How to build a gin collection
The only spirits that arrived in our house, when I was growing up, was vodka of dubious provenance brought from Poland. It acted like a magic charm as all the men became slightly flushed and started wild dancing while the women looked bemused. My lexicon of spirits was severely limited; gin and tonic sounded like something horrible that old people would drink. I remember my first sip of this deliciously refreshing bitter, fragrant, citrus-scented drink even now. It was baptism into the intriguing, perfumed, beguiling, slightly dark and mysterious world of gin.
After years of big brand domination and being the poor relation to whisky and vodka, interesting, artisanal, quirky and premium gins are popping up all over the place. I resolved that this summer I would seek out as many unusual gins as possible and find out what made them different. I would transform myself into the Phileas Fogg of the gin … OK I’m getting carried away now. But let me assure you that this determination reaped rewards:
Wöden, Psychopomp, at Raffles Fine Wines, Nailsworth
“Mum, you like gin” This rather unsubtle phrase was uttered a bit too knowingly for my liking by veggie teen in the middle of Raffles Fine Wines in Nailsworth. But yes, the medicinal style bottle with a home-made parcel label did look interesting. Would I like a taste? A very pure herbal hit of juniper reminded me of Bathtub gin I’d enjoyed with my friend in Switzerland. The first addition to my excess baggage was secured.
Wöden: Psychopomp Micro-Distillery is a small, independent distillery in Bristol producing craft distilled gin in small batches and limited quantities. Wöden is their first gin and they produce limited edition, seasonal variations too.
Portobello Road at Crazy Eights (at 131 The Promenade)
Arriving at the hottest new place in Cheltenham a little too early, I propped up the bar and asked the barman which gin he’d recommend. After a grilling more thorough than some job interviews I’ve had, he suggested I make up my mind by sampling two. Martin Miller’s and Portobello Road gin. Both were right up my street with a bitterness and purity that makes me feel like I’m inhaling a perfumed iceberg. The Portobello Road just edged it. Why aren’t more bars like this?
Portobello Road: This was released by the award-wining Notting Hill bar, Portobello Star and home of the Ginsitute (still on my wish list). An Old-style London dry gin available direct from the bar plus a few other retailers. Sadly didn’t manage to bring one home.
Plymouth gin in Plymouth
No tasting involved during this quick visit but this is a gin we can get (and have got) in Dubai. The Barbican, once the setting for some fairly dodgy pubs and dodgier clientele is now charming without being twee. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with little shops and art galleries. The success story extends to Plymouth Gin too which house in what was once a Dominican Order monastery built in 1431, was rescued from the brink of collapse to become a treasured gin of great quality (and strength). Tours of this boutique distillery are run daily.
Plymouth gin: Is actually a PGI but The Black Friars Distillery is the only remaining gin distillery in Plymouth. Once the world’s largest volume brand of gin with 1000 cases a week going to New York alone in the 1900’s, it’s a full-flavoured serious gin, has a sweeter, earthier, smooth style which is not overly complicated.
Tarquin’s at Flavour Fest Plymouth
Gin made in Cornwall, of very limited quantities, at the tiny South West distillery, just had to be sampled. I’d seen it in Creber’s in Tavistock and wondered at the name. It turns out a young man called Tarquin makes it. At Flavour Fest Plymouth had a long chat with his very earnest and charming sister – clearly both siblings are passionate about what they are doing (they grow Devon violets specially to go in the gin for instance). If only another space could have been found in my bag for this one. It tasted lighter, more delicately perfumed than many gins, quite citrus in taste – was I imagining a slight hint of sea salt as I tasted this in Plymouth?
Tarquin’s gin: Only 300 bottles or less are made per batch in a pot still from wheat spirit using pure, local water from Boscastle. Tarquin makes Cornish pastis (as opposed to pasties) too.
