What's caused Gin to become an on-trend drink? We asked the experts...

Everybody is talking about gin.

The history of this juniper based spirit dates back for centuries, but in recent years has seen its popularity wain. Until now that is.

Gin has suddenly blown up, becoming a "trendy" drink with new bars dedicated entirely to the spirit opening up across the UK. But what has sparked this? Why is everyone suddenly enjoying gin a lot more than they used to? And with all these different types and flavours of gin popping up across the world from distilleries big and small, what do people look for as their ideals of gin?

Who better to ask than experts from the world of gin? Ranging from gin bloggers and drink reviewers to the staff and owners of gin bars, we've got in touch with gin experts and asked them the following:

"Why do you think gin has become an on-trend drink, and what do you look for in a good gin?" 

Here's what they had to say...

How has gin become an on-trend drink

Caroline Childerley The Gin Queen

Caroline Childerley

The Gin Queen

I think like most trends in the drinks industry, bartender innovation has a lot to do with the resurgence in gin. The cocktail culture that emerged in the noughties saw bartenders go back to the classic books (The Savoy book and others) and these books are full of recipes that call for gin. Gin is the most versatile spirit to mix with and bartenders love it for that reason.

In addition to bartenders we must thanks those pioneer distillers from the US and UK (and now Australia) who campaigned for changes in legislation preventing them from distilling on a small scale. Many of those distillers set out to make whisky and while waiting for barrels to mature have experimented with making gin.

For me a good gin has to have an excellent balance of flavour. It’s wonderful to see new, exciting botanicals being used in gin, but sometimes overall flavour can become one note rather than a harmonious blend of ingredients. The purist in me likes to taste juniper too!

 

Ian Lauer Tempered Spirits

Ian Lauer

Tempered Spirits

Gin, an "on-trend drink" -- this is something that you would not have fifteen, even ten years ago. Back then, the only gin drinks most bars were pouring were Dry Martinis (and most of those were vodka-based, even) and Gin & Tonics. There were almost no micro- or "craft" distilleries in the States, let alone ones that were making gin, and most people's opinion of the spirit was, put simply, "it tastes like liquid Christmas trees." Nowadays, this attitude has completely changed: bars prominently feature gin drinks and recognize the spirit's versatility -- an ample supply meeting an ample demand on the part of bar-goers -- and hundreds of different gins are being produced world-wide, many of them breaking away from traditional styles and lighting out into experimental territory. So why the resurgence, and why the sudden growth in interest and consumption? I think it boils down to a three primary causes: the recent cocktail revival, and the spirit's flexibility and history behind the bar, and the rise of the small distillery. These items can also help explain what makes a "good gin."

First off, big picture: the cocktail revival. Gin is a key player here because of the fact that it's usually consumed as part of a mixed drink (at least the traditional styles) and because it has a long and storied history in the cocktail world. The Dark Age of the Cocktail (the 1970s-1990s) was also the Dark Age of Gin -- the two go hand-in-hand. Once the revival took hold and we started delving into historic drinks, we realized how many of the classics were gin-based: the Martini, the Negroni, the Martinez, the Tom Collins, the Aviation, the Ramos Fizz. All of these drinks are a century old or more, and their recipes serve as the basis for all modern gin cocktails. Once bartenders started re-incorporating these drinks into their repertoires and consumers caught on to the bar revival happening on the East and West coasts of the States and in London -- really part of the nascent local/knowledgeable food movements -- the interest in gin was bound to increase. The spirit is complex in its history, in its culture, and in its flavor, and all of which are highly appealing to the modern imbiber-- we seek out spirits and drinks that exude these qualities.

Second, look at the variety of flavors in those classic drinks. They all share a gin base, but they combine that core flavor with a multitude of others -- the dry wine and herbs of vermouth, the bitter orange of Campari, or bright citrus, flowers, and herbs. Gin has a special ability to act as a binding base spirit: it's clear and light and so won't compete with other ingredients as brown spirits tend to do, but its spiced, herbal flavors act like salt and pepper, uniting disparate flavors and helping to create a balanced drink. Gin's versatility makes it a highly valuable tool for the cocktail-minded bartender.

