angostura bitters

Small bottle, big label: the story behind Angostura bitters

We recently published a little article about gin and bitters (including Angostura) – a pairing almost as old as gin itself. As cocktails become more daring and our tastes become more and more exotic, we are constantly searching for new twists and flavours to make sure we get the very best out of our drinks. As we mentioned in our article, bitters have been a bartender’s friend for many years now.  And with the recent explosion in interest in all things gin, new and interesting brands have emerged to put their latest spin on this classic concoction.

The “Daddy” of all bitters

And that got us looking at the “Daddy” of all bitters – Angostura. And the more we looked, the more intrigued we became.  We noticed that the label on a bottle of Angostura Bitters is way too big for the bottle itself. It almost looks like it’s been taken from a bigger bottle and simply slapped onto a smaller bottle, despite its overgrown proportions.  It looks a bit like a teenage boy wearing his Dad’s over-sized shirt.
So, after a little bit of research, we discovered the reason – but you’ll have to wait until the end of the article before we reveal it.
First, here’s the story of Angostura bitters and how a little bottle with a big label changed the way we think about drink.

What are bitters?

Just a little reminder, bitters are alcoholic preparations flavoured with carefully chosen botanicals and characterised by a highly concentrated bitter or bittersweet flavour.  Many of the famous brands of bitters began their life as medicines. But most are now sold as digestifs or cocktail flavourings.  A small drop of bitters can radically alter the taste of your drink bringing out flavours that you might not have noticed before. They also add layers of complexity to give your drink a richer, more rewarding  flavour profile.

But amongst all the bitters out there, one stands tall and proud.  It is the “Daddy” of them all and it is called Angostura.  We thought we’d take a look at this little beauty and see just why it has become the most popular brand of bitters on the market – and why it has a label that is much too big for its tiny bottle.

Angostura bitters – the original (and still one of the best!)

Angostura bitters are made by the House of Angostura in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago, but the bitters were originally produced in a little town called Angostura, in Venezuela. It is there that the liquid first got its name.  Interestingly, Angostura Bitters (unlike many of its rivals) does not actually contain any Angostura bark (yet another quirky fact about this interesting and long-lasting brand).

So, how did it all begin?

There was a German surgeon called Dr. Siegert who served in the Venezuelan army of Simon Bolivar.  It was he who originally developed the recipe as a medical remedy and in 1824, Siegert began to sell it commercially. By 1830, he had opened up a distillery exclusively for the production of these bitters and he used local knowledge about botanicals from the indigenous people who lived in the area of the town.  By 1853, bitters began to become popular abroad and by 1875, the plant was moved to its current location in Port of Spain.  At this point, Angostura bitters was growing its reputation. It even won some prestigious medals (which are still displayed on the legendary oversized label, which also features a profile image of Emperor Franz Joseph 1 of Austria).

A closely guarded secret

And, like many brands, its recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Rumour has it that only one person knows the full recipe and that it is passed down by word of mouth to each new generation. Angostura makes a range of different bitters now, including an orange one.  But it’s the original that sets the standard and has remained in charge for almost 200 years.

Reach for the Angostura…

Bitters are more popular than ever now and everyone from top mixologists to casual drinkers should keep a bottle close to the bar – if you like Pink Gins, Old Fashioneds or Manhattans, you’ll need to reach for the Angostura. So, that’s a little bit about the story behind the brand.  But what about that oversized label?

So, what’s the story behind the over-sized label?

Well, here it is. It was actually a mistake that has stood the test of time. When Dr. Siegert died in 1870, he passed the business on to his sons. They decided it was time to get some publicity, so they decided to do a rebrand of their precious product. One of the brothers set to work designing the new bottle while the other went about designing the new label.  Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to talk first and by the time the competition entry was due, they had no time for a redesign, so they left it how it was. The rest, as they say, is history. History tells us that the brother’s didn’t end up winning the competition.  But apparently, on the advice of one of the judges, they kept the oversized label going forward so they would stand out from the competition.

To this day, the tradition continues and it has now become an intrinsic part of the character of this little drink that packs a big punch.  Now, there is a new generation of imitators, but none have taken the crown from the King. Some have even tried to replicate the over-sized label.  But this is a case where the original retains its pole position at the forefront of its category.

So, in tribute to the longevity of this cocktail classic, here’s a little Angostura bitters recipe that you might enjoy.  In a world where Pink Gin seems to simply refer to a colour, we return to the original Pink Gin with a classic recipe that might be worth revisiting.  Over to you!

Pink Gin cocktail – the classic

This drink works best with a strong, Navy Strength gin such as Tarquins Navy Strength.  The point of this mix was originally to help make the strong alcohol taste a little easier to drink.  Sometimes, dilution can actually be your friend in a cocktail – it’s not always about the strongest.  In this version, the strong gin is “cut” by water from the melted ice to help to improve the flavour of over-strength gin. And it works a treat.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Navy Strength gin
  • Angostura Bitters
  • A twist of lemon (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Gather your ingredients
  2. Express the oils of the lemon peel over the drink and drop the peel in
  3. Add a dash (or two) of Angostura bitters to a mixing glass filled with ice
  4. Swirl this “bittered” ice and water around in a cocktail glass
  5. Dump out the water, leaving the glass with a bitters rinse
  6. Back in your mixing glass, pour a large measure of gin (2 oz is good) and fill it with ice
  7. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass
  8. Serve and enjoy!

