With World Gin Day almost upon us (15 th June), it's high time we delved a little into the spirit.
Originally a Dutch drink by the name of genever, gin became absorbed into the English culture during the Eighty Years' War when the English fought alongside the Dutch for independence from Spain. Its growth was encouraged when William the Orange, a Dutch ruler, came to occupy the British throne and home distillation became common place.
Unfortunately the abundance, and relative cheapness, of gin resulted in widespread alcoholism. That was to be the inspiration behind Hogarth's famous illustrations of Beer Street and Gin Lane. Since then, it gained a bit of a reputation as "mother's ruin" and fell out of fashion.
Over the last few years, as the drink became increasingly artisan and premium, gin has gone through a bit of a renaissance. These days, it's as popular as ever.
In fact, WSET's inaugural gin ramble sold out within a matter of days while Beefeater is opening its first visitor centre later this year. One of the latest bars to open, the City of London Distillery, lists more than 170 gins including its own London Dry gin distilled on the premises. Even restaurants are getting in on the action with Charlotte's Bistro in Chiswick running a gin masterclass every Monday night.
So what actually is gin?
The legal definition of gin varies country by country but it is essentially a spirit whose predominant flavour is juniper. Within the EU, it must also have a minimum ABV of 37.5% and be distilled from a flavourless spirit.
Beyond that, virtually anything is possible.
In addition to the juniper base, gin can be flavoured with anything from roses and chamomile to cucumber and fennel. The botanicals and flavourings can be distilled with the base spirit (dry gin eg Sipsmith), added to the base spirit (compound gin eg Bathtub Gin) or added to the base spirit that's already flavoured with botanicals (distilled gin eg Hendrick's). Then of course there's the length of maceration and the type of still used.
That's precisely why gin has so many possible profiles and why it divides people's opinions.
With that in mind, here are five gins you might not have tried:
Gin Mare is my favourite gin having first discovered it on a sunny day at the Hinds Head in Bray. Refreshing and citrusy, the gin was served with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of orange. Why? Well the gin is all about the Mediterranean and its more unusual collection of botanicals include olives and rosemary alongside the juniper and orange peels giving it a fine balance of savoury aromatics.
Sloane's gin was a recent discovery. Produced in the Netherlands, it could be said to be returning to the root of gin except that the method of production is completely revamped. Its botanicals are distilled separately before being blended to produce the final product. The result? A juniper forward gin with a hint of creaminess that goes down all too easily. Well they call themselves the world's best gin anyway.
Bloom gin, as the name suggests, is one of the most floral gins out there - it's distilled with chamomile, pomelo and honeysuckle. They recommend serving it with strawberries and tonic which makes you wonder if it might work well instead of vodka in a jug of Pimms but it is rather delicious if you're not a big fan of juniper.
French made G'vine gin has two different strengths. The floraison is the lower of the two at 40% ABV. It's also more delicate in that it has a more floral note in comparison to the peppery notes of the alternative, "nouaison". Unlike most gins though, it's created from grape spirit rather than grain spirit.
Ish gin is seriously complicated when it comes to the production process. The botanicals are allowed to macerate with the base spirit for 24 hours before being distilled five times in a pot still. The distillate is then allowed to rest a full two weeks before being blended with water. The result? An equally complicated gin with a serious hit of juniper on the nose.