Gin has been intrinsically linked to Britain since the early 17th century. It had a pretty dubious start though as a gruesome pauper’s drink to ward off the deadly plague. Often contaminated with the likes of turpentine spirit and sulphuric acid, it could and did cause blindness.
Things didn’t improve much as it was also central to the historical and infamous Gin Craze in the 18th century where it was responsible for violence, widespread addiction and social devastation, particularly in London. Gin’s legendary moniker at that time was ‘mothers ruin,’ perfectly illustrated and immortalised by William Hogarth’s Gin Lane print.
Mercifully production techniques and the alchemy of ingredients were improved and gin metamorphised from its humble beginnings into a more sophisticated ‘drink of choice’ for the nation. It became ingrained in the psyche as much as the ritual of drinking tea. Following a decline in consumption in the 1950s, gin dusted itself off and around 2013 bounced back with an almighty bang reinventing itself as a fashionable drink once again.
The gin renaissance responded to consumer demand for unique and craft-focused drinks. Lots of new gins hit the shelves and small distillers were, and remain, integral to the gin market’s growth. Premium quality craft distilled gins became sought after and desirable to add to consumer’s ever-expanding collections driving gin to unprecedented heights in mature markets such as the UK, the biggest global exporter of gin.
Wondering how has the current worldwide pandemic impacted gin? Unsurprisingly on-trade (restaurants, pubs, hotels etc.) sales were down by around 60% due to the enforced closures. In 2020 however, off-trade sales of gin skyrocketed to an all-time high according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). We Brits purchased 80 billion bottles of gin (worth an incredible £1.3 billion) from supermarkets and shops, including online outlets, equating to a 30% rise in a year!
Often rapid expansion creates prophesies for demise and some have voiced these expectations. Gin however is showing no signs of accepting that trajectory. Total sales over the last 12 months (to 27 March 2021) were worth just north of £2 billion equating to a further increase of around 54%! Pretty awesome despite the fact that much of that time lockdowns have been in place and on-trade businesses have either remained closed or remained open under tight government restrictions.
Nice to know that the Brits are still intoxicated with their love of gin!
Gin basically starts its life as a vodka, a neutral high strength (minimum 96% abv) spirit, that is flavoured with a range of botanicals, often between 6-10 of them. Just as chefs prepare and cook a dish differently, each gin distiller uses their own ‘botanical cocktail’ on the proviso that juniper dominates, a legal requirement.
The base raw materials for the neutral spirit, also referred to as highly rectified spirit (HRS), can be any agricultural product that is sugar based (e.g. grapes), or starch (e.g. potatoes, grains etc) or alternatively inulin (e.g. agave plant used for Tequila and Mezcal) as these can both be converted into a sugary liquid. The raw materials, often grains, are then fermented.
The neutral spirit is added to botanicals like juniper (the legal requirement is for it to be present and dominate), coriander seeds (not a legal requirement but often the stable mate to juniper making the final cut in many distillers decisions), angelica root, orris root, dried citrus peel etc. Gin distillers have a wide selection of botanicals to choose from, which includes herbs, berries, fruits, spices, flowers, bark, roots and vegetation. Click here for How Spirits are Made.
Botanicals for gin include juniper (must be present & dominant), coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, dried citrus peel , cassia, cinnamon, almond, cardamon, cubeb berries, grains of paradise, ginger, nutmeg , liquorice & more
So why are gins so different?
Distillers have many choices, not just the wide assortment of botanicals they can select their own ‘botanical cocktail’ from. The quality of the base neutral spirit and botanicals, how the botanicals have been added plus the skill and experience of the distiller all play critical roles. For example, are the botanicals artificial or natural. Think about making a dessert using vanilla essence (synthetic) versus the purity and depth of flavours from vanilla extract or the real deal vanilla beans/pods (natural). Now consider the talent of the chef making the dessert – is that okay, good or great? It’s simple. The higher the quality of the ingredients and chef’s proficiency, the better the pudding outcome on the plate. There’s a reason why Michelin chefs will only ever use quality ingredients! Same concept applies in the gin making process.
