The History Bit
Gin was developed based on the older Dutch spirit, jenever. Jenever was originally produced by distilling malt wine (moutwijnin in Dutch) to 50% ABV. Because the resulting spirit was not palatable due to the lack of refined distilling techniques, herbs were added to mask the flavour. The juniper berry, jeneverbes in Dutch (which comes from the Latin Juniperus), hence the name jenever, was used for its alleged medicinal benefits.
Gin became suddenly affordable in Britain due to changes in the duty levied following the accession of William of Orange to the throne in 1689. French brandy prices went through the roof via import taxes. A great many small-scale gin distilleries were established across London and by the early years of the 18th century what had become known as the Gin Craze was truly out of hand. Many disparate ingredients were used, turpentine being a prominent one for cheaper outlets. The drive downwards in price and quality lead to widespread fears of a dissolute populace.
Beer Street and Gin Lane, two prints issued in 1751 by William Hogarth, were published in support of what would become the Gin Act. Designed to be viewed alongside each other, they depict the evils of the consumption of gin as a contrast to the merits of drinking beer. The drunkenness and abandon on display in Gin Lane epitomised the widespread misery and dissolution caused by gin, in deliberate contrast to the happy, well-fed workers with their foaming tankards on Beer Street.
The Gin Act of 1751 forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers and brought gin shops under the jurisdiction of local magistrates
In 1832, advancements in distillation eventually allowed for the mass-production of pure spirits using a Coffey “continuous” column still. These spirits were then re-distilled to provide a cleaner, purer product and being centred mainly around London became known as London dry gin. The defining stipulations, which are still in force today were recently re-codified by the EU in 2008:
- London Dry Gin must be (re)distilled to at least 70% ABV,
- Can only be watered down to a minimum strength of 37.5%.
- Must contain no added sugar,
- Be flavoured primarily with juniper,
- Must contain no artificial ingredients,
- Cannot have any flavour or colour added after distillation.
In order to add aromats to the distillate, many current producers use a “carter-head” still, meaning the botanicals do not come into direct contact with alcohol but are contained in a wire basket above the liquid and the flavours released by vapour alone. This process makes for a less aggressively flavoured spirit.
Plymouth Gin used to be Protected Geographical Indication that pertains to any gin distilled in Plymouth but since February 2015 it is no longer. Different and slightly less dry than London Dry gin, purportedly due to a higher than usual proportion of root ingredients, which bring a more ‘earthy’ feel to the gin as well as a softened juniper flavour. It is usually more than 40% in strength, with the Navy version at 57% ABV.
In the year ending 16th June 2018, UK:
- Consumption exceeded 60 million bottles,
- Revenues over £1.6 billion,
- Up 38% on the same period the previous year.
This means that the sales of UK gin at home and abroad have doubled in the last five years, with sales and exports totalling just over £1 billion in 2013. An additional 14.4 million bottles of gin were bought in the UK, worth £516 million, compared to the same period in 2017. With £532 million worth of UK gin exported in that year means that the industry has broken the £2 billion/year barrier. Such is its popularity that in 2017 the Office for National Statistics added gin to the basket of goods it monitors to measure inflation.
HMRC reported there being 315 producers in the UK in January 2018, that number is sure to have grown – we can see why.
What do we do with it? The G&T
The Gin and Tonic was invented in the early 1800’s by the Army in India, who were prescribed quinine to prevent malaria. Quinine is very bitter so to make it easier to drink the officers mixed it with water and sugar. At some point a sadly unrecorded experimenter added some gin and a popular cocktail was born.
The name’s Bond, Erasmus Bond
In 1858 Bond made the first commercial tonic water. He mixed quinine with other flavourings, water and carbonated it. He called it “Improved Aerated Tonic Liquid”. The Tonic water was a success and in 1870 Schweppes followed with their Indian Quinine Tonic. There is no standard tonic recipe, each having a balance of bitter, sweet, floral and citrus. No one tonic suits every gin and every palate.
So Gin and Tonic we’re done – what else do we need?
There is no consensus when garnishes began to be in widespread use. It is unlikely to have been in the UK. Lemon has long reigned supreme in the UK yet in the US lime is favoured. There is citrus in tonic and a citrus garnish can accentuate that flavour profile, as well as adding freshness. Some believe that the garnish should instead contrast the gin and/or tonic for that now comes in a host of flavours. A basic rule of thumb is:
- Spiced gin – orange is warming and the soft, sweet citrus fruit compliments botanicals such as clove and cassia.
- Classic juniper and citrus gins – lemon or lime – sharper or sweeter.
- Floral/fruity gin – grapefruit peel can add just a touch of freshness without upsetting the delicate aromas. A sprig of rosemary can also be a perfect compliment to lavender forward gins as commonly made in Oxfordshire.
- Herbaceous gin – apple can provide a touch of acidity and sweetness.
Wedges, slices and wheels of citrus predominate, however most of the flavour is delivered in the peel. Using a twist rather than the pith and flesh can intensify the delivery. Allowing the oils from the cut skin to hit the glass add depth as does rubbing the rim of the glass with the skin.
So how do I choose – Taste, taste, taste and taste some more
Tasted alone both the gin and the tonic are harsh to many, yet together…well, yes but then why?
Some molecules in the gin attract similar molecules in the tonic. When the different molecules attract each other they create aggregates which change the flavour of the drink. It just tastes good.
A new trend is to try before adding tonic or without it altogether to better taste the myriad of gins available. This is harder when out but at home do as the experts do and try out some or all of the following:
Select your gin or gins
- Classic – juniper based – Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Sipsmith, Chase GB, OX44
- Floral/fruit – Rhubarb, Elderflower, Orange, Brighton, Mason’s, Stratford
- Spicy – Bombay, Baharat, Jawbox, Ophir
- Herbaceous – Physic, Ashmolean, OX4, Plymouth
- Pour a measure into a bowl glass, swirl and sniff
- Taste a small amount, note the flavours/aromas that are pleasant and those that are not
- Add a cube of ice
- Taste again – check your notes, some of the flavours will have changed, softened
Tonic – Select a tonic or tonics
- Add 50% tonic by volume in the glass
- Swirl, sniff, taste – note the changes, what flavours/aromas remain, which have been lost, it should be much softer and more refreshing but “tonic-y”
- Repeat with the same gin but a different tonic, either another Indian or a flavoured one, some will complement the gin aromats, some will create contrast and complexity
- Make a note of your favourite combination
- Add more tonic until you feel the gin flavour is lost, try to gain the sweet spot of gin, ice and tonic that suits you – everyone is different.
- Repeat with different gins but the same tonics.
- Repeat with the same gins but more tonic types.
- When have decided upon your personal favourite recipe add a slice of lemon
- Try with the following – lime, grapefruit, orange, rosemary, ginger, berries, peppercorns, mint, cucumber, juniper, thyme, cardamom, apple.
- For fruit try just the peel and cut it in the glass to spray the oils around the glass or rub the cut peel around the rim of the glass
- Some will accentuate an aromat some will seek to overpower it, find your own favourite, it may be different for every combination
This all takes time, money and commitment for the dedicated gineaste. Why not have a gin party, everyone brings something and do the tastings together, see how different the same drinks taste to different people.
It’s never too late to BE-GIN.
That’s enough duck-tation I’m off for a paddle.
The Duck on the Pond