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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Suffering Bastard

The Suffering Bastard: handle with care

When you’re young, you see things differently.  New experiences pile up all around you and you want to try everything.  And with the sharp, social competitiveness of youth, you want to test your limits to see if you can outdo your friends.  It’s all a part of discovering who you are. My teenage years were spent between the UK and the USA. In the UK, it was all about how many pints of beer I could drink and how hot my curry would be afterwards. It was a badge of honour and it took me many years to step out of that phase.
Too many, actually!  

How it all began

Then I went to college in the USA – and that’s where I found out that I had a taste for cocktails.  It wasn’t a very refined taste in those days. Some would say it still isn’t! All I know is that in those early days, I tended to gravitate towards the ones that were either easiest to drink or contained the most alcohol. 

So, after a few years on the “Long Island Iced Tea Diet”, I found myself on a road trip to Chicago, sitting at the bar of Trader Vic’s Tiki Lounge at the Conrad Hilton, when somebody bought me a  cocktail I had ever tried before.  It was called a Suffering Bastard (and I can only assume that it was named after the hangover that I had the morning after). If so, it’s the most appropriately named drink I’ve ever had.

And over the years, these deceptively strong drinks have been the source of some of my best evenings (and worst mornings) ever since! So, what is in this delightfully named drink that makes it so appealing?  Well, let’s take a look under the hood of this cocktail classic and see if you like it. If you do, it could easily become the taste of summer.

Legendary hotels and their cocktails

As we know, all good drinks contain a legend. And many of the greatest cocktails began their lives behind the bars of some of the world’s most legendary hotels. They often changed the lives and fortunes of the bartenders who invented them as well, many of whom went on to become household names.  We’ve recently written some articles about hotel cocktail classics such as the Singapore Sling, invented at the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore.  But now it’s time to reveal the story behind the legendary Suffering Bastard and how it got its unique and dramatic name. So, here’s the deal…

Originally invented as a simple hangover cure by the bar team at Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel, the Suffering Bastard gained a small, local reputation before the hotel burned to the ground in a fire in1952.  But wind the clock back 10 years to see where the story really begins.  

A legend is born

It’s 1942, Cairo and the Shepheard Hotel is fast becoming party central for British troops based in North Africa and the press corps that were covering the war. They had seen a lot and often found their solace in drink. The head bartender at the Shepheard, a guy called Joe Scialom, was on duty at the bar when he heard some officers complaining about the size of their hangovers.  His ears pricked up and it got him thinking. 

He began playing around with some recipes that might cure the hangovers of some of the troops who were his regulars.  Joe tried a variety of combinations before deciding on his final mix, which combined two liquors with lime juice, bitters and the curative qualities of ginger beer. Apparently this drink became instantly popular.  Before long it was being shipped to the front lines to fortify the troops and to keep their spirits up for the hard times ahead.

An unholy alliance

The most common recipe combination for a Suffering Bastard calls for an unholy alliance of bourbon and gin.  To this day, that remains the favourite combination but many variants exist which substitute brandy for bourbon.  Rum also sometimes makes an appearance.  And sometimes ginger ale is substituted for ginger beer (which is harder to find in some places).  For those who like to tone down the spice or who prefer a dryer, more refreshing drink, this might be the combo for you. 

Tiki culture

After the war, news of the Suffering Bastard spread beyond Egypt and into the post-war cocktail culture before being hijacked by the burgeoning Tiki Culture of the 60s and 70s. Polynesian bars were popping up everywhere and fruit-based cocktails, served in giant ceramic bowls paying homage to Hawaiian culture became all the rage.  

The leader of this cocktail fad was the infamous Trader Vic (otherwise known as Victor J. Bergeron). His recipes leaned more towards rums and he added a slice of cucumber for garnish. But, he also added orgeat (for sweetness) and a splash of curacao liqueur (for some extra fruitiness).  Whichever version you prefer, is entirely up to you. But remember, these are strong drinks that are deceptively easy to drink. So, if you have too many the night before, expect to be suffering in the morning.  And we all know the best way to beat a hangover.  Have a taste of the hair of the dog that bit you. 

The Suffering Bastard – the legend lives on

And what happened to the legendary bartender responsible for creating this infamous concoction? Well, after the original hotel burned down in 1952, Joe decided to remain in Egypt.  Unfortunately after a while he was arrested on a charge of espionage and eventually, after the Suez crisis, he was exiled from Egypt by President Nasser. On arrival in the US, he ended up being hired by a certain Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton hotel chain. Joe spent the rest of his career opening bars for Conrad Hilton in Puerto Rico and Havana.  But he’ll always be known for one thing in particular – the Suffering Bastard.  And that’s the way it should be.

