Living in gin

Jeremy Duplessis of the Feathers (Ieft) with Jack Brockbank of Guinness World RecordsOut in the Cotswolds countryside, in the market town of Woodstock, is the world’s biggest collection of gin. This is no casual statement by the owners of the Feathers Hotel – it was officially certified last month by an adjudicator from Guinness World Records who counted 161 different varieties of gin stocked in the hotel’s bar. “We have been building on the collection for the last three years and have picked up gins from all corners of the world so it’s great to have our efforts rewarded,” says hotel general manager Jeremy Duplessis (pictured above, left, with Jack Brockbank of Guinness World Records). With brands from Spain, the US, Germany and the Netherlands, it is a comprehensive list, including a bottle of Italian dry gin Vincenzi from 1950 and London dry gin Burnett’s White Satin from 1960 – costing £19.50 a glass.

This quantity of gins would not be possible at most bars, although a handful such as Graphic in Soho, London, have also built up impressive collections. With so many new brands coming onto the UK market every month, bar owners and managers are coming up with more selective lists. At The Lost Angel in Battersea, south London, an eclectic collection of gins has been put together for the new Gaslight Grill which opened in May. “Gin is definitely in vogue at the moment,” says co-founder and head bartender Matt Roberts. “People have become a bit more sophisticated about what they are drinking.” Rather than go for quantity, the Gaslight lists about 25 gins which are continually refreshed. It is mainly made up of boutique brands, from the rested Hayman’s 1850 Reserve Gin, Monkey 47, Jensen’s and Darnley’s View to Cold River and Bluecoat from the US and The Bitter Truth Pink Gin and Lebensstern Pink Gin from Germany. “Rather than accumulate a huge collection of gins and over-fill the shelves, all the gins are there for a reason,” Matt says. “It also means that all the bartenders can be trained in the background of each gin and how best to use them in drinks.” They are planning to introduce flights of Martinis using different styles of gin and look at matching tonics with different gins. They are also creating their own version of the sweeter-style Old Tom gin by ageing and sweetening gin in barrels.

The number of bars specialising in gin has ballooned over the past three years, mostly in London – the spiritual home of London dry gin – with bars such as Gillray’s and Galvin at Windows adding dedicated gin lists. Outside of London, the spirit is well established at places such as the Jekyll & Hyde in Birmingham and Bramble in Edinburgh, while a “gin parlour” is part of Trof group’s new bar Gorilla in Manchester which has its own house-produced buttered gin.

Zenna in Soho is the latest to switch to being a gin joint, albeit only till September 9. Launched on the fourth annual World Gin Day on June 9, it has been transformed into the Bombay Sapphire Blue Rooms (pictured below), with décor by designer Ross Hancock and artwork by Jari Kutasi. With Zenna bar manager Dan Thomson, a new list has been put together of both original drinks and twists on classics such as an Aviation and a Bucks Fizz.

The Blue Rooms will be home to masterclasses and events linked to one of Bombay Sapphire’s latest initiatives, The Imaginarium. Bartenders are invited down to explore and perfect infusions, bitters, tinctures and syrups using the latest equipment and cocktail gadgetry, from rotary evaporators to centrifuges. Running every month until August, it is led by Bombay Sapphire brand ambassadors Sean Ware and Sam Carter.

The two mixologists will also take bartenders through the Bombay Sapphire Company Flavour Experience, which aims to develop gin connoisseurship and expertise through a better understanding of aroma. They discuss 12 different aromas found in the gin category, how these relate to production and how they affect the flavour. The “flavour experience” will take place in other bars until November in cities such as Nottingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff and Manchester. On top of this, Bombay Sapphire has been running a competition to find the “world’s most imaginative bartender”, which was won by David Wolowidnyk of West Restaurant from Canada in the final in Morocco in May.

“The great flavours that the botanicals in gin offer really appeal to consumers at the moment, and the trade experimenting with all sorts of new cocktails is enticing new consumers into the category,” says Bombay Sapphire marketing controller Sharon Reid. “The younger, more discerning drinker is certainly switching from vodka to gin, mainly because gin has a great depth of flavour, and it is the current ‘cool’ spirit to be seen drinking.” She says gin has benefited from trends such as lower-alcoholic cocktails in London and New York becoming popular as an after-work alternative to higher-ABV wine and beer.