Finally, gin's inherent variety of flavors and relatively short production time make it a natural go-to for the small distilleries that have sprung up around the globe, practically overnight. When you come right down to it, gin is basically flavored or infused vodka -- an un-aged grain spirit bolstered with herbs and spices. As there's no aging period, distillers can produce gin and get it to market very quickly. It gives them capital to invest in aged spirits and other products. They're also able to show their artistic hand in gin's production, as they determine what infuses their product -- you can either stick with the traditional, juniper-heavy gins (London Dry), or you can showcase new, experimental flavors (many of the "Western" or "New American" gins), and you can even tinker with sweeteners and barrel-aging. Often, the distillers' choice lends locality, personality, and character to these spirits, again appealing to the contemporary bartender and gin drinker.

All this being said, what makes a "good gin?" Like any other quality spirit, it must be distilled well, even if it can be distilled quickly -- it should not be harsh or contain and of the burning, methyl flavors that signify a poorly-made spirit. Gin can be bold, bracing, and juniper-forward, or it can be soft, floral, round, and citrusy -- whatever the case, it cannot be overly sharp, and it must contain some element of juniper. It should also be clean-cut and complex, but the botanical blend should not tasted muddied or feel off-balance -- a good gin will not taste like an herb garden put through a blender, but a nuanced and mindful selection of herbs and spices accenting a piney base of juniper. Aged and sweetened gins should exude these same qualities, allowing the sweetener or barrel-resting to highlight, rather than override, the original flavor.

Finally, a "good gin" should be applied in a good way. Let the ingredients that it's combined with -- whether vermouth, tonic, citrus and syrups, or simply ice -- showcase best qualities and core flavors of that gin, and it will, in turn, showcase the variety and versatility of the spirit as a whole.

 

Neal MacDonald, Proof66

Neal MacDonald

Proof66 LLC

Has gin become an "on-trend drink?" It was hard for me to notice as I emerged from under a mountain of half-empty bourbon bottles of various styles, editions, names, stories, and--God help us--flavors!

I think gin is ripe for a revival. And really, where has it gone? The 90s had their Cosmopolitans, the oughts had all of those funky flavored vodkas, the bourbon craze erupted in the '10's... but then there's Gin, standing there like Morpheus in the Matrix Reloaded when you still sheltered a thought that it was a good movie, announcing to the world "Remember that which matters most... We are still here!" And it's true. Gin was there in the 18th century London during the Gin Craze, it entered as a Martini in the 19th century, it lurked in bathtubs through (evil, awful, patriarchal) Prohibition, your grandparents drank it with abandon and--if you've studied those old classic cocktails it's easy to see--they were really, really good at this drinking thing. It spawned endless variations through the cocktail culture of the last couple of decades.

On-trend? Did it ever go OFF-trend?

For the modern consumer, it's easy to see why it would have a lot of appeal. In a time when whiskey is getting really intimidating with its various ages and special releases (and, let's be honest, a sad rise in watered-down, non-age statement product), gin stands as the cleaner and easier-to-understand product. You don't worry how old it is. The recipes are usually easy. You can dump it in tonic water if all else fails! But aside from its approachability, the modern consumer is filled with ideas of fresh product, wild-harvested, organically-grown, and painstakingly made. Gin is, if absolutely nothing else, a distiller's personal signature on a product. It sings of the land it comes from; the botanicals are often hand-prepared, seldom are two products ever the same.

In short, in a time where the pedigree of beef comes with a dietician's certification of the grass it ate, where the fish need to be caught responsibly in particular volumes of water, where the ugliness of heirloom tomatoes are prized and fought over at the farmer's market under the blazing heat of the humid summer sun, and where cooking shows announce their presence over and over again with Fresh, Local, and Healthy... well then, why ought we be at all surprised that gin is in ascendancy once again? It precisely matches the mood and temper of the modern consumer. Where vodka bores, where whiskey falls in tedium, where tequila is raucous... there stands Gin. Still there; always there. You were but distracted for a moment.

 

Gin and Tonic

 

 

Emma Stokes Gin Monkey

 

Emma Stokes

Gin Monkey

Why has gin become an on-trend drink? I think that provenance had a lot to do with it in the early days. Those interested in buying things locally, or from specific regions liked the idea of gins with firm roots, like Sipsmith and Chase. They bought into the story of where they're produced and the people that produce them, giving a strong connection to the products. As gins can be made anywhere in the world, local gins are a real possibility wherever you may live, come from or go on holiday to.

