The New Craft Gins
Small batch artisan gins
Never having been a gin drinker I was intrigued by all the new artisan gins available in Europe. I do recall a few unfortunate gin moments in my younger years though. I always hated the taste of tonic and that whole notion of a gin martini, fortunately, by-passed me. Small batch craft gins are everywhere these days and these new artisanal gins are winning over gin haters all over the world. Artisan Gins have moved into the mainstream and now folks are even attempting to make their own craft gin at home.
I do love the names Gin has gone by in yesteryear though mother’s Ruin, Cuckold’s Comfort, and Dutch Courage for example. Redolent (literally) of those nasty Victorian alleyways, Jack the Ripper and the mean streets of London back in the day. History has given Gin some pretty colourful nicknames.
Of course, there is also the N. American history of bathtub gin, and gin smuggled in from England to lift the spirits of Americans during Prohibition. Thank gods those days are now over and even I can be convinced to enjoy a new kind of gin.
The British have always big gin drinkers and have quaffed their fair share of it over the years. These days hand made, small batch produced gins are being created all over the United Kingdom and Ireland. This quiet revolution has been taking place across the globe but here in Britain, the idea of sustainable, environmentally friendly farm to table foods has impacted the spirit field.
The field to bottle revolution has changed up the spirit markets and folks are tasting gins infused with rhubarb, roses and other flavours. At the Country Home show, there were several artisanal gin and vodka producers. I was am avowed non-gin or vodka drinker, prior to tasting these products, but the quality and flavour have made me change my mind.
The History of Gin
The word gin itself comes from the French ‘genièvre’ and Dutch ‘jenever’, both of which mean ‘juniper’.
Simply put gin is a colourless, or ‘neutral’ spirit, that can be made from fermented grain or molasses, and flavoured with juniper berries. Over the years various herbs, fruits and spices, aka botanicals, have been added to the mix to enhance the flavour.
In the 18th Century, gin was the drug of the poor. Slum ridden Georgian London was hell and for a few pennies, the poor found escape from hunger and cold through gin. During WWII, gin still being the British drink of choice was called Mother’s Ruin, because many a poor girl had a few too many and succumbed to the ‘charms’ of a soldier.
Considered the quintessentially British spirit, gin was actually created in Holland where it was medicinal. The Dutch created something they called “genever”. the British tried to imitate the drink when back in the UK and gin was the result.
The rise of Artisan Gins
Now gin is back thanks to the slow food movement’s encouragement to grow, make and buy local. The traditional ‘G&T’ is still one of the most popular drinks in England, but these days it is made with an artisanal gin and tonic. With the popularity of gin on the rise, new brewers have set out to make artisan gin not only as pure as possible but also with the addition of flavours such as rhubarb, elderflower, and raspberry.
Gin nights at specialist bars are all the rage and can be found from one end of the country to the other. In London, the place to really understand and learn about gin in is at the Ginstitute, in Portobello Road, where gin fans can create their own personalized sipping gin. The Ginstitute provides the botanicals from cassia and juniper to coriander and orris root for you to create your own flavoured gin and you get to take a bottle home with you.
Check out the Gin Kin website on all things Gin here.
This is Gin Kins Recipe to make your own artisan Gin
- Sterilise 1-litre jar with boiling water and add 70cl vodka
- Add your botanicals – 4og juniper berries, 10g coriander seeds, 1/2 cinnamon stick, 1/2 liquorice root, 2 cardamom pods
- Infuse for 24 hours in a cool dark a taste — the juniper flavour should be developing
- Add 1 piece each of orange and lemon peel with the bitter pith removed
- Infuse for 24 hours. Shake once. Don’t over infuse.
- Taste again. If you like it, sieve out the botanicals and strain through a coffee filter.
- Develop in the jar for 2 days. Filter again and you should have a lovely amber gin.
- To finish, simply add your tonic and garnish. It’s gin o’clock!
British Artisan Gins to try
Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin, London
This is an old gin brought back to life. It was originally supplied to the Royal Navy in the 1800s. This gin was inspired by the times and supplied to all those in the Navy.
Navy Strength Gins are at 57.5% ABV and as a result, Hayman’s Royal Dock has an aromatic nose with citrus and floral notes, namely orange blossom wafting out as soon as you begin to pour. The mouthfeel is smooth but also carries an unrivalled botanical intensity of flavour thanks to the higher strength. It’s a classic of the genre and a must-have gin for lovers of this overproof style.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin, London
You can’t have a list of British gins and not include Sipsmith. In 2009 the first new licence to distill in London since 1820 was granted to Sipsmith Independent Spirits and since then, a raft of new micro-distilleries have followed. This original recipe is bold, complex and aromatic with a floral nose followed by dry juniper and citrus on the palate.