Bombay Sapphire, with a range of “Ginbilee” recipes, was part of a wave of gins that tapped into the British celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A report on the Bar magazine blog about jubilee cocktails proved that the vast majority of the jubilee-themed cocktails in bars featured gin, considered the most British of spirits, giving another push to the category. Pernod Ricard UK worked with top mixologists such as Nick Strangeway and Dré Masso on some Beefeater jubilee punches, pitching them as “ideal serves for a traditional British celebration”.

Beefeater has grown by nearly 20 per cent in volume year on year, and by 37.5 per cent in value, according to figures from CGA. Gin’s renaissance is being driven by premium brands, with total on-trade volumes down 5.8 per cent, reflecting overall spirits trends. This has been supported by British bartenders who have been extolling the virtues of good-quality gin, says Ian Peart, on-trade channel director for spirits at Pernod Ricard UK. “Within the gin category, consumers tend to be split between ‘old-school’ gin drinkers who prefer the classic flavours, such as Beefeater, and the ‘new-school’ that seem to prefer the more modern interpretations with unusual botanicals,” he adds. “In both cases, the increased knowledge of the category has meant that people are more willing to trade up and try something different and more premium in much the same way that vodka drinkers did a few years ago. Gin seemed to fall by the wayside a little while ago as vodka enjoyed a prolonged dominance within the white spirits category, but it is now enjoying a resurgence thanks to changing tastes, exciting new brands and limited-edition creations from brands such as Beefeater. Consumers are also realising that gin is a very versatile spirit that combines well with a variety of mixers such as cranberry, bitter lemon and grapefruit – not just tonic.”

Mixing with tonic remains the classic serve, with many premium brands such as Fever-Tree, Fentimans and 1724 being chosen to match premium gins. At the same time, bars have been moving away from traditional highball glasses to serving G&Ts in large wine glasses and balloons as they do in Spain. G&J Greenall has been promoting Bloom gin for serving in its branded stemmed balloon glass with a strawberry garnish, chosen by master distiller Joanne Moore as the best complement to the floral notes of the gin. This summer, sampling teams are promoting this serve to consumers at events under the banner of “Pick Your Own” alongside in-bar activities across the UK. “We wanted a point of difference that would make Bloom stand out,” Joanne explains. “We went back to my inspiration for Bloom which is all about the garden and things that are quintessentially English.”
Berkeley Square, which Joanne developed as a more masculine style to Bloom, has been quietly growing in the UK but more activity is planned for it later this year.

G&J Greenall also continues to develop Greenalls Gin in the on-trade after its relaunch in 2011 for the Warrington-based company’s 250th birthday. Bartenders have come up with innovative ideas for mixing the classic-style gin, especially through the North West Best Bartender competition. “Mixologists have got bored with other spirits, and consumers are wanting more flavour to come from the actual spirit,” Joanne says. Greenalls matches well with Schweppes Tonic, she adds, pointing out that the Schweppes Company was founded on the basis of a carbonation process discovered by scientist Joseph Priestley, also based in Warrington.

Diageo GB is promoting Gordon’s Gin for mixing with Schweppes Tonic as part of its partnership with Coca-Cola Enterprises on the joint marketing campaign A Celebratory British Summer. For Tanqueray, it is the “Quatro” perfect serve – 25ml of Tanqueray, a premium tonic water, a fresh lime wedge and a lime wheel. “Spirits and mixers are the most profitable mixed drink in the on-trade, and 37 per cent of drinkers claim they would order spirit and mixer drinks if they were served better, presenting a strong opportunity for licensees if they provide perfectly served drinks,” says Andrew Leat, senior category development manager for the on-trade at Diageo GB.
Bartenders’ rediscovery of speakeasy, Prohibition-style serves and classic cocktails such as a Gin Sling and a Gimlet and their interest in the heritage of gin have been key to gin’s revival, says Jeremy Hill, chairman of drinks company Hi-Spirits. “There is also the influence of TV programmes such as Mad Men which have made cocktails such as the Martini fashionable again.”

Broker’s Gin, which was added to Hi-Spirits’ portfolio in February, is being promoted for quintessentially British cocktails on the back of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. “British cocktail culture has a heritage and cachet recognised around the word, and this summer is all about the very best of British, and London in particular.” As Winston Churchill reportedly enjoyed a classic London dry gin neat, one of Broker’s signature serves is the Broker’s Winston Churchill Martini – just chilled gin with a twist of lime or an olive.

