A discussion with my son Patrick recently centered around Festive Season gin. Why it came up in our conversation is that we usually experience an increased demand for gin around Christmas. Our dilemma? – We are almost sold out of our stock of Green Acres Irish Gin.
You might remember we launched our own labelled Irish Gin just over two years ago. Actually, I wrote about it then – see here: Green Acres Irish Gin – the Story. As a result of its popularity, we now have to manage a fine balancing act between creating gin hampers and selling individual bottles as gifts.
For the last two years, at around this time the early-birds who want to get their Christmas shopping over and done with, have chosen our cask-aged gin as their Festive Season gin, be it for themselves or as gifts in hampers.
And it has started already this year again. The hampers can include our gin with glasses and tonic, or a one comprising a selection of gins.
Of course, if you’re a last-minute shopper, you can get any of our hampers online without having to go through the pain of Christmas crowds! But take this as a warning about the gin – we just might be sold out.
A Gin Environment.
What surprised many of us in the trade is the dramatic and continuous growth that gin has had in the spirit market. Don’t take my word for it – here is an article from checkout.ie published in September 2018. The Irish gin industry is booming and there seem to be more small distilleries popping up nationwide, nearly every month.The Irish gin industry is booming and there seem to be more small distilleries popping up nationwide, almost monthly #discovergin #greenacresirl. Click To Tweet
In fact, going into a bar and asking for a G&T nowadays is like going into an Italian restaurant and asking for a pizza! If you don’t know what you like or indeed the barman doesn’t know his gin and/or tonics, you are likely to get a bland tasting gin. This will arrive with some ice in a highball glass and an old slice of lemon thrown in for good measure.
This isn’t good enough anymore – from travels abroad, people’s expectations are higher and it is time for the humble G&T drinker to get the appreciation they deserve.
In this light, I think it would be opportune for me to write a few words on what gin actually is, explain some of the botanicals that are used, how it is made and perhaps finish with an outline of styles of gin. If you read on – hopefully, you’ll be better equipped to choose your Festive Season gin.
The Modern Gin and Tonic.
In my article referred to above, I explained the origin of gin and how we arrived at the modern gin and tonic. Have a read – it goes back to the 17th Century and there are links to further reading. Thereafter, the gin revolution was continued by Spain. There are three things that the Spanish changed that has brought us to where we are today – the glass it is served in, the size of the drink and how it is garnished.
They reckoned that a larger (wider) glass would allow for more ice to keep the drink chilled longer and to allow the aromas to escape properly. Garnishes moved from the tradition lemon slice to include the peel of orange or lime and may also include spices like pepper, cardamom, and coriander.
How is Gin Made?
There are several ways to re-distill the base spirit with botanicals. But, to be brief, there are two ways of making gin – compounding and distilling. With distilling, the base spirit (a vodka really) is added into the pot of a still, reduced with water (to lower the alcohol level) and then the botanicals are added. It is the oils from the botanicals that give each gin its unique flavour.
With compounding, the essential oils are extracted from the botanicals (or artificial flavourings), added to water and blended into the base spirit. As such, no redistilling takes place. According to EU regulations, this product can be called ‘gin’ but not London Dry or Distilled Gin.
Obviously, the process is a lot more scientific than I am outlining here so if you would like to read more about the science of making gin have a read of The science of distilling gin.
Let’s Talk About the Botanicals – What are they?
At their very basic form, botanicals can be anything from fruits to roots and herbs to spices. The only core ingredient for a gin is the juniper berry. This flavour must be predominant for it to be labelled as a gin product. Thereafter, various botanicals can be added to give each gin its unique characteristics. A good gin usually has a minimum of six botanicals.
Some examples such as Monkey 47 greatly exceed that which is reflected in the taste and price. Common botanicals would be heather, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and citrus peel. There are a few Irish Gins that now even include seaweed extract and silver birch.
With our own gin, we have more than six botanicals but go one step further by aging our product in a Pineau-des-Charentes cask for 5 months before bottling. Some people argue that it gives a Festive Season flavour!
