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The Third Wave - Boutique Gins

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The US might be spearheading the gin revival with a crop of new-style boutique offerings, but the UK isn’t
far behind, says Geraldine Coates


Experts have been talking about the revival of gin for some time, but no one could have predicted the current level of activity in the category.

It all started when Bombay Sapphire created a market for less juniper-dominated gin and attracted a younger audience for what had long been seen as a middle-aged tipple.

That success in turn inspired gins with innovative botanical profiles such as Hendrick’s and Martin Miller’s, which are now stalwarts on every decent backbar.

And so now we’re into the third wave, with the arrival of boutique and micro-distillery gins from all over the map.


NEW GINS ON THE BLOCK

In the US, microdistilling, like microbrewing before it, is taking off, and there are now around 90 craft distilleries in the US (up from five in 1990).

Boutique gins Powered by a consumer backlash against mass-produced products, American distillers are experimenting with a range of premium small-batch spirits, with the gin offerings bearing fruit rather impressively.

Indeed, we’re at the point where American gin is almost a category in itself, reinventing the London Dry formula by pushing exotic citrus and aromatic ingredients to the forefront and letting juniper take a back seat, with all of this bound together by a higher-than-average alcoholic strength.

And the good news is that many of these artesian gins have now gained distribution in the UK (see box, right).

Anchor Distilling was one of the first to market with Junipero, a pot-distilled gin with a botanicals profile that includes more citrus and less juniper than the traditional botanicals mix.

Then there’s No. 209, a robust gin built around bergamot and sweet orange, with lots of lavender and floral notes.

Aviation Gin is a collaboration between the House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon and mixologist Ryan Magarian, who wanted to create a gin for vintage cocktails such as the Aviation. The product’s rye grain spirit base hints at a Dutch jonge genever.

The latest arrival on the US micro-distilling scene is Bluecoat. Craft-distilled in Philadelphia, the recipe features organic juniper berries and is big on citrus, with three different kinds of peel used. Just launched, it’s getting rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and is outperforming expectations at home. No UK distribution confirmed as yet but expect an announ-cement early next year.

Bulldog is an American gin with a difference, in that it is firmly in the London Dry camp and is even made in the UK. With its in-your-face bottle, Bulldog is not for the fainthearted, while botanicals such as poppy and dragon eye give it an exotic twist. It was created specially for the Dirty Martini, which is founder Anshuman Vohra’s favourite drink.


ACROSS THE CHANNEL

France is also becoming a boutique gin breeding ground. Here the story is more one of distillers rediscovering their roots. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a substantial gin industry in northern France which, let’s not forget, was once part of the Low Countries and hence genever heartland.

Now established French gins such as Citadelle and Magellan have been joined by new arrivals Boudier Saffron Gin and G’Vine. There’s no question that both bring something new to the party. Famous microdistiller Gabriel Boudier of Dijon makes Saffron Gin to a 19th century colonial recipe. Deep orange in colour, it’s heavily infused with saffron and has a subtle spiciness derived from fennel and angelica seed. With a slice of orange it adds a whole new dimension of Campari-like, herbal bitterness to a G&T.

G’Vine is a totally different kettle of fish. Made in Cognac, it’s the first ever gin to be made from grape spirit re-distilled with botanicals such as vine flowers, ginger root, nutmeg and lime. Recommended signature serves to suit its light floral profile include the Grape Martini with muddled grapes and grape juice.

The other gin that everyone is talking about is Zuidam. Its point of difference is that each botanical is separately distilled, then blended and combined with a triple distilled grain spirit. The result is a big gin, strong on juniper but with a fiery sweetness – a gin lover’s gin.


BACK IN BLIGHTY

Lest we think innovation in the UK stopped with Hendrick’s and Martin Millers, there’s plenty of action on the boutique front here too.