A slice of orange is the recommended garnish for a G&T made with London Hill Gin, which brings out the citrus notes of the spirit’s profile. A new label and packaging from Ian Macleod Distillers highlights the gin’s traditional single-batch distillation process and the use of juniper, emphasising the premium positioning in a market where premium gins are in growth.

The signature serve being promoted by Halewood International for its Whitley Neill gin is to mix it with a splash of tonic water, ice and a handful of cape gooseberries. This is inspired by two of its botanicals which come from Africa – cape gooseberries and baobob fruit – which help to create a vibrant gin with bold, warm flavours. “Emerging premium brands such as Bloom and Sipsmith are gaining more distribution and flavoured gins such as Hoxton Gin’s coconut and grapefruit are enticing new consumers to the category,” says Sian Dixon, brand manager for Whitley Neill. However, she warns that licensees cannot be complacent and should look for compelling serve ideas.

Many commentators trace the current gin revival back to the launch of Hendrick’s Gin in 2003, which was building on development of the category after Bombay Sapphire came onto the scene in 1987. Hendrick’s continues to grow on the back of its eccentric image, with quirky activities such as last year’s “Cucumbrella Cup” challenge to bartenders to create an unusual cocktail umbrella.

Without a big advertising budget, brand ambassador Duncan McRae says experiential activities such as the Hendrick’s Horseless Carriage of Curiosities are still converting consumers to gin. “People come to us and say they don’t like gin but then try it in a cocktail and say it’s delicious,” he says. “A bartender’s role is to protect consumers from marketing and educate them, in the nicest possible way, about what they should be looking for in a good-quality spirit. Demand for artisanal spirits and products with a little bit more thought put into them has allowed smaller brands to gain a niche following.” This approach has helped Hendrick’s to achieve 25 per cent growth in value year on year, adds James O’Connor, senior brand manager at distributor First Drinks. “The simple G&T with cucumber is instantly recognisable and consumers understand what makes Hendrick’s different and why they will pay more for it.” Other new serves include the Victorian Mojito, based on the UK’s most popular cocktail but with the rum replaced by gin.

Despite being distilled in Ayrshire, Hendrick’s eccentric British image takes priority over its Scottishness. However, other brands have focused on their regional provenance such as Scotland’s small-batch Caorunn, whose “Celtic” botanicals include Coul Blush apple, heather, bog myrtle and dandelion. Also from Scotland is Boë Superior Gin which has gained a foothold in the off-trade but is now seeking more listings in the on-trade through the likes of wholesaler Matthew Clark. With an ABV of 47 per cent, it has 13 botanicals including ginger, grains of paradise, orange, lemon, almond and peppery cubeb berry. Although named after the 17th-century Dutch inventor of genever Franz de la Boë, it is a premium small-batch gin made in a traditional Carterhead still.

The Penderyn Distillery in the valleys of south Wales produces small batches of Brecon Special Reserve Gin which, although made with 10 botanicals from around the world, has the unique selling point of being a Welsh gin. “We’ve noticed several new bars specialising in gin, and established venues are incorporating multiple gins into their offering,” says Penderyn managing director Stephen Davies. “Specialist, high-quality gins such as ours are doing very well.”

Hayman’s Gins, handled by drinks company Love Drinks, has been developing its range of classic styles from Old Tom to the 1850 Reserve. The latest addition is Royal Dock Gin which represents the style of gin supplied by previous generations of the Hayman distilling family to the Royal Navy and the trade from 1863. The navy-strength gin has an ABV of 57 per cent which was the strength required to enable gunpowder to still light if gin was split on it. Tastings, training and masterclasses have made Hayman’s popular with bartenders looking for brands with heritage and good quality for classic cocktails, says Hayman Distillers director Miranda Hayman. “With an ever-growing understanding of the classics in the trade, there is a market desire for elegant examples of gins through the ages and Hayman’s fills that gap. In the UK there is a growing interest in provenance and loyalty towards locally produced products. Gin is a classically British drink and producers in the home market can respond quickly to these trends. However, the market is becoming a little too crowded as demand is not matching the number of new entrants.”

The small-batch Sipsmith gin, developed by master distiller Jared Brown and made in a copper pot still in west London, has grown phenomenally since its 2009 launch through sampling, awards, training and engaging directly with bartenders. “I think the future looks really encouraging for gin in the UK,” says Fairfax Hall, who heads the business with Sam Galsworthy. “It’s such an interesting category with so much opportunity to differentiate in flavour profile and offer genuine variety in terms of taste to the consumer that it should continue to go from strength to strength. There may come a time when, with the number of new gins launching, there will be a saturation point, and the on-trade will lead something of a shake-out. But we would envisage that the more authentic gins will endure.”

