Now all this is changed and I have realised the error of my ways. I have discovered gin and it is good. I look back at my younger self with pity; I am filled with regret at previous me's lack of taste.  

I'm a little late on the scene with gin, probably by at least a couple of years. Over the last few years, particularly in London there has been a rather well documented "gin revolution". Gin bars specialising in this delightful spirit have cropped up all over the place and I thought that with my burgeoning interest in all things gin that there was no time like the present to develop my understanding. I tend to find that the more you find out about something the more you appreciate the intricacies and complexities of it.

With this in mind I dragged a few friends of mine from a wine tasting group (ie: borderline alcoholics) that I have established from members of the amateur orchestra that we play in (the Camden Symphony Orchestra) to the London Gin Club (LGC) in Soho. Established in 2012, the LGC has over 160 different gins on its menu and is dedicated to helping the discerning (and not-so-discerning) ginophiles understand their poison a little better. We were immediately attracted to some of their gin flights which were specifically designed to take you through some of the different styles of gin. We decided to try their "Eight Gin Flavour Spectrum" tasting flight (£50 - a little steep, but it can easily be shared between two people).

The copa glasses with the impressive, iceberg size ice cubes 
The staff were on hand to explain to us the idea behind the tasting flight. We were presented with a rack with eight different 25ml samples of gins from across the flavour spectrum. With this we were provided with a number of garnishes, big copa glasses packed full with ice and bottles of fever tree tonic water. The idea was that we followed a set path around the flavour spectrum (for reasons that became apparent as we went through) and used a specific tasting technique; firstly we would smell the gin directly from the sample bottle, then we would pour the sample into the glass with the ice and drink a small amount neat. After this we would pour a small amount of tonic water into the glass and try the resulting gin and tonic, we would then add the garnish, allow it to steep for a little while and then try it again. The idea was to taste the neat gin to appreciate it in its "raw" form, then see how the gin is changed with the addition of tonic and ultimately to see how the addition of the right garnish can enhance the flavour of the gin in question. 

Right, with this in mind - let's go!

We started off with a dry gin, which was from the Brokers distillery and came with a lime segment garnish. Dry gins are the ones that we tend to be most familiar with and as we sampled this gin I felt a few quizzical looks from my compadres, "this tastes like... gin" was the common consensus. I think people thought that they had spent £50 on eight samples that were going to taste exactly like the gin and tonic that they'd had in the pub a hundred times before. How wrong they were. Yes, this gin was a little nondescript, it had a traditionally dry flavour profile with dominant notes of juniper. A solid, if unspectacular start.

Next up was a floral gin, from the Bloom distillery, served with a small slice of strawberry. This had a totally different aroma, which reminded me of rose water and turkish delight; very aromatic. When the tonic and strawberry were added it softened the gin up nicely and made for a very pleasant, easy-drinking gin and tonic. The addition of the strawberry added a little sweetness, which balanced it up nicely.

We moved onto a citrus gin after this, a Tanqueray 10, served with a slice of grapefruit peel. I must say that I thought the aroma of the dry gin was more citrussy, however when tasting this neat it was pleasantly warm with orange flavours. I found that the grapefruit and tonic added a pleasing balance to the gin and tonic, with the slight sweetness of the neat gin balanced by the acidity of the grapefruit.

A savoury gin was up next, Adnams' First Rate, which was served with a thyme and olive garnish. It certainly had a savoury, herby flavor, with one member of our party saying that it reminded her of a focaccia bread! There was also a faint aniseed aroma, but I felt that when the garnishes were added, along with the tonic that it didn't serve to enhance the flavours in this one. Probably my least favourite of the evening.

The eight different samples that we tried
Now we really started to move into the more unusual side of the gin flavour spectrum with a sweet Old Tom gin, served with a lemon peel garnish. The aroma of this was vaguely medicinal, reminding me of Benylin (other cough mixtures are available). When sampling neat this was absolutely delicious, it had a flavour profile that reminded me of strawberries and cream. As we added the tonic I felt that it made it a little more bitter, but the lemon (somewhat bizarrely) served to balance this out. However, this was one where I preferred it neat.

Next up was the spicy gin, Monkey 47 from the Black Forest in Germany, served with a slice of plum. Now, I own a bottle of Monkey 47, partly because I am an unashamed fan of all things German, but also because I had this gin once in a nice restaurant and it was so good that I just had to buy a bottle. On the nose it was complex and heady, with fragrant herbal and floral notes abundant. Looking back at my tasting notes I can see that I wrote that the gin had a "profound" finish - can you tell that I am a fan?!  The addition of the plum helped balance the acidity of the tonic and lifted the whole drink. Glorious.

From a German gin, we went to a French aged gin: the Citadelle Reserve, which is aged for six months in Pinot Noir barrels and was served with an orange peel garnish. On tasting neat I noted that I tasted lavender notes and the gin had a long and complex finish. The addition of the orange peel garnish really did enhance the flavour, it became spicy, warm and fragrant. This was another stunning gin and so, so different from the traditional gin flavour that we were used to.

Last up was a gin liqueur from Haymans, which was not served with a garnish and came in a tumbler rather than the copa glass. It was best drunk neat, where it had a tremendously long and complex finish that evolved on the palate. I didn't like this one when we added tonic to it, it is best as a neat drink or to be used in cocktails.

So, there you have it. Eight gins tasted, a really exciting trip around the flavour profile that showed that there is far more to drinking gin then the dry style that so many of us are used to. I would heartily recommend anyone who has an interest in gin checking out the LGC. Now I just need to go back and start working my way through the other 152 gins on their menu...!




  1. Sold! I'm definitely putting my name down for this in the next couple of weeks. Sounds Gin-Tastic!

  2. @Adam - you'll love it! I'm only just starting to realise how much variation and complexity there is within the world of gin!

    @Calvin - you were dressed impeccably, as always, sir.