It’s official, gin is the new vodka with £1 billion of sales recorded for the first time this year. And where better to sink a post-work G&T or two than the City of London Distillery. Rising up from its ashes, you can now work your way through more than 380 gins in their clandestine, basement bar. Flexing my tasting muscles, it was a tough assignment but someone had to do it.
What is gin?
As we settle down to our tasting tour, we learn that in essence, gin is a flavoured vodka which contains juniper as its key ingredient. Grain or potatoes are used to create a neutral spirit and then juniper and other ingredients are added during the distillation process. The different varieties and flavours of gin are wide-ranging: from a citrusy tang through to cucumber and rose overtones as witnessed in the ever popular Hendricks gin.
It’s believed that Gin was first invented in Holland in 1652 as a derivation of the Dutch drink Genever which was drunk in large quantities by troops during the Anglo/Dutch war. The drink inspired the everyday saying Dutch Courage. More spices were added by the Dutch East India Company and Genever started to become known around the world. After the war, British troops brought the drink back to the UK and the Royal Navy kept Gin on board their ships as they navigated the world.
By the 1700s, there was a hangover-inducing 1500 distilleries in the Square Mile – making it the Starbucks of the day. With such poor sanitation and such an abundant supply of Gin, the average resident sunk two pints a day leading to a death rate that was double the birth rate.
Why is gin called mother’s ruin?
As the opium of the day, gin was particularly popular with women and its excessive consumption led to child neglect, daughters sold into prostitution and in some cases wet nurses giving gin to children to quieten them. It’s also claimed that gin left women sterile. While the spirit frequently led to prison or the gallows, it continued to be consumed to ward off hunger and the cold.
Gin tasting: which gin is best?
Following this fascinating talk on the history of gin, we move on to the all important tastings. We try three samples from the City of London range all of which provoke very different reactions.
First up is Old Tom – an intriguing mix of warm spicy flavours and tangy citrus notes. It contains the staple ingredients of juniper and coriander but with an exotic twist of nutty, angelica root. It’s perfect for gin cocktail recipes or can be enjoyed on its own.
To freshen the palate between tastings, we’re instructed to swirl neat gin around our mouth which has the tingly, anaesthetising sensation of swilling with mouth wash.
Next up is the Square Mile. Featuring orange, lemon and grapefruit with the fragrant addition of coriander seeds, orris root, angelica and liquorice, this gin has an earthy, lingering after taste reminiscent of the peaty flavour of whisky. Served with lots of ice, it makes the perfect martini and is my favourite so far.
Our third offering is the Christopher Wren. Created by expert distiller, Tom Nichol, this gin contains multi-layered flavours of juniper, coriander, angelica root, fresh, sweet orange zest and a hint of liquorice. The strong orange overtones are enhanced with the addition of a slice of orange which adds an added zing to the more traditional lemon or lime pairings.
As an unexpected treat, we also receive a slug of sloe gin. As a sherry lover, the sweet marzipan and almond overtones hit just the right spot and this is one gin I definitely want to add to my Christmas list. It’s back in stock again in mid-November providing the perfect excuse for another post-work trip here again soon.
I was invited as a guest on the Distillery tour and gin tasting experience.