American gin

Gin’s brave new world: the story of American gin

As an international, Barcelona-based gin blog, we tend to have a small, unwitting bias in favour of British and Spanish gins. They are two of the most innovative gin traditions and we have easy access to those brands.  But as we grow and welcome more North Americans to the group, we thought it was worth spending a little time looking at the contribution of America and Canada to the history of gin. These countries have had a long love affair with gin. They are now starting to have an influence on the development and future of our favourite drink.  We know that we have not yet reached “peak gin” in North America. But there are an increasing number of gin connoisseurs over the pond. And an increasing collection of new, innovative American and Canadian gins for us all to try.

So, let’s take the wraps off the American gin story. Let’s pay tribute to the increasing contribution of our transatlantic cousins to this great and glorious international drink.

Stepping back in time

Let’s wind back a bit to the 19th century.  In those days, New York was a bustling, growing city and the Dutch had a big influence.  In fact, Manhattan was originally known as New Amsterdam. And when the Dutch came to town, they brought with them their favourite drink.  Dutch immigrants brought high quality genever from the old country. It was far superior to anything they could get locally. It was also better than the stuff the English were bringing with them.
In fact, in the 19th century, 5 times as much “Holland Gin” was imported to the US than English gin. 

Ice, ice, baby!

Then, some time in the 1830s, ice started to make an appearance – and it was a gamechanger. Ice soon became a vital (and innovative) way to keep drinks cool in New York’s hot summer months.  Its widespread availability helped to inspire a new kind of drink, called a cocktail. Most Americans made their cocktails with whiskey at first. But gin wasn’t far behind and by the mid-1800s, there were as many as 6 distillers in New York. Brooklyn alone was distilling almost 3 million gallons of grain spirit per year, most of it used to fuel the American gin revolution.  By 1870, the first London Dry style gin distillery was opened in Cincinnati, Ohio and slowly, slowly the switch to a drier type of gin began.  In those days, the malty, sweet taste of Genever and Old Tom gin was perfect for mixing with punches or slings, but not so good for the more subtle and evolving art of cocktail making.

A tale of three Harrys

By 1888, Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual contained 19 different gin drinks, all of which required either Genever or Old Tom gin. By 1908, the gin switch was on with the appearance (and soon dominance) of drier gins.  And then after the end of World War 1, came prohibition and everything changed. 
For the next 13 years, alcohol was illegal in the US. The result was the closure of thousands of bars, breweries and distilleries as the cocktail revolution imploded stateside.  On the other hand, this elevated the status of stylish new international bars such as the Savoy’s American Bar in London to The Ritz in Paris. 

The United States elite simply sailed over to Europe to sip their alcohol in style and freedom. These sophisticated establishments created the world’s first superstar mixologists such as Harry Craddock and Harry McElhone, who carved themselves a permanent spot in cocktail’s hall of fame.  

Just as an aside, why are all the best bartenders called Harry?

The dawn of the cocktail

By the early 20th century, classic cocktails had started to build themselves a reputation with drinks such as the Aviation, the Negroni and the Dry Martini first making an appearance.

These are all classic gin drinks that we still sip on today.  But back in the UK, enterprising Brits started looking for ways to protect their potential post-prohibition market. They did this by bootlegging their gins to the US to fuel the illegal speakeasy gin trade that was thriving.  However, this bootleg gin did not come cheap, so DIY “bathtub gin” began to fill the void. This was often dodgy (to say the least). But those commercially savvy Brits had established a “brand bridgehead” in the States. This was to pay off post-prohibition when big players such as Gordon’s and Gilbey’s opening their first US distilleries.

The rest is history

The rest, as they say, is history and ever since, gin has remained a staple cocktail ingredient across North America. From the Dry Martini to the classic G&T, gin has found a serious niche for itself in the biggest consumer market in the world.  Gin can be found in cocktails across the US from Long Island Iced Teas to Gimlets and from Singapore Slings to Hanky Pankys.

The new world of American gin

Not long ago, the craft beer revolution transformed the beer market in North America forever. Now, there are signs that the craft gin revolution is parking its tanks on the lawn. Great small batch gins such as Brooklyn’s No.209 Gin, New York’s Dorothy Parker, Washington’s Death’s Door and Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin.
And, in true New World style, new genres of gin are being created all the time. These include an increasing number of barrel-aged gins that are leading the charge for new flavour sensations that we can all enjoy!

Stay tuned for an article in the next few weeks with some of the best gins from New York and Canada. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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Juniper: the magic berry

Gin is juniper. Without juniper, gin simply is not gin. That’s why juniper is so important. But what is it, where does it come from and why is it found in gin (but not in vodka or rum)? Well, read on as we lift the curtain on this fabulous berry which plays a vital part in our lives.

A tiny pine cone that conquered the world

So, here’s interesting fact number one!

The juniper berry isn’t actually a berry at all. In fact, it’s a tiny pine cone. These little cones can be found on a small, wild shrub called juniperus communis which primarily grows wild in the northern hemisphere. Juniper bushes are, in fact, closely related to the cypress family. These amazing plants can live for as long as 100 years and they can reach a height of 10m.

But that’s not all. Juniper is a hardy plant, with one of the widest geographical reaches of any tree in the world. You can find juniper bushes thriving across different landscapes and climates and a range of countries from Canada to the USA, from Iceland to Greenland, from Europe to North Africa and from Asia to Japan.

