Step 1: the gin
Britain does lots of things well. Inventing sports that everyone else can do better
than us. Moaning about the weather. Apologising to inanimate objects. And making gin. We make some belting gin.
The rest of the world, it seems, agrees that we knock out pretty great versions of the juniper-heavy spirit too – and we have the stats to prove it. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association recently revealed that our gin exports totalled £279 million in the first half of this year alone (up 19%), meaning it’s doubled over the last decade. Domestic sales of UK gin rose 28% in volume last financial year an’ all, meaning that we clearly love our native Mother’s Ruin as much as the next country. (But that’s hardly news to us, right?)
You could call it The Gin Craze Part II – only with less detriment to our collective morality and a far lighter burden on society than was reported during the first round back in the early 18th century. And, I don’t mean to be smug or anything, but we’re drinking way better gin than they glugged back then.
Chris Scullion, co-founder of Bath booze shop Independent Spirit, has been on the front line – as it were – of this 21st-century Gin Craze. He’s watched the spirit carve out a pretty sizeable market for itself, with new styles emerging and consumers becoming more discerning.
“When it comes to styles of gin, far and away the most recognised, and currently our most asked for, is London dry,” he says. “This style (which doesn’t have to be made in London, in case you wondered), is basically a spirit that’s distilled with juniper and contains no added colours and a maximum of 0.1 grammes of sugar per litre. Hence why we use the word ‘dry’ in the title.
“Old Tom gin, meanwhile, is making a resurgence. Sweeter than a London dry but drier than, say, a genever, it was named after the images of black cats used to mark the illicit gin dens where you could get your tipple when it was banned. Nowadays, this sweetness comes from the addition of sweeter botanicals rather than lots of sugar.”
“Another big trend we’ve seen this year has been gin liqueurs. They’ve been around for a very long time – we all have a relative, no doubt, who gifts us bottles of their damson or sloe gin that could take the paint off a 1992 Honda Civic, for instance. Thankfully, the distillers of today have applied their skills and creativity to play with these. The Pink Grapefruit and Lemongrass Gin Liqueur from Pickerings in Edinburgh has blown us away; its serving suggestion is with prosecco, creating one of the best faux Aperol Spiritzs you’ll ever have. And Chase Distillery’s Oak Aged Sloe and Mulberry Gin is the best of both worlds, and we prefer it just with some ice.
“When it comes to gin, the local aspect is a big draw for us in the South West, which has, in our opinion, some of the best craft gin distilleries in the UK presently. With this level of continued creativity, not only will gin continue to grow as a category, but the South West will be setting the trends for it.”
Step 2: the tonic
Of course, our favourite way to enjoy gin is with tonic, and as the spectrum of gin continues to broaden, so do our mixer horizons, as Chris notes.
“We have seen the gin scene explode in the UK; new botanicals, twists on classic serves and contemporary gin liqueurs are commonplace. (This is a very long way from the early 17th century, when its main use was as a medicinal elixir.) One of the most interesting consequences of this is that not only are consumers more likely to experiment with new innovative gins and gin styles, but they are now starting to call for premium tonic waters as well, allowing for a far superior take on the gin and tonic.” The tonic industry has willingly obliged, and there is now a host of mixers on the market to make sure we do those top-notch gins justice.
Thing is, of all the cocktails out there, the G&T has to be one of the hardest to properly mess up – so is it really worth being so pedantic, or should we leave all this faff to the hardcore drink boffins? Well, if you’ve ever had a properly spot on G&T then you’ll know the answer – it’s worth every effort you can muster. And, just as we always bang on about when we talk food, the quality of ingredients we choose are key. Luckily, as with grub, there is plenty of top-notch stuff being made here in the South West.
We don’t just mean the hard stuff, either; Fever Tree tonic water just so happens to be bottled in Shepton Mallet in Somerset too, don’t cha know. This tonic biz is one of the most popular around – and takes its quinine seriously. It’s the only tonic producer to source its quinine from a specific tree plantation on the Rwanda and Congo border, which has been found to be producing the purest in the world. Fancy, right?
Step 3: the serve
Sling some gin in a glass with a bit of tonic and sure, you’ve got yourself a G&T. But – I’ll stick my neck out here – it’s not going to be the best G&T you’ve ever had.
If you’ve gone to all that trouble to find a great local gin, and pair it with a tonic that’s a better match than Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, then treat them with some gosh darn respect, won’t you? To that end, we spoke to drinks expert and author of Aperitif, Kate Hawkings, to find out how she likes hers served. Here’s what the pro had to say on the matter…
I’m a traditionalist. The G&T for me is a classic cocktail (and classics are classics for good reason), so I prefer a tall, slim glass or a nice tumbler over the more modish goldfish bowls, made popular by the Spanish. Those may work for G&Ts in Spain because their measures are much more generous than ours; over here, even a 50ml double shot of gin will almost always be drowned out by too much ice and tonic. Also, the ice melts more quickly in bowls than straight-sided glasses. There are few things sadder than a G&T with not enough ice. The ice should make the drink come alive, keeping it cool till the very last drop without melting too much and diluting the whole thing.
Large, hard cubes are what you want – the larger and more solid the ice cube, the slower it will melt – so don’t bother with those ice trays found in the top of the freezer. Some people like a big single block or globe that sits snugly in the glass, but they’re generally too big to fit in a tall glass and, anyway, don’t make as much of a pleasing noise as do several cubes clinking together. I tend to buy large cubes in bags from the supermarket – it’s a bit extravagant, but really does make all the difference.
If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it properly and not mess around with small measures. For me, the perfect gin and tonic is around 50ml gin (Beefeater is my desert island gin, though I also like Berry Bros & Rudd No. 3) with a 150ml can of Schweppes tonic water, garnished with a slice of lemon. I’d far rather have one of those than two drinks made with 25ml gin. Garnishes should enhance the flavour of the gin, not drown it out. Lemon or lime is always good, or sometimes a strip of cucumber. Herbaceous gins can be nice with a small sprig of rosemary or thyme.