How the botanicals are flavoured with the neutral spirit is the final significant decision as there are various process options open to the distiller including:
The botanicals are steeped in neutral spirit softening and breaking them down so their aromas and flavours leach into the liquid. To increase the concentration, distillers can extend the maceration time to intensify the extraction and fusion of the oils and aromas.
Distillers may choose to macerate (see above) the botanicals in a pot still to create a fuller style of gin before re-distillation takes place. During the re-distillation process, the aromas and flavours change and evolve. Botanicals have varying volatility, therefore if the distiller makes an early cut the gin will be more citric versus more earthy with a later cut. See How Spirits are Made.
Some botanicals are more delicate than others. Distillers may choose to distil them separately for greater purity and/or to make a particular botanical(s) more prominent. Once distilled these are then mixed with the others.
Bombay Sapphire producers were one of the early pioneers to use a Carterhead (pot) Still. In this type of still, the botanicals are not put in direct contact with the boiling spirit but placed in a basket positioned higher up in the still. This way the alcohol vapours that rise through the still pass through the botanicals in the basket to extract and absorb the aromas and flavours. This creates a lighter style of gin.
What types of gin are there?
The main types of gin are:
London Dry Gin or Dry Gin
Despite the name, London Dry Gin can be made anywhere, and the words appear prominently on the label. These gins have the tightest and strictest legislation.
The neural spirit has to be redistilled in a pot still in the presence of juniper and other botanicals. No colouring or sugar is permitted. Flavours cannot be added post distillation. Distillers can still ‘play’ with the power and concentration of aromas and flavour by a variety of methods e.g. pre-distillation maceration and use of a Carterhead (pot) still.
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom Gin is older than Dry Gin. Dating back to the 18th and early 19th centuries, it was particularly popular. With unhygienic and unsophisticated distillation practices, they would flavour the gins with lemon or aniseed and sweeten them up with liquorice to camouflage the harsh spirt.
Today it’s not legally defined but indicates a gin that has been sweetened.
Navy/Overproof Gin needs to be at least
57% abv. These are typically smooth, more intense and powerful gins so great if you prefer a stronger gin. They’re great with cocktails too.
Old Tom gins are a nod back to the 18th century when spirits, including gin, were stored in British naval ships to give a daily ration (a tot) to sailors to help keep them warm whilst at sea. The sailors would test the strength by adding the spirit (often Rum too) to gunpowder and putting a match to it. If if failed to ignite it was watered down, if it lit it was declared 100% proof and if it exploded it was overproof!!
Distilled Gins are made the same way as London Dry Gin however flavours are permitted to be added post distillation in the EU (not allowed in the USA).
These styles of gin have become very popular with bartenders/mixologists and the general public. They can be pricey though.
Cold Compounded/Bathtub Gin
Cold compounded gins are the easiest and cheapest way to flavour a gin. The neutral spirit is simply mixed with essential oils or artificial flavouring by infusion/maceration without re-distillation.
Compound gins are often created by simply mixing juniper oil and other botanical flavour essences with neutral spirit. Whilst these gins can have an immediately powerful nose, they can diminish with ‘Usain Bolt’ speed. They tend to taste rather synthetic.
Cold compound gins are sometimes referred to as ‘bathtub gins’ in a nod to the illicit gins made during Prohibition.
G&T Glassware, Tonic & Garnishes
Traditionally a G&T was served in the classic tumbler (rocks glass) or highball (Tom Collins). The (Tom) Collins glass is long and thin, which means if used for a G&T, the ice melts quicker and dilutes the taste.
The balloon glass, including the short stem and stemless options, has emerged as a glass of choice. You may see them referred to as a Copa (“Koh-pa”) glass.