No hurry, juniper takes its time!

But juniper is not in a big hurry to flavour your G&T. In fact it takes each juniper bush around 10 years to actually bear fruit. But enough about the mother ship, what about the berry?

Well, this is a weird one. Juniper berries start off green and then, after around 18 months, they start to ripen into a dark purple colour. And they’re quite small – most juniper berries are less than 1cm in diameter. Intriguingly, each berry contains between 3 and 6 rectangular seeds, which birds kindly eat and distribute on juniper’s behalf.

So, where’s the best juniper to be found?

Well, we already know that juniper’s influence spreads far and wide. You can still find it growing in the UK and Spain, but the best stuff comes from Macedonia. And here’s another interesting fact. Juniper is generally harvested directly from the wild, meaning that it is more like foraging than farming. There’s a particular technique for getting the best crop from your tree.
According to long tradition, juniper pickers will circle the tree, beating the branches as they walk around it. They then catch the falling berries in a round, flat basket, often collecting their own body weight of juniper in a single day.

What does it actually taste like?

This complex botanical (with as many as 70 constituent elements) is most prized for its juniper oil, which represents as little as 3% of the cone. This means you have to squeeze an awful lot of juniper berries to get a decent amount of oil. And just like everything else, juniper has its own unique flavour profile.

Think pine notes, heather and lavender, sitting alongside grassy pepperiness and citrus. These are the dominant flavours that give it such a distinctive, bitter taste. They are also the same notes that make it into your gin once the distillation process is under way. All this work comes at a cost and the average price for juniper right now is around £7 per kg.

How did juniper end up as gin’s main ingredient?

Well, after a long and distinguished career in medieval medicine, in the 16th century, juniper switched seamlessly into gin. It had already been used in health remedies since the Egyptians started using it to make drinks and to embalm their dead pharaohs, so its health benefits had been known for millennia.

By the 1660s, as Amsterdam became the centre of world trade, the Dutch army and navy took to the habit of drinking a daily ration of genever. Then, in a bid to appeal to the growing middle classes, Dutch distillers began to flavour their malt wine with juniper and other spices from the Dutch East India company.
And the news spread, so before long, genever became popular in other European countries including France.

Ready for lift off

By the end of the 19th century, it was being sold in England at half the price of brandy, so its popularity took off rapidly. The rest is history.

The English embraced the idea and adapted it to their tastes and by 1621, there were more than 200 registered gin distillers in London alone.
Since then, it has gone on a journey from the devil’s drink, blighting the social fabric of 17th century London through to the drink of choice in 18th century drinking clubs. Eventually, this spirit became engrained in the history and psychology of England and by the time the G&T took hold in the 19th century there was no stopping it.

Gin goes global!

By the 20th century, this beautiful “juniper juice” had become a cocktail staple and the drink of choice for movie stars, writers, film stars and royalty. But production was still dominated by a few powerful brands such as Gordons and Tanqueray, who did nothing imaginative to this most versatile of all drinks. And then the craft gin revolution arrived in the early 21st century giving birth to a mind-boggling array of flavours and styles that we could only have dreamed of 20 years ago.

So, there it is. This little berry (that isn’t a berry) has taken on the world and won.
Every gin you drink, no matter where you are, will always have one thing in common – the juniper berry. Where would we be without you!

Gin Lane

Gin Lane: a descent into hell

Gin Lane. It’s one of the most iconic British images of the 18th century. But behind the familiar characters of Hogarth’s most famous engraving lies a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of the first English gin revolution.

In those days, gin had become a scourge on society. It was cheap, unregulated and having a negative impact on the social fabric of England. There came a point where the problem could no longer be ignored. Hogarth’s extraordinarily detailed “Gin Lane” etching shone a bright light into the darkest corners of this new craze. For the first time, gin was exposed for what it really was and for the damage it was doing to the fabric of society. By 1730, gin consumption in England had spiraled to 13, 638, 276 litres of gin in a single year. Moral opposition was on the rise and gin became the enemy – blamed for everything from moral decay to murder.

London in crisis

This was a bad time for England’s capital city. In the mid-18th century, annual infant mortality soared to more than 240 deaths per 1000. Poverty was driving people to alcohol. And gin was becoming affordable and easy to get. The result of this notoriety was the inevitable passing of another Gin Act to control its sale and to reduce consumption.
Then in 1756 the grain harvest failed and small distillers had to close their doors. Prices rose , as did quality. Gin was no longer so accessible to the masses and returned to its original status as a wealthy persons drink and the big players moved in.

In 1769, Alexander Gordon started his distillery in Bermondsey, south London. Thomas Dakin set up a plant in Warrington and the Coates family started making Plymouth Gin in…
Plymouth! These are names that have stood the test of time and they all have a place in the long history of gin.

The devil is in the detail

Gin Lane and Beer Street

The storytelling in these etchings is extraordinary and it illustrates (in graphic detail) the devastating social impact of cheap gin on 18th century society.
But look carefully at this extraordinary piece of satire and you will discover a depressing, but instantly recognisable, scene.

There, in the starkest terms is the story of gin. In the images and the characters Hogarth brings to life so vividly, the grim reality is there for all to see. Drunkenness, hunger, social decay, violence, suicide, murder and madness are all on display. And the warning to society was clear. Beware the evil drink – it will be our destruction.

