The best gins are a matter of taste. But gin drinkers have never had it so good
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We’ve never had it so good. Gin drinkers that is. I took my godson out the other day and he demonstrated his finger on the drinking public’s pulse by asking for an Oxley and Tonic (Oxley being one of the trendier new best gins). Despite the bar being fresh out of the stuff, the lad remained commendably unfazed. “OK, no probs,” he said. “Make that a Sipsmith would you, or a Hoxton?” both of which they were fresh in with.
BEST GINS ARE NOT NECESSARILY BRITISH
How times have changed! When I was his age (I know, I know, I’m bloody ancient), one simply asked for a gin and tonic and got a Gordon’s and Schweppes in return and no messing. Today there seems to be new best gins released every week. My favourite local, The Office, in Sydney Street in Brighton, lists no fewer than 38 different best gins, not only from England and Holland, natch, but also from as far afield as Wales (Brecon Special Reserve, since you ask), France (Boudier Saffron), the United States (Seagram’s Extra Dry to name just one of several American gins stocked), and even New Zealand (South Gin, whose botanicals include native manuka berries and kawakawa leaves).
I’ve spent many a happy evening conducting my researches there at the bar and, egged on by my gin-swilling wife, have been encouraged to take my work home with me, too, picking up weird and wonderful gins on my travels to share with my ever-loving.
QUIRKY GINS WITH BOLD AROMAS
Recent hits with the missus include the quirky Geranium Gin with its delicate floral aroma; the bold and rich olive-accented Gin Mare, distilled in a 19th-century chapel just outside Barcelona; the exquisite Berry Bros’ No 3 with its citrusy, spicy, earthy backbone; the headily scented Foxdenton 48% (whose new Damson Gin is also utterly sublime); Nardini’s juniper-flavoured grappa liqueur, not a gin at all, but up a similar street, and Beefeater’s increasingly interesting and tasty limited releases such as Beefeater 24 and the Beefeater Summer Edition. Old favourites in the best gins category such as Hendrick’s, Tanqueray Ten and Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength also continue to hit the spot.
WHAT MAKES THE BEST GINS
To be called gin, the spirit’s predominant flavour must be of juniper, but over 100 other botanicals (seeds, berries, roots, fruits or herbs) may be used as well. Hendrick’s, for example, uses angelica, camomile, caraway, coriander, cubeb berries, elderflower, meadowsweet, two types of lemon peel, two types of orange peel, orris root (made from ground-up irises) and, of course, the obligatory juniper. Orris root is crucial to gin-making, acting as a sort of glue for all the other ingredients. Without it, all those nice volatile citrus notes would just disappear.
AND DON’T FORGET THE TONIC
For years I kept away from gin, my early teenage experiments convincing me that I didn’t like the flavour of juniper. It turned out, of course, that what I didn’t like was tonic (or Rose’s Lime Juice come to that, with which we often used to mix our Gordon’s in those days, half and half).
This all changed with the arrival of Fever-Tree’s range of mixers to combine with the best gins, which remain my absolute favourites. Not only does it produce a tonic water, it also has a “naturally light” tonic water, a lemon tonic water and a Mediterranean tonic water, all of which are made only from the most decent, natural ingredients and none of the high-fructose corn syrup, sugar and sodium benzoate nonsense employed by its major competitors. It’s no exaggeration to say that Fever-Tree led me to love gin again. And is the best tonic for the best gins. Well, Fever-Tree and Dolin Vermouth, which I think is even better than the excellent Noilly Prat for making the driest of dry martinis.
THE BEST GINS MAKE SUBLIME COCKTAILS
You simply sluice a teaspoon of Dolin around a frozen Martini glass and then fill the glass with ice-cold gin (I’d choose Berrys’ No 3 Gin in this instance), add a twist of lemon, and bingo, you’re in heaven.
Then there’s the French 75, one of the simplest of cocktails to make and always a huge hit at The Field’s Game Fair party. Mix 25ml of Tanqueray Ten (or your own particular favourite) with 25ml of fresh lemon juice and 10ml of sugar syrup (Monin Gomme Syrup for choice). Pour into a champagne flute and top up with fizz (make sure it’s a good one; don’t you dare use cava). Add a twist of lemon.
And don’t forget the Negroni, a prince among cocktails comprised of a third each of gin (I’d use the extrovert Foxdenton 48% here), Cinzano Rosso and Campari served with a slice of orange and plenty of ice. A well-made Negroni never fails to cheer me up.
It really is a great time to be a gin lover and it’s wonderful to see so many of the old classic cocktails making a comeback and the humble G&T being elevated to something really tasty when made with the best gins. Cheers, mine’s a large one.