I think the fact that there are so many cocktails throughout history that contain gin has also helped, especially with the fascination with the roaring 20s and Gatsby etc. The Savoy Cocktail book, written by Harry Craddock in 1930 for example, contains more gin cocktails than any other spirit. Did an increase in interest in cocktails like the aviation and white lady drive the gin category forwards or was it the other way around? I've heard arguments both ways.

Gins definitely benefit from being wonderfully versatile though, whilst more interesting than vodka. When mixing in simple drinks or fancier cocktails it's possible to bring out different aspects of the gin you use by your choice of ingredient, or indeed bring out different elements from the cocktail by trying it with different gins.

You also can't escape gin's affordability compared to a lot of spirits. Aged spirits command a premium due to time spent in the barrel, angels share etc where as gin is a relatively quick spirit to make. Therefore the price tends to be lower meaning it's a more accessible category to explore - you don't have to shell out a fortune in order to have half a dozen different gins at home, or to try them in a bar.

What do I look for in a good gin? Well, I'm a bit of a traditionalist, so my favourite gins tend to be those with a good juniper back bone supported by a fresh citrus element. I've been pleasantly surprised recently with some gins that don't fit that formula though, so I'm realising more and more that I'm not a stubborn as I used to be when it comes to gin. So long as the juniper is there front and centre, and is the dominant flavour I can usually see the positives in any gin. My pet hate gin wise though is cardamom. Whilst nice in small quantities, quite a few new craft distilleries are adding so much all that I get is a soapy aftertaste and it overpowers the juniper. Can we please take it easy on the cardamom please guys? Sort that out and we can be friends...

 

Jack Murphy, The Gin Bar

 

Jack Murphy

The Gin Bar, Newcastle

I think with gin you're never able to get bored with it. There's a huge choice in how you choose to drink gin. Whether it's straight up or on the rocks, shaken or stirred into a cocktail exploring the diversity of flavours. My most desired is a G&T, even then you've got to pick your gin, match a tonic and then decide what garnish you'd like to enhance the flavours in there.

There's so much variety, there is a gin out there now that everyone will enjoy. The technology we have nowadays just enhanced the way gin is distilled as there are so many weird and wonderful types of gin with interesting recipes. For me it's very appealing in how the distillers use botanicals to curate such great flavour. The way in which flavours reveal themselves within gin. Every gin revealing different notes of locally sourced seeds, plants, pines or whether its fruit, spices or roots from across the world. Gin now creates an atmosphere in which it enlightens all your senses and i think it's that what people crave.

This is why gin is an on-trend drink.

There's certain boxes that a good gin will tick and for me, three of them are that the Gin has to be refreshing, intriguing and has to have the most pleasant finish. As long it had some fresh citrus notes and a strong savoury posture I'm going to enjoy it. A good gin will continue to reveal flavours right through to the last drop. For me, Hepple Gin does this beautifully. I've tasted a lot of gin and this surprises me every time, the juniper, Douglass fur and blackcurrant leaves evolve into the most wonderful of flavours. This gin is so crisp and clean. They grow and use pines and plants from around their local area Northumberland, this gin is truly amazing and will continue to drink this throughout my life.

Hepple Gin leads you down a pathway of immense flavours, opening every taste bud on your tongue and giving your palate new experiences that it may never have had.

 

GinThing

Marcus Lewis

GinThing

I believe a number of factors coming together has driven the upsurge of Gin in recent years; the twenty somethings, hipsters and the chattering classes have jumped on the “Gin Train” has given it some additional momentum that perhaps, ten years ago, would have seen it as a dated drink. Add to the mix, the huge variety available, from one end with something like Hoxton’s Gin with coconut as a lead botanical to the very affordable Opihr and its spice trail story. Throw in the healthy number of Cocktail bars and Mixologists, the growth of Artisan Gins that are in line with the craft boom interest of recent years. Finally, a big credit has to go to the Tonics. Fever Tree has helped by adding the quality branding to Gin, like wise with Fentimans and Franklins as well as some of the smaller Tonic producers I am enjoying at present. Again, making Gin something to aspire to rather than the Gin Lane view of its historic routes.

