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Tag: Gin

Top ten gins for 2021

We’ve picked some of our favourite new gins and some classics to drink this summer, with tips on how to enjoy them. So, whether you’re a Martini lover or adore…

We’ve picked some of our favourite new gins and some classics to drink this summer, with tips on how to enjoy them. So, whether you’re a Martini lover or adore a G&T, here are our top ten gins for 2021.

The gin world does not stand still. Every week, we are inundated with great offerings from new producers and new offerings from great producers. It’s an exciting time to be a gin lover. But all that choice can be a bit daunting. So, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite gins both new and classic to enjoy in the sun this summer.

There’s everything here from vibrant Mediterranean-style gins to complex port cask-aged spirits; we’ve included tiny producers and global brands. If it’s delicious and contains juniper, then it’s a contender. So without further ado, here are our top ten gins for 2021.

Top Ten gins for 2021

hyke-gin-very-special-gin

Hyke Very Special Gin

We loved everything from Foxhole Spirits. The team uses leftovers from wine production in their distinctive gins. This gives the base spirit an unmistakable floral character. Combine that with other botanicals including grapefruit and Earl Grey tea and you have a gin of great elegance and smoothness that’s worth treating with a bit of care.

What does it taste like?

A well-rounded, luxurious spirit carries notes of delicate citrus, herbal tea, crisp juniper leading into warming cubeb and ginger spiciness. Perfect Martini gin.

portobello-road-savoury-gin

Portobello Road Savoury Gin

If you like your gin to taste like gin, then you’ll love this latest release from London’s Portobello Road. It majors on the juniper which combined with Calabrian bergamot peel, Seville green gordal olives, rosemary and sea salt produces a deeply dry gin that positively reeks of Mediterranean. It’s the next best thing to going on holiday. Gorgeous bottle too.

What does it taste like?

Powerful juniper, pungent herbs and refreshingly bitter citrus notes. This might be the ultimate G&T gin but it’s a great all-rounder. 

port-barrelled-pink-gin-salcombe-distilling-co-that-boutiquey-gin-company-gin

Port-Barrelled Pink Gin – Salcombe Distilling Co (TBGC)

And now for something completely different. This was produced by Devon’s Salcombe Distilling Company in collaboration with Port house Niepoort and bottled by That Boutique-y Gin Company. The base spirit is a pink gin, steeped with sloes, damsons, rose and orange peel post-distillation. It’s then aged in a cask which once held a 1997 Colheita Port to produce something of great complexity and deliciousness.

How does it taste?

Fragrant and fruity with plum and orange oil. Lovely sipped neat on ice or with fresh raspberries in a seriously fancy G&T.

bathtub-gin

Bathtub Gin

Alongside all the exciting new products, we’ve included a few old favourites like the mighty Bathtub Gin. It’s made with a very high quality copper pot-still spirit infused with ingredients including juniper, orange peel, coriander, cassia, cloves and cardamom to produce a powerful gin with a creamy viscous mouthfeel. 

How does it taste?

The initial focus is juniper, but the earthier botanicals make themselves known in the initial palate too with the most gorgeously thick mouthfeel. Negroni time!

dyfi-original-gin

Dyfi Original Gin

Dyfi gin was set up in Wales by two brothers, Pete Cameron, a farmer and beekeeper, and Danny Cameron, a wine trade professional, in 2016. It took them two years of research and tasting to come up with the recipe which includes bog myrtle, Scots pine tips, lemon peel, coriander, juniper and more. A very special gin. 

How does it taste?

Drying juniper and coriander spiciness, powerful pine notes with a touch of oiliness, bright bursts of citrus keep it fresh and light.

cotswolds-no-2-wildflower-gin

Cotswolds No.2 Wildflower Gin

The Cotswolds Distillery was set up to make whisky but the team began making gin to help with cash flow. And they turned out to be rather good at it. This is based on the distillery’s classic dry gin which is then steeped with botanicals including elderflower and chamomile to create a floral flavoured gin inspired by the wild flowers of the Cotswolds. 

How does it taste? 

Earthy liquorice, a crackle of peppery juniper, softly sweet with candied peels, just a hint of clean eucalyptus lasts. This would make a splendid Tom Collins.

fords-london-dry-gin

Fords Gin

Created by bartender Simon Ford in conjunction with Thames Distillers in London to be the ultimate all-rounder gin. For the botanical selection, they use a varied selection from around the world, including grapefruit peel from Turkey, jasmine from China, angelica from Poland, lemon peel from Spain, as well as juniper from Italy.

What does it taste like?

Herbal rosemary and thyme meet floral heather and juniper, pink peppercorns, and grapefruit pith. Try it in a freezer door Martini

gin-mare-gin

Gin Mare

No, the name is not a reference to the bad dreams you have after a night on the sauce. It’s the Spanish word for sea, pronounced something like ‘mar re’, and it’s another Mediterranean stunner featuring rosemary, thyme, basil with lots of zest, and the start product, arbequina olive. This is the gin of Barcelona. 

What does it taste like?

A fragrant, perfume-like gin majoring, very herbal and aromatic with notes of coriander, juniper and citrus zest. 

dingle-original-gin

Dingle Original Gin

It’s another ‘while we wait for the whiskey’ gin, but it’s no afterthought. Containing rowan berry, fuschia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather, this gin from the Dingle Distillery in Kerry won World’s Best Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards. And when you taste it, you’ll understand why. 

What does it taste like?

Juicy and sweet with authentic summer berry notes, followed by fresh herbs (think mint leaf and fennel).

tanqueray-number-10-london-dry-gin

Tanqueray No. Ten

And among all the new brands, it’s worth paying tribute to one of the old timers. Tanqueray’s heritage stretches back to the early 19th century but this No. Ten was introduced in 2000. It’s a small batch gin made using whole citrus fruits alongside chamomile and juniper, and takes its name from pot still number 10 at the Tanqueray distillery. 

How does it taste?

Perfumed and aromatic with notes of tangy grapefruit zest, creamy custard, cardamom, Earl Grey tea and clean zingy juniper. Massively refreshing. 

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Not another one! How can gin brands stand out?

There’s a lot of gin out there. A hell of a lot. So, how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Lucy Britner meets three British…

There’s a lot of gin out there. A hell of a lot. So, how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Lucy Britner meets three British brands doing things a bit differently.

If someone were to illustrate ‘Gin Lane’ now, the sign would be on a decorative metal plaque and it would read ‘Gin O’Clock!’ or, even worse, ‘Let the fun be-GIN’. The juniper spirit has captured the hearts, minds and gift shop owners of the nation, and barely a week goes by when a new gin or a new expression isn’t released. 

Once upon a time, Hendrick’s dined out on ‘unusual botanicals’. Now, rose and cucumber seem relatively usual in comparison with some of the bonkers concoctions that are on the market today. (Hi, Unicorn Tears! Though shame on you for making unicorns cry.)

