Drinks writer Sophie Atherton turns her attention to artisan gin – and makes some refreshing discoveries
Gin and I weren’t always friends. We first met at a party when I was about 16 and immediately fell out. It would be more than 20 years before we were reacquainted. What persuaded me to try again? Becoming a beer sommelier definitely helped. Learning what I was tasting – and how to describe it – was the first step to training my palate. Understanding flavour put me on a path to appreciation, which has taken me beyond beer (although it will always be my favourite drink). Which is why this month I’m writing about gin.
In common with craft beer, the world of gin has expanded and changed dramatically over the last decade or so – to the degree that there’s now around 200 different gins to choose from in the UK. The other similarity with beer is the creativity of those making it. Gin must be made from alcohol of agricultural origin, usually cereals, flavoured with a noticeable amount of juniper and have an ABV of at least 37.5%, but in terms of other ingredients there’s scope for experimentation. Expect anything from lemon peel, coriander seeds and tarragon through to ginger, orris root (made from the root of the iris and bringing floral flavours to gin) and even hops – with dozens of other possible botanicals between.
As well checking out the botanicals, knowing a little about styles is useful. London Dry doesn’t have to be made in London but its botanicals can only be added during distillation and it contains barely any sugar. Plymouth Gin is similar, but can only be made in Plymouth. If a bottle doesn’t mention a style then botanicals may have been added after distillation along with sugar or sweeteners. This type of gin, and the even sweeter Old Tom style (historically made with liquorice) is likely to suit you more if you have a sweet tooth.
Gin and tonic is a classic combination for a reason, but taste test gin neat before adding tonic so you know what you’re getting. Avoid tonic with artificial sweeteners or saccharin. The best I’ve found is Sainsbury’s own brand. I use a tall glass, a few ice cubes, pour the gin over the ice, then add tonic and a slice of lime – stirring or swirling before sipping.
Modern Classic: Sipsmith, Chiswick – London Dry Gin 41.6%
This is the one that turned me on to gin and remains my favourite. If you like your spirits simple it will be for you too. It has a big juniper and spice aroma tasting a lot like it smells, but with subtle lemony notes that beg to be united with a slice of lime.
Sip on a Veranda: Adnams Copperhouse, Southwold – Dry Gin 40%
A much more delicate gin with a floral aroma and flavour suggesting Earl Grey tea but more likely from cardamom pods which are one of six botanicals used. A further sip reveals sweet orange peel flavours. A slightly aniseed flavour emerges when mixed with tonic, but whether neat or mixed it’s a sophisticated and exotic-tasting drink.
Gin Palace Heritage: Eccentric Gin, Llantrisant – Madam Geneva (42%) and Limbeck (45%)
Madam Geneva is a nickname for gin, associated with gin-drinking ladies who scandalised 18th Century London. Here it’s an unfussy, powerfully juniper drink with a developing perfumey character leading to sherbet-like flavours.
Limbeck is striking for its orangey-pink colour and then its pungent aroma and hot, spicy aniseed flavour – which is calmed by tonic. One to warm you on chilly, wet English summer days!