By Alison Pearce
August’s meeting was packed to the rafters thanks to the provision of education + booze courtesy of Gary Thornton from the Lakes Distillery, Cumbria.
The Lakes Distillery based in beautiful Keswick was created from scratch with the aim of making world-class whisky in England. Since it takes years to mature a whisky (theirs debuts in 2018), the distillery has also developed a range of premium spirits to run alongside: a blended whisky, vodka and gin.
Gin has had a huge surge in popularity since a change in the law in 2008 allowed small batch production and paved the way for the craft gin scene we see today and its myriad brands. Gary started us with the basics though – so what exactly is gin?
Unromantically, it’s ethyl alcohol distilled with botanicals predominated by the flavour of juniper. Technically, we found, it’s a wee bit more complicated than that since there’s plain old Gin, Distilled Gin and London Gin, each with their own classification and style.
So having a drink of medicinal gin isn’t just a creative justification for alcohol consumption – it turns out that a 17th Century Dutch medical professor called Sylvius de Bouve invented gin as a diuretic and it arrived in England after soldiers in the Thirty-Years’ War took themselves of some ‘Dutch Courage’ and brought the idea home with them. After booming in popularity in the early 1700s to the extent that London was drowning in gin, then being forced by law to go underground and being crudely made in bathtubs around the country. Its lowest point was gin’s sad association with lemon from the 1950s to the 80s when pre-mixed cocktails took the limelight right up until Bombay Sapphire launched with its bar-décor-pleasing blue glass bottle in 1988.
There’s literally hundreds of craft gins available now catering to a desire for quality and story and this can be created simply with the application of a brand to a slightly-tweaked mass product or through a lengthy process of creation – trying to balance the distillation parameters with myriad botanicals and alcohol levels to reach a gin that fits what the creators like the best. We found that this can be indicated by odd-sounding Alcohol by volume (ABV) percentages on the labels of gins indicating the creation team deemed 47.6% (or some other seemingly random number) ABV was their magic sweet spot for flavour!
During our history of gin lesson Gary had chosen three (Yesh, fwee!) gins for us to try to demonstrate different flavours. The first was a Japan-inspired gin, Kokoro – it had a low juniper taste with a strong flavour of spicy Sansho berries. Getting over the shock of consuming neat gin did somewhat overwhelm the senses to the gin novice but with a couple of sips we were getting the hang of it!
The second sample was Old Tom gin from Jenson’s, the most local distillery Gary could find down the road in Bermondsey. Despite them being our sort-of neighbours the general consensus of this gin was that it needed a tonic and thankfully Gary had provided us with some Fever Tree to make it all better. Apparently some gins are designed for drinking with tonic and others are created for the neat experience (with a super-cold block of pure ice) but we were reassured that enjoying gin however you like it is the main thing to take heed of.
By the third sample tasting, Gary having clearly saved the best till last was battling the room a little with increasingly loud chatter from fifty ladies and our new-found tasting vocabulary but Muireann (The Pres.) stepped in with the football rattle to regain order. We sampled the Lakes Distillery super-premium Explorer Edition at 47.1% and declared it the most rounded and zesty flavour, which is just as well because the pros have awarded this gin with several accolades – well, we could definitely tell it was good if not actually identify the flavour of the 14 botanicals individually or the pure Cumbrian water it was made with!
To finish off, Gary’s booze friend and expert, Nadia Tosheva, demonstrated the technique for her perfect G&T:
The “Copa” glass is designed to enhance the nose of the gin in the way that a highball doesn’t
Must be very cold – it should chill the drink, not dilute it. If it starts to melt, drink up…
Whatever you like
A super-premium gin drowned in cheap supermarket tonic will taste of cheap supermarket tonic. Freshly opened Fever Tree, Fentimans or Schweppes, and not too much. Some gins can take more, others as little as 50:50
Use (if at all) to enhance the key flavour / essence of the gin, e.g. lemon, orange, grapefruit, or florals. Use fresh and sweet fruits, not the dry and withered ones lingering in the fruit bowl
- Swill some super-cold ice around your Copa glass until the glass is so cold you almost can’t touch it
- Drain out any water that’s melted from the ice
- Pour a single measure of gin into the glass
- Add a complementary garnish -in this example the peeled zest of a lime- by squeezing it over the glass so the zest releases drops of oil into the drink
- Hold a cocktail spoon (long spoon with a twirly stem) to the bottom of the glass in the middle and pour tonic down the spoon. This ensures the tonic mixes with the gin from the bottom up
- Two parts tonic to one part gin
- Allow the citrus to infuse by letting the drink sit for a little while
This technique produced such a lovely drink (it was passed round for us to smell or taste) quite unlike the usual bar fodder, that if we hadn’t already been transformed by the evening’s education and tasting, we were then and there instantly turned into huge gin snobs to now be demanding the premium stuff presented to us in the most perfect way for ever more.
And when we now get refused in bars for being too picky, here’s a recipe to try at home:
Like a lot of teachers Gary too gave us some homework… don’t think we’ll take much persuading on these ones:
A CLUB: SE23 www.foresthillginclub.com
A BAR: LONDON GIN CLUB www.thelondonginclub.com
A FESTIVAL: GIN FESTIVAL
A DISTILLERY: SIPSMITH www.sipsmith.com
A WEBSITE: DIFFORDS
A BOOK: 101 GINS TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE