How a gin themed cabaret is bringing Mother’s Ruin to life

Maeve and Libby perform in Mother's Ruin
Maeve and Libby perform in Mother's Ruin
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Cabaret singer Maeve Marsden, who is touring Britain with her show Mother’s Ruin, shares some of her favourite gin tales and tipples

I have drunk a lot of gin. I’ve drunk it, I’ve spilled it, I’ve talked about it, I’ve sung about it, I even ended up in a Scottish tourism promotion about it, despite hailing from Australia.

You see, I’ve been touring Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin for two years, and after a sold out Edinburgh Fringe season in 2017 we’re back in Scotland (and the rest of the UK), performing for more gin lovers and, of course, getting our hands on more delicious local gin.

A love of gin isn’t uncommon these days, indeed, we are living in a new gin craze – or a ginaissance, for fans of a good portmanteau. But while many are drinking the juniper juice (and buying gin themed merch and going to gin themed festivals), few have taken their love of gin – and its rather chequered history – as far as I have.

We’re on tour all month with shows in England, Wales and Scotland, so we thought it was time to provide a drinking guide to accompany the performance. Please don’t try to drink all of these while we’re on stage – the show’s only an hour long, so you’ll end up on the floor!

Bath Gin Company

We started our tour at the Bath Comedy Festival, where we were thrilled to finally try Bath Gin Company Gin at the Canary Gin Bar. Not only is Bath Gin delicious, with hints of bitter orange, one of my favourite botanicals, but their ‘brand ambassador’ is Virginia ‘Gin’ Austen, a nod to local heroine Jane Austen, one of my favourite writers. Mother’s Ruin is as much a history of strong-willed creative and rebellious women as it is a history of gin, exploring how gin has come to be associated with women – specifically fallen women, or ruined mothers. The show is packed with songs by female artists – Amy Winehouse, Martha Wainwright, Nina Simone, Jessie J, The Pretenders, and more – so come and get your feminist cabaret on with a glass of Bath Gin in hand. Their hopped rhubarb gin is especially delicious.

Pickering’s Original 1947 Gin

I can’t go past Pickering’s Original 1947 Gin, made to a recipe they claim was written down in India that year. The gin celebrated its 70th birthday alongside the Edinburgh Fringe last year and we downed copious amounts of this deliciously spiced tipple, conveniently for sale in mini-bottles, the perfect size for hiding in one’s cleavage before heading to the artist bar. We developed a taste for drinking it straight, but it’s also perfect in a gin and tonic, a drink invented in India when troops in the British East India Company would mix their quinine – malaria medication – with gin and sugar. We love the history that’s been poured into this gin, but we especially love its connection to the Fringe, an incredible platform for independent artists like us.

Beefeater 24

Desmond Payne, head distiller at Beefeater has just been made an MBE and his creation of Beefeater 24 is widely considered one of the catalysts for the surge in the super premium gin market. Among more traditional botanicals, Beefeater 24 also features tea, making it possibly the most English thing ever invented. Our favourite British heroine is Ada Coleman, the first female head bartender at the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar. Ada, or ‘Coley’ as she was known back then, invented the Hanky Panky, a delicious twist on a sweet martini that remains in the iconic Savoy Cocktail Book more than 100 years later. The story as she told it: she created a new recipe, served it to Sir Charles Hawtrey, a regular at the Savoy, and he cried “By Jove, that’s the real Hanky Panky!” giving the drink its name.

Bloom Gin

This signature gin of Master Distiller Joanne Moore was created to celebrate her first ten years as Master Distiller at the famed G&J Distillers in Warrington (where we’ll be performing at Pyramid & Parr Hall). Bloom Gin is absolutely delicious, a little sweeter than usual with honeysuckle and pomelo as botanicals. Despite gin’s long association with women, Moore is one of only a few female Master Distillers worldwide. Back in the earlier English Gin Craze, in the 1700s (resurging again during the Industrial Revolution), women often sold homemade ‘bathtub’ gin, but it definitely wouldn’t have tasted like Bloom. When mass alcoholism really started to be a public health issue and the government cracked down on illegal gin selling, propaganda largely demonised the impact gin production and consumption was having on working class women. Just look at the contrast between the Hogarth etchings of Beer Street and Gin Lane. At the time, women are said to have accounted for about 20 per cent of known illegal gin sellers, but 70 per cent of arrests. Buy a bottle of Bloom and raise a glass to women distillers through time – even those who weren’t exactly ‘masterful’ at the craft.

Martin Miller

There’s a lot of chat now about the botanicals in gin, with distillers getting incredibly creative – there’s even an Australian gin with green ants in it! But it’s always important to remember that a key ingredient of gin is water. At an average of 40 per cent abv, your bottle is still 60 per cent water, so you want it to be good water. Martin Miller take things one step further and bottle their gin with Icelandic fjord water, which I suppose means it isn’t strictly a British gin, but we don’t care because it’s delicious. Martin Miller himself was quite a character. He once said, “Gin is like history in a glass,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Rock Rose Gin

We finish our UK tour at Lyth Arts Centre on 29 April, a beautiful venue in the north of Scotland. They have partnered with Rock Rose Gin to present the show and we are beyond excited to be performing in Caithness after trying Rock Rose last year as part of our Visit Scotland tasting (I tried to smuggle a bottle down my dress but it was a bit hard with a film crew watching on). Rock Rose source their botanicals locally, part of the focus on local produce and craft distilling that is so prevalent now. Oh, and their bespoke pot still is named Elizabeth, the same name as Libby Wood, my co-star in Mother’s Ruin (and partner-in-crime in our passion for gin). Traditionally, stills are named after women; Pickering’s, for example, have Gert and Emily, named after the founders’ maternal great-grandmothers. I wonder if that’s a Mother’s Ruin thing or more like how people refer to boats as ‘she’. Something to research for our next show...

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin is at Eden Court, Inverness on 28 April and at Lyth Arts Centre, Wick on 29 April; www.mothersruincabaret.com