The challenge with this “trendification” of Gin is how one finds a good one as every large distillery seems to be jumping on the bandwagon – 40% growth since 2010 and the smaller distillers fighting to be seen. I normally like to taste Gin before I buy. I subscribe to a monthly Gin box, which helps. I also have a couple of favourite bars that are perfect for pre purchase sampling; Atlas in Manchester and the Oliver Conquest in London are good examples, so is Gin71 in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as Heads and Tales in Edinburgh.

A good Gin for me regular starts with the story. The passion behind it often comes through in a good Gin. There are many examples; Pickerings 1947, Foragers Black Label, Bertha’s Revenge to name just a few. Whilst it does not have to have a good story, naturally it should taste good. Where possible, I like to try it neat and then with a “Yardstick” tonic, I use one of two tonics depending on the Gin. By this point, I have normally made up my mind. Although I have tried Gins with different tonics and have liked them more than the first time round. From there, it becomes subjective. I like the spicier end and generally avoid the floral Gins but I am always willing to try. I have only thrown away one Gin. I am not a Gin snob, I am happy to try the big brand Gin as much as the smaller distillers to. I do like to see effort in the base spirit process and botanicals, this grabs my attention. I have tasted some amazing gins with just two or three botanicals. In the end, it is simple. If it makes a good G&T or Martini, I’m in.

 

Juniper berries, used for making gin 

 




Paul Jackson, The Gin Guide

Paul Jackson

The Gin Guide

Not only has gin become an 'on-trend' drink, I believe that the gin industry will continue to grow further and then retain much of its increased popularity for many years to come. Consumers have become so educated and enchanted by the gin industry over the past 3 years that it now has genuine staying power.

But how has gin done it? A big factor is the nature of gin itself - whilst it is not at all easy to produce a great gin, the production time is relatively short, with no need for aging like fine whiskey and wine. This has allowed the market to swiftly rise with the demand and to diversify, turning a spark of interest into a bonfire! With gin simply being defined by having juniper as the prominent flavour it allows for wonderful experimentation and diversity in the market. This not only gives it broad appeal to people's different tastes, it allows distilleries to create powerful narratives and brands around their gins that capture consumers' interest.

As a specialist in gin marketing, it has been fascinating to see the role of social media in the rise of gin. Gin's core audience matches closely with that of the most active and engaged social media demographics. This has allowed gin news, advocacy, event details and brand stories to spread beyond what any other spirit has achieved. Afterall, a nicely garnished G&T does make a for good Instagram pic!

 

Allotment Bar Manchester

Emily Rowe

Allotment, Manchester

I think a large part of gin's resurgence has to do with the changes in licensing laws in the UK and US which allow for much smaller craft distilleries to operate in small batches and therefore have more freedom financially. It allows distillers to be more experimental and push boundaries with flavours and botanicals, and I think people are realising that a gin and tonic doesn't have to be limited to your traditional juniper-led London Dry gin and a standard Indian-style tonic, a combination which, from working in a gin bar, I've realised is too bitter for a lot of customers. Distillers - and by extension, bartenders - can offer something to cater for everyone's taste, so people's perception of a gin and tonic is changing. The huge variety of gins available also means there's a gin for pretty much any style or flavour of cocktail you can imagine.

My opinion of a "good" gin is obviously very personal; I don't particularly like sweet or floral gins, and I'm not a huge fan of very dry gins either. I like savoury and citrus flavours that are present but not overpowering. A good gin, I think, should be perfectly balanced; you should be able to smell and taste a number of different things, not just one dominant botanical. And I think that some distilleries try to be too experimental. It's great to have a unique selling point, such as an unusual botanical or method of distilling, but when it compromises the taste, that's a huge error. I also think the measure of a good gin is how well it stands up in both a gin and tonic and a classic gin martini, be it dry, dirty or whichever. A dirty martini with Gin Mare ticks all the right boxes for me.

