A Gin Too Far – Have we Become Too Adventurous With This Terrific Tipple?
In a Gin far far away…
So, in a world captivated by the phenomenon that gin has become, the lengths Gin producers are going to in order to ensure their product stands out from the crowd is escalating. Has the gin craze gone too crazy, has this ever-increasing category, with new gins being created and realised at an expediential rate, with an onslaught of bizarre brands and bizarre botanicals, help maintain gins position and popularity or quicken its end?! Is it a Gin too far?!
So once upon a time, we had a handful of gin titans on the market, most of them being historical brands, Beefeater, Tanqueray etc, brands which were pioneers at the time, in the late 1800’s that is.
Gin has had a long and colourful journey, beginning with its creation in Holland in the early 17th century, sold by apothecaries to treat stomach ailments, gout and an array of other medical issues at the time.
Favoured for the potent medicinal properties of juniper, gin was discovered by the British during the thirty-year war, where they were given Jenever, for “Dutch courage” and to fortify the soldiers in the bad weather.
More in style to a whiskey than the bright flavoursome liquids we know today, jenever was brought back to England and became popular for its medicinal properties and ability to inebriate.
With legislation by the crown to try to promote the consumption and production of English spirits, Old Tom gin became the popular drop during the 18th century. The style is slightly sweeter than London dry (which hadn’t been created yet) and drier than jenever.
Abuse of alcohol by the poor (partly helped by the fact gin was so cheap and safer to drink than the water), lead to more regulation and tighter controls, and then gin riots. These all lead to gin production being taken up by respectable firms and the need and want for these companies to create something new, the Beefeaters and Tanquerays to name a few.
That was the beginning of some of our modern gin granddaddies, who experimented and researched new methods and so London dry was born, a sophisticated lighter form of spirit which in turn helped evolve a style of cocktails being created.
But with the reimagining of Bombay, how it was produced, refining the London dry style, and enhancing the product with vapour infusion and bottling in a distinctive blue bottle, gin began to find a home amongst the masses again. For the longest time, gin was considered a depression inducing libation of the old, with images of grandfathers and grandmothers quaffing it with glee.
The modern cocktail revolution of the Noughties also helped push it to a popular table. But it took the release of Hendrick’s to completely kick start it. The use of an amazing marketing campaign and interesting botanicals made Hendrick’s a hit. The nature of the category allows for an awesome amount of innovation because the rules have more wiggle room than the other categories.
The gin titans went unchallenged for a long time, but the new wave that was a result of brands pushing boundaries open the floodgates to a new wave of gin heroes powered by the change of tastes and perception of the category, artisanship and locally owned and created brands. These new kids on the block disrupted the programmed notions of what the category is, and what it should be.
Now, consumer choice is boundless. But because the market has become saturated with brands, as gin continues to be the popular choice, the search for the next big thing has resulted in some brands going a little bit weird to stay competitive and other brands breaking all the rules to compete. In Ireland alone, the gin craze has helped shine the light on our ever growing, quality artisan spirits industry.
Gin for a time was the Irish producers stop-gap product, whilst they waited for their whiskey stock to come to age, making and selling gin paid the bills, but the gins popularity and ever-growing market share has seen the rise of stand-alone none whiskey producers. And this can be seen all the world over.
There are several types/styles of gin, from the be-gin-ing we have Jenever/Dutch gin, old tom, London dry, Plymouth gin, navy strength, New wave/Cold Compound, flavoured gins and western style. While gin creativity was once largely restricted to alcoholic strength, sweetness and packaging, modern producers are offering a large variety of local and seasonal botanicals, unusual base ingredients, aged gins, cask finishes, liquid colours, Juniper light recipes, and pioneering production methods.
Juniper with hints of citrus. The category encompasses the vast majority of popular brands. Beefeater, Tanqueray, Greenhills, Bombay Sapphire – they’re all London Dry. This gin style is drier and juniper-heavy.
New Wave/Cold Compound
These gins tend to utilise less juniper heavy recipes than typical London dry and put more emphasis on other aromatics like floral botanicals, citrus, or, as is the case with Hendrick’s, rose and cucumber. Also, production methods differ, the addition of compounds and flavours after distillation, to add flavours and aromas, that may have been lost in distillation. There are no legal classifications for a mass of modern craft gin, but the stylistic similarities are enough to class them as new wave.
London Dry similar flavour, with a whole lot more alcoholic kick. Clocking in at 57% alcohol, navy strength gin is not for the faint-hearted. This gin derives its name from British naval soldiers who would douse gunpowder with the spirit and then try to light the gunpowder on fire.
A big Viscous mouthfeel and flavours of malt and savoury botanicals. The grandaddy of all Gins.
Less of a juniper bite and a more of malty sweetness. Legend has it that the “Old Tom” moniker comes from a 19th-century British bar that secretly dispensed its gin. The bar featured a sign of a black tomcat and was outfitted with a slot into which the imbiber inserted coins and in return received a shot of gin.
Flavour profile and bits and pieces: Less focus on juniper dominated recipes, but instead producers utilise other botanicals, to share the flavour profile. An artistic expression of gin, highlighting a plethora of botanicals, and whilst retaining a somewhat dry-natured gin.
Flavour profile and bits and pieces: Depends on the flavour, there are many examples of good and extremely bad. One of the most common examples is sloe gin which tastes like a juniper dosed berry liqueur.
There are some great flavour-enhanced gins on the market. With pink gins being the most popular currently, but sometimes producers cut corners, and flavoured syrups are used in addition to a base gin recipe, so cold compound, but with less finesse. And these corrupted versions are starting to creep in, to maximise in on the cashing in on the gin craze.
Because the rules for gin are broad for the most part, producers can push all sorts of boundaries for better or for worse.
And here’s my gin picks that I believe may be going too far; 3 Pugs Bubblegum Gin, Hubba Bubba Gin Liqueur, Jammy Dodger Gin Liqueur, Fruit Salad Gin Liqueur, Custard Cream Gin Liqueur, Unicorns Tears (sparkly raspberry gin) and Bakewell Gin.
I’m all for being creative and pushing boundaries, I just hope it doesn’t derail the growth of the category. Here’s some gins that deserve honourable mentions for some of the modern successes:
So keep being brave and experiment, drink responsibly, and make up your own minds, are we a gin too far?
Darren Geraghty is the Bar Manager and cocktail specialist for Candlelight Bar @ Siam Thai Dundrum and Malahide and well-respected consultant, started his career in 2000 and has represented Ireland on the world cocktail stage and won numerous Irish titles.
At Candlelight Bar, he has built the brand and bar team, focusing on of high quality but reasonably priced drinks, excellent customer service and a distinctive splash of speakeasy styled flair and theatre.
The award-winning Candlelight Bar has secured two for the Irish Craft Cocktail Bar Awards Best in Leinster 2016 and 2017, RAI Best Cocktail Experience and Sky Bar Awards Best Restaurant Bar 2017.