And there are so many of them. In fact, according to booze trade group the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), combined sales of gin and flavoured gin in shops, supermarkets and online went up 22% in value in 2020, breaking the billion-pound mark for the first time, worth £1.2 billion and totalling 75 million bottles.

That’s a lot of gin. The question is: how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Especially the ones that don’t have giant drinks companies with their hefty marketing budgets behind them.

Rachel HIcks from Skywave Gin

No gimmicks, it’s Rachel Hicks from Skywave Gin

Get to know your customers

Sky Wave Gin, based in Oxfordshire, differentiates itself in a variety of ways, which aren’t always immediately obvious,” says Rachel Hicks, partner and distiller. “There’s no huge marketing budget to flash the brand in consumers’ faces, but firmly and consistently we promote our beliefs in craft, quality and originality.”

Simon Pettit, the brand’s business development manager, delves deep into the analytics, highlighting the impact of different social media platforms on reaching the Sky Wave drinker: “We have just started a Facebook campaign to target the over-40s, without generalising, as initially we were finding the Instagram and Twitter stuff was just getting re-shared and not generating click-throughs.” This is combined with more traditional marketing campaigns in publications including Cotswold Life, and the Chilterns Society’s magazine, as well as events like the Artisan Food Market at nearby Waddesdon Manor.

He says the aim is to form a deeper customer relationship. “We still reckon the ‘old school’ approach has merit when coupled with engagement on Facebook. We’re already seeing small indications of a better level of interest.” Hicks added: “We are very happy targeting the ‘older drinker’ and not chase the younger market”.

No gimmicks

As the old saying goes, ‘fish where the fish are’. Indeed Hicks adds that Sky Wave consumers already “know and love” gin and they are not interested in gimmicks. “We’ve paired our premium gins with a classic, timeless brand image of clean, simple lines which appeals to our target age range of 35-55 years old,” she continued.

There’s also another draw: the distillery. The venue is at Bicester Heritage, a former RAF site and now the home of historic motoring, which again is a good fit for Sky Wave customers. “You may pop in for a bottle of Navy Strength and spot a 1934 Bugatti driving past or a World War II Tiger Moth landing on the airfield next to us,” says Hicks.

Elsewhere, she says quality comes before short-term profit. “We’ve always been more concerned with the quality of our gin than how much profit there is to be made,” she adds. “For example the majority of our gins are created at 42% ABV or above to achieve the flavour profile we want.” To be legally called a spirit, gin must be at least 37.5% ABV, but duty is paid based on the percentage of pure alcohol per litre. Therefore, it’s cheaper to make a lower ABV gin than a higher one.

Off Piste Gin

Off Piste Gin, on-trend branding

Going off piste

From historic motoring to ski slopes and Off Piste’s gin has its very own USP. The brand, which has been around since 2020, is Off Piste Wines’ first foray into spirits.

Brand ambassador Helen Chesshire says the aim is not simply about appealing to skiers or snowboarders but to a wider demographic who enjoy a bracing walk in the countryside and who are discovering new adventures. “Our customers may well be adventurous types but they also know gin well,” she says. “We had a lot of messages and comments from people over the past year who told us they were buying the gin for themselves or a loved one who was missing the mountains.”

She describes Off Piste drinkers as a mix of discoverers and adventurers. She says the gin appeals to an “older generation of hedonists – 50+ original Glastonbury goers – and younger gin drinkers looking to discover new brands”.

When it comes to engaging fans, Chesshire says the brand will appear at The National Snow Show later this year, with plans to meet a wider community. The brand also had a sponsorship deal with Winter Olympian Chemmy Alcott.

“With all new gins or indeed other spirits, there needs to be a hand-sell,” Chesshire explains, describing “engagement and loyalty” as well as hearing feedback from drinkers to help “understand how we could expand on our cocktail serves and our future plans for brand growth”.

The taste, too, she describes as ‘bracing’, with the delicate herbaceous and floral notes that you might expect from an Alpine-inspired gin.

Darnley's Original Gin & Tonic

Darnley’s Gin & Tonic, very nice

Cottage industry

In Scotland, Darnley’s is a veteran of the modern gin movement, having set up shop in 2010. Director William Wemyss says it started “before the gin craze really took off”.

The great thing about having a bit of time under your belt is that you can also get a real handle on who your drinkers are.

“Our target demographic is 25-45 female gin drinkers who also have an interest in other lifestyle categories such as food, entertainment and gardening,” Wemyss says. “We know this because of the data that comes through our website tracking with Google analytics.”

He says that provenance across food and drink is becoming even more important to consumers, and within gin, that means touting natural botanicals and, as far as possible, local ones.

The brand includes a limited edition ‘Cottage Series’, which is inspired by botanicals local to the cottage that houses the Darnley’s distillery. The most recent release is Smoke & Zest, which features Fife-grown barley smoked over pine wood chips, and rowanberry that grows around the distillery. Wemyss also hints at a brand new release, though he’s keeping it under wraps until World Gin Day (12 June). Watch this space.

These three brands have carved their own niche – and they know who their drinkers are. That’s surely a great way to remain relevant in a crowded marketplace.

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Covid spirit start-ups

Many people took up new hobbies during lockdown like cooking or jogging, but some brave individuals went a bit further and started distilling businesses while a global pandemic raged. Ian…

Many people took up new hobbies during lockdown like cooking or jogging, but some brave individuals went a bit further and started distilling businesses while a global pandemic raged. Ian Buxton found out how the Covid spirit start-ups are getting on. 

It’s never easy starting a business. I know; I’ve started a few myself and understand the sleepless nights, the financial strain, the emotional rollercoaster….I could go on. But my entrepreneurial efforts were in relatively benign economic times, at least compared to the last twelve months. I can’t imagine starting a new venture during a pandemic. But these three pioneers have done it and I wanted to find out why.

Old Mother Hunt

Matt and Rebecca Hunt with their little still

Old Mother Hunt in Strathaven, near Glasgow

“I’m proud that we took a really dark moment in our lives and we’re trying to use that turmoil to funnel into creating a new life and career,” Rebecca Hunt of the Old Mother Hunt distillery told me. “It’s been tough and we definitely still have harder days than others, but it’s been a rewarding challenge and we’ve barely even scratched the surface yet.”

So why start at all, I asked. Essentially, because she and husband Matt had to. With her planned teaching career interrupted by the (happy) arrival of a family the Hunts relocated in early 2017 to Strathaven a small village just south of Glasgow. Matt was working a a pilot for FlyBe. Unfortunately, in 2020, FlyBe failed and he was made redundant.

As they very soon learnt employers were not crying out for part-trained teachers or airline pilots. So, as Rebecca says, “we had to create our own space in the world.” What that meant in practice was learning – very quickly – to distil, building their own Old Mother Hunt distillery and home-made still, getting licensed, building a website, brand and packaging, and going out where and when possible to sell their rum. Initially they were rectifying but now have a full distilling licence so as you read this will be producing from scratch.