 

Arthur Shapiro, Booze Business

Arthur Shapiro

Booze Business

When I first entered the spirits industry in the 1980’s, gin was at the bottom of the USA spirit choices. One would hear descriptions that included references to bathtub gin and to moonshine and prohibition; comments like “gin makes me sick, it must be the junipers;” and general dismissal of gin as an alcohol choice.

Fast forward to the craft and cocktail enthusiasm of the last 10 years and gin has unquestionable grown in choice and desirability. But, it’s not the giant brands that are benefitting, it’s the small craft/boutique entries that have grown and are leading the resurgence, spurred on by interest in classic cocktails.

I think that Hendricks’s Gin started the ball rolling with two factors—premium pricing and taste. The pricing factor together with high quality packaging served to signal to both consumers and the trade, that the stodgy old gin image was gone. As to taste, Hendricks’s was among the first to move out of citrus and herbaceous into a novel new flavor for gin, in this case cucumber. Even going so far as to create a new cocktail that enhanced its flavor.

More recently, other factors have added to the interest, particularly botanicals and styles of gin. Here’s where the cocktail culture and enthusiasm have become the category drivers.

The brand selected is often based on how well the botanicals inside are perceived to work with a Negroni, Gin & Tonic, Vesper, or another cocktail. Similarly, choosing from among a London Dry, Navy Strength or Old Tom, also adds to the discovery of the interactions with the favored libation.

In short, the range, styles, botanicals and their use in specific cocktails allow the consumer to discover and share what they have learned and created. It makes a statement for some drinkers and demonstrates discernment for others.

Finally, I believe that gin as a category has much going for it particularly among younger drinkers. As a “white” spirit, it moves the drinker beyond the silly flavors of vodka and with a less acquired taste than a whisk(e)y.

So, Gin now takes its place as a cherished cocktail ingredient and is a viable alternative and a place to go beyond Vodka.

 

Selection of gins

Carol Smaul, Gin & Griddle

Carol Smaul

Gin & Griddle

For a long time, gin had a bad reputation, it just wasn’t cool. The big brands like Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks made in-roads to bringing Gin back but it’s the smaller and craft distilleries that started to spring up in the last couple of years that has really given the revival momentum. When I started blogging about gin 5 years ago there was two Irish Gins, Cork and Dingle (which at the time was very new) and now there’s so many more. The range of botanicals that can go into gin and the various methods in which gin can be distilled and made means there’s a gin to suit you out there - floral, sweet, herby…This also make gin a perfect cocktail ingredient as you can harness the different flavour profiles to create interesting drinks.

My favourite way to drink gin is either very simply with tonic, ice and garnish or a dry gin martini with olives. I tend towards preferring gins that are more on the herb and spice profile than sweet but they all have their place. On a sunny summer’s day a refreshing G&T al fresco is perfect. Whitley Neill is always in my favourites and Gin Mare, a Mediterranean gin heavy on rosemary, thyme and basil is a wonderful gin too. Of the many Irish gins that have entered the market recently, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin is easily my pick of them, a very smooth and balanced gin, taking its name from the addition of Gunpowder tea, a Chinese green tea to the vapour infusion. I love the ethos of Glendalough gin too, with their local and seasonal foraging key to their gin production. Germany produces some super gins, including Monkey 47 which everyone knows about but The Duke and Granit are two others I would highly recommend anyone who likes gin, to try both. It’s really the variety of gins that I love, no two are the same, the botanicals, the flavours, the method by which it is made and how it is distilled, even the garnish you choose can alter the taste of a gin.

 

Emily Arden Wells, Gastronomista

Emily Arden Wells

Gastronomista

In my opinion, gin is a staple in any well stocked bar, and always has been. I don't believe that gin is particularly "trendy", as it is an essential ingredient in making so many classic cocktails such as the Martini, the Negroni, a Gin and Tonic, or a Gimlet to name a few. Very often I stick to the classics when it comes to Gin - Plymouth, Beefeater, Hendrick's, and Tanqueray 10.

That said, it is undeniable that small-batch gins made with local botanicals are having a moment, and the best ones give a distinct sense of place or a unique flavor profile. Some of my favorites include Rutte Celery Gin, Golden Moon Gin made with sage, and the St. George Terroir Gin. When I create cocktails, I build flavors based on the specific botanicals found in a particular gin, and the more distinct the flavor, the more interesting the drink.

