While there are signs that the current craft beer boom has reached a frothy head – oversaturated by the volume of start-up breweries eager to cash in on the nation's thirst for tasty brown booze – the current trend for copper pot pop-ups producing botanically diverse gins is in full swing. Gin has always been a popular tipple among the drinking classes, but why this sudden surge of interest?
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s so delicious!” John Burke from the Craft Gin Club explains. “Joking aside, gin has become so popular for a variety of reasons, starting with the cocktail craze and more bartenders creating new drinks with gin instead of vodka.”
Another reason gin has taken off with the craft booze crowd, ever keen to explore new flavours, is gin’s diversity. “Whereas vodka was the big thing in the Eighties and Nineties, the flavour profiles of vodka are much less diverse than gin,” says John. “A distiller can add all types of ingredients to make a unique gin, giving consumers a wide range of choice and flavour profiles in the category.
“Perhaps more than anything, the success of gin can be attributed to the gin & tonic. It’s such an easy drink to make at home, incredibly refreshing and, again, much more diverse than vodka and its tonic equivalent.”
And the best way to drink gin? John tells it straight: “We taste hundreds of gins, and we always start by tasting each one neat. It’s the best way to capture the flavour profile of the gin. The first step always begins with the nose, where your senses will begin to understand the gin and the distiller’s objectives.”
Whether you take it neat, with a dash of tonic, or stirred into something more elaborate, there are hundreds of new gins waiting to be explored. Here we provide ginspiration with 10 of the best.
1. Dyfi Hibernation Gin, 45%: £42.95 for 50cl, The Dyfi Distillery
Brothers Danny and Pete Cameron scour the wild Welsh hillsides for the fresh botanicals that go into making their incredible gins. Plants are hand-picked from the Dyfi Valley – bog myrtle is harvested from the wetlands of the Dyfi Osprey Project, with wild crab apples, lingonberries and gorse flowers taken from the surrounding lanes and hedgerows. This brand new addition to the range of gins has been hibernated through winter in a rare, seasoned white port barrel which imparts a mature warmth to this fruity, herbal gin. There’s a reason for the snail on the label: the experimental process is a slow one which results in only one distillation per week. The emphasis here is very much on quality.
2. Hepple Gin, 45%: £36.55 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
Hepple Gin is very much a product of the surrounding Northumbrian Moors, with wild botanicals and native juniper at the heart of each distillation, and a juniper replanting programme underway throughout the area. The Hepple team, including chef Valentine Warner and mixologist Nick Strangeway, have developed a unique “triple technique” to make their gin, and the results are outstanding: bright and fresh, loaded with sweet citrus juiciness and a great showing from those junipers which burst with spicy fruit flavour.
3. Start Point, Salcombe Gin, 44%: £45 for 70cl, Fortnum & Mason
South Devon is the coastal birthplace of this London Dry Gin and it’s sure to put a fair wind in the sales of the passing yacht crowd. Inspired by the “Salcombe Fruiters” – who imported most of Britain’s citrus fruit in the 19th century – this gin gives grapefruit, lemon and lime prominent roles, their zesty flavours enhanced by spicy coriander and underpinned by a resinous juniper spice. This is an easy-drinking, traditional gin that should have a wide ranging appeal – and if anyone thinks they can do better, the distillery’s own Gin School gives them the chance to prove it.
4. Whittaker’s Clearly Sloe Gin, 42%: £33.95 for 70cl, 31DOVER
The folks at this farm-based Harrogate distillery treat their stills like a giant chemistry set and know a thing or two about squeezing the best from their botanicals. The pick of the bunch from their inventive gin range has to be the sublime Clearly Sloe. It’s sloe gin, but not as you’ve ever experienced. Sloe berries prized from the thorny hedges of Nidderdale are macerated in their Original Gin for six months, then laced with liquorice for a further 24 hours before re-distillation. The result is a dry, tannic experience with soft whispers of cinnamon and anise swirling in harmony with sweet juniper.
5. Rock Rose Spring Gin, 41.5%: £33.95 for 70cl, 31DOVER
Located on the far tip of Scotland, Dunnet Bay is one of Britain’s most northerly mainland distilleries. Botanicals foraged from the wind-battered sea cliffs of Caithness go into making its gin. Sea buckthorn, rowan berries and Rhodiola rosea – the cliff-dwelling rock rose – add to a mix of 14 distilled ingredients which gives the gins a distinctly coastal twist. The Spring edition is a bright, delicate gin with sweet hints of liquorice. Gorse flowers provide added notes of coconut (anyone who has, inadvertently or otherwise, thrust their hands into a gorse bush will appreciate the dedication to the cause).
6. Ki-no-bi Kyoto Dry Gin, 45.7%: £46.25 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
Opening Japan's first gin distillery on the edge of Kyoto's fabled sake region was a bold statement of intent for this innovative outfit. Taking lead from its neighbours, Ki-no-bi gin is constructed on a base of rice spirit and given a distinctive Japanese twist, featuring yuzu peel, bamboo leaves and green peppercorn. Ingredients are divided into six different categories: base, citrus, tea, herbal, spice and floral, all of which are then distilled individually before being brought together to form the final blend. Herbal notes of eucalyptus and green tea make this a wonderfully aromatic, smooth-sipping gin.
7. Capreolus Garden Tiger Dry Gin, 47%: £34.35 for 50cl, The Whisky Exchange
The fact that Garden Tiger hails from a converted lean-to greenhouse in Cirencester makes this unique gin all the more remarkable. Distiller Barney Wilczak’s back-garden experiments have resulted in a complex gin that swings from savoury to floral, sweet to sour. Thirty-four botanicals go into making this heady booze – we’d love to tell you what they are, but Barney has drawn a veil of secrecy over his ingredients list. Sicilian blood orange and lime tree flowers are the only ones that he’ll divulge, it's up to you to unravel the gin's complexities and decipher what some of those other ingredients might be.
8. East India Company London Dry Gin, 42%: £34.95 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange
The 400-year-old East India Company has more reason than most to create its own gin. Back in the early 19th century, soldiers from the East India Company were the first to create the G&T cocktail when they added their gin rations to the quinine and tonic water, given to them to help prevent malaria. Calling upon its own unrivalled heritage of spice trading and botanical exploration, the EIC has created a glorious, juniper-forward gin in the traditional London dry style. Soothing notes of citrus and exotic spices are shipped in by the use of mango powder, Indian long pepper and ginger, which give way to a smooth, long-lasting finish.
9. Elephant Gin Navy Strength, 57%: £34.95, The Whisky Exchange
Out of Africa (via its Hamburg- based distillery) stomps this full-bodied beast of a gin. Based on its original, award-winning Elephant Gin, the distiller has ramped up the pungency, viscosity and aroma profiles and created a fearsome, navy-strength booze of rare intensity. The botanicals used in the distillation include unique African plants – dunk your trunk into a glass of this and you’ll experience sweet floral notes of African wormwood, spicy blackcurrant profiles from the African buchu plant and wafts of zingy baobab.
10. Zymurgorium Marmalade Manchester Gin, 40%: £33.50 for 50cl, Zymurgorium
For our tenth entry we’ve squeezed in one of the many fun-flavoured gins that are proving a hit with experimental cocktail creators. Manchester distiller Zymurgorium has teamed up with its jam-making neighbours Duerr’s to produce a zesty marmalade gin. The orange aromas and flavours come to the fore, but thankfully don’t overwhelm – behind them lies a lovely smooth floral gin, with violet the most noticeable of the perfumed treats. A worthy contender for anyone looking for a citrus twist to their gin-based cocktails.
The Verdict: New gins
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