Top 5: Artisan Gins (And Where To Drink Them)
Previously the preserve of Dickensian down-and-outers, gin is no longer just a drink for those with a blue rinse or bad reputation.
A surge in the number of artisan distilleries has seen the spirit soar in popularity, with Gen-Y drinkers now favouring juniper-based juices to their once beloved vodka. To celebrate World Gin Day, we have scoured the country for the best artisan offerings and craft cocktails, so that you can join in the trend. Time for a gin tipple (or two).
Established in West London in 2009, Sipsmith is one of the only gins in the world still made using the traditional one-shot method. Ten carefully selected botanicals from around the globe are distilled by ‘Prudence’ – the first copper still to launch in London in 200 years – resulting in a gin that is slightly spicy, a touch citrusy, and full of character. With every bottle made by hand in batches of just a few hundred at a time, Sipsmith is a staunch celebration of all things artisan and has deservedly won a whole host of industry accolades in its short six year lifespan.
Whilst Sipsmith makes a stunningly smooth Martini, we were bowled over by its starring role in The Boulogne Bar’s ‘Wrong’ Negroni. Inspired by a classic Italian error – an apparently hungover and busy bartender making the traditional cocktail with sparkling wine instead of gin – bar manager Alex Roach has created a twist on the ‘sbagliato’ (‘incorrect Negroni’) whilst still paying respect to the original. Sipsmith gin is stirred with strawberry bitters, strawberry vermouth, Campari and Fever Tree tonic, balancing sweet and sour flavours to pack a pungent but pleasant punch. A balanced and suitably complex spin on the classic, this might be wrong in name but it is oh-so-right by nature.
The ‘Wrong’ Negroni is priced at £9. The Boulogne Bar, 389 Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town, London NW5 2TJ
2. D1 London Gin
D1 London Gin is the new kid on the block. Launched in the UK on the 22nd May 2014, in a bottle designed by international artist Jacky Tsai (who created his first floral skull for Alexander McQueen), this achingly hip gin combines contemporary cool with classic distilling craft, appealing to trendsetters and traditionalists alike. Noted for its super smooth finish and quintessential British flavours, D1 has a distinctive blackcurrant nose with daringly different undertones of liquorice and nettle. Best served with mint as its signature garnish, D1 has already won medals at the Gin Masters Awards and been rated ‘exceptional’ by the Difford’s Guide.
Created by the renowned Rasa Gaidelyte for Peony, this fragrant twist on a classic is the perfect aperitif for the summer. Inspired by the flavours of Chinatown, the Blue Lady Negroni infuses blue lady tea with D1 London Gin for a smooth, tannic finish. The first sip combines a clean orange zest with the dry taste of Campari, whilst the floral and citrus notes from the blue lady tea are opened up by the gin, providing a fruity finish which blends beautifully with Italian sweet vermouth to leave a hint of grapefruit. This light and subtle cocktail is served in clean-cut crystal selected specially by Rasa for the launch of her oriental summer menu.
Blue Lady Negroni is priced at £13. Peony, The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 6JE
3. Sloane’s Gin
Hand crafted in small batches in Holland, Sloane’s Gin is a true labour of love. The nine botanicals – inspired by Sir Hans Sloane’s (1660-1753) personal botanical collection (which the Royal Physician experimented with for medicinal purposes) – are each distilled individually before being blended together, resulting in a crisp but soft sipping spirit. Traditional dry peel is substituted with fresh citrus fruits from Spain, with the hand cut oranges and lemons resulting in a slightly sweeter, fresher flavour than other options. Creamy, silky and citrusy, Sloane’s Gin has been internationally recognised for its taste and quality, picking up the ‘World’s Best Gin’ gong at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition 2011.
If you’re feeling experimental, head to the Chaophraya Palm Sugar Lounge in Leeds for a Cherry Bomb – a drink that is as dramatic as it is discerning. Deep flavours of Cherry Marnier and Bajan beverage Velvet Falernum (a low-proof rum infused with almond, ginger and allspice) are shaken with Sloane’s Gin and lemon juice, and garnished with Sloane’s soaked cherries and Sloane’s Gin smoke. Underlying citrus flavours help cut through the weight of the smoke, whilst the spicy overtones help bring the woodiness alive. Incredibly moreish with a marginally medicinal feel, we think Sir Hans Sloane would heartily approve.