 

Honest Booze Reviews

Honest Booze Reviews

The reason gin has become an on-trend drink has been for 2 main reasons in our opinions.

1. Quite frankly the other options have had their time. Vodka is over-saturated with brands and flavoring. Whiskey & rum has had a similar explosion with the diversity and popularity of small-batches over the last 20 years. Wine and craft beer have become powerhouse industries - so when it comes to what should be the next large thing that actually has 'staying power' in the new tastes of people - gin is a good fit.

2. For the spirit itself it works well in a variety of cocktails, micro or even large (but pretending to be smaller) can easily make it which as the craft industry grows will lead to more product, and then more demand, and the usage of botanicals and ingredients make it a good fit for the current culture.

What we look for in a good gin:

Of course we look for something that does ​well on our scale, something that tastes good, is well priced, doesn’t make a huge deal out of itself, and that mixes well. To that end we respect that a gin shouldn’t be all things to all people. You want a gin that’s better for your everyday cocktails and your martini gin. What we look for in a gin is one that knows what it is, and actually does well at what it claims to be good at – simple as that.

 

Aaron Knoll, The Gin Is In

Aaron Knoll

The Gin Is In

It’s been said that “humans are hard-wired for storytelling.” Of all spirits, gin is uniquely positioned to tell a story. Gin can tell the story of a culture, or a tradition, or a landscape or place with all of the flora (and very occasionally fauna*) that sets the scene; that visceral feeling of “here and nowhere else.”

St. George Spirits’ Terroir Gin paints an evocative portrait of Californian Redwood forest whereas Monkey 47 does the same for the German Black Forest. The Botanist tells the story of the Hebridean landscape through 22 local botanicals. Ungava’s signature Canadian arctic botanicals tell a very different place altogether. Death’s Door Gin starts with local Washington Island wheat and ends with wild grown Washington Island juniper berries. VOR Gin does the same thing; from Icelandic barley to Icelandic Moss. The Inverroche Distillery in South Africa promotes conservation of their unique local ecosystem through their unique botanical bills.

In short, there’s as many stories to be told through gin as there are places. And distillers are discovering new places’ stories to tell through their gin every day all around the world.

I think a good gin should have a nose that tells you a bit about what you’re going to taste, and when sipped neat the flavors should unfold and evolve as if a a perfume, There should be some top notes, some rich heart notes, and some base notes that settle in on the finish. I love juniper at its brightest with a slight piney note. But gin is primarily a spirit of cocktails and therefore, a good gin also needs to play well with others. It should make a good Gin and Tonic, a good Martini** and a top notch Negroni. That latter being my favorite story of them all.

* Take Australian Green Ant Gin from Something Adelaide Hills Distillery for example
** With a good Vermouth at a 5:1 ratio.

 

Phil Whiteman, The Old Bell Inn Delph

Phil Whiteman

The Old Bell Inn, Delph (World Record holders for the 'Largest Number of Gins Commercially Available')

I think diversity is the key to the current vogue, whilst there is still the label of the classic “gin” taste, the real lesson for enthusiasts and new drinkers alike is that you can’t make assumptions about what a spirit will taste like from looking at the bottle.This diversity then gives bartenders more

resources at their disposal when it comes to cocktails so it’s been kept in view on menus and shop shelves alike (not to mention efforts with public events).

The quality of the gin is made up of three points from me, quality of the base spirit, complexity of the flavours/botanicals and mix-ability.

Now the first point, base spirit can be from varied origins (grain, potato, rye, sugar cane, etc.) this will have an effect on the end product, having a smooth example and good typality in the flavour is key, the botanical make up can be difficult to judge as not all distillers publish their recipes, but complexity in the flavour will show the skill in the combinations.

Mix-ability is probably the most important from a drinker's perspective and versatility in a spirit is what has made gin so popular but if I can tick all three of these boxes I’ve normally found a worthwhile drink.


Why do you think gin has seen a sudden increase in popularity? Do you agree with the experts, or do you see it in a different way? Let us know in the comment section below.

Has all of this gin talk left you craving a top spirit. Go to www.thespiritsembassy.com/collections/gin to view our collection.



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