Why rum? Their view is that the market for gin, the currently-fashionable spirit for start-ups, is now over-saturated and, like all trends, will wax and wane in popularity. Rum they see as offering a five to tenyear opportunity for growth. “The noise is building,” says Rebecca.

Lazydog distillery

The lazydogs

Lazydog in Coalville, Leics

Rum is also the route adopted by Matt and Lauren Thompson of the LazyDog distillery in Coalville. They were inspired by Caribbean distillery visits and a desire to create something “pared back and honest,” as Matt puts it. Once again, experience of furlough and the lockdown was the impetus – “if not now, when, we asked ourselves,” he explains. Though he modestly describes the distillery as a “side hustle” the couple are very fully committed. In addition to daytime careers in property, they work evenings to distil and bottle, and spend weekends manning a sales stall on local markets, where they are already meeting enthusiastic regular repeat customers.

That commitment is also clear in a personal investment of more than £75,000 on plant, equipment, bottles and so on. “I dread to think what it has cost,” admits Matt with a wry laugh. But long-term they aim to create permanent jobs in their own business, seeing rum as a globally popular spirit. The opportunity for a smaller producer comes, he believes, in “keeping our rum as stripped back as possible… it’s the most important thing”, adding “we only use fresh natural ingredients from start to finish (fresh orange peel in the spiced, freshly-picked local sloes in our Sloe Rum), never any artificial colours or flavourings.”

Much of the investment is due to LazyDog’s decision to buy a ready-to-go StillDragon still, rather than building their own, as Old Mother Hunt has done, reflected in their more modest start-up cost of less than £15,000. But then, as Rebecca explains “we’ve done everything ourselves; designed the logo, website and labels and built the still so we’ve kept costs to an absolute minimum.”

Green Room gin

Green Room gin

Green Room in Wandsworth, London

By contrast, Duncan McLean and business partner Seb Frost of London’s Green Room distillery have embraced white spirits, launching with a dry gin and vodka and then quickly adding sloe gin to the range. More ambitiously, single malt whisky is also in their plans.

Both have backgrounds in the technical side of theatre, hence Green Room. Impressively, by starting with a tiny second-hand still bought in France for £500, their start-up investment has been below £10,000 – though that includes a new 60 litre copper pot still from Iberian Coppers as they embark on the first stage of their expansion. The design studio in Duncan’s garden in Wandsworth has been converted to house the distillery.

Duncan handles the distilling, based he says on much trial and error though, as a malt whisky enthusiast, he admits to having taken the five day distilling course at Strathearn distillery and spent a few days shadowing workers at Bruichladdich. The project only started as a weekend hobby to get through lockdown but suddenly got serious when their gin picked up a Bronze award from the 2021 International Spirits Challenge.

The target is to reach 5,000 bottles in the first year. Local pubs, restaurants and off-licences are now stocking the brand; several theatres have promised to carry Green Room in their bars and there are plans for a supper club with wine consultancy Bacchus & Brodie.

A breath of fresh air

Compared to the sanitized, PR-curated corporate statements I encounter in my daily life, there’s a refreshing candour, an honesty, almost an innocence in talking to these neophyte distillers. But then they’ve found ardent spirits to provide a lifeline to better mental health or, like Green Room, supporting a charity, Backup, from their professional life. Turns out that for these new businesses distilling is more than a job, it’s their bright new future.

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Five great gins from around the world

We’re having a gin festival at Master of Malt this week so on the blog we’re highlighting five great gins that show the sheer diversity that can be found in…

We’re having a gin festival at Master of Malt this week so on the blog we’re highlighting five great gins that show the sheer diversity that can be found in those three simple letters, ‘g’, ‘i’ and ‘n.’

This week it’s gin festival time over on the Master of Malt website. Gin’s beauty is in its versatility. All it needs to be is a spirit flavoured with juniper and you can go from there. You might favour a classic London dry gin, or something flavoured with sweet oranges, or aged in oak. 

It is made all over the world so to celebrate the wondrous diversity of gin, we’ve chosen three very different interpretations of juniper from England, South Africa, Venezuela, Scotland and Cornwall. Plus we’ve included some tips on the best ways to enjoy them.

Fords Gin Cocktail shaker

Fords London Dry Gin

When you have a vision for the kind of gin you want, you could spend thousands on a distillery and spend years learning how to be a gin master. Or you could go to the best. Like Charles Maxwell master distiller at Thames Distillers in South London. Maxwell is the source behind dozens of gin brands and probably knows more than anyone alive about turning someone’s gin dreams into juniper-scented reality.

Ford, an industry stalwart who was involved with bars such as Koba in Brighton before a stint as brand ambassador at Pernod Ricard, wanted to create a gin for all seasons. He explained: “I wanted to take elements from all of my favourite gins and put them into one, well-rounded gin.” To create that weighty profile, Maxwell steeped the nine botanicals for 15 hours to soften them and get them to release their oils before distilling in two John Dore stills, Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. 

The profile is juniper dominated, supported by other flavours including jasmine, cassia and grapefruit. The result is a weighty thick gin with a classic profile, bottled at a useful 45% ABV. It’s a great all-rounder but that viscosity makes it an obvious choice for a Martini.

Ford doesn’t just make gin, his business the 86 Co. (since 2019 part of Brown Forman) also makes Caña Brava rum, Tequila Cabeza, and Aylesbury Duck Vodka.

How to drink it

Ford suggests something called a freezer door Martini. Remove 200ml from your bottle, add 100ml of dry vermouth, and 100ml of filtered water. Shake, put in your freezer and it’ll always be ready when you want an instant Martini.

Inverroche Amber in a Negroni

Inverroche Amber Gin

This distillery was founded in 2007 by mother and son duo, Lorna and Rohan Scott. Their secret weapons are native South African plants called fynbos native to the Cape’s wine growing region. These are colourful shrubs and bushes that grow wild in a special area known as the Cape Floral Kingdom

The Scotts work with local botanists to preserve fynbos and harvest them sustainably. To make the gin they use between 20 and 30 different varieties of fynbos alongside more usually botanicals including of course juniper.  

These are distilled in a  tiny 1.7 litre copper pot still known as Mini Meg using vapour distillation so the botanicals sit above the sugar cane spirit. This is how the Scotts produce their classic gin but they also make two others which are the result of post-distillation infusion.

The Verdant is infused with “late summer blooms”, fynbos from mountainous areas, while the Amber gets its gorgeous colour from coastal fynbos. The result is a gin with a woody spice character with tobacco leaf and a nutty texture. It’s bottled at 43%ABV.