With the wide variety of botanicals out there no two gins need taste the same. Even if similar recipes are used to make the gin – the botanicals will bring their own flavours as reflected in where they are grown.
Here is a short table of botanicals that you will probably come across:
- Spicy: Coriander, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Ginger, Nutmeg
- Sweet: Honeysuckle, Elderflower, Vanilla
- Earthy: Angelica root, Liquorice, Rosemary
- Floral: Lavender, Hibiscus
- Nutty: Almond
- Zesty: Lemon peel, Orange peel, Bergamot
Six Different Styles of Gin
London Dry Gin is probably what most people think of as gin. It is a style of gin but does not have to be made in London. They are typically very dry, heavily juniper flavoured, light in body and, aromatic.
Plymouth Gin is slightly less dry to London Dry Gin but must be made in Plymouth, England. This style has a more earthy flavour and softer juniper notes than others. It is infused with more roots and is usually used anywhere a London Dry Gin is used.
Genever or Dutch Gin is quite different in colour and taste. It is made from a base of malt grains rather than cereal grains. As a result is might taste like a light-bodied botanical whiskey. It works well in certain cocktails – or on the rocks if that’s to your taste.
Old Tom Gin is a sweeter cousin to London Dry Gin. Less popular nowadays but is still used in making cocktails – most famously the Tom Collins.
Compound Gin doesn’t include a re-distillation process and uses flavourings. It is an umbrella term used to refer to all new styles of gin. Also, artificial sweeteners and colourings are allowed. Sometimes these are referred to as new American or International Style Gins.
Sloe Gin is considered by many to be more of a liqueur because of the amount of sugar added to it. It is made from sloe berries from blackthorn trees, which are relatives of plums. In fact, some of the bottom-shelf sloe gins are not made with gin at all but with vodka!
What Does Gin Taste Like?
A well-crafted gin has complex undertones of citrus, flowers, and warm spices. Each producer balances those flavours in their own way, which makes gin a fascinating spirit to drink, discuss and write about.
In real terms, there are six different segments when it comes to the tasting notes of gin: juniper, citrus, spice, fruit, floral and herbal. These help consumers to learn more about the character of different gins.
Pick a tasting note that you like and experiment thereafter. Similar to choosing a wine, knowing a little bit about what you like will help the decision process.
The tonic water you choose can also affect the taste of your gin. I don’t really want to go into the massive variety of tonics that are now also appearing on the market. Just be aware that tonics do influence taste.
Similar to above, find a tonic that you like and see does it ‘pair’ with your gin without overpowering it. My favourite? The only Irish produced tonic (from Wexford) – Poachers Premium Irish Tonic Water.
Other taste influencers are garnishes. Garnishes are used to highlight the botanicals in a gin. There a way too many variations to get into here but have a look at this resource from ginsanity.co.uk for more details. A good bartender will ask you what garnish you prefer.
Interestingly enough, when we launched our own gin, we recommended a sliver of ginger be used as a garnish. The feedback we have received over the past year is that people prefer our gin on-the-rocks with no garnish at all! They like the taste that the cask aging imparts.
Christmas time is a great time to broaden your gin experience. When choosing your Festive Season gin, the sky is the limit so why not experiment yourself and create your own recipes.
To Finish – A Strategy for Irish Gin.
The gin market continues to grow here in Ireland (and worldwide) so be adventurous. Try new craft gins, new garnishes, and new tonics. In fact, so great is the growth of gin consumption, The Irish Spirits Association has launched a Strategy for Irish Gin 2018-2022, aiming to promote the worldwide growth of Irish gin over the next five years by developing world-leading standards for quality and authenticity.
Irish gin producers want to treble sales by 2022, with the aim to sell 5 million bottles or 400,000 9-litre cases around the world. I think it is our duty to help them (ahem).
If you haven’t tried our Irish Gin (made with heathers from my own garden) – call in or go online as soon as you can.
As usual, you can contact me if you would like to discuss anything about gin or our hampers – they are very popular as gifts. Also, if you’d like to receive future blog posts from us, directly to your email, just ‘click’ here.
We look forward to engaging with you again soon – Cheers, James.