Did you know? Gin originated from ‘Jenever’, a Dutch spirit aged in casks and made with juniper berries that was used as a medicinal tonic to treat ailments such as stomach complaints and gallstones.
In the 17th century, during the 30 years’ war, the English saw the Dutch soldiers drinking Jenever to boost morale before battle, which resulted in the term ‘Dutch Courage’. The English troops developed a taste themselves for the spirit, which they referred to as gin, and it became a more recreational drink when they returned home. When the Dutchman, William of Orange, claimed the English throne later that century the gin industry exploded in Britain in part due to its popularity at court but also due to the imposition of a blockade on the import of brandy making gin even more popular because it could be produced in Britain.
Fast forward to the mid-nineteenth century where the tropical British colonials found the only effective measure against malaria was quinine, a bitter powder made from the bark of the cinchona tree, known as the ‘fever tree’ because its bark was able to stop chills. Tonic water, whose main flavour is quinine, was created to make taking the powder a little more appetising. However the colonials soon found that the addition of gin, sugar, ice and citrus was the perfect way to temper the bitterness and make the cure palatable and so the G&T was born.
After the cocktail craze of the 1920s, when gin was at its height of popularity, things gradually quietened down until a return to favour at the start of the ‘noughties’. The number of distilleries in Britain has risen significantly in the last five years to well over 300 offering a ginormous range of styles and flavours from rhubarb and ginger to seaweed, there is something for everyone.
Legally gin must be at least 37.5% ABV and contain juniper as the predominant botanical flavour although a wide range of other botanicals (natural plants and herbs) may be used to create distinct flavours for the many brands available.
London Dry Gin is a style made popular in London rather than being where the spirit originates and must contain only natural ingredients with no additional flavourings or colourings added after the distillation process. Other ‘gins’ may be flavoured after the distillation, and are often called compound gins to distinguish them from others.
So that’s a brief resume about this versatile spirit but how do you create that perfect gin and tonic?
With so much choice, it’s a real art to know where to start.
A good place to start is with a glass! But should it be a highball or a Copa (the Spanish word for glass)? The highball is a good all-rounder and best used for those long summer drinks on the patio.
The Copa glass has a long stem, which means the heat from your hand won’t warm the drink and the large, rounded balloon shape narrows towards the top containing and enhancing all the wonderful aromas within the glass. So the choice, as they say, is entirely personal.
Next to the choice of gin. With so many to choose from we couldn’t possibly cover the full range so here are a few of the most popular British gins readily available in our local shops.
Bloom: Slightly sweeter than most gins with a citrus flavour; an easy-drinking gin.
Tanqueray No. Ten: A small batch London dry gin that is citrusy, fresh and full-bodied.
Hendricks: Best all-rounder for a good, solid G&T with a summery floral aroma.
Bombay Sapphire: One of the most popular premium London Dry gins on the market.
Silent Pool: A subtly sweet delicately balanced tipple.
Gordons: Possibly one of the most famous gin brands. It received its first Royal Warrant in 1925 and has since received a further three.
GB gin: Crafted by copper pot distilling Chase Potato Vodka with 10 botanicals. Aromatic and flavoursome.
It’s not only a rise in gin varieties, the simple tonic water has seen a change of fortune too.
The one you select can be just as important as the gin you use. Classic tonic water no longer has large quantities of quinine and is used simply for flavour. Different tonic waters each add a different taste so if you are looking to ring the changes, here are a few of the leading brands available and with many offering a variety of enhanced flavours there is sure to be one to suit your preferred tipple.
Schweppes: an old stalwart for the traditional G&T and a good all-rounder.
Merchant’s Heart: the idea behind this is that it enhances the gin rather than simply mixing with it.
Bottlegreen: made with Cotswold spring water and a high level of fizz this retains its sparkle.
Fentimans: makers of natural botanical drinks full of flavour for over 100 years.
Fever-Tree: what a rise to stardom! Now the front runner of tonic producers offering gentle flavours with minimal aftertaste.
So there you have it; the gin and the tonic. All you need now is ice and a slice of lemon right? Wrong!
With each of the myriad of flavours comes an equally daunting list of garnishes to bring out the signature botanical flavours to the full.
Suggestions range from the simple lemon or lime to be used with gins with citrus notes, to the more unusual liquorice roots and vanilla pods for the sweeter gins. To make it easier there are lots of online tools to help you choose for example gin garnish wheels.
For the gins we selected the suggestions are, thankfully, very straight forward with citrus garnishes such as lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit. However, the Hendricks often comes with cucumber and for the Bloom, mint or strawberry is a winner. Just don’t hold back on the ice.
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From where does the word ‘Gin’ originate?
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