How to drink it

That texture and woodiness makes it a great sipper but it also adds a whole new layer of complexity to a Negroni: just add one part Amber Gin, one part Campari and one part sweet vermouth to an ice filled tumbler, stir thoroughly, and express an orange twist over and drop in.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Canaïma Small Batch Gin

And finally a gin all the way from Venezuela. It’s called Canaïma and it’s the creation of bartender Simon Carporale who wanted to do something to help preserve the Amazon’s rainforest’s fragile ecology. 

These plans came to fruition when he met the founder of Diplomatico rum and the two came up with the idea to make a gin with a difference. For a start, the botanical mix is quite something with over 19 involved. 10 of them are sustainably-sourced Amazonian botanicals harvested by indigenous people. This includes açaí berries (a purple fruit known for its regenerative qualities), uve de palma (red fruit harvested from a palm tree), copoazú (related to the cacao tree), túpiro (an orange fruit known for its pleasant taste), merey (a kidney-shaped fruit that produces just one cashew nut), seje (a palm fruit that has oily flesh and a very delicate, chocolate-like flavour) and semeruco (a fruit foraged from the Andean foothills where Canaïma’s distillery is based). 

Alongside native botanicals, the team at Diplomatico also use more traditional botanicals such as juniper, grapefruit, and orange. They distill each one separately in a 500 litre copper pot still before they blend them into the final gin

Canaïma doesn’t just taste good, it does good too. It provides over 250 jobs for indigenous Amazonian people at its distillery. 10% of the sales go to Saving the Amazon charity and  Tierra Viva, a foundation that helps preserve native crafts such as 

woven baskets and coasters used by the brand.

How to drink it

The brand recommends something called a G&G which consists of 40ml Canaïma Gin, 150ml grapefruit soda and two lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges and drop them into a Highball glass, add ice, gin and grapefruit soda, give it a stir and garnish with a grapefruit twist.  

Hendrick's Lunar Gin

Hendrick’s Lunar

Hendrick’s really shook up the gin category when William Grant & Sons launched it back in 1999. That’s ten years BS (before Sipsmith) in gin terminology, ie. centuries in gin years which are longer than even dog years.

Anway, it was created by  distiller Lesley Gracie at the Girvan distillery in Scotland. Hendrick’s was unusual for a number of reasons. Gin was not fashionable in 1999, yet here was a new brand in distinctive medicine bottle packaging and then there was the taste! With it’s cucumber and rose petal profile, it didn’t taste like any other gin around at the time. It had some gin traditionalists harrumphing into their G&Ts. But quickly, a Hendrick’s and Tonic became a thing, always with a slice of cucumber rather than citrus fruit.

Hendrick’s Lunar is a little bit different from the classic bottling. Gracie was inspired by moonlit evenings tending botanicals in her hothouse. It’s a citrus-led gin with subtle peppery and floral notes to it, and it’s proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers with lots of five star reviews. 

How to drink it

It’s a nice one to sip neat but also makes a splendid Lunar and Tonic with a slice of cucumber, naturally, and also a grind of black pepper.

Elemental Cornish Gin on a beach

Elemental Cornish Gin

And finally, from Cornwall, a part of England that’s not really English, we have Elemental Cornish Gin. It was one of the very first Cornish gins, founded back in 2013. Only eight years ago, but, as we mentioned above, a long time in gin years.

There seems to be some sort of connection between the pandemic and distilling as our very own Ian Buxton noted recently, and that’s certainly the case here with Cornish Gin. In early 2020, Nick and Joe Woolley moved to Cornwall with their toddler and took over the distillery, just before the entire country was locked down. Not great timing, but they have survived and thrived, turning out lots of high quality gin.

Their classic Cornish Gin is made in a copper pot still from 12 botanicals including lemon and orange peel, chamomile, cassia, cassia, cinnamon, cardamom and, of course, juniper.  It’s diluted with spring water from Bodmin moor before bottling at 42% ABV.

How to drink it

Elemental recommends a Martini or a G&T, but we can’t help thinking with those citrus notes it would make a cracking French 75, a blend of lemon juice, Champagne, gin and bitters (full recipe here.)

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Cocktail of the Week: The Suffering Bastard

This week there’s been a whisky focus at Master of Malt what with World Whisky Day coming up, whereas next week it’s all about gin. So for our Cocktail of…

This week there’s been a whisky focus at Master of Malt what with World Whisky Day coming up, whereas next week it’s all about gin. So for our Cocktail of the Week, we’ve combined the two with a Suffering Bastard. Oh, and it’s World Cocktail Day tomorrow. Will the fun never end?

The great thing about cocktails is that you can sling all kinds of things together and if they taste good, then that’s all that matters. I mean who could have predicted that Campari, vermouth and gin would work such magic together in the Negroni? The flipside is that it’s easy to make something revolting. Today’s drink is in the former category combining some seriously strong, disparate flavours: gin, bourbon and ginger beer. It’s one of those drinks that shouldn’t work but somehow it does. Unlike most cocktails whose origins are lost in the mists of time the Suffering Bastard has a fixed who, when and where.

Shalom!

The who was a man called Joe Scialom, who was bartender at the Long Bar in the legendary Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. And the when was 1942. Scialom was an Egpytian Jew of Italian extraction, his surname is an Italianised version of the Hebrew word “shalom”, meaning peace.

The hotel was a popular haunt of British officers and assorted hangers-on during the war. As you might expect, quite a bit of drinking went on with the resultant hangovers and one day Scialom was inspired to create a cure.

Anyone who has had a hangover will know that ginger has magical palliative properties. Or seems to anyway. When I worked at Oddbins in Leeds, a bottle of Fentimen’s Ginger Beer and a couple of paracetamol was all too often the breakfast of champions.

Joe Scialom

Joe Scialom, in the white DJ

Brandy or bourbon?

To that ginger beer, Scialom added lime cordial, brandy and gin, not something we’d recommend as treatment for a hangover but delightful as a long drink. All those strong flavours were partly a way of disguising that by 1942, good quality booze would have been in short supply. This is from a 1957 New York Times interview with Scialom:

When liquor was short during the war, he had to concoct “something to quench the boys’ thirst.” He combined equal parts gin and brandy with a dash of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of Rose’s lime juice, and English ginger ale. He garnished the drink with a sprig of fresh mint, a slice of orange and a cucumber peel. The bartender advised Americans to substitute ginger beer for the ginger ale because the British version of the soft drink is more heavily seasoned with ginger than ours.

Or was it bourbon? In an interview with Collier’s Magazine from 1953 – it’s worth reading the whole thing on this wonderful blog Egypt in the Golden of Travel – it reads:

“I always thought that gin, which I had, and bourbon, which I had, don’t marry,” Joe says. “But I stuck some gin and bourbon into the vase, and looked about for something to take the curse off. There was some Angostura and some lime cordial and some dry ginger ale for fizz. I shook it all up with some ice and decorated it with mint.

“I was most surprised at the result. The customers did not drop dead. They recovered, and clamoured for more. Been clamouring ever since.

