Bitter Sweet.

When life gives you lemons, drink gin. 

Now, I’m relatively new to the gin game, in fact I’ve never really been a huge drinker – until now. Recently retailers have seen gin sales soar to become one of the fastest growing spirits in years, thanks to a trendy boom in unique gins and all they have to offer. But with each offering such different and complex flavours, it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to begin as a new starter. You should be prepared and expect generally bitter, sharp flavours as a rule with gin, but even that’s not always the case. So this is my guide on where to begin (if you want to of course).

Let’s start with gin. 

image1

So I guess we should start with gin itself. So explaining in simple terms gin itself is a basic clear spirit which is distilled from either grain or malt and then flavoured with juniper berries which gives it it’s distinctive “raw” taste. From there gin is infused with varying ‘Botanicals’ which give each gin on the market it’s unique taste, I’ll explore that a bit more by telling you about some of my favourites pictured here.

Hendricks is a great place to start as a newbie to the gin world. It’s botanicals are very simple and refreshing, great on a summers day. It’s infused with coriander seeds,juniper berries, angelica root, orris root (These tend to be much of a standard when it comes to off the shelf gin), Lemon peel, Orange peel, Bulgarian Rose Petals, Cucumber. And it really is those last two that stand out, partly because the Cucumber and Rose is added after the distillation process. It’s really not a heavy juniper gin, most probably a reason for it’s recent popularity. Generally speaking “older fashioned” gins have more juniper and taste a lot stronger (take Gordons dry Gin as an example). Hendricks has a delicate flavour which is the perfect relaxation aid, pour over ice, add Fever Tree and a slice of cucumber and there’s heaven in a glass.

Bombay Sapphire is another very common and popular gin as an entry level, off the shelf purchase that can be found in most supermarkets. It’s botanicals come from all over the world, which forms part of it’s unique brand appeal. They include all of the usual; juniper, Angelica, etc. plus coriander, liquorice, cassia bark, almonds, cubeb berries and West African grains of paradise. In fact Bombay Sapphire was one of the first to list the botanicals on the bottle, helping to gradually coax gin away from it’s slump and back into the hearts of drinkers around the world. Best with tonic and a slice of lemon in my opinion, simple.

Edinburgh Gin’s are fantastic and the range is so easy to explore as a beginner, and very appealing when wanting to try new flavours. What’s probably even more surprising from such a strong brand is the love that goes into each bottle. Distilling in a copper still, in the shadow of the famous Edinburgh castle the gin includes Scottish juniper, pine, heather & milk thistle combine plus all the usual botanicals creating a super taste that’s just too easy to pour. Serve with tonic and ice and a twist of orange (My top tip is to give the orange a squeeze too as it goes in for a more zesty flavour that compliments the gin perfectly). What’s also great about Edinburgh Gin’s range is their selection of liqueurs (Oh no, more complication I hear you say, but no. Arguably less). the liqueurs are a combination of their amazing gin plus some amazing additional flavours already added in, saving you the task of finding the perfect mixers and garnishes. Take the rhubarb and ginger for example, it’s perfect just poured over ice with tonic and it’s a sweet treat compared to a usual G&T, for when you’re feeling more fruity.

img_1249But if you’re looking for something a little more out of the box and not on the usual shelves (I dare you, do it!) then you must try Glendalough. Distilling in small batches on the Wicklow country side the team here really do create something special and unique, they only produce their gins in batches of 3,000, then they’re gone. What’s more the gin is seasonal and each season is different, the unpredictable Irish weather results in an ever changing array of botanicals, berries and fruit. Each season brings a different gin with varying taste and style (So you just have to keep buying more). The bottle I have here is exceptionally special as the ‘Wild Botanical Gin’was created exclusively to capture the spirit of the area, and elements of all of the seasons, all year round. It tastes phenomenal, like nothing else, it has such a warm flavour of the winter herbs and spices but yet floral and melow notes too. Perfect as a G&T over ice with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of pink grapefruit, really it’s like nothing else. And the good news is that the Wild Botanical Gin will be more widely available across the UK over the next few months, so less foraging for you and more drinking time.

Mix with the best

As my favourite brand of tonic water likes to often remind me, when 3/4 of your G&T is the tonic, you should mix with the best and Fever Tree is a premium tonic water that never disappoints, unlike some of it’s more basic rivals and especially supermarket alternatives. That’s my only guidance with tonic water really, just buy fever tree.

No I do tell a little lie, there are loads of fantastic alternatives to a basic tonic water that can enhance your drink and take it to a whole new level. Take Poachers tonic for example, it’s blended with rosemary and orange which is just perfection with that Glendalough or with Edinburgh gin too.

image4And one of my more recent discoveries is rose lemonade, Fentimans do this perfectly and all you need to do is add this to some of that Hendricks and you’re on to a winner. It gives a much more floral note to that already relaxing gin combination. Or you can even buy this premixed with Bloom Premium London Dry Gin to save you the bother. so gin doesn’t always have to be bitter, see this as the equivalent of adding a sweetener to your tea. But better.

image5It’s all about the garnish 

Never have I known a drink where the garnish is so important. This addition to the top of your drink is crucial to enhance the flavours of those delicate botanicals (or destroy them if you just plonk something in without thinking (okay, okay, don’t start panicking again)). I’ve listed above the general preference or my top tips for the gins I mentioned, so if you’re trying one of those then I’d go with them. But don’t fret, when you buy a new gin to try see what’s recommended on the bottle or google the question. The world is full of gin experts who can recommend the best garnish for your glass, or even suggest something a bit more experimental for a new taste sensation.

So there you have it, my crash course in gin experimentation. It’s important to remember that I’m still on a relatively new journey too and from my 6 month or so experience I can safely say there is a lot of gin out there to try and they very rarely disappoint, so go wild. Other gins pictured at the top of the page include Four Pillars, Tanqueray Number Ten, Sipsmith, and Gordons Sloe Gin, feel free to drop me a note if you want to explore those too. I should add a little reminder here to drink responsibly, as gin can be easily sipped away once you get into the swing of things, but most importantly enjoy.


All photos captured by: Tom Coleman Media  

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