This is in direct contrast with Hogarth’s twin engraving, Beer Street. This was a civilised, convivial place where people drank, laughed and made merry in clean, safe pleasure palaces nice enough for even children to enjoy. But why this difference in attitudes and what was the point of these two engravings?

The truth is never simple

At the end of the war of Austrian succession, more than 80,000 soldiers returned home to Blighty. With them, they brought the normal demands of life – food, water and shelter. But these fighting men (many of whom had returned psychologically or physically damaged) had a predilection for drinking and fighting. And gin was the perfect lubricant!

The great English public were concerned of the consequences of such an influx and the pressure was on to manage the social problems before they got out of control. They demanded the Government pass another Gin Act to control the scourge before it got out of control.

Social commentary: gin versus beer

And that’s where Hogarth stepped in. As a piece of social commentary it was extraordinary. Satire was at its peak and this graphic expose made it crystal clear. Gin was going to lead to a steady slide towards immorality, violence and eventually death. While beer was a social lubricant to be encouraged for the benefit of society.

Nothing new in this world

If you think the media has been propagandised in the 21st century, it was even worse 300 years ago. This was pure politics. Many believed that Hogarth had been in cahoots with the brewers to demonise gin, their greatest competitor.

In any event, it’s worth taking a detailed look at this painting to reveal the true horror of the warning message that Hogarth was trying to deliver. And it’s one of those pictures where the more you look, the more you see. Even a few minutes of scrutiny reveals a horrific tale.

Gin Street: unsavoury characters on every corner

In Gin Street, right up front, there’s a distressing image of a drunken mother. She has dropped her infant child over the edge of a precarious staircase while she picks at a snuff box. She has a leering, slightly dangerous look on her face. Just in front of her is an emaciated man. He’s clutching a flask of gin while holding a manuscript called “The Downfall of Madam Gin”.
A bit further back an old woman lies in a barrow sharing shots of gin with a group of rioters outside a gin distillery.
And then there’s the pawnbroker sign (in the shape of a cross) indicated the populations preference for a gin spirit over the holy spirit.

But there’s more. The background shows images of death, destruction, self-abuse. If you look carefully, there’s even a dead child on a spike. All very gruesome and the message is clear. Don’t mess with gin. It will be the ruin of you.

Beer Street: happy and glorious

By contrast, Beer Street is a far more salubrious place. Its residents are portrayed as happy and healthy. In contrast to the destitute and immoral citizens of Gin Street, the Beer Street gang are far more wholesome.

Far from being addled by addiction, they appear nourished by the life-giving ale of England. The residents display positive virtues such as good health, trade, community and industry. Everything (and everyone) on Beer Street is happy and healthy. Except for one.
In the Beer Street engraving, the pawnbroker is about to go out of business due to having no customers. He lives in the only crumbling building in the picture.
In contrast the other residents of the street are positively prospering. Sturdy, humorous English workers wander the street. It is the King’s birthday, so the flag is flying over the church. Under the Barley Mow pub sign healthy residents sip foaming ales out of large tankards while eating roasted meats.

All in all, Beer Street doesn’t seem like such a bad place at all. It is heaven to Gin Street’s hell.

The decline of Mother’s Ruin

Between the campaigning engravings of Hogarth, a clear and real social problem that was plain for all to see and Government pressure to stop the scourge, gin’s decline was assured. It eventually returned to the rarified atmosphere of the middle classes and became more refined, safer and fashionable. Major brands such as Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Booths and Langdale’s built gin’s reputation with the more affluent members of society. Prices went up and it was no longer as affordable for the masses. By 1751 gin consumption in London had fallen to less than 20% of its volume a decade earlier.

Then, by the beginning of the 19th century, the upper classes took to gin in their gentleman’s clubs. By the 1820s, its popularity was undoubtedly on the rise again. Prices began to fall so that it was once again, cheaper than beer.

The rise of the gin palace

This time the big distillers spotted a gap in the market and they targeted these working class gin drinkers with a new phenomenon – the gin palace.

These wonderfully extravagant and over the top establishments gave gin some middle class respectability and gave ordinary people a nice place to drink safely and in style.
Later in the 19th century, more distinctive styles of gins started to appear including the classic Old Tom. By the 19th century, with the addition of tonic water with quinine (to prevent malaria) gin became the go-to drink for Britain’s colonial masters and the gin and tonic was born. Later that century, it became popular in gin Punches at Gentlemen’s Clubs such as the Garrick.

From cocktail classic to grubby pub drink

In the 20th century, gin had become a classic cocktail ingredient as sophisticated drinks such as the Negroni and the Dry Martini became fashionable. And then, in the 1970s it fell out of fashion again. The market became dominated by big brands from big businesses who had lost their imagination. Gin became a rather grubby, down market pub drink served without any pretensions of style or sophistication.

The devil made me do it!

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the dawn of the craft gin revolution.

Since 201, there has been an explosion of craft gin making across the world. London and Barcelona became the meccas for sophisticated gin drinking and reinvented the way it was served. The humble G&T was elevated into a deliciously theatrical cocktail served in large copa glasses and garnished with exotic fruits and fancy things like pink peppercorns and grated nutmeg. These days there are literally thousands of imaginative craft gin distilleries, a plethora of flavoured mixers and loads of surprising options. These now include many thousands of distinctive, beautiful gins (flavoured and non-flavoured). And some increasingly bizarre versions made from things as diverse as lobsters and red ants.