So the story isn’t quite so straightforward after all.

Shepheard's Hotel Cairo

Shepheard’s Hotel in its heyday

Two revolutions later 

Sadly, in 1952 Shepheard’s Hotel was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the monarchy and brought President Nasser to power. Nasser’s aim was to free the country of foreign influences which involved nationalising industries including the Suez canal. Most non-Arabs including the country’s ancient Jewish community took the hint and left but not Scialom who moved across town to open Joe’s Bar at another hotel, the Semiramis. That is until he was imprisoned under suspicion of espionage.

On his release he left Egypt, worked for Hilton hotels in Puerto Rico and then later Cuba, where again he had to flee a revolution. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to be caught up in one revolution may be regarded as a misfortune, to be in two looks like carelessness. If you want to know more, it’s worth reading this post on Scialom which hints that he may well have been involved in espionage in some way.

From its birth in wartime Cairo, the Suffering Bastard, sometimes known as the Suffering Bar Steward for those who don’t like a bit of good old fashioned swearing, became a staple of tiki bars. It was on the menu at Trader Vic’s though made with rum instead of brandy, and it was served in a special mug that looked like a particularly lugubrious chap holding his head in his hands following a hard night – see below.

Suffering Bastard - Image courtesy of Difford's Guide.

Oh my head! Image courtesy of Difford’s Guide.

How to make Suffering Bastard

The version in Difford’s Guide is made with Remy Martin Cognac, though nowadays it’s usually made with bourbon. The version we’ve got below is based on David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated and Irreverent Guide to Drinking with 250 Drink Recipes.

It eschews the lime cordial which was probably there in the first place to cover up bad booze and seeing as this is the Master of Malt blog, we’re not likely to use such a thing. For bourbon, we’re using Woodford Reserve, plus a good London dry gin, Fords. And then Fentimans ginger beer to finish the whole thing off.

Down the hatch or rather l’chaim!

Suffering Bastard

Suffering Bastard, surprisingly delicious

30ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
30ml Fords London Dry Gin
1tsp lime juice
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
Chilled Fentimans or any good strong ginger beer

Add the gin, bourbon, lime juice and bitters to an ice-filled Highball glass. Top up with ginger beer, stir gently and garnish with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.

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What the heck’s a swan neck?

Ever wondered why Sipsmith has a swan for its spokesbird? Or what the bit that bends at the top of a still is called? Well, wonder no more. Lucy Britner…

Ever wondered why Sipsmith has a swan for its spokesbird? Or what the bit that bends at the top of a still is called? Well, wonder no more. Lucy Britner explores the world of the swan neck and looks at how different iterations affect the flavour and character of spirits such as whisky and gin.

Stills are a bit like people. They come in all shapes and sizes, they all have their own character and some even sing (hello, Mortlach). A still’s swan neck – the bit at the top that curves to connect to the lyne arm – also has its own vibe and the angle of a swan neck can have an impact on the spirit in question.

Sipsmith swan

Sipsmith has a swan brand ambassador

Sipsmith’s swan

Swan necks are so important that intense focus on the first still’s swan neck design at Sipsmith caused the swan to creep (waddle? glide? swan?) into everyday conversations  – and it went on to influence the brand’s entire identity.

“I remember a sign inside the door of the tiny garage on Nasmyth Street where we started out: ‘Swanny says – did you remember your keys and wallet?’,” Sipsmith master distiller Jared Brown tells me. “The artist who sat in the distillery taking notes before creating our label and immortalising our swan had to see that sign and must have heard the word a few times.”

Not only is Brown a master distiller, he’s also a master at explaining the swan neck. Pour a G&T and take note.

Copper contact

“A classic copper pot still begins with the pot, which holds the liquid and is where it is gently heated to convert it to steam,” he starts. “The steam rises from the pot, then condenses on the sides of the helmet above the pot. This causes it to run back down the inside of the still against the highly-reactive copper repeatedly, with impurities leaving the spirit and bonding to the copper with each pass. Once steam reaches above the helmet it passes into the swan neck which leads to the condensing coil where it will be cooled and returned to a liquid state.”

A still’s swan neck dictates how easily the liquid passes from the pot and helmet to the condensing coil. Brown explains that stills with broader swan necks that slope steeply downward carry heavy, smoky, oily, peaty flavours. Meanwhile, stills with necks that slope upwards from taller helmets, and have narrowed diameters bring more refined notes, while causing the heaviest flavours to remain in the still.

Makes sense.

The Sipsmith master distiller says that while in whisky distilling, the shape of the swan neck dictates which flavours of the base fermentation of malted grain come over the still, in gin the swan neck dictates how the botanicals present themselves in the final liquid.

Stills at Sipsmith

Te still set-up at Sipsmith, note the elegant swan necks on the stills

New necks

Of course, the beauty of building your own distillery is that you get to choose everything.

New kid on the block White Peak Distillery in Derbyshire is launching its first whisky in autumn this year. The dram will join its Shining Cliff Gin, which is already available.

“One of the unique benefits of starting a whisky distillery is the opportunity to design bespoke equipment, including pot stills to achieve a desired style of spirit, and the connection this gives for the whisky-makers through design to spirit,” says White Peak co-founder Max Vaughan.

He describes the distillery’s spirit still as having an oversized pot (for the batch size) with a modest fill level, a tall and relatively thin neck and a gently upward sloping and long lye pipe, and finally a copper shell and tube condenser. Vaughan says the combination of these features encourages reflux/copper contact and the spirit to “work hard”, therefore helping to strip out some of the heavier compounds.

“We also run the still slowly which gives the still shape more influence and helps with hitting our desired cut points to produce a smooth and fruity, lightly-peated spirit,” he adds. 

The convoluted swan neck at Macduff distillery

The convoluted swan neck at Macduff distillery

Kinky 

Building a distillery from scratch isn’t a reality for everyone and on many occasions, especially when it comes to re-jigging older facilities, fitting in with the space can determine the set up of a swan neck.

Bacardi brand ambassador, Matthew Cordiner describes the Macduff distillery, which makes The Deveron, as a “bit of a Mad Hatter’s tea party”. Indeed, if a real swan had the neck from a Macduff still, it would either be able to see around corners or be in serious pain.

“Two wash stills have a right-angled kink in them [in the foreground above], which is pretty unusual, leading to the vertically mounted shell and tube condensers,” says Cordiner. “This was more about how to best fit them into the space than a flavour-led decision. But the fairly steep upwards sloping lyne arms will encourage more reflux and re-boiling action – meaning less lower volatility compounds will be able to make it through the first distillation run.”

The distillery also has a rather unusual spirit still set up – pretty small and narrow stills, giving lots of copper contact and very short lyne arms [in the background above], which are also angled upwards and have a right angled kink in them.