Bombay Sapphire Blue Rooms at Zenna

Old English Gin

The makers of Geranium Gin, Hammer & Sons, have launched a new gin to match the original taste and look of gin in 1783. Old English Gin, distributed by Coe Vintners, is made at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham with 11 botanicals including cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and lemon, based on a recipe from 1783. It comes in recycled champagne bottles based on the fact that all kinds of vessels, including champagne bottles, were used in England in 1783 for carrying gin. Founder Henrik Hammer says: “I wanted to re-create English gin as it was made in the old days, offering bartenders a tool to make classics such as the Julep, Smash, Crusta, Martinez and Tom Collins, and have them taste as they were intended.”

Colonel Fox’s London Dry

Colonel Fox’s London Dry Gin is the first product launched by Richard Herbert and Stuart Ekins, founders of drinks company Cask Liquid Marketing, as part of a range of spirits brands under the company name of Cremorne 1859. For the gin, they have teamed up with Charles Maxwell, owner of Thames Distillers in Clapham, south London, and artist Charlotte Cory who has designed the label.
It uses six botanicals, including a good hit of juniper, and is recommended for a gin and tonic garnished with an English orchard cherry. “We wanted to create an honest gin with a nod to both past and present fashions, with a hint of playful hedonism,” Stuart says.

The Star at Night

Established for 10 years, the Star at Night in Soho, London, has been developing a reputation for its gins. It has a regularly changing list reflecting the broad diversity of gin styles, with different garnishes selected to suit each brand in a gin and tonic. They are served in balloon glasses “which allow the flavours of the gin to breathe and come to life”, says founder and owner Julia Forte. In March, Julia set up the London Gin Club offering loyalty rewards, events and other benefits. Her latest project is “Gin Jaunts” – small gin and tonics using a range of four gins with matched fruits, herbs and flowers, served with tasting notes. “The idea behind ‘Gin Jaunts’ is to give our customers and members the chance to explore and compare gin, learn a little about why they are different and what variety of botanicals are used for each,” Julia explains.

Portobello Road

Leeds-based operator Leelex has championed gin at its bars, setting up a Ginstitute museum and Still Room for making gin upstairs at its bar Portobello Star in London. More recently, it has created a Still Room at Jake’s Bar in Leeds where they make their own distillates and liqueurs for drinks. At all the company’s bars, the main gin is Portobello Road No 171 – a classic London dry gin produced at Thames Distillers for Leelex. Apart from the choice of nutmeg among its botanicals, it has the selling point that its development was led by leading bartender Jake Burger. “There are a lot of new gins in the market but none has quite the same story that we are telling,” says Leelex director Ged Feltham.

The Rib Room

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge, London, champions British ingredients, and this includes a focus on gin. Inspired by the 1806 definition of a cocktail being only a spirit, water, sugar and bitters, consultancy The Gorgeous Group – working with bar manager Michele Caggianese and his team – developed the Gin & Bitters Experience. Guests can choose from 15 gins served with 10 seasonally changing hand-crafted bitters, which are dispensed on antique silver trays. Each bitter is matched to each gin’s botanicals.

No 3 Gin

The authentically British credentials of No 3 London Dry Gin from Berry Bros & Rudd has made it ideal for celebrations this summer. For the Queen’s jubilee year, the company is promoting the St James’s Jubilee (pictured) – named after its London location – made by combining 50ml of the gin in a champagne flute with 100ml of English sparkling wine, 15ml of elderflower liqueur and 24ml of fresh lemon juice, topped off with a raspberry.

Knockeen Hills

Knockeen Hills is best known for producing high-quality Irish poteens but its Elderflower Gin and Heather Gin are London cut dry gins created at Thames Distillers in London. However, they use spirit imported from Ireland and natural botanicals including the elderflower and heather that give them their names.

Sloane’s Gin

The Netherlands are best known for creating genevers – the sweeter forerunners of gin, made from malted grain rather than neutral grain spirit. However, Dutch distillery Zuidam also produces Sloane’s Gin for drinks company Toorank, with 10 botanicals including orange, lemon and vanilla. It has quickly gained a strong profile in the UK on-trade, boosted by the brand’s Twisted Traditions cocktail competition.

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