New to gin? An introduction to one of the world's most popular spirits

As one of the oldest alcoholic drinks around, gin has accrued a big number of regular drinkers and enthusiasts, but more recently seems to have become a “trendy” choice of beverage. Gin has never been out of trend, of course, but in 2016 seemed to become the name leaving people’s lips, and the drink passing through them.

In fact, just having a quick glance around at local news websites, new bars devoted entirely to gin have been popping up all over the country, with Derby, Chelmsford, Manchester, Birmingham and London amongst the places welcoming gin connoisseurs to share their unique twists on the spirit with local drinkers in 2016.

If you’re new to gin, it’s easy to be confused. There are so many different brands, each offering their own qualities, elements and processes. One question you’ll be forgiven for having is…

What actually is gin?

Gin is an alcoholic spirit that is actually quite similar to vodka. However, there’s one big difference between the two – the creation of gin involves juniper berries, making it the unique drink it is. The juniper provides the most predominant flavour in gin, and has been used in this way for centuries. The earliest origins of gin come from the Middle Ages, and although it has history of being used as a herbal medicine, it’s been enjoyed recreationally since the 1700s, and is now typically consumed with tonic.

Juniper Berries, used for producing Gin

Gin is most commonly produced by distilling fermented grains, then adding juniper berries and a number of other botanicals, which vary for each individual brand, adding different flavours and characteristics. It’s then distilled again, although there are other methods for creating the spirit.

How do you enjoy gin?

The most popular method of enjoying some gin, is mixing it with tonic water. A G&T is quite a common order at a bar, but there’s other things it works well with. It enjoyable when added to a range of fruit juices and flavoured soda water amongst other things.

Martini Cocktail, made using Gin

There are also plenty of cocktails that feature gin. The most well-known is the Martini, in which gin is mixed with vermouth and garnished with olives. Others include the Bramble, which revolves around the flavour of blackberries, the lemon flavoured Tom Collins, and the mixed fruit Singapore Sling.

What gin should I drink?

There’s a huge number of gins, all created in different parts of the world, using different ingredients, methods and traditions. A few gins have been around for a huge length of time, and as such have become household names. One example is the Beefeater London Dry gin, a great way to introduce yourself to the juniper flavoured spirit. It’s as traditional as a gin can get, with a recipe that dates back to the late 1800s, made with botanicals such as liquorice, Seville oranges and lemon peel. It’s definitely a gin worth trying if you’re new to the spirit, as it has everything a good gin should – a clean flavour, bold juniper character and strong citrus notes. It’s also one of the world’s most popular gins, shipped out to over 50 countries for nearly two centuries.

Plymouth might not be one of the most well-known cities of the UK, but it has a rich sea-faring history as a port, and is also home to another very traditional gin. Plymouth Gin dates back to 1793, and has distinct differences in flavour and production compared to the gins of London. For over 200 years, Plymouth Gin has been created using the same six exotic botanicals, soft Dartmoor water and pure grain alcohol, creating a less dry style of produce than London’s gin. It has a softer juniper flavour, and a feel often described as more “earthy”.

Plymouth Gin

At the opposite end of the British Isles, is a Scottish gin that might trick you into thinking it’s been around for just as long as Plymouth Gin and Beefeater. Hendrick’s Gin has a style of bottle that wouldn’t look amiss behind a bar in the 1800s, but has actually only been around since 1999, despite the label reading “Est. 1886”. Despite being introduced less than 20 years ago, Hendrick’s is still steeped with a rich history. 1886 refers to the year the William Grant distillery was opened, named after the man who started a journey that went through generations, to eventually create a unique gin laced with infusions of cucumber and rose.

The different combinations of botanicals is what creates such an endless, varied range of gins. Getting the mix of botanical ingredients just right can create a special, distinctive flavour in a gin, sometimes becoming the focal point of the product. An example of this is Duncan Taylor’s Indian Summer Gin, that is infused with saffron. The saffron has a special effect on the gin, creating an extra zest and sweetness on the palate, offering a rich and warming finish, and making it stand out from others with a visual golden hue. Indian Summer isn’t the only gin to use saffron to this effect. Cadenhead’s Old Raj also offers a large amount of the rare saffron spice, leaving a pale yellow visual effect, and a slightly spicy flavour.

Duncan Taylor Indian Summer Gin

Despite the most distinct history of gin coming from London and Plymouth, Scotland has its own range of produce. Not only is there the previously mentioned Hendrick’s, but from the Scottish Highlands comes Caorunn Gin. Originating in 1824, Caorunn is now personally crafted by just one person, Gin Master Simon Buley, who uses 11 botanical ingredients, natural Scottish water and the finest pure grain spirit.

Another of Scotland’s finest gins bucks the trend, and moves away from the traditional look of other gins, going for an edgier, modern style. Gilt gin has a dry taste with traces of cardamom and juniper, and a nose of light citrus botanicals, leaving you with a finish of “thirst quenching warmth”.

Gilt Scottish Gin

You can’t complain about a lack of choice! Whether you like your gin simple, with an age-old distillation process passed through generations, or a newer creation with adventurous, experimental flavours, there’s something there for everyone. You can browse our full range of gins here:

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