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz London dry gin
  • ½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitter
  • Ginger beer
  • Mint sprig to garnish

Method:

  1. Add the bourbon, gin, lime juice and bitters into a shaker with ice
  2. Shake until well chilled (about 30 seconds)
  3. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice
  4. Top up with ginger beer (or ginger ale)
  5. Garnish with a sprig of mint

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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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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gin punch

Gin punch: a giant cocktail served in a bowl

posted in: Cocktails, Gin and Juniper | 0

We all like a cocktail. But 200 years before the term was invented, we had to resort to other creative ways of getting our alcohol fix. In those days, there were no cocktail glasses, fancy recipes or bartender’s tools in those days – so they turned to punch! In its earliest days, in the 18th century, a typical punch would contain ingredients that were considered exotic for the time. Often, these would include fruits that seem normal to us now, but which were extremely rare and expensive three centuries ago.
These included rare treats such as oranges from Asia, fragrant spices from the East and sugar, all the way from the Caribbean, which became the perfect match for the strong flavours of rum and brandy. The trouble was that rum and brandy were very expensive. On the other hand, English gin was increasingly affordable. It wasn’t long before gin became recognised as a better value concoction than some of its contemporary spirits and that was when it entered the mainstream world of punch.

A drink for the middle classes

The relative accessibility and affordability of gin quickly made punch more accessible to the burgeoning English middle classes.
However, strangely enough, the 18th century reveals no published gin punch recipes at all. According to a contemporaneous journal, “a hornful of punch should be administered to cattle in a bid to cure their distemper”. This is a clear indication that in those early days punch was initially considered something of low quality and not of much use to actual humans. However, towards the end of the 18th century, reports of its human medicinal qualities began to appear alongside suggestions that it could help to treat a variety of ailments. Gin Punch was soon believed to be a cure-all for everything from dissolving kidney stones, to curing Berri-Berri. It was also (bizarrely) considered a great way to encourage toxins to leave the body efficiently, in the form of sweat.

1776: the punch revolution

In 1776, at around the same time as the American’s were plotting their revolution, diarist James Boswell wrote (after a particularly good night on the town) that he: “drank rather too much gin punch. It was a new experience to me and I liked it much”.
By the end of the 18th century gin punch had elevated itself from its humble position at the heart of the local gin palace, into something more fitting. This elevation made it suitable for the more sophisticated and rarified atmosphere of London’s gentleman’s clubs. Stalwarts such as the Garrick or Limmer’s Hotel became the places that finally established punch as a popular and respectable, middle class drink. In fact, one of the first gin recipes at the turn of the 18th century, sounds rather nice (but very strong):
two pints of gin, oranges, lemons, orange sugar syrup and white wine.

Punch goes upmarket

A few decades later, London’s Garrick Club added a new twist to its own “house punch” – soda water. The original Garrick Club Punch recipe called for:

half a pint of gin, lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, maraschino, a pint and a quarter of water and two bottles of iced soda water.

It didn’t take very long for its fame to spread around London and before you know it, punches and punch bowls were popping up everywhere. Over time, these punches evolved into more complex single serve variants which were popularised by Americans in the 1870s. They gave them personal names such as the John Collins and the classic Tom Collins. By the end of the century, punch had been truly established in English culture and English Dry Gin had become a mainstay of many of the best punches. But why is punch served in a punch bowl?

Why is punch served in a bowl?

It’s simple, really. As strong punch loosened inhibitions, it helped reserved Englishmen come out of their shell. It helped them to add a little well-lubricated wit to social gatherings, political discussions and business occasions. Drinking punch was always a fabulous social occasion and gathering around the punch bowl ended up becoming the popular focus for many a high spirited evening, loosening inhibitions and encouraging conviviality, conversation and sharing in a way that had never been seen before.

From simple punch bowl to sophisticated cocktails

These days, punches have fallen out of fashion, but that’s a real shame since these simple-to-make, sociable drinks can be a lot of fun. And they can be deceptively strong. Over the years, people’s tastes evolved once more and the simple punch bowl morphed slowly into the next big alcoholic fad in the 19th century – cocktails. Bartenders began to mix drinks to suit their specific customers and the approach to alcohol became increasingly bespoke and sophisticated. Now, the cocktail is definitely king – of that there is no doubt. But there are still some great gin punches out there – and it would be a great shame to let this fabulously simple tradition die out. Check out our recent article on a classic New Year’s Eve punch. And here’s another variant on the gin punch for when the weather gets a bit better.

Gin Punch recipe

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Cut and combine all the fruits into a large punchbowl
  2. Add the gin, juice, syrups, creme de framboise (or alternative fruit liqueur) and water
  3. Refrigerate for 4-5 hours
  4. Before serving: add ice, fill to top with cava and stir
  5. Ladle into punch glasses with plenty of fruit (and ice)
  6. Repeat frequently!


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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