From small distilleries to large, gin production is thrivingby Alice Lascelles / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Some new London Dry Gins are especially good in old favourites such as the Negroni
There has never been a more exciting time to be a gin lover. From crisp, classic London Drys and artisan gins boasting exotic botanicals, to fruity, floral newcomers and full-bodied 18th-century-type blunderbusses, the spectrum of styles on the market is now greater than it’s ever been.
And much of the credit for this reversal in Lady Genever’s fortunes must go to new micro-distillers such as Sipsmith, one of a number of garagiste-style outfits that have lately been helping to revive London’s long tradition of gin distilling. Aided by “Prudence,” a copper pot still not much bigger than a family car, Sipsmith produce a delicately dry gin with biscuity, marmalade notes which also serve as the backbone of their excellent new Summer Cup (imagine a more grown-up version of Pimm’s).
Up in north London, ex-Lehman Brothers headhunter Ian Hart has sacrificed his drawing room to the production of Sacred, a sophisticated, fragrant Martini gin featuring cardamom, nutmeg and frankincense among its botanicals. Hart also uses his high-tech vacuum still to produce individual distillates such as juniper, star anise and plum stone, which can be bought as part of a DIY gin-blending kit, or enjoyed in Sacred’s aromatic vermouth—a winner in a Negroni cocktail.
A growing number of bars are now also producing their own-label spirits. The gorgeously packaged Portobello Gin is distilled above the Portobello Star bar in Ladbroke Grove, where you can peruse the exhibits in the Ginstitute, a miniature museum of gin history.
If I were only to have one London gin, however, it would have to be Beefeater. Founded on the banks of the Thames in 1820, and now distilled just a stone’s throw from the Oval cricket ground, Beefeater was one of the pioneers of the clean, crisp style of gin known as London Dry. Big on piney juniper and lemon zest botanicals, it’s a great all-rounder and, in my book, the best value gin you can buy.
Rather confusingly, London Dry gins do not have to be made in London, and there are in fact only two gins with an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée in the world, one of them being Plymouth. Soft and delicate, with sparkling top notes of sweet orange, this 200-year-old gin makes a sublime martini. A pilgrimage to Plymouth’s waterside distillery, where one can even have a bash at making one’s own gin recipe, is an essential (if somewhat humbling) experience for any juniper lover.
The trend for classic cocktails has also prompted a big revival in lost styles of gin such as Old Tom, a fuller-bodied, slightly sweeter precursor to London Dry that was popular in the 18th century (it was originally sweetened to mask the spirit’s imperfections). Hayman’s is a good introduction to the style—drink it in a Martinez cocktail (a sort of Martini/Manhattan hybrid from the 1800s) or with a couple of cubes of ice.
There are now also some really classy gins coming out of America, which has a thriving micro-distilling scene of its own. My latest discovery is Cold River Gin from Maine, a palate-sharpening marriage of woody spice and citrus that’s sure to bring fresh inspiration to any cocktail hour.