The Copa de Balon glass hails from the Basque region in Northern Spain and translates to ‘balloon cup’. These wide bulbous glasses are great for serving your G&Ts in as they unlock and allow the botanical aromas to collect in the bowl enhancing the experience. Also the Copa glasses are wide enough for plenty of ice to keep the liquid chilled and several garnishes to further enrich the enjoyment. TIP: Chill your glass and the gin in the freezer first!!
Tonic water makes a G&T after all it’s the T in G&T!! We highly recommend quality tonics from the likes of Fever-Tree or Fentimans. Garnishes should complement the gin’s botanicals ideally to complete and make the perfect serve. If you’re not sure, check out the label on your gin of choice as they’ll often tell you either which botanicals have been used or what garnishes they recommend.
Putting a Gin Distillery in the spotlight
York Gin, the only distiller in the city itself, has created a business whose products are centred around the city’s impressive Roman, historical figures and chocolate cultural heritage. The distiller, Harry, designed their copper pot still himself. It’s customary for distillers to give their still(s) a name. York Gin’s is called Ebor, short for Eboracum the Roman name for York. Their logo, label and bottle shape designs are reminiscent of the city’s legendary medieval bar and city walls.
Despite the fact it was only established in 2018, York Gin has created a strong portfolio of six gins made with locally sourced Yorkshire grains and won numerous awards including a rare Double Gold medal at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It has impressively invested in 100% green energy, electric vehicles and their bottles, labels, corks and seals are 100% plastic free.
York Gin London Dry – 42.5% abv | £39
York Gin use 9 botanicals in their foundation ‘cocktail recipe’ for all their gins. These are juniper (sourced from Macedonia), coriander, cinnamon, orris root, angelica root, cardamon, black pepper (from Sri Lanka), lemon peel and grains of paradise (sourced from Ghana). They also use a Carterhead still, so the botanicals are vapour infused.
We found their flagship gin dry, smooth and fairly mouth filing with juniper’s classic resinous character leading the charge alongside balanced floral and citrus aromas and flavours with a light grains of paradise and pepper spicy clean finish.
Despite the wide collection of Fever-Tree tonics, for this gin we recommend their straight forward no nonsense Premium Indian Tonic water. Garnish with a couple of fresh lemon peel twists and a few black peppercorns and serve in a Copa de Balon glass filled with large ice cubes – the bigger the better!
York Gin Outlaw Gin – 57% abv | £45
The Outlaw pays homage to York’s historical outlaws Guy Fawkes the Westminster gunpowder plotter, Dick Turpin the legendary highwayman, and witch Mary Bateman.
If you prefer a more intense and powerful gin, this Navy Strength will be perfect for you. It’s won a double gold medal at the San Fransisco World Spirits Competition 2019 and Best English Navy title at the World Gin Award 2021.
This higher alcohol gin certainly packs a punch. We found it dry, warming (from the alcohol level), smooth and complex. It’s juniper forward with cardamon not far behind. It’s well balanced and nicely fragrant with fruity, nutty and zesty flavours and aromas with a clean earthy and herbal (angelica root) and pepper finish.
We enjoyed this gin’s depth and complexity, and offset the higher alcohol with a bit more tonic. Again we plumped for the Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic water with a couple of fresh lemon peel twists and a few black peppercorns in a Copa de Balon glass filled with LARGE ice cubes.
York Gin Old Tom Gin – 42.5% abv | £39
Some Old Tom gins have too much sweetness for our liking, but this one has only been lightly sweetened. The sweetening agent is sugar syrup and York Gin’s version has been made with Yorkshire rose (white alba rose which is native to Yorkshire hedgerows and used on the Yorkshire flag) and herbs from the kitchen garden of the Michelin starred Star Inn at Harome, Harome, York.
In addition to York Gin’s foundational 9 botanicals, this Old Tom has additional botanicals too i.e. bronze fennel, star anise and white alba rose. This gin has won multiple medals, including a rare Gold Outstanding at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2019, and Best English Old Tom at the World Gin Awards 2021.