Personally, I’ll stick with a nice G&T made with a good craft gin, a squeeze of lemon and a premium tonic water. And I will drink to the return of Mother’s ruin.
The devil made me do it!



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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botanicals

Botanicals: gin’s secret stars

Why is gin so different to vodka or any other white spirit? What makes gin so special? Well, the secret lies in the botanicals.

What are these botanicals and why are they so important? And how exactly do they turn a colourless, odourless, tasteless liquid into one of the most versatile and exciting spirits on planet earth?

We thought we’d spend a little time looking at these secret ingredients. We want to help us all to understand what makes these little blasts of flavour so important in the world of gin. So, let’s start with the most obvious: juniper.

Without juniper, there is no gin.

For a drink to be classified as gin, Juniper is a must. According to legal definitions, gin must always be a minimum of 37.5% ABV and Juniper must be its dominant spirit. That seems pretty simple and clear. But this is actually where the fun begins! Once the minimum requirements are met, distillers are working on an empty canvas where the art is only as good as the artist. From here on out, all you are limited by is your imagination.

Juniper’s medicinal history

The juniper berries you are most likely to find in your gin are actually a type of pine cone from a shrub called juniperus communis. This is generally found growing wild across most of the Northern hemisphere. It’s what gives gin that distinctive taste of pine, camphor and lavender.

In fact, its medicinal qualities have been recognised for millennia. An ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1500BC refers to juniper as a cure for tapeworm infestations. Juniper berries have also been found as part of the embalming process in ancient Egyptian tombs. Through the ages they were used to cure infections, prevent epilepsy and even cure the plague.
These days, the best juniper is grown on the hillsides of Macedonia and Italy and is rich in aromatic oil. This is one reason why its important for distillers to try a number of different samples to get the mixture exactly right.

Botanicals: a world of fragrant opportunities

Most of the botanicals that we use in gin have medical roots that go back hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years. Some of them are still used for their medicinal qualities.

As we know, juniper berries are integral to creating gin. Unsurprisingly, they feature in every gin that is produced.

As well as juniper, there may be some other common botanicals that may surprise you.
Wormwood (more commonly associated with absinthe) is a popular botanical for many distillers. Others such as coriander are extraordinarily popular and you will see it make an appearance in many gins imparting a fresh, spicy sage and lemon flavour.

Beyond that, you enter a world of opportunities with more fragrant botanicals such as frankincense (sweet and oily) and cassia bark (sharp and pungent) appearing more and more often.

Many other gins feature angelica (woody and earthy), citrus and orris root (aromatic and floral).

But the list goes on to include almonds (marzipan sweetness), bergamot peel (musky, perfumed) and cardamom pods (warm and spicy). These are becoming increasingly popular alongside cubeb berries (peppery), elderflower (sweet and floral).
Citrus peels are always in demand and ginger (spicy and warm) and even licorice (woody and sweet) are making more frequent appearances.

Each of these botanicals help to build up the complex layers of flavours that we enjoy in our G&Ts today. As gin makers experiment and become more comfortable with the possibilities of ingredients that they are using, they have become increasingly bold.

Laverstoke Mill: a temple to botanicals

If you’re interested in learning more about botanicals, it’s worth paying a visit to the stunning Bombay Sapphire distillery in Hampshire.
Here, the main distilling process takes place in Bombay Sapphire’s converted 18th century Laverstoke Mill straddling the crystal clear waters of the River Test. But in a stroke of architectural genius, a swooping glass extension (reminiscent of the river that flows underneath it) covers a fascinating gin museum with wonderful gin tours. You will have the opportunity to taste a wonderful Laverstoke cocktail too!
Inside this extraordinary glass building they grow some of the botanicals that they use to make Bombay Sapphire. They have dozens of different botanicals beautifully presented in jars and bags for guests to touch and smell.

In their Discovery Experience they’ll help you map out your flavour tastes and even offer a well crafted cocktail mixed in their on-site bar. Their drinks are made to recipes by their in-house mixologist Sam Carter – and they’re delicious. The variety of botanicals on display is breathtaking and the flavours so individual and eclectic, that this will definitely need to be on your list for a fascinating visit once life returns to normal.

So, next time you try your latest gin, see which ones you can identify and raise a glass to our secret botanicals. They are the reason the magic happens.



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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how gin is made

The secrets of the stills: how gin is made

A few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends in London. One of them had been pontificating about wine. It was getting to the point at which he was describing how different soils in neighbouring fields can produce radically different grapes and wines with completely unique flavours. That was when I brought up gin and its infinite variety. I started the conversation making the point that gin was essentially a flavoured vodka. But he was adamant that I was wrong.
“Gin is gin”, he said. “Completely different!”
For the sake of the evening, I didn’t challenge him but it got me thinking. While we all love drinking it, most of us don’t know how gin is made. So, this is for all of us gin lovers who have managed to master the art of drinking the stuff but haven’t yet mastered the art of distilling it.

What is gin?

There are three basic rules that gin has to follow to be classified as gin:

  1. Gin must be based on a neutral spirit (unflavoured vodka, ethanol etc).
  2. It must also be bottled at a minimum alcoholic strength of 37.5% ABV.
  3. Finally, it must contain juniper as its dominant flavour.

The rest is up to you. Some prefer London Dry gins, others prefer Genever gin or Old Tom. Some prefer fruity gins or glorious floral infusions. Others prefer citrus or earthy tones. And there’s now a huge industry churning our what we call “flavoured gins” (some good, some not so good!).