Don’t forget the condensers

“These would again encourage a bit more reflux, though any ‘lightness’ this might have brought is almost undone by having horizontally mounted shell and tube condensers,” Cordiner adds. “The horizontal condensers mean that less ‘weight’ is stripped from the spirit through copper contact. This creates almost a midpoint between a vertical shell and tube and an old fashioned worm tub, we do have a light/moderate sulphur character in the new make spirit because of this, too.”

Cordiner emphasises that it’s a combination of all of this, plus how the distillery makes its cuts, which creates the balance between fruitiness and cereal/nutty characters, as well as the signature ‘apple’ note The Deveron is known for.

Macduff stills

Macduff’s unusual spirit stills with swan neck and right angle lyne arm leading to horizontal condenser

It’s the way that you do it

“Still shape and configuration is really important but it is also down to how you run them,” he says. “If you take our Aultmore distillery for example, with its short stills and descending lyne arms, at a glance you would have thought they were producing a more robust style of whisky, but by the way in which they are run, we are able to create a light, grassy and biscuity style of whisky.”

And so, it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is the whole process combined that creates a spirit’s character – but there is no denying the swan neck plays an important part.

So important that the eagle-eyed Latinists among you will note the term ‘cygnus inter anates’ on the bottom of all Sipsmith bottles. A slogan created by Sipsmith co-founder Fairfax Hall, meaning ‘a swan among the ducks’.  

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MoM Loves: Canaïma Small Batch Gin

It’s Earth Day 2021! Can we shock you? We’re big fans of the earth. This is why today we’re celebrating a drink that aims to make a difference. A delightful,…

It’s Earth Day 2021! Can we shock you? We’re big fans of the earth. This is why today we’re celebrating a drink that aims to make a difference. A delightful, exotic treat that aids the conservation of the Amazon rainforest: Canaïma Small Batch Gin.

Paid partnership

We’re not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a fair amount of gins around at the moment.  Which means that producers are always looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. 

Some use an interesting and unique botanical selection. Or have a compelling brand story. Or create a strong look and use a cool name. Or even support an important cause. 

Or, you could be like Canaïma Small Batch Gin and tick all those boxes.

The brand is dedicated to protecting and preserving its environment and the local communities within it. Named after Canaïma National Park, 10% of the profit from each bottle of the gin goes towards the reforestation of the Amazon as well as preserving the culture and heritage of the indigenous people. 

And as part of this commitment to sustainability, Canaïma is marking this Earth Day by replanting over 1,000 trees in the Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, the gin makers are committing to replanting 2,500 trees by the end of 2021.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Hey, look. It’s the Canaïma Small Batch Gin. Note, traditional woven baskets and coasters 

The concept of using a spirit brand to aid conservation began with bartending legend, Simone Caporale. His trip to the Peruvian Amazon gave him a troubling insight into the destruction of the rainforest’s fragile ecology. 

Resolving to take action, he met the founder of Diplomático Rum for dinner and together they began to plan a new self-funded project that could support and sustain Amazonian communities. What they decided on was a Venezulan gin. A tasty solution we approve of. 

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

This beauty features a huge 19 nineteen different botanicals

An exotic tipple

Canaïma Small Batch Gin uses a whopping 19 different botanicals in its recipe. Of those, 10 are sustainably sourced Amazonian botanicals harvested by experienced indigenous people. This includes açaí berries (a purple fruit known for its regenerative qualities), uve de palma (red fruit harvested from a palm tree), copoazú (related to the cacao tree), túpiro (an orange fruit known for its pleasant taste), merey (a kidney-shaped fruit that produces just one cashew nut), seje (a palm fruit that has oily flesh and a very delicate, chocolate-like flavour) and semeruco (a fruit foraged from the Andean foothills where Canaïma’s distillery is based). 

Alongside these hand-picked native botanicals, a series of traditional gin ingredients are also used, including grapefruit, orange, passion fruit and juniper. Every botanical is individually treated, macerated and separately distilled in small batches in 500-litre copper pot stills. The distillates are then blended together by the Diplomático team to create the final gin.

It’s not just what’s in the bottle that’s progressive, but what’s on it too. The labels are made from previously recycled, fully biodegradable paper. The Tierra Viva Foundation also helped Canaïma to commission hundreds of traditional woven baskets and coasters used by the brand and its followers, each handcrafted by indigenous women.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Canaïma supports the production of traditional woven goods

The noble cause

Speaking of foundations, let’s talk about Canaïma’s sustainability mission. Not only does it provide over 250 jobs for indigenous Amazonian people at its distillery, but it also donates 10% of its sales to NGOs to the Saving the Amazon charity and the aforementioned Terra Viva. 

The former combines technology, mobile applications and the potential of indigenous communities to combat the destruction of the Amazon. Canaïma is part of the organisation’s reforestation programme, where each tree planted is photographed and georeferenced. The photo is uploaded to the website to create a virtual forest and give visual proof of replanting. Indigenous people take care of the trees for 36 months, after which time another picture is uploaded to the website to continue the traceability of the forest’s growth.

Fundación Tierra Viva, meanwhile, is a Venezuelan foundation that strives to improve the quality of life for indigenous tribes. Canaïma works in conjunction with the foundation to develop the brand’s marketing materials. Through the joint design and the purchase of handcrafted products, the band supports the creation of sustainable jobs throughout the region.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

The perfect serve for a delicious drink

Suggested serve: Amazonian G&G

While you’re no doubt admiring Canaïma’s social conscience, there is one question that will remain on your mind. How should I drink it?

Well, you can never go wrong with a good G&T. Caporale also put his bartending skills to good use by making a range of cocktails including the Amazonian G&G. It perfectly complements the gin’s passion fruit, orange and acai berry notes while also looking just gorgeous. A true spring refresher. Happy Earth Day, folks!

How to make an Amazonian G&G

40ml Canaïma Gin
150ml grapefruit soda
2 lime wedges

Assemble in a highball glass with cubed ice. Garnish with grapefruit zest or slice.

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Top ten: Independent spirits brands

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka,…

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka, here are some of the best independent spirits brands out there.

Most big booze brands are owned by huge multinational companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not that that’s a bad thing. We love Johnnie Walker Black Label and Beefeater, distilled by Desmond Payne in south London, is one of our go-to gins. But without a thriving independent scene, our drinks cabinet would be a lot less exciting. 

Happily, thanks to some pioneering distilleries such as Sipsmith, now part of Beam Suntory, there are now countless new brands turning out high quality, delicious and idiosyncratic boozes for all your drinking pleasure. From pungent mezcal to world-spanning Japanese blends, here are ten of the best independent spirits brands money can buy.

sagamore-spirit-signature-rye-whiskey

Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye

Much of the explosion in whiskey labels comes from independent bottlers who buy and blend spirits to create something a bit different. This is one case in point being a Maryland-style of rye which is sweeter than normal. It’s blended from two whiskeys sourced from Indiana, brought down to bottling strength with limestone-filtered water from Sagamore Farm.