Portobello Road Gin, London
Designed by the team at Portobello Road and distilled at Thames Distillery nearby, this is a gin that is hard to knock. With its booming juniper, classic coriander seed core and peppery nutmeg finish, it’s a perfect choice for those who like a classic G&T with a wedge of lime.
Scottish Artisan Gins
Caorunn Gin, Scotland
Distilled and bottled in Scotland, the distillery is situated in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, at the foot of the Haughs of Cromdale.
It includes six traditional botanicals (juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark) and adds further Scottish botanicals including rowan berry, heather, dandelion and Coul blush apple.
Porter’s Gin, Aberdeen
Made in Aberdeen, this is a classic gin with bold juniper and bright citrus notes. It’s created using a combination of old and new techniques. Light flavours are extracted from delicate botanicals through cold distillation so as not to damage them with heat, while other more robust ingredients are distilled at one of the UK’s oldest gin distilleries, allowing the unique characteristics of each to shine through.
Rock Rose, Scotland
Rock Rose is bright and packed with fruity berries and a delicate astringency, with roseroot, sea buckhorn and Rowan berries native to the area picked to compliment juniper and other traditional botanicals.
Irish Artisan Gins
Named for the world’s oldest cow – Big Bertha who gave birth to 39 calves and lived for 48 years. This gin is produced at Ballyvolane House which is an estate near Cork. It’s a milk gin because it is made from the whey ethanol from the milk production.
Boatyard Double Gin
Made from all organic ingredients juniper, sweet gale (bog myrtle), unwaxed lemon peel, coriander, grains of paradise, orris, angelica and liquorice. The local angle comes from the sweet gale, which is harvested twice a year by McGirr’s nieces and nephews in Fermanagh. The trick to sweet gale is to pick it early in the morning, and not after rain – no mean feat in Ireland!
Blackwater Gin, made at the Blackwater Distillery in County Waterford, is truly a ‘craft’ Gin. Everything is made by hand and eye; in fact, the team proudly claims that the only automated thing in their distillery is the coffee machine because life’s too short for bad Gin and instant coffee.
Made at the Drumshanbo Distillery in County Leitrim, this Gin takes its name from the major botanical used. Gunpowder tea from China. As well as traditional botanicals from all over the globe, Gunpowder Gin also features locally sourced Meadowsweet, linking back to its Irish roots.
These new flavoured gins are worth tasting, they don’t tend to require a mixer although for summer drinks on the patio a shot of lemonade is very refreshing.
Pinkster Gin came about when its founder discovered he could no longer tolerate beer or wine. He had always made sloe gin and other liqueurs and decided to attempt flavouring a gin. Turns out raspberry made the best-flavoured gin and he began to distil and produce this bright pink gin.
The core spirit is distilled with five botanicals and then macerated with a further three botanicals, including fresh raspberries which are locally grown. Those berries don’t go to waste either they are infused into the gin and then sold as Boozy Berries. I can just imagine this gin sitting on a sunny porch somewhere, hell even on a cold day in winter this lovely gin will bring back visions of summer.
Rose Cottage Artisan Gins this is an organic gin distilling in the North East of England. Beautifully light and refreshing with some unusual combinations. Rosehip and Rhubarb, Elderflower are delicately infused with the flavours, more than tasty enough to convince this non-drinker to change her mind.
An ode to a flavoured vodka
55 Above was established in 2014 with an eye to producing handcrafted vodka and gin in small batches. 55 Above states on their website
55 Above prides itself on using traditional copper still distilling methods but in a modern setting. Our copper pot stills are the smallest commercial stills in the world with a unique high reflux column allowing us to hand-produced in small batches – just a few hundred bottles at a time.
Our copper still is one of the most important elements in the purification process when producing our vodka as copper helps removes impurities from the core potato spirit. Once the impurities have been removed, we then separate the heads and the tails from the spirit and only use the very best part of each distillation run. At 200L we have a unique capacity of being able to separate the heads and tails extremely precisely from the desired heart of the spirit.
I tasted their Toffee Vodka and was absolutely blown away, never in my life have I drunk Vodka neat (well except for that time when I was 14 at the hockey rink and I ended up spitting it out – disgusting). This Toffee Vodka is a smooth, luxurious sipping spirit, it warms all the way down and leaves these incredibly delicious toffee notes lingering in your tastebuds and nose.
Infused with natural flavours it has a creamy warm taste, superb!. I then attempted gin (gin is the reason I got married the first time – note it did not last). They have a lovely zesty orange gin that would be perfect for cocktails, they were also tasting a new Rhubarb Gin that was coolly refreshing and with a slightly sweet-tart aftertaste, that one I could drink on ice in the summer without fail.
The British are brilliant producers of artisanal products and in creating superbly flavoured drinks to make at home cheese kits, the quality and imagination in these kinds of products are second to none.
Which gins are you drinking these days?
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