A few years ago I would not have dreamed of walking to a pub and ordering a gin and tonic. I’ve always been a bit of a white wine girl, (though I went through a nasty phase of drinking Pernod and Black at university). Gin, when I did have it, tasted faintly like washing up liquid and was served in a long tall glass with a slice of tired looking lemon and an ice cube, if you were lucky.
Today, most of the new Craft Gins we have available would not be seen dead in a hi-ball glass. Gin has come a long way and is the ‘in thing’ and certainly it’s the trendy thing according to younger drinkers, who now want to spend their money on ‘premium’drinks, and are interested in where and how their gin is made. Sales of gin have tripled since 2009 and we spent an incredible £466m on gin last year, comparing with £126m in 2009 (figures courtesy of the Office for National Statistics) and although I can’t claim to having a large effect on these figures, there are certainly one or two gin bottles to be recycled at Chez Harding every month.
I am a fully fledged member of the ‘Craft Gin Club’ ( probably the best club that I have joined in my entire LIFE). Every quarter, ( I would do it monthly but that seems a bit excessive) a wonderful box of delights arrives. It will contain the ‘Gin of the Month’, one or two choice tonic waters and some chocolate and savoury treats. What’s not to like? Wish I had thought of THAT business idea. The popularity of such clubs (and Craft Gin isn’t the only one) shows we are enjoying drinking gin at home…. but that hasn’t stopped us ordering in our local pubs and bars.
When visiting any half decent bar, there is a vast array of choice now, usually served with a complimentary flourish of fruit or other accompaniment. I DO like the lovely goldfish bowl glass, (no nasty Hi-ball glasses anymore thank you), and a couple of ice cubes won’t cut it, the glass has to be half full with clinking ice and a straw is always a nice finish. Even the slice of lemon has been replaced by a garnish to complement the flavour of the gin; liquorice root or cucumber being popular choices.
Gin has certainly broadened its horizons, not content with being served in pubs and bars, some clever wag thought of opening the actual distilleries for ‘Gin Experiences’ where you can try lots of different varieties and see how it is made. Some distilleries offer a tour, usually for small groups. We visited Jensen’s in London a couple of years ago with some friends and it was a fantastic evening. We tried hot gin, gin punch, neat gins, and viewed the gin being made with a ‘Gin Expert’, no less. (What a job!) The number of UK Gin distilleries has doubled since 2010 and in a lot of cities you can visit gin bars, gin festivals, gin experiences. The ‘Ginstitute’ in Portobello Road in London involves a history lesson, a tour and a chance to craft your own gin!
Gin is made by re-distilling ethanol (96% pure alcohol) and and then adding ‘botanicals’, most commonly juniper berries. Botanicals can be berries, seeds, roots, fruits and herbs which add the flavours. Distillers traditionally use juniper, coriander and citrus botanicals, however with the surge of interest in new and unusual flavours, small distilleries are now increasingly trying to outdo each other with ingredients such as basil, rosemary, Angelica root or cassia bark.
Not wishing to be left behind, tonic water has also reinvented itself. There are many different tonics to choose from now, including Fever Tree, Merchants Heart, Bottle Green and East Imperial, all offering flavours to compliment your gin of choice. And this choice is becoming an issue for me! When we go into a bar, Andy has finished his first beer before I have even decided what gin to have!
Its all a far cry from the image of “Mothers Ruin” which was so dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first “Gin Craze” started sometime in the early 18th century when the manufacture of gin became so widespread that it consequently became the staple drink of the general public. Gin was cheap and accessible and quickly became a moral and social issue as people were collapsing in the streets having over-imbibed. It was thought that this encouraged crime and the neglect of children, (really?) so much so that parliament quickly moved to pass several Acts to try and limit its distribution. These mainly involved taxing gin, in order to try and curb its wide distribution.
Gin had arrived in this country when William of Orange acceded the throne in 1688 and became popular as an alternative to brandy. By the early 18th century food prices had dropped and there was more money to spend on gin. Though taxes were brought in to try and curb sales, by 1743 it was thought that the average person was drinking approximately 10 litres of gin per year. Hogarth’s engraving Gin Lane depicted a hellish scene of depravity and social chaos in the wake of it’s popularity.
The ‘Gin Craze’ had died down by the mid 18th century but was back a hundred years later during the Victorian era made possible by the many ‘Gin Palaces’ that had opened. Again, it sparked moral outrage following the effects that the drink had on the general population:
People would do anything to get gin… a cattle driver sold his eleven year old daughter to a trader for a galleon of gin, and a coachman pawned his wife for a quart bottle – Mothers Ruin Ellen Castelow
In the last few years (since 2009) gin has had another revival, though this time it appears to have reached a whole new market – the young and trendy drinker who has money to spend. After all, gin is not cheap. A craft Gin and Tonic is certainly more pennies than a glass of wine, yet sales for the last year were the highest ever. A lot of this is apparently down to the flavoured gins that are around; I know the rhubarb one is a favourite of my daughter.
Personally, I love Gin, its a refreshing drink that doesn’t leave me feeling tipsy in the way that wine does after one and a half glasses, (I’m such a lightweight) and I love the idea that there is always a new one to try … and a tonic that will compliment it beautifully.
My favourite gins are
1. Bathtub. This is an award winning gin from Ableforth’s. The alcohol is distilled in a copper pot and has a hint of citrus, comma on and cloves. It’s really fresh and is my gin staple at home.
2. Monkey 47 is from The Black Forest in Germany and has a cranberry flavour though it contains 47 other botanicals including Angelica root and acacia flowers (hence the name)
3. Wicked Wolf is lovely, when you can get hold of it. I struggled last Christmas to get a bottle. It’s distilled in North Devon by a husband and wife team in very small batches.
4. Winchester Gin comes in the most beautiful bottle, and apparently contains 10 botanicals including locally grown watercress. The watercress adds sweet herbaceous notes and a peppery sparkle according to the notes.
5. Batch Premium Gin. Another gorgeous bottle, this one boasts orange peel, cardamom, clove, crushed nutmeg and allspice. To this, they also add frankincense and myrrh – yes really!
One final word about the bottles as some of them are works of art in themselves. I have 2 or 3 now that I have kept following my quaffing of the gin, and once cleaned and washed, put fairy lights inside them. They look lovely at Christmas and seem to be selling at Craft Fairs for £20+ !
So this Friday night, like most, I will be no doubt be enjoying a Gin and Tonic with my family ….and I heartily promise not to try and sell any of my children (or even a CAT) if I ever run out.