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The ultimate G&T

It’s fitting that mother’s ruin has seen such a surge of popularity in London. No other spirit has played such a part in our city’s history.

The only small blip (drat!) is that popular opinion credits the invention of gin to a doctor in The Netherlands in the 1400s. From here, it is believed to have found its way to Britain via soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War. According to Sipsmith, this is where the phrase “Dutch courage” originated.

The arrival of gin perfectly filled a gap in the market. Beer production was leaving large quantities of unwanted grain, the perfect material from which to create a base sprit. Supplies were sold cheap and fast, and by the 1720s London was in the throes of a period known as the “Gin Craze”. Various statistics suggest that people were drinking anywhere from two pints a week to half a pint a day (children included).

After many attempts, the “Gin Act” of 1751 finally curtailed the boozing, with Hogarth espousing the horrors in his etching of “Gin Lane”. It was not until the 1800s that gin became a more civilized drink, and the fabulous gin palaces sprung up around London.

Tonic has a separate and fascinating history. It was originally a true “tonic”: a brown liquid high in quinine (the primary anti-malarial used in the colonies) which was mixed with gin to mask the taste.

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Today, the recipe for gin has been somewhat refined, and typically comprises two distillations. The first stage is to create a neutral base spirit with a minimum of 96% alcohol. This is usually made from wheat in a modern column still. The second distillation is where the botanicals, which give gin its distinct taste and aroma, come into play. The base spirit will be steeped in the botanicals before a copper still is used to vaporise it. The vapours  pass through a “swan neck” pipe and a basket of more botanicals, before condensing into a second tank. Finally, water is added to reduce the strength, usually along with a very small amount of sugar.

To be legally called “gin”, the spirit must be dominated by the flavour of juniper. Due to EU regulation, gins are also neatly split into three styles:

London dry gin is made solely by the process above, with no further additions or flavourings. Traditionally, it has always been seen as the higher end product.

Distilled gin is also made by the process above, but additional flavours may be added after the second distillation. This method is increasingly popular and used by Hendrick’s, among others.

Compound gin is not really worth mentioning; this is the cheat’s way out. The base spirit is simply flavoured with artificial flavourings, eliminating the second distillation all together.

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So, what makes the best gin and tonic? I headed off to Bombay Sapphire’s “ultimate G&T workshop” at the Hoxton Hotel to find out. I went to the Urban Junkies preview, thanks to a friend of mine who has an unrivalled knack of winning competitions (and teddy bear claw machines).

Bombay Sapphire, I must admit straight off, is not usually my gin of choice, but I was impressed by the event. After being swiftly welcomed with a large G&T in their signature bowl glass (to enhance the aromas), we were free to potter around the  “Apartment Kitchen” for a few minutes. The masterclass kicked off with a cheesy demonstration of how to pour the perfect drink (drain water from the ice, tip in gin, add double the amount of tonic, in case you weren’t quite sure).

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The real focus of the evening began as we gathered around the large communal table, where it emerged the decorative pots filling the shelves each held one of Bombay’s ten botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, grains of paradise, coriander, cubeb berries, orris root, almonds, cassia bark, liquorice and angelica. You can read about them in detail on their website, here. These were passed around to smell, taste and nibble – and there were certainly some surprises.

The aim of the recipe is to create a balanced gin, with citrus, spice and earth tones complimenting one other.

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The tasting concluded with the obvious highlight, a make-your-own G&T session. We first picked from one of their myriad infusions (orange and clove), before being recommended a garnish (fresh orange and rosemary) and one of Fever Tree’s mixers (bitter lemon). While I struggle to see these as a true gin and tonics, mine was certainly a fine cocktail.

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Recipes for the infusions (including freeze dried raspberries, rhubarb, lavender and ginger) were just one part of the goodie bag, which also contained a bottle of Bombay, a Fever Tree tonic and one of their balloon glasses. At £25 a pop for a ticket, you most certainly get your money’s worth. If you’re interested in going along, which I’d highly recommend, there are classes on the 11th, 18th and 25th of June – details here.

I’m afraid, though, that Bombay Sapphire haven’t quite converted me to their product. While the infusion was fantastic, it masked the flavours of the gin itself. For now, I’ll still plump for Hendrick’s given the choice. While it might be less traditional, I love the cucumber scent and almost sweet note from the rose petals, both of which are added after the second distillation.

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So, gin drinkers out there, what’s your favourite? And how do you drink it?

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One thought on “The ultimate G&T

  1. Pingback: A gin-lover’s tour of London « A Travelling Epicure

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