I've really been looking forward to writing about gin. I suspect among the younger hip crowd, gin is considered slightly old-fashioned and fogeyish; and there's now a general gravitation towards vodka in cocktail bars and night-clubs: how many times have I heard some blade, or party girl for that matter, ask for a Vodka and Cranberry Juice?
Anyway, back in the good old days of wife-swapping, bridge parties, and twiglets, gin was the tipple of choice, and, of course the basis of, perhaps, the greatest of all cocktails, The Dry Martini. But more about that in a later post.
Gin was invented in the Netherlands in the 17th century, and was distilled from barley. London Dry Gin is different. It's made from a neutral grain spirit, and then re-distilled after botanicals have been added; and the most important botanical, which it gives it that particular taste, is juniper.
What's fascinating about gin is how the different brands vary in taste. This is because of the wide range of botanicals that can be used, ranging from lemon peel, anise, angelica root, coriander, cinnamon, to cassia bark. For a standard gin and tonic, I happen to like the 40% proof Beefeater; 94.6% proof Tanqueray for a Dry Martini, and Plymouth Gin (the sailor's choice) for Sloe Gin- if and when I ever get around to making it.
It may surprise you to know that Bombay Sapphire- that's the gin in the lovely blue coloured bottles with Queen Victoria on the front, is a fairly recent new-comer to the market. It's slightly sweeter, highly flavoured with lots of botanicals, and deservedly successful.
In the eighteenth century, the government allowed gin to be distilled without licence, and, as a result, the ale-houses and taverns were flooded with cheap gin, which was, in effect, fire-water. Underneath you will see a picture of "Gin Lane' by William Hogarth. Actually, if you know the Leicester Square area of London, I'm not sure that a great deal has changed since then, except it's now beer and bizarre cocktails mixed with Red Bull which is causing all the excitement.