Complex flavours, infinite variety

But the real beauty of a good gin is its complexity and its infinite variety. There is a subtlety to a good gin that is almost an art form on a par with Scotch whiskey.
This complex, sophisticated mix is achieved through the expertise of each individual distiller working diligently to achieve the exact flavour profile that they prefer. For many of us, we either picture big brand distilleries such as Bombay Sapphire pumping out industrial quantities of gin (think the big brands here!) Or, you could be imagining something more niche – a bit more like Breaking Bad, with people in white coats staring at bubbling potions to create their own small batch gin delights. The truth is it’s both of those (and everything in between).

Back to basics

So, let’s start at the beginning.
Gin is one of a group of spirits that include Akvavit and a number of anise-flavoured products that get their character directly from the supplemental flavours added during the distilling process instead of the raw material they are made from.
Essentially gin is simply a neutral spirit to which juniper and other flavours have been added. The base spirit can be fermented from a wide rage of things from grain to milk (and plenty in between). The resulting clear, neutral alcohol gives the distiller a blank canvas on which to create a masterpiece.

Maceration, distillation and infusion

Flavours can then be added through any one of three recognised methods:

  1. Maceration: Firstly, through a process of simple maceration which extracts both flavour and colour from the ingredients to give its own unique profile. For a clear colour, the maceration liquid still needs to be distilled.
  2. Distillation: The second approach is known as “re-distillation”. Once the product has gone through an initial distillation to create its neutral spirit, it is then “re-distilled”. During this process, the vapours that boil off carry selected flavour-frequencies on into the final product, while leaving the colour behind.
    The result is an aromatic mix of complex compounds within a clear liquid, with a distinct concentrated smell.
  3. Infusion: The third approach is to add “off the shelf” compounded flavours to a neutral spirit, mixing it up in the same way as you would mix your own bespoke cocktail. This is the easiest method and the result is the sort of cheap gin that you find on the bottom shelves of supermarket.

So when does the magic start?

Well the first stage is fermentation. This is where the alcohol is created before it is distilled into gin. Alcohol can be created from a huge range of foodstuffs including grain, grapes, potatoes and even milk. Grain is the most common source and it is often ground down to help it to release starch, which then converts into sugar. These sugars are then mixed with water to make a mash before being transferred to the mash “tun”. This is where the fermentation fun starts.

Fermenting fun

Fermentation is simply the natural process of decomposition. But you’ll need to add some yeast for the real fun to begin. The yeast feeds on the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the process used. The resulting liquid is a low alcohol brew, commonly known as the “mash”. It’s not dissimilar to beer.
But how does this beer-like liquid become distilled alcohol?

The distillation process

And now we can reveal the secrets of the stills.
The fermented wash is heated to boiling point in a “still”. During this process, the “wash” evaporates before condensing at lower temperatures. These vapors are then captured by the distillers and separated to create a new mixture.
After several distillations, the resulting spirit is generally filtered through charcoal or carbon to remove any remaining sediment and impurities. The resulting clean, pure, alcoholic spirit is now ready for bottling, flavouring, aging or drinking.

Adding the ingredients

As we know, gin is essentially vodka that has been distilled with added botanicals. But, while Juniper berries have to dominate the flavour for your spirit to qualify as gin, other common botanicals are generally added at this stage including cumin, wormwood and coriander. More unusual ones include cassia root and frankincense.
With the rise of craft gin, ingredients are becoming increasingly exotic with the rise and rise of flavoured spirits. The final blend is only limited by the distillers imagination.

The stills: tradition vs efficiency

But to make all this come together, you need a still.
If you’re interested in trying this out at home, you can actually purchase individual desktop stills from Amazon for under 100 euros.
However, for the professionals, there are only two main types – pot stills and column stills.

Pot stills: smaller and more traditional. They’re generally made from copper and they can be quite labour intensive requiring regular cleaning . But actually, the process is quite simple. Heat the mix up in the boiler and watch it vapourise and separate. This happens because alcohol and water boil at different temperatures.
This results in the alcohol vapours condensing to leave behind a strong alcoholic liquid. Generally, this liquid is then redistilled again for a smoother taste.

Column stills: more efficient but more industrial and less historical.
Multiple chambers allow the producers to enable fractional distillation – or separate distillations within the still.
This gives distillers more flexibility and precision and they produce higher alcohol spirits. Some producers also pass steam directly through the ingredients to distil alcohol or to extract essential oils from the plants or botanicals.
The final mixture is then mixed with water before bottling to reduce it to the final desired strength. Definitely more efficient (but less character).

Know what you’re drinking!

So, there you go – a brief guide to distillation.
If you’re inspired to have a go yourself, then pick up a still and have fun experimenting with your own flavours. Otherwise, just carry on drinking the gin, smug in the knowledge that you actually know (and appreciate) exactly how this beautiful, complex and subtle drink is made.



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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bitters and cocktails

Bitters: what are they and why should we care?

Anybody who enjoys a good cocktail will have come across the word bitters every so often.  And if you’re a gin drinker, you need to know what they are.
Basically, these are small bottles of highly alcoholic flavouring agents, generally infused with herbs and botanicals.  Like many things, they started off life as a medicinal potion. In fact, they have a medicinal history that has seen them prescribed as cures for everything from stomach aches to hangovers. They are also often the mystery ingredient in your gin cocktail.
But what are they and why should we care?