We particularly like this gin. It’s got just the right amount of sweetness for an Old Tom, which is nicely balanced against the cinnamon spicy, citric and herbal aromas and flavours including sweet delicate liquorice notes enhanced by the addition of the star anise and bronze fennel. There’s a light violet fragrance from the white alba rose and the finish is clean where the liquorice and earthy angelica root follow through.
The gin is doing all the work here so keep your tonic good but simple e.g. Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic water. If in season, garnish with violet (their leaves and stems are edible) or a star anise with a slice of orange and cinnamon stick. Both options look great in a Copa de Balon glass filled with LARGE ice cubes.
York Gin Roman Fruit – 42.5% abv | £39
Ancient Rome is celebrated for their contribution to the world, the art of winemaking. They made the distinctions between grapes for winemaking and grapes for eating. Wild grapes, virtually extinct now, grew plentifully throughout the Mediterranean. Whilst they were largely associated with grapes, ancient Romans also ate many other fruits i.e. figs, pomegranates, dates, apples, pears, strawberries, blackberries, elderberries and the list goes on.
York Gin’s Roman Fruit gin has been made infusing, alongside their 9 foundational botanicals, hibiscus (a flower that has been associated over several millennia with medicinal healing properties and has bitter cranberry and pomegranate notes) and fruits including strawberries, blackberries and apples. To intensify the extraction and flavour concentration, they have extended the maceration time to over 2 weeks.
This gin has a pinky red hue, which it gets from the colour within the fruit skins and flower petals that is leached out during the maceration and re-distillation processes. As you would expect from a gin that has included fruit, this gin has a more red fruit (strawberry and cranberry) first then black fruit (blackberry) fruity palate yet it’s dry.
We preferred keeping the tonic simple with this gin to let the fruit take centre stage e.g. Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic water. To garnish, it has to be fresh blackberries and if you can get a hold of them dried hibiscus to give it that extra wow factor. Serve, as always, in a Copa de Balon glass filled with LARGE ice cubes.
York Gin Grey Lady – 42.5% abv | £39
The International Ghost Research Foundation declared York as the most haunted city in Europe “due to its bloodstained history and over 500 hauntings within the ancient city walls.” Rooted in local folklore, ghosts haunt many York pubs, streets, hotels and theatres. York Gin called this gin in part after The Grey Lady, a friendly ghost, who haunts the York Theatre Royal. It’s said that if she is spotted in the dress circle, it’s seen as a good omen for that nights performance!
If you’re a gin and Earl Grey Tea fan, this will be right up your street as York Gin have added Earl Grey tea as well as additional lemons and oranges to their core botanicals. Earl Grey is made with black tea and the oil of bergamot which is extracted from bergamot orange peel. It provides delicate orange citrus and floral notes. When infused York Gin also add blue pea flower which contributes to the light grey hue of the gin. It’s won silver medals at IWSC 2020 and New York International Spirits Competition 2021.
This is quite a delicate gin so keep your tonic good but simple so it doesn’t overwhelm the gin e.g. Fever-Tree Premium Indian tonic, or if you want something a bit more try their Spiced Orange Ginger Ale. Garnish with a twist of orange and serve in a Copa de Balon glass filled with LARGE ice cubes.
York Gin Chocolate and Orange – 42.5% abv | £39
York has been intertwined with chocolate for centuries. Terry’s of York was established in the city in 1767 and then Rowntree’s of York came later in 1862. Both brought wealth, jobs…….and plenty of chocolate!
York Gin Chocolate and Orange pays homage to the city’s chocolate affiliations past and present. Cacao nibs (i.e. crumbled pieces of dried, roasted and crushed cocoa beans – the same bean used in chocolate) and fresh oranges are added into the distillery’s foundation botanical cocktail. They add no sugar.
This is a dry gin with rich chocolately sweet aromas and flavours, and zingy orange notes, which has won gold medal at the New York International Spirits Competition 2021.
For your G&T we recommend Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water (or if you want to go the full citrus hog, their Light Clementine Tonic Water) garnished with orange peel and a few cacao nibs (easily available online, Holland and Barratt etc).
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