How do I drink it?

Those sweet milky coffee and pistachio ice cream flavours are just crying out for an Old Fashioned

portobello-road-no-171-gin

Portobello Road No. 171 Gin

Portobello Road Gin is distilled on the actual Portobello Road in west London. It was founded by top bartender Jake Burger and Paul Lane in 2011. Alongside the distillery, the building called, naturally, The Distillery, houses two bars, a hotel and the Ginstitute where you can learn to make your own gin. Or if that sounds like too much work you could just buy this bottle.

How do I drink it?

With its elegant traditional flavours, this is great in all manner of ginny cocktails like the summery Gin Cup.

hatozaki-blended-whisky

Hatozaki Blended Whisky

If you’re a whisky fan, you probably read the recent news about the changing legislation for Japanese whisky which now excludes certain big names from the category. One company that has always been open about using imported spirits in its blends is Hatozaki. This mixes Japanese and imported whiskies and is aged in a mixture of sherry, bourbon and mizunara oak.

How do I drink it?

With those sweet flavours of honey, stone fruit and nutty cereals, this is a great one to put in a Whisky Highball with soda water and plenty of ice.

casa-noble-blanco-tequila

Casa Noble Blanco

The Casa Noble range of 100% agave Tequilas have proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers. Agave spirits are a huge growth area as drinkers move away from the lime and salt image of yesteryear to bottles that major on flavour.  This is packed full of earthy, roasted agave notes on the nose and palate.

How do I drink it?

We’re very partial to a Sweet Orange Margarita which involves making the standard version but adding an extra part of fresh orange juice and serving it on the rocks with a splash of soda water.

new-riff-straight-bourbon-whiskey

New Riff Straight Bourbon

Those who like a spicier style of bourbon will love this. It’s distilled by New Riff distillery of Kentucky with a mash bill of 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. Then it’s aged in toasted and charred new oak barrels before bottling at a useful 50% ABV to accentuate all those big spicy flavours.

How do I drink it?

High rye strength bourbons like this one are perfect in a Manhattan. And may we recommend the Hotel Starlino vermouth rosso which is aged in bourbon casks?

east-london-liquor-co-louder-gin

East London Liquor Co. Louder Gin

The East London Liquor Co. (ELLC) is one of our favourite small distillers. Founded in Bow in 2015, it produces a big range of spirits including gin, vodka and whisky, as well as rums imported from the Caribbean. As you might guess from the name, this gin packs a flavour punch with oily juniper bolstered by lavender, fennel, lemon peel and more.

How do I drink it?

Some gins get lost in the flavour soup that is the Negroni but Louder can make itself heard above the noise of Campari and vermouth.

quiquiriqui-tobala-mezcal

QuiQuiRiQui Tobalá Mezcal

Ok, so the name is a bit of a challenge. Apparently, it’s what Mexican cockerells say instead of ‘cock-a-doodle-do.’ But it’s worth getting past the pronunciation to enjoy this delicious mezcal. It’s produced from wild Tobalá aged between 10 and 15 years of age in strictly limited quantities to ensure sustainability. 

How to drink it?

With it’s complex flavours of coconut, tangy pineapple, mint and butter, we think it’s best just sipped neat. But it’s also fabulous in place of gin in a Negroni.

merlet-creme-de-mure-liqueur

Merlet Crème de Mure

Every drinks cabinet should have a bottle of this in it. It’s made by Merlet in France from fresh blackberries steeped in neutral alcohol and sweetened.  This firm produces a great range of fruit liqueurs like creme de cassis, poire William and apricot brandy all made in the traditional way from fresh fruit. 

How do I drink it?

Well, the classic cocktail for Creme Merlet Crème de Mure is the Bramble but it’s also great in place of cassis in a Kir Royale. 

ramsbury-vodka

Ramsbury Vodka

We were so impressed with Ramsbury when we visited a couple of years back. It’s a distillery and brewery set in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside that only uses grains from the surrounding Ramsbury Estate. Each bottle tells you the provenance and variety of the wheat used and the quality really shows when you taste this creamy spicy vodka. 

How do I drink it?

This makes the best Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, we’ve ever had. Serving it ice cold brings out that gorgeous creamy texture. 

colonel-foxs-london-dry-gin

Colonel Fox’s London Dry Gin

This is named after a war hero called Lieutenant Colonel Fox. Apparently, it’s based on his 1859 recipe that was recently rediscovered. We tend to roll our eyes a bit when we hear stories like this. There are a lot of them in the gin world. But there’s now denying the quality of this gin. That old Fox knew what he was doing.

How do I drink it?

People who like gin with plenty of flavour will lap this up. We think it’s perfect in a G&T but it’s a great all rounder, especially as it’s very reasonably priced.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin Cup

Today’s cocktail is a summer time classic, yes it’s coming soon, we hope, made with Whitley Neill Aloe & Cucumber Gin. It’s the Gin Cup! Honestly, this weather is playing…

Today’s cocktail is a summer time classic, yes it’s coming soon, we hope, made with Whitley Neill Aloe & Cucumber Gin. It’s the Gin Cup!

Honestly, this weather is playing havoc with our cocktail scheduling. Last week we were sitting out in the garden. The flowers were in bloom, the trees were budding, and the mint was growing back nicely so I thought I’d do a summery cocktail for early April. And then yesterday it was snowing. How can you plan for that drinks wise?

Introducing the Gin Cup

The simple answer is you can’t, so I’m going ahead with this summery classic as planned. It’s called the Gin Cup and it’s a great warm weather refresher. Or fireside sipper, depending on what’s going on outside. With the combination of booze, ice and mint, it’s not dissimilar to a Mint Julep or a Mojito.

It’s one of those cocktails so simple, that it doesn’t even have an origin story. There was no Captain T. Bartholomew Cup Jnr who had it made at a club in Baltimore after a hard day’s railroad baronning. More’s the pity. 

Gin cup

Gin cup, a cocktail for all seasons

Get creative

The Gin Cup is built for customisation. Treat the recipe below as a starting point, then play around to create your own version. You can add a dash of Angostura or fruit bitters, a liqueur like Cointreau or something like Chambord to take it into Bramble territory, or go mad on the fruit to make a lighter alternative to Pimm’s. But really where this cocktail comes into its own is with flavoured gins.

Now, we know that flavoured gins, ie. gins that have flavour, and often colour and sugar added post-distillation can divide gin lovers (see this article for the full debate). For some they are nectar of the gods, for others a straying from the path of junipery righteousness. As you might expect from a drinks retailer, we’re more ecumenical. If it works, we have no problem with it. Though it would sometimes be helpful if there was some indication of sweetness levels on the bottle. We’re looking at you Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla

Whitley Neill – flavoured gin pioneers

One that’s going to appeal to both camps is Whitley Neill’s Aloe and Cucumber. It is a flavoured gin but it’s still juniper-led and dry, so it does all the things a standard London Dry can but with added refreshment from the aloe and cucmber.