London Gin, made with bergamot oil and a range of interesting botanicals, launched at this year’s London International Wine and Spirit Fair. Made by the London Gin Company in partnership with Spanish drinks company Gonzalez Byass, its distinctive blue colour, derived from gardenia, is attracting a lot of attention.

Whitley Neill – made with African botanicals including Cape Gooseberry and the fruits and seeds of the Baobab tree – is further up the food chain, having been around for three years. It’s just been listed in Waitrose and is a firm favourite at many top bars.

‘With gin there’s no way to disguise inferior products with fancy packaging or a gimmicky sell,’ says Jason Scott of Edinburgh’s award-winning Bramble Bar. ‘A new gin must have substance and an authentic USP before we will stock it. But we sell around 95% of gin in a G&T so it has to work in the classic gin drinks.’

But Angus Winchester of Barmetrix sounds a note of caution: ‘New flavours are always welcome but there are caveats. Some of these new gins are too distinctive to suit all tastes so they may never be house pours, but, rather, fantastic opportunities to experiment in cocktails and up-sell.’


OLD TOM GIN

In the 19th century Old Tom was the predominant style of gin – sweeter, more viscous and more aromatic than the London Dry style, which eventually came to define the category.

Old Tom Gin label Tastewise, Old Tom sat between gin, as we know it, and Dutch genever. Because distillation methods then were not as sophisticated as they are today, the spirit itself would have been heavier and more malty, with musky genever-type flavours.

Until the 1960s most gin companies made an Old Tom, but eventually stopped because of lack of demand.

Now it seems that Old Tom is on its way back. Hayman Distillers is launching Hayman’s Old Tom Gin to allow bartenders to revisit the glory days of the ‘cocktail age’. It’s a sweet gin distilled traditionally with more pungent botanicals such as nutmeg, cassia bark, cinnamon and liquorice, layered on a juniper and citrus profile.

James Hayman explains the rationale: ‘There’s a definite trend of bartenders harking back to the classic gin cocktails. Research told us that there is a demand for an Old Tom gin that would allow them to recreate the authenticity of vintage drinks like the Martinez, the Ramos Fizz, the Gibson Girl and other classics. We’re using an old family recipe that is as close as possible to an original Old Tom. It’s a niche product that is very much targeted at the on-trade and will give bartenders opportunities to experiment.’

Hayman Distillers, 020 7922 1615


BOUTIQUE GINS AVAILABLE IN THE UK

All gins contain juniper, coriander, angelica and orris. The gins below add other less commonly-used botanicals.

No. 209

45% abv

Key botanicals: bergamot and sweet orange with floral notes

RRP £28, Eaux de Vie,020 7724 5009

AVIATION GIN

42% abv

Key botanicals: anise, lavender, sarsaparilla, sweet orange peel

RRP £25, Eaux de Vie,020 7724 5009

BOUDIER SAFFRON GIN

40% abv

Key botanicals: saffron, fennel

RRP £19.99, Emporia Brands Ltd, 01483 458700

BULLDOG

40% abv

Key botanicals: poppy, cassia bark, dragon eye, lotus leaves, lavender

RRP £17.39, Venus,020 8801 0011

G’VINE

40% abv

Key botanicals: vine flowers, ginger root, nutmeg, lime

RRP £28, Venus,020 8801 0011

JUNIPERO

49.3% abv

Key botanicals: grapefruit detected

RRP £29, Coe Vintners, 020 8551 4966

LONDON GIN

47% abv

Key botanicals: liquorice, cinnamon, savory, orange root, bergamot

RRP £24.99, Gonzales Byass UK Ltd, 01707 274790

WHITLEY NEILL

42% abv

Key botanicals: Cape gooseberry, and the fruit and seeds of the South African Baobab tree

RRP £16.99, Coe Vintners, 020 8551 4966

ZUIDAM

44.5% abv

Key botanicals: fresh whole lemons, liquorice, vanilla beans

RRP £21.99, Malcolm Cowen, 020 8965 1937


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine November/December 2007


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