Back to basics

At their most basic, bitters are simply neutral spirits infused with aromatics such as spices, seeds, fruits, tree bark  etc.  Some of the more traditional flavours include cassia root, orange peel, cinchona bark and cascarilla. Generally, they contain a potent mixture of water, alcohol and herbs and they come in all strengths, ranging from the strong to the very strong.
As a mark of respect for their potency, they generally come in tiny bottles and are added to cocktails in small drops. This is due to their intense flavour and industrial strength.  The most commonly referenced brand of bitters is Angostura.
But what do these tiny drops of flavour do?

Smoothing out the edges

Cocktails often contain a delicate balance of flavours, generally in the sweet and sour range.  But by adding an additional primary taste bartenders can help to smooth out a cocktail neutralising any sharp or sweet edges and adding a little balance to the mix.  This complexity adds an extra layer of character to drinks and can subtly change your entire drinking experience.

So where did this all begin?

Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians were ahead of their time.  While they were constructing their mind-boggling pyramids, they also began to experiment with medicinal herbs.  Interestingly, they were also partial to a drop of wine.  They started to infuse their wine with those bitter herbal potions.  This not only changed the flavour profile of the wine, but also claimed apparent medicinal benefits.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages and the advent of organised distilling.  Preparations with deeper combinations of flavours started to appear, seemingly influenced by these ancient medicinal practices.
By the 19th century, the Americans started to add bitters to Canary wine as a preventative medicine.  And then the cocktail arrived.

Bitters become brands

That was when things started to make real progress.  Commercial distillers began to produce their own bitters – the most famous of which is Angostura (named after a Bolivian town of the same name).  As the years moved on and tastes became increasingly accustomed to these new flavours, other brands began to appear including Peychaud’s from New Orleans. This brand is now most generally associated with the Sazerac cocktail.
You may also  be familiar with bitters appearing in classic Pink Gin or Old Fashioned recipes.  This is where Angostura continues to make its mark.

During the latter half of the 19th century, orange bitters began to make their presence felt and began to appear in more and more cocktail recipes.  And then, in 1862, legendary bartender Jerry Thomas championed them in his book “How to mix drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion”.
This was the inflection point that brought them firmly into the territory of a mainstream cocktail ingredient.

The age of the cocktail

Bitters have added subtle flavour and aroma to drinks for centuries.  They are often drunk neat, as a digestif, in both Europe and America. But with the resurging interest in craft gins and bespoke cocktails, they are continuing to add an extra layer of complexity.
You will increasingly see them appearing in a range of cocktail recipes (not least in the common and garden G&T!).
And bitters have another excellent property which should not be ignored: they make a rather unpleasant tasting but highly effective hangover cure.
These days there are a plethora of new brands on the market and more and more people are experimenting with making their own craft versions at home.
Here are some of the most well known bitters, just in case you fancy mixing up a proper
pink gin (especially if you’re expecting a giant hangover any time soon!).

Some of the most popular bitters brands (paid links)

bitters selection



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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5 kinds of gin

5 kinds of gin: do you know the difference?

5 kinds of gin, really?

When most people think of gin, they think of England. It’s the classic, buttoned up English drink with hints of Empire, straw hats and times past.  But you couldn’t be more wrong. 
While it is true that the English adapted and popularised this juniper juice in the 18th century, its origins are not British at all, but Dutch.  Before it hit our shores, a drop of Dutch Courage (gin) was administered to calm the jagged nerves of those about to go into battle. The Brits liked this Jenever gin and wanted some for themselves.  But they altered forever the rich, almost smoky taste of the original by adapting the recipe. The result is what we now think of as traditional English gin styles, such as London Dry, Old Tom and Plymouth gin.  

The gin revolution begins

Now, fast forward to the 2010s, when the good people of Barcelona spotted a way of pumping up the style and invented the copa of gin (otherwise known as the Gin Tonic).  For the first time, gin and tonics were lovingly complemented with garnishes, herbs and exotic fruit to bring out the drink’s deeper aromas and flavours.  Once these gin pioneers had kick-started the gin revolution, small batch distillers and mixologists started to reappraise this extraordinary drink.
A decade later, there are more than 250 craft distilleries in the UK alone cranking out exceptional gins.  Craft distillers are pushing the boundaries of mixology further than ever.  Spain is not far behind with hundreds more dotted around the country. And Germany is a big player too. Even the Japanese are on the bandwagon! 

How many have you tried?

Genever gin

Genever ginThis is where it all began. Genever gin is the forerunner of modern gin. First heard of in 16th century Holland it is much maltier and more savoury than contemporary gins. This is due to the fact that it is distilled from malt wine spirits instead of neutral grain. It also works really well in a gin old-fashioned.  Originally, Genever was made by distilling malt to 50% ABV and then adding herbs to disguise the bitter taste, but it’s got much better since then. These days, there are two main types: Jonge Genever (Young Genever) has a neutral taste with a slight aroma of juniper and malt wine.  The second style is Oude Genever (Old Genever), aged in wood and with a maltier, smokier taste that is more reminiscent of whisky.