Gin tasting at John Gordons, Cheltenham
My visit to John Gordons is another post entirely. I expected a quiet Sunday afternoon tasting gin, the comprehensive march through history while drinking gin led to me walking back to my Mum’s house rather than catching the bus so I could, er, ‘clear my head’. I learned so much fascinating stuff from Dean from the origins of gin as Dutch Genever through Victorian times and Old Tom styles to modern-day artisanal distilleries (Cotswold gin was released this month). Thank goodness I took copious notes. If you are in Cheltenham do check out this brilliant independent wine bar and merchant’s excellent range of wine, whisky and, naturally, gin. My favourite of the day was Sloane’s (not yet in my collection)…
Sloane’s Dry Gin: A Dutch gin voted the World’s Best Gin, Best White Spirit, and awarded a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirit Competition as well as many other accolades. Sloane’s process differs as they make several different single botanical gins and blend them together.
Harrington Dry Gin at Tivoli wines, Cheltenham
As a PS to the last paragraph, as I wavered past this gem of an independent wine merchant I felt compelled to wander in. The lady behind the counter ignored any slur in my speech (and believe me, I’m sure there was one) and we set to discussing wine and then got onto the topic of the afternoon’s tasting. She enthusiastically urged me to try Harrington Dry Gin . Tasting more gin was probably not the most advisable thing to do and actually I was feeling a bit ginned-out. The delicious aromas of lavender and spicy aromatic flavours made this a real pleasure though. I must have been mad not to buy this.
Harrington Dry Gin: Made by Warner Edwards, a couple of friends and craft distillers, at Falls Farm in Northamptonshire. Based on barley spirit flavoured with eleven botanicals sourced from farms in Wales and England.
Sacred gin, Le Clos, Dubai Airport
When dropping an email to Le Clos to buy some duty free bottles (never underestimate the delight of having someone meet you at the airport with a bag of wine), for some reason they mentioned their new stock of Sacred gin. Would I like to order some?
Sacred Gin: The Sacred Spirits Company is a craft distillery in Highgate, North London and made by Ian! Similar method to Sloane’s as they use twelve organically sourced botanicals which are macerated with the high quality English grain spirit and then distilled separately in glassware under vacuum and blended together.
My gin collection
I was a bit bashful about telling KP quite how much gin I had accumulated but he was quite taken with the idea of a collection (even though he never touches the stuff). Other bottles in our cupboard include:
Hendrick’s Gin: A triumph of quirky marketing, Hendrick’s started the conversation about craft distilling and unusual botanicals. Owned by William Grant’s, a Scottish distiller usually know for whisky, its heavy, medicinal style, opaque bottle houses a gin heavy with juniper but also Bulgarian rose and cucumber (which is recommended as an accompaniment rather than lemon in a Hendrick’s G&T).
No 3 London Dry Gin: The proprietary recipe of London’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd. Traditional, pure, stylish and focused on juniper.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin: The first copper-pot based distillery to start up in London in 189 years, located in a small, residential street (can you imagine being neighbours!) although it has recently moved. As well as a traditional London Dry gin they make one called A Very Junipery Over Proof gin.
I was astonished how many people make gin now (on my recent travels I noticed Bath gin and Edinburgh gin among others). Gins still on my tasting wish list include The Botanist (made of botanicals only sourced on Islay), Cotswolds Dry gin (from Cotswold Distillery), Chase gin (from a distillery started by the people who make Tyrell’s crisps as something to do with their potato peelings), Hoxton gin (this cocktail and review from Tinned Tomatoes whetted my appetite) and Monkey 47 which I spotted at Hakkasan, Dubai for over 200 AED a shot (over 30 GBP), albeit a double measure.
The more exotic gins put my old bottles of Gordons and Beefeater in the shade (they are flavoured with juniper oil apparently – thanks Dean) so here’s some ways to use them up:
- A stupendous gin and tonic cake on Pudding Lane – a girl after my own heart with an elderflower version from Blue Kitchen Bakes.
- Gin-infused creamy, lemon sauce with basil stirred through pasta by Rachel. Clever lady.
- A gin cocktail which includes one of your five a day – gin and melon slushie from Helen. Genius.
- Some good ideas for sloe gin: sloe polenta cakes with sloe gin drizzle, sloe gin cupcakes
- And this is a good read about what makes a good G&T and the botanicals in Bombay Sapphire (from Urvashi)
- Now if this has made you really thirsty, here are (apparently) the world’s 10 greatest gin joints. Do you agree?
Is gin your preferred tipple? Do you have a drinks collection? Is this a bit obsessive? (actually don’t answer that question)