Cherry Bomb is priced at £8.50. Chaophraya Palm Sugar Lounge, 20A Blayds Court, Swinegate, Leeds, LS1 4AG
4. Two Birds Gin
Hatched in the hills of Leicestershire and nesting in the quaint town of Market Harborough, Two Birds Gin celebrates the character and craftsmanship of the British countryside. Launched in 2013, Two Birds stays faithful to classic gin flavours, distilling juniper with four secret botanicals and natural spring water from beneath the Charnwood hills. The result is a smooth and delicate spirit, earthy to the nose with a touch of sweetness that looms later into a spicy note. Produced in small batches of 100 hand-decorated bottles at a time, it is little wonder they have already started picking up accolades, most notably the Gold Medal for UK Craft Gin of the Year 2013.
For those of you who love your gin but also long for the sweet, sharp, sourness of a Cosmo, then One Nest for Two at Charlotte’s W4 is for you. Served long over ice, this cocktail is a careful combination of Two Birds Gin, Cocchi Americano, fresh pink grapefruit juice, rhubarb bitters and a homemade nettle and ginger infusion, with just a dash of sugar to balance the flavours. The initial bitterness from the grapefruit juice and Cocchi Americano is quickly mellowed by the hedgerow scents of the Two Birds Gin and the earthy tang from the nettles, whilst the spiciness from the ginger lingers alongside the sweet notes of the rhubarb bitters. This is a zesty, refreshing drink which allows the flavours of the gin to shine without being overpowered by the other ingredients. A juniper-infused twist on a classic.
One Nest for Two is priced at £9.50. Charlotte’s W4, 6 Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick, W4 1QP
5. Cambridge Gin
Cambridge Gin is the UK’s first seasonal gin, made using locally grown and foraged ingredients. Husband and wife team, Will and Lucy Lowe, collect all their botanicals from their own garden or the local fields and hedgerows of Cambridgeshire, before distilling them at low temperatures under vacuum. Each distillate results in a strictly limited run of just 50 litres, with the blend indicated on the label – intended not only to be representative of the time of year, but also enjoyed within the season. The current blend, AW14, is rich and full-bodied, with a fresh berry top note complementing the robust, spicy finish. We are, however, told that SS15 is on its way next week, Will and Lucy having just finished distilling the verbena!
For a G&T with a difference, head to the Pint Shop, where a bespoke blend of Cambridge Gin is used to create ‘P’: the only liqueur in the world using peas as its lead botanical. Beautifully blended to create the smoothest of serves, citrus and mint notes marry to form a sweet sip that screams ‘summer’! A light and fresh drink that you can only purchase at the Pint Shop, this has an air of exclusivity which one might say is VIP (geddit?).
‘P’ is priced at £9.50. Pint Shop, 10 Peas Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3PN
Best of the Rest:
If gin is your king, why stop at five? Here are some more artisan wares and watering holes to try them at:
Gin: Portobello Road Gin. Try Me: At the Portobello Star, where you can even make your own blend by signing up to their ‘Ginstitute’.
Gin: Sacred Gin. Try Me: In a Classic Gin Martini at the Duke’s Hotel, said to be the inspiration for Bond’s ‘shaken not stirred’ line.
Gin: Half Hitch Gin. Try Me: In the Kentish Bees Knees cocktail at The Bull & Gate.
Gin: Little Bird Gin. Try Me: At Maltby Street market.
Gin: Cocoa Gin. Try Me: In the Pretty in Pink cocktail at Rabot 1745.
Gin: Square Mile Gin. Try Me: At the City of London Distillery bar.
Gin: Elephant Gin. Try Me: In the Cape of Good Hope cocktail at Mr Fogg’s.
Have we missed out your favourite craft gin? Do you have any top tips for creating an artisan gin tipple? Let us know!