Stephen Jardine: Spirit takes a new ‘gineration’

Stephen Jardine
Stephen Jardine
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Gin and tonic anyone? A generation ago that question would have conjured up images of golf club bores in blazers and cravats. Gin couldn’t really have been less fashionable. It was the Black Forest gateau of the drinks world.

How times change. These days gin is in.

Take a cocktail bar in Edinburgh which is at the forefront of the gin revolution. Don’t expect to see brands like Gordon’s. Instead the cocktail list features Islay Botanist and Fifty Pounds Gin, all being poured for a new, young “gineration”.

The gin revival has been a long time coming. Hogarth’s 18th century depiction of the social ruin it caused left it with a long-term image problem.

By the 1970s, gin was the suburban drink of choice at Abigail’s Party and about as tasteful as Beverley’s dress.

The roots of change came with the artisan brewing revolution. After years of mass-produced, bland beer, new technology allowed small companies to brew limited batches with real taste.

When that market was exhausted, gin was the next drink ripe for a makeover.

For years, tea had just one taste. Then came Darjeeling, Assam, Earl Grey and all the herbal options.

Similarly, gin tasted a little of juniper but mostly of tonic. The palate was ripe for revolution. From grapefruit and coconut to Christmas pudding, flavoured gins are all the rage. But the real change has been the emergence of quality gins, like Sipsmith and Hendrick’s, with new twists on the classic taste.

All this has special resonance here. Per head of the population, Edinburgh consumes more gin than any other city in the UK. The roots of that fascinating fact may stretch to Leith’s ancient trading links with the Netherlands.

In 1782, over 2.5 million gallons of Dutch genever were imported into Britain and lots of that came into the Firth of Forth. Within 50 years, half a dozen distilleries were at work in Edinburgh, and the taste for gin made here was well established.

Edinburgh gin now flies the flag for the city’s special connection. Launched three years ago, it has won international competitions and is now widely available. Produced in a 20-year-old Scottish copper still, it is distilled in the traditional way with classic botanicals but has milk thistle and heather added at the end to give it a unique flavour.

In these days when provenance matters, what goes into artisan gin may be the real secret of its success. Chemicals colourings and flavourings are out and nature is in.

Islay dry gin is made from 22 wild botanicals gathered on the island. This is as close as you can get to a foraged gin.

So what does the future hold ? I don’t think the gin revolution is over by a long way. Next we could be looking at inner city stills producing small batches to very specific recipes. Soon you could even be designing your own. Now that would be something to boast about.