London Dry

London Dry ginContrary to popular opinion, London Dry gin doesn’t have to come from London. Or even the UK.  It is simply the name of a style that originated there in the aftermath of the genever wave. It is a very juniper forward style (as you would expect) and generally has citrus, angelica root and coriander as its other key flavours. Often bottled at high proof levels, this gin is great for cocktails, which is why it has become one of the most widely known gin styles on the planet.  This style became dominant and originally became known as Dry Gin to contrast it with its sweeter cousin, Old Tom.  London Dry gin has some additional rules to regular distilled gin.  It must be flavoured exclusively with distilled natural botanicals. No additional flavourings can be added after the distillation process.  In fact, nothing can be added except for neutral spirit, water and a maximum of 0.1 g of sugar per litre.

Old Tom

Old Tom ginA sweet style that developed in the 19th century this gin got its name from its secret history. In order to avoid paying taxes on gin, a certain Captain Dudley Bradstreet from London started selling bootleg gin. He advised people to look for it under the sign of the cat, where he had cleverly placed a lead pipe attached to a funnel on the inside. Customers would put money in the slot and he would dispatch their gin down the pipe directly into their glass, bottle (or even mouth!). Over time, the practice caught on and others started to change their door knockers or signs to feature an Old Tom Cat. Old Tom gin is a sweeter, maltier gin and is sometimes barrel-aged for flavour. It has become a classic ingredient for bartenders and mixologists around the world because it is such a versatile cocktail ingredient and features prominently in classic cocktails such as the Tom Collins.

Plymouth gin

Plymouth ginSmoother than its London relative this is generally produced in the south of England and is a lower strength gin than its big city neighbour. Juniper is less dominant in Plymouth gins, making it a great gin for drinking neat or in a Martini.  Plymouth gin can only be made at the Plymouth Gin Distillery in the beautiful South West of England and pops up frequently on bartenders shelves all over the world. It has a long history, dating back to that late 18th century.  It is the only gin to have its own geographical indication and is still made in the oldest operating gin distillery in the world.  This classic gin is still produced in an ancient still that has been operating for 150 years and it has a subtle, full-bodied flavour which avoids any bitter botanicals.  The result is a an earthy tasting gin with hints of orange and cardamom and a soft, smooth finish with a hint of spice. There are two versions of Plymouth gin – the original (41.2 ABV) and their Navy Strength version (which comes in at a hefty 57% ABV).

Contemporary gin

Contemporary gin The gin revolution that blew in earlier this decade has resulted in a contemporary international selection that could have only been imagined a decade ago. Now, contemporary gin makers are dispensing with tradition and experimenting with new flavours and techniques that are challenging everything we thought we knew about this traditional drink. From the UK to Spain and from Japan to Latin America there’s something for everyone – you are only limited by your imagination.



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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A hand introducing coins in a piggy bank

5 of the most expensive gins in the world

Gin comes in all shapes and sizes and these days, there’s something for everyone, whatever your budget. Most of us think that £40 for a bottle of gin is an extravagance. But, as the demand for gin grows and the craft gin revolution uncovers new markets, new techniques and new flavours, there is a new breed of gin appearing, aimed squarely at the super high end of the market. These gins are a bit more “bling” than our normal tipples.
So, here’s a brief look at some of these new, high-end  expensive gin brands. Do you reckon any of these might make it into your Christmas stocking this year?

5. Anty Gin

The folks at Anty Gin make this with the essence of “approximately” 62 red wood ants. It also features a selection of hand-picked botanicals including juniper and nettles. The  result: a citrusy, surprising and very expensive gin which will amaze your friends. 42% ABV, RRP: 225 euros. 

expensive gin

4. Grand Cru Gin

If you like fine wine, then Grand Cru gin is for you. Made with 50% Grand Cru Burgundy wine, blended with 50% gin, this little baby has been infused with raspberry, strawberry, black truffle rose and violet for an extraordinary complex and rich flavour. It comes in a fancy presentation box and it’s a perfect gift for you if you want to impress someone you like a lot. Or, alternatively, just drink it yourself. Up to you! ABV 47%; RRP: £495.

expensive gin

 

3. Nolet’s Reserve Dry Gin

This Dutch distillery has been in the same family for 10 generations, so by now they’ve probably got the secret of gin-making down to a fine art. Let’s hope so, since this prestigious gin carries a hefty price tag. And here’s why: it features two of the most expensive ingredients on earth – spicy saffron and elegant verbena – giving it a unique and distinctive flavour with a savoury dryness and a long finish. Nolet’s Reserve Dry Gin bottle can also be hand engraved 52.3% ABV, RRP : 650 euros.

expensive gin

 

2. Watenshi “Japanese Angel” Gin

Another gin from the Cambridge Distillery, who make this in batches of only 6 bottles. Watenshi Gin features an intensive distilling process that only yields 15ml of spirit per distillation. The result – an intensely exotic gin with notes of sweet citrus and spice. There’s also plenty of juniper leading to a long, complex and intensely satisfying finish. This beautiful concoction is then poured into a hand blown decanter bottle and finished off with silver pieces by jeweller Antoine Sandoz. 45% ABV, RRP: 2250 euros

. expensive gin

1. Morus LXIV

From UK’s Jamjar Gin team, Morus LXIV  takes more than two years to produce and is made from the leaves of a single, ancient Mulberry tree. Once harvested, the guys at Jamjar dry the leaves before adding them to a selection of generations old botanicals grown in soil nourished by an ancient underground stream. The team then decant the distilled gin into hand made porcelain jars, encased in a beautifully finished leather hide. 64% ABV, RRP: 4495 euros.

