Recently, I seem to have reverted to my former tipple of choice, The Gin and Tonic. Our hovel is in danger of becoming a temple to the stuff. As I regretfully say farewell to the years of late youth, I seem to be turning into an updated version of my father. My father was- and is- a creature of habit, and back in the early 70's, come hell or high water, every Saturday morning was spent in ritual fashion, stocking up on Victory Gin from Victoria Wine, and a bag or two of spicy Bombay Mix.
Own brand gins are not to be sniffed at: I've started to drink the excellent and extremely affordable Sainsbury's London Dry Gin, which I can see from the small print is actually distilled by Greenall's up in Warrington (where, incidentally, Bombay Sapphire is made.) It's a clean, light and rather subtle gin and comes highly recommended, although I'm not that happy about the new packaging- until a few weeks ago, it came with an amusing 18th century black and white engraving of St Paul's Cathedral, London Bridge, and the spires of Old London Town. This has now been relegated by some trendy packaging consultant to a small, over-stylised motif in the left hand corner of the label.
Any serious gin drinker will know that the different brands vary dramatically in taste. Bombay Sapphire for example, is highly scented, and in my opinion, slightly too sweet, even a trifle sickly. The brand, too, is not as ancient as the label suggests, and I'm guessing that it's deliberately marketed at a younger metropolitan crowd. Tanqueray Export is popular in America and with its higher alcohol content is excellent for a Dry Martini. Beefeater is a smooth and crisp gin which consistently wins approval in blind tastings, and is reasonably affordable. I'm a huge fan.
I suppose that my interest in gin derives from the days when my father used to advertise Booth's Gin. Booth's was the gentleman's gin, founded in London around 1740, and a favourite, if it is to be believed, of both Her Majesty the Queen, and Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
Strangely, "Booth's Finest London Dry Gin" was actually yellow in colour: I seem to remember some story about how the straw in the wooden barrels turned the gin yellow by accident; a tradition which Booth's maintained until the demise of the company in, I suppose, the mid 1980's. "Booth's High and Dry" (which came in a lovely frosted bottle, a splendid heraldic red plastic lion on a "silver" chain around the neck) was the gin of choice for the connoisseur of the Dry Martini.
As you've probably realised by now, Booth's panelled offices in Park Lane closed their doors for the last time some years back, and the brand was swallowed up by one of the corporate Big Boys, who allowed it to fall into obscurity. There is a gin calling itself "Booth's London Dry" (in a blue plastic bottle, but with the famous red lion) which seems to be still available in the United States, but I read somewhere that it's actually distilled in New Jersey, and I suspect that it has no authentic connection with the original British brand. I really don't know. It's all a terrific shame: it would really make my day to see those suave frosted bottles back on the shelves once again.
Anyway. I digress. What's the best way to serve gin? The classic gin and tonic is an excellent (and under-rated) drink, and I hate to admit it, not often served properly (and that includes by yours truly himself). Nothing worse than warm gin in one of those cheap hotel glass tumblers with a white line on it, and a limp lemon slice floating around in it.
Ideally, the gin needs to be chilled in the 'fridge, and then poured into a clean tumbler over fresh ice cubes. Schweppes make a classic tonic, though I also happen to like the taste of Britvic (founded in the mid 19th century as the British Vitamin Products Company). It's quite a good idea to buy those small cans of tonic which keep fizzy, as tonic kept in those plastic screw-top bottles tends to go flat. There are some very strange people out there who claim that a slice of cucumber works well in gin. I reckon that's a complete aberration, and am of the firm belief that a slice of lime is your best bet, with lemon coming up from behind in a close second.