It’s the gift that keeps on giving. If anything, the Covid crisis seems to have accelerated, rather than slowed, gin’s off-trade rise as consumers indulge in home comfort drinking. But with an average now of one gin distillery for every six people in the British Isles (or so it seems), planet gin can be a confusing place, full of duplication traps for hard-pressed buyers seeking to build a convincing and credible range.
Not all gin is the same, and judicious selection can shape a range that excites and intrigues while offering distinct points of difference for adventurous customers.
So what are some of the main gin types to look out for? Nigel Huddleston is your guide.
SAY IT LOUD, IT’S JUNIPER AND PROUD
Though both the rules and their enforcement are sketchy at best, juniper is supposed to be the dominant flavour in gin.
Such has been the influx of interlopers pushing juniper back into the mix behind other flavours, that some traditionalists have made it their mission to bring juniper sharply into the foreground, nailing their colours to the mast of authenticity.
Scottish brand Gyre & Gimble has what it calls a “double whammy” of juniper, once in the original distillation, with a further distillate added in creating a final blend, which it says makes it “not so much juniper-forward as juniper-smack-in-the-face”.
Northern Ireland’s Boatyard gin – distributed by Speciality Brands – has a similar “double gin” approach. Founder Joe McGirr says: “This double contact method results in a pronounced juniper flavour and an oily spirit that showcases a slight cloudiness when you mix with tonic.”
Hepple, distributed by Cask Liquid Marketing, claims to be the only gin to celebrate the spirit’s key botanical by using fresh green juniper.
THE ONES FOR VINOPHILES
Some gins have grown out of the burgeoning domestic wine industry, and thus have a natural synergy with independent specialists’ core product ranges.
Foxhole’s super-premium gin clocks in at just under £40 a bottle and has a base spirit distilled from the marc left over from English wine production.
What we might call its second gin, Hyke, is produced with surplus table grapes salvaged from the supermarket supply chain.
West Sussex-based Chilgrove is another premium gin with a distilled-grape spirits base while Kent winemaker Chapel Down has developed the concept even further, exploring varietal grape character with Bacchus and Pinot Noir gins.
DON’T FEAR THE FRUIT
Discount supermarkets have cornered the market for confected, novelty flavours – unicorns and retro confectionery are current tropes – but some fruit gins transcend the kitsch to create products with depth and integrity.
Pinkster was a way ahead of the curve when it produced its first raspberry-infused pink gin in 2013 and the company’s Will Holt says it’s been using “real ones, the ones that grow on bushes” ever since. He adds: “We have no added sugar, just natural sweetness from the raspberries. We’re talking less than 0.1g per 70cl bottle compared to some of our pink peers with 65g. Producing gin with wet fruit isn’t easy but we’re simply not prepared to compromise on flavour.”
Dutch gin brand 1689’s Queen Mary Edition rescues bruised raspberries and strawberries to create a naturally pink gin that embraces another modern trait, the revived ancient recipe, this one dating back 300 years and unearthed in the British Library.
LOCAL GINS FOR LOCAL PEOPLE … AND TOURISTS
This is the big one for dozens of gin producers, keeping logistics simple, costs low and fostering immense amounts of goodwill.
Few major cities are without gins that generate a certain sense of civic pride; Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Brighton all have one eponymous gin, and some have more that express the personality of their location.
Nolan Kane of Leeds-based Folklore sees its gin as “a collaboration of local creatives and businesses throughout Yorkshire”, ranging from the ingredients suppliers to packaging designers and manufacturers.
Mutual local support also extends into rural gins. Tobermory whisky claims to be the first to put its distillery name to a gin, making it with the help of Hebridean tea, grown locally by an inhabitant of Mull, where the distillery is located.
Essex start-up Oystermen gin has input on packaging from a local artist and a poet and features the flowering sea plant oyster leaf in its botanical bill. “The motive is to promote our beautiful Essex coastline and its fine produce and artists,” says co-founder Godwin Baron.
Rooting around in hedgerows for wild-growing ingredients provides the consumer hook for many producers.
Rupert Holloway launched Dorset’s Conker gin in 2015 after foraging escapades on the cliffs above Bournemouth and it’s now made with ingredients similarly sourced from along the county’s coast and from the New Forest. “We are the real deal,” he declares, “the foragers, the distillers and the bottlers,” he says of the plant-to-pack operation, whose gin is sold through Love Drinks.
London-based 58 Gin makes sloe gin with foraged berries from the Kent countryside and an Apple & Hibiscus gin using wonky apples that are unwanted by fruit and veg retailers.
Ben Lomond gin features foraged rowan berries and hand-picked blackcurrants from the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.
THE GOOD CAUSES
These are the gins that wear their hearts on their shrink-sleeve labels, whether that involves an ethical stance or raising funds for good causes. Often there’s a crossover with “local is best” where trimming road miles creates sustainability stories.
Brighton Gin’s Kathy Caton stakes a claim to being “the UK’s first vegan-certified gin, including not just the liquid – based on organic wheat and fresh citrus peels, unwaxed to ensure no animal products – but also all of our packaging, including the bottle sealing wax and the glue for the label”.
Mangrove’s Elephant gin funds a sanctuary and a team of rangers who protect the pachyderms in Kenya and a wildlife conservation education centre in South Africa.
One Gin donates 10% of its profits to projects to supply fresh water to some of the world’s poorest communities – and it claims to be vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and certified kosher.