Whitley Neill was one of the pioneers of flavoured gins. Founder Johnny Neill told us in an interview last year that he started experimenting with flavours and it just took off from there: “We were led by how well-received the first couple of flavours were, they just went crazy. The whole thing just blossomed and ballooned. We were drawing people that hadn’t really enjoyed traditional dry gins before as well and helping to grow a category. So it was partly us and partly the consumers enjoying the flavour profiles.” They do a huge range from Quince to Blood Orange.

Johnny Neill

Johnny Neill, gin is in his blood

Gin is in the blood

Neill comes from a great gin family: “My father worked as the director for Greenall Whitley, based in Warrington, which at the time was the largest independent brewer in the UK and also owned Greenall’s Gin. His uncle, JD Whitley, was the chairman of the group and my father’s grandfather, or my great-grandfather was a chap called John James Whitley, or JJ Whitley, he was managing director of the company for about 40 years. It goes all the way back to 1762 when Thomas Greenall founded the company. So I’ve got eight generations behind me and I started tasting gin early and always loved it.”

Following a career in accountancy and finance. He took up the family legacy with the foundation of Whitley Neill in 2005. Since then, he’s gone on to create other brands like Marylebone London Dry Gin and Berkshire Botanical gin as part of the Halewood spirits family.

Any of those gin would be delicious in an infinitely adaptable cocktail like the Gin Cup. If you’re using a sweeter flavoured gin, then adjust the sugar levels accordingly. 

Right, without further ado….

Here’s how to make a Gin Cup:

90ml Whitley Neill Aloe and Cucumber Gin
30ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar syrup (or more to taste)
4 sprigs of fresh mint

Put three sprigs of mint and sugar syrup in a rocks glass and muddle together. Fill the glass with cracked ice, add the lemon juice and gin, and stir until a frost forms on the outside of the glass. Taste and add more sugar syrup if needed. Garnish with a final sprig of mint, a slice of lemon and cucumber.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be…

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be considered a cocktail. So, drink helmets safely strapped on, in we go!

Is the Gin and Tonic a cocktail? I put the big question to Twitter and the results were startling: 67% against and 33% for. If only all public votes could be so decisive. Bearing in mind that most of my followers are drinks nerds, does that mean that the G&T is officially not a cocktail?

Not a cocktail?

Let’s look at the arguments. Many people said that the G&T was a long drink and therefore not a cocktail. But does that mean that a Tequila Sunrise or a Highball isn’t a cocktail? 

It got a bit heated at times. Top American wine writer Miquel Hudin commented: “Two ingredients is a ‘combinado’  no matter what decoration or garnish you toss in those god awful bucket glasses.” But then a Martini usually only has two ingredients, sometimes only one if you’re particularly hardcore.

Drinks expert Julian Vallis even disagreed on the number of ingredients: “It’s a Gin Highball with 3 ingredients. Gin, quinine-infused sugar syrup and soda water. You can also call it a Kina Martini with Soda if you’d like to deconstruct it.” Which is true if you’re using something like Jeffrey’s tonic syrups

Others got quite technical, saying that Flips, Punches etc were also not cocktails. I feel that is getting too purist. Originally, a cocktail was a specific drink made from spirits, water, bitters and ice. But that ship sailed a long time ago, we’re quite happy to call new-fangled vermouth-laced concoctions like a Manhattan or a Martini cocktails.

As Richard Godwin, author of The Spirits put it:  “If the Mojito is a cocktail, which it is, then the G&T is surely a cocktail. (See also Paloma, Cuba Libre, Americano, etc). If you go by the ‘true’ definition of a cocktail, then Daiquiris, Mai Tais, Sidecars etc also aren’t cocktails. Which they clearly are.”

Gin and tonic

Very nice, but is it a cockail?

Just thrown together?

Another argument against is that while drinks like the Martini are prepared using shakers, jiggers etc. a G&T is simply thrown together. But then other cocktails are thrown together like a Paloma, Tequila and grapefruit soda, or a Gin and It, gin and sweet vermouth.

Also, you can make a G&T with as much care and attention as you might a Martini. In my youth, I used to laugh at my old grandfather who before handing us a drink would pedantically explain why he used so much ice but I now realise he was right. He always used miniature Schweppes bottles for maximum fizziness, freshly cut lemon and he measured the Beefeater. Getting a G&T from him was like visiting the Ritz. So different from my father’s with ice that had been sitting out all morning, warm gin and, worst of all, tonic water out of a 1.5 litre bottle.

In Victoria Moore’s superb How to Drink, she spends four pages outlining how to make the perfect G&T and that doesn’t include gin recommendations. “To make a good gin and tonic you do not just have to care about every ingredient, you have to be anguished about them,” she writes. “Ice cubes, the more the better.” I think she would have got on famously with my grandfather. 

So yes, you can throw a G&T together, you can throw a Martini together, but you can also make it with skill and generosity.

How to make the perfect Gin and Tonic

A G&T can be elevated with fancy garnishes like peppercorns, or be jazzed up with fruit bitters. I tend to stick with lemon (not out of the fridge, Moore warns) or orange, lime is overpowering, though a stick of rosemary adds a nice flavour and makes a handy swizzle stick. 

Those Spanish fishbowl glasses look great on Instagram but I’m with Hudin here. For me a heavy tumbler is best. It doesn’t hold as much, but you can always make yourself another one.

As for gin, it’s really a personal choice. Tonic water has a strong taste so I tend to go for gins with a) big juniper flavours b) plenty of alcohol. I have a bottle of Bathtub Gin on the side, so that’s what I’m using today but TanquerayHayman’s, Brighton and Beefeater are all excellent in a G&T.

Margo and Jerry from the Good LIfe

Famous G&T lovers Margo and Jerry from the Good Life

The tonic water question

When it comes to tonic water, we have the standard Fever Tree in the house, the Mediterranean version is great too, but don’t turn your nose up at Schweppes. A few years ago, Harper’s magazine did a blind tasting of tonic waters and standard Schweppes came out on top. Whatever you choose, the fizz is all important. It must come from a small can or bottle and, as Victoria Moore puts it: ““I scarcely need mention that the tonic must be chilled.” 

So there you have it. Conclusive proof that the G&T is indeed a cocktail. It could do with a proper name though. You could call it a Gintonica as they do in Spain. But I’m going with a Margo & Jerry, after the Leadbetters, the G&T swilling couple from The Good Life. Cin cin!

60cl Bathtub Gin
Fever Tree tonic water

Chill everything, except the garnish. Fill a tumbler with ice, add the gin and stir, top up with tonic, stir again and garnish with a piece of lemon or orange (and rosemary if you like).

You can buy a Bathtub and Fever Tree bundle here, or a Mediterranean version here

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