 


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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monkey47 gin legend

The Monkey’s Tale: the legend behind the gin

You might have seen our recent post about one of our favourite gins, the deliciously complex Monkey 47, made deep in the heart of the Black Forest.
Every great gin should have a great story behind it, but even by most normal standards, this one stands out. Bizarrely, it involves an RAF pilot, a wild monkey, a watchmaking business and a German distiller.
So what could possibly connect these things and what brought them together in the depths of the Black Forest to create this legendary gin?
Here we go, the Monkey47 gin legend.

The RAF pilot and a monkey called Max

After WW2 had ended, a certain RAF pilot with the very British name of Wing Commander Montgomery Collins moved from the UK to the Black Forest to set up a small watchmaking business.

But when his patience ran out with the intricacies of mechanical timepieces, he switched his attention to running a small guest house, which he named “The Wild Monkey”. According to local legend, it was named after a monkey called Max that he had adopted from Berlin Zoo.

Montgomery kept himself busy running the guest house, but he filled his spare time by making distilled fruit spirits. Inevitably, soon he graduated to gin.

Nobody knows exactly what happened to Wing Commander Collins, but his legacy lives on. Wherever he may have ended up, he left behind a case of gin labelled “Max the Monkey – Black Forest Dry Gin”.

In 2007 a local German distiller called Alexander Stein stumbled across the gin. Stein was intrigued. He tasted it and he recognised a good recipe when he saw one. He spent much of the next couple of years foraging for the ingredients and trying out and testing the ratios. Monkey 47 (paid link) was eventually launched in its distinctive squat, dark bottle with its stunning postage stamp label and an initial run of 2000 bottles.

47: the magic number

Within a year, this intriguing gin had won “Best In Class” at the International Wine and Spirits Championships in San Francisco. The rest, as they say, is history.

Monkey 47 is now one of the most respected gin brands in the world and a prominent feature of any decent bartender’s gin collection.

This complex, beautifully blended and packaged gin has carved out a big space for itself, partly because of the 47 unique botanicals (many locally sourced from the Black Forest) that make it so intriguing. It is also a hefty 47% ABV, so it packs a true punch. For a full review of this delicious gin, check out our recent article, Monkey 47: complex and packed with flavour

Each distinctive brown bottle recreates the old chemist bottles that gin was served from in its earliest days. It also features a postage stamp of Max the Monkey on its unique label, in tribute to the creature from the forest that inspired a gin.

Top tip: always keep a bottle of this in reserve for your special guests. They will love it.

We hope you enjoyed the Monkey47 gin legend. Prost!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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gin palaces

Victorian gin palaces: a 19th century game changer

There aren’t many real gin palaces left in the UK these days – and that’s a pity.

When I think of a gin palace, I imagine an ornate room with high ceilings, glamorous chandeliers and “over the top” decorations. I picture long polished bars, marble tiling and oil paintings and engravings on the walls. A sense of glamour and opulence. But it was not always that way. 

In the 18th century, gin began its journey in Britain. In those days, it was sold directly to customers from what were known as “dram shops”. These were often pharmacies (since that was where much gin was made in those days). They generally sold the gin to drink as a shot to drink right there or to takeaway. Dram shops were not places to linger and soak up the atmosphere. But there was no alternative and as the price of gin plummeted, their popularity soared. 

Mother’s ruin

By the 1750s, more than 7,000 dram shops were operating in London alone, distilling up to 10 million gallons of gin per year – mostly Old Tom. In fact, in those days, the average Londoner drank around a half a pint of gin per day. Social issues increased dramatically and violence and prostitution soared.

Then, as Britain changed its licensing laws, it also changed the approach to drinking gin.

So, to control consumption, the Government imposed taxes on gin and by the late 1700s, gin consumption had massively decreased. The backstreet gin shops died out, only to pave the way for the birth of a new phenomenon – the gin palace. Distillers started making their gin in quantities. They took their inspiration from the glamorous new department stores that were starting to appear in major cities, looking for new ways to engage with their customers. 

Gin goes upmarket

In the 1820s, the gin boom really kicked off.

In fact, between 1825 and 1826, gin consumption doubled from 3.7 million barrels p.a. to 7.4 million gallons p.a. The distillers saw an opportunity to capitalise on this growth in demand and began to build the first of the gin palaces. Based on the glamorous merchandising style of the new retailers, they spared no expense in fitting out these new, upmarket drinking establishments.

The new gin palaces looked opulent and “over the top”, often built with large glass front windows and lit by gas lights. They were somewhere you wanted to stay for a while, somewhere you wanted to be seen, somewhere with a bit of glamour. They were a world away from the dingy, often violent surroundings in which gin had previously been drunk.

Adding a touch of glamour

High ceilings and ornate mirrors dominated these glorious spaces – and for the first time, customers were encouraged to sit down and enjoy their gin in these extravagant new surroundings.

Gin was poured directly into glasses from giant barrels on the walls and pretty barmaids sold it to customers over the “bar”, which was simply an evolution of the chemist shop counter where gin was originally sold.

This style became hugely popular and paved the way for the even more glamorous gin palaces and pubs of the Victorian era. Sadly, none of the original gin palaces remain, but a few glamorous and ornate Victorian pubs still exist to give you a sense of the style and opulence that they once embodied.

If you ever find yourself in London, here are a few nice places where you can spend the afternoon sipping a G&T, staring at the ornate ceiling:


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


RECENT POSTS

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  • Spring gin cocktail: Elderflower Collins
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