It’s all in the botanicals…
One of the interesting elements of this all-encompassing course is the importance it attaches to the role that the botanicals play in gin’s rich history and how they have come to the fore over the last 20 years. By definition juniper must always be present, otherwise said spirit is not a gin and while few things are certain in this world it is a fact that the days, when the big juniper-led ‘brews’ dominated the action, are over.
The likes of Gordon’s and Tanqueray which bore the gin standard for so long now have a raft of competitive gins, which in the main has stretched the botanical mix to horizons which would have seemed impossible back in the 1970s.
Two brands in particular have caused this ‘revolution’ – Bombay Sapphire and latterly Hendrick’s. Bombay was the catalyst. With its 10 botanicals, its production process, its taste – which was not juniper-led – and along with its unique presentation it really broke the gin mould. This is when the gin brandwagon started to roll as more companies realised that unlike vodka gin had a built in USP – its botanical mix.
Bombay Sapphire was launched on to a largely unsuspecting world in 1987 then owned by IDV – but was acquired by Bacardi in 1997, when IDV and Guinness were merging to form Diageo. Two years later independent distillers William Grant’s pushed the gin horizons even further with the ground-breaking launch of Hendricks.
This gin put rose petals and cucumber to the fore in its botanical DNA and along with its apothecary-style brown bottle not to mention the on-going quirky burlesque style of marketing, continues to successfully challenge the more established brands.
Arguably Hendricks ushered in a new dawn for gin, and since its debut a slew of gins, and it has to be said tonics too, have, made it to market. So it’s something of a mystery, and not to say frustrating for a gin lover at any rate, that it has taken such a long time for this spirit to come back to the fore.
In the UK gin hit the doldrums in the 70s and 80s. The image of the classic combination that is Gin & Tonic had become tarnished with the Gin & Jag sobriquet which roughly translates to “staid but successful”. Hardly enticing for the younger generation of drinkers which was busily rebelling against its parents tastes.
The final blow in my opinion came in 1992 when EU legislation was passed permitting gin to be distilled at 37.5%. Although this was in line with other white spirits, rum and vodka it did put the commodity label on gin; more so when the UK’s brand leader Gordon’s went down in strength. It paved the way for the vodka explosion.
Where gin is concerned strength is important as alcohol carries flavour. There were brands that stood firm though, the likes of Beefeater and Bombay retained their 40% abv weighting as Beefeater’s master distiller, Desmond Payne puts it: “Beefeater is renowned for its citrus notes had we gone down to 37.5% we would have lost this taste factor”.
Happily for the 37.5 percenters consumers are still woefully ignorant when it comes to matters of strength so many of these manoeuvres go unnoticed. But alcoholic strength is a quality signal and the vast majority of super premiums are well in excess of 40% abv. To name a few; Beefeater 24 the super premium sister to Beefeater which was launched in 2009 comes in at 45% abv, while Berry Bros. & Rudd Spirits No.3 weighs in at a hefty 46% abv. Interestingly the latter pays homage to the juniper and it’s a delicious heavyweight!
Strength though has not been the only issue to affect gin over the years – the definitions of gin styles, in particular London Dry, have also been under the spotlight. This style is synonymous with quality gin and it does remind us that London has a singular place in the history of gin.
Indeed it’s hard to imagine that back in the 18th Century there were literally 100s of distilleries in the UK’s capital city – hard to imagine because these days there is only one mainstream gin distillery and that is Beefeater. Smaller bijoux distilleries are starting up in London – but long-gone are the days of glorious Christmas parties at Gordon’s Distillery in London’s Goswell Road!
It goes without saying that London Dry is not an appellation d’origine contrôlée – meaning that the gin has to be produced in London – it’s a style of gin which can be produced anywhere in the world. That is sad in many ways but at least London retains its attachment to the spirit and at least it means that quality gin can be produced – and is being produced around the world.
On the cocktail circuit mixologists are happy too; their gin shelves are now full of different tasting gins that all have their own botanical DNA and history. It not only means that there’s a lot to talk about – but that there’s a gin for a particular mood and importantly a gin for a particular cocktail – and there are no greater cocktails than the gin classics like the Martini, the Negroni or the Aviation.
It’s oft’ said that “variety is the spice of life” and to that end gin in its infinite variety has it all, and that’s thanks to the botanicals. Indeed make no mistake these days gin lovers have never had it so good and this course will set you on the right track to a far greater understanding of gin per se – and hopefully a long term love of the spirit.