Everything you’d want to know about the latest artisanal gin craze

There once was a time when the peak of coffee appreciation involved mum inquiring if the local steak house served cappuccino or dad being surprised at having more than the usual suspects on offer at his favourite pub. We then went through a process of coffee and beer enlightenment; gradually realising that just like wine, there’s a huge world of expertise, craftsmanship and appreciation out there, and that armed with a little knowledge, there’s a wonderland to be explored. Gin is the latest tipple to follow in craft beer’s footsteps; the world over there’s a gin craze going on, and as a self-confessed novice on the topic, I was more keen than ever to get lost down the artisanal gin rabbit hole.

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Don’t feel like reading? You can also listen to this article on the new craft gin craze via our Crumbs Podcast channel.

What is gin? Gin is a neutral-tasting spirit made from grain, then re-distilled with botanicals and a noticeable juniper flavour. Its this juniper flavour and its distinct aroma that sets gin apart from its close cousin, vodka. From liquorice and citrus flavours to nutmeg and even fynbos, each gin distillery has its own secret recipe and technique to give their gin its depth of flavour, infusion of natural botanicals, character and story.

Basically gin, to those passionate about its craft, can be like a white wall to a graffiti artist – full of possibility.

A little history on gin

An encyclopedia could be written about gin and its history but here is the short version.

  • Origin: It is said that gin originated in the Netherlands but it was in London, in the 17th Century, where it took on a life of its own as a drink, cheaper than beer, able to drown sorrows and help those living in misery — forget their woes.
  • The bad reputation: It became known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’ as not even a ‘mother’s instinct could survive the ravages of gin’. To curb frenzy, the government introduced licence fees on gin retailers and gin taxes (later met with riots!).
  • New beginning: In the 1800s, gin’s reputation took a turn for the better, as ‘gin palaces’ sprung up over London making the most of gas lighting and offering sophistication over the dingy drinking holes of old.
  • The new age: Fast forward to 2015 (I did say it was a short history), where gin is now enjoying a revival after having languished in the shadows as its cousin, vodka, took the limelight.

Gin is breaking out of its image of being doused in tonic and served in crystal glasses to mother-in-laws whose sons-in-laws can never pour the drink ‘quite right’. What’s not to love?

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So what really is ‘the gin craze’?

An explosion of small, boutique gin distilleries are cropping up the globe over, each innovating to push the flavour boundaries and create their own brands and stories. Since 2009, over 35 micro-distilleries have opened in the UK and here in South Africa, the gin renaissance has been led by the likes of Inverroche. For those of us looking for more soul behind our hardtack, flavours to discover and palates wanting an education, gin offers a world to be explored.

How to taste gin

A few things to note on gin tasting and appreciation (and where it differs to the likes of wine tasting)

  • Remember, gin is a spirit so too much tasting and things really can get a little messy.
  • Taste it at room temperature, swill it around your mouth and see whether you can spot both the juniper and other botanicals – cucumber? Citrus? Fynbos? Spice?
  • Add a little water too and the flavours may become more pronounced. You’re after something refined; something that is not going to burn and knock-your-socks-off at first sip; something that would taste good not drowned in tonic, but perhaps poured over a few blocks of ice.
  • Oh, and a great gin won’t give you the headache that cheap gin will.

The gin aficionados at Mother’s Ruin, suggest doubles, plenty of ice and also making sure your gin to tonic ratio is right. For every 25ml of gin, they suggest 150/175ml of tonic.

Mothers-ruin

What gin to taste and where to taste it

As a Cape Town resident, I headed to the popular gin bar in Bree Street, Mother’s Ruin, for advice on the best gins to dabble in.

  • From the good people who have helped spearhead the gin revolution in SA, Inverroche Classic is juniper forward and has a piney and citrus flavour. Try this with a few slices of grapefruit and some fresh sage with Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic.
  • Inverroche Verdant is more floral and you can definitely sense fennel and Fynbos coming through. It goes well with a slice of orange and some Schweppes tonic.
  • Inverroche Amber is earthy, woody and spicy and pairs well with Socks Craft Tonic (from SA), fresh orange and some finely grated cinnamon.
  • Hope Salt River Gin has plenty of juniper and is distilled with Buchu which gives it a nice blackcurrant and earthy flavour. It works well with Schweppes tonic and soda water (2/3rd tonic and 1/3rd soda), lemon zest and a sprig of rosemary. Check out this interview with Lucy Beard and Leigh Fisk, owners of Hope on Hopkins distillery in Cape Town.
  • Musgrave Gin is also distilled by the Hope on Hopkins distillery in Salt River (but has different owners) and has lovely ginger and cardamom notes. It works well with a few freshly squeezed lime wedges, some grated, dried ginger and a few leaves of fresh sage or basil and Fevertree tonic.
  • Tanqueray London Dry is a classic. It was originally distilled in Bloomsbury, London, but is now distilled in Scotland with four known botanicals: juniper, angelica root, coriander seed and liquorice. It’s best enjoyed with some fresh grapefruit, lime and Schwepppes tonic, however if you want to mix it up a little, try an elderflower tonic or a classic gin cocktail, such as the Negroni, which is 1 part gin, 1 part sweet red Vermouth and 1 part Campari. Stir slowly over plenty ice and garnish with grapefruit zest or an orange slice.
  • Gin is Monkey 47 is a luxurious must-try. It was voted the world’s number one gin in 2014 and is made with 47 different botanicals, some of which come from the Black Forest in Germany. This is a small batched gin which therefore makes it hard to find and more expensive, but definitely try it if you ever get the chance! Monkey 47 really doesn’t need much to enhance its already complex flavour profile — it works well with Fentiman’s tonic and a small sprig of lemongrass… don’t over do it as you’ll lose the complexity of some of the flavours…and again, make sure you use plenty of ice.
  • Gin Mare is another favourite from Spain. It is distilled with black olives and rosemary which gives it a unique and delicious Mediterranean flavour. It goes best with muddled mango and a small grind of black pepper and Fevertree tonic.

A big thanks to Mother’s Ruin for their gin insight. Be sure to head there to taste these (and nearly 100 others) or check out the range of gins here that can be delivered to your door. Here’s to being ‘in like gin’ and enjoying that next G&T, the artisanal way.

So, tell us, where is the artisanal gin watering hole in your neighbourhood?