Distilling alcohol has remained largely a male affair, which is odd, since women have a greater number of tastebuds than men and are better at discerning flavour.
But Joanne Moore has risen through a 20-year career in ginmaking to become the only female master distiller in the world.
Moore had no intention of becoming a gin expert. She studied biochemistry at university before taking a job at G&J Distillers back in 1996. Her only intention was for a summer job to help pay off her student debts, but realised she had a talent for creating gin. “If I look back at my childhood, I was creative. So if you are creative and a chemist, you can be good at making gin.”
Gin has a long pedigree, and was widely drunk in the early eighteenth century. The juniper berry, which is the one necessary ingredient in gin, was considered good for the stomach, so the drink was medicinal rather than recreational.
Even today, to be classed as a gin the drink must contain juniper, although the alcohol base can be made from any carbohydrate, typically maize or wheat. After adding juniper, the creator is free to mix other botanicals to achieve a distinctive flavour.
Since 1996, Moore has created 75 different gins. One of her most successful ventures has been a gin called Bloom, which is targeted at a female audience. As its name suggests, Bloom has floral flavours, chiefly honeysuckle, chamomile and pomelo. It is inspired by an English country garden and the simplicity of the flavours is a selling point. “You get people saying their gin has 20 or 47 botanicals in it. It’s not a competition. I chose those flavours because each plays a key part,” she says.
Bloom has become the official gin of London’s trendy Trouble Club, a women-only members bar in Soho. There, Bloom is served the way Moore intended, with strawberries and Fever-Tree tonic in giant Spanish-style goblets. The venue fits well with her own philosophy to life, Moore says. “The Trouble Club is built on a concept of women who do.”
Although Londoners rioted for gin back in 1736, the UK is not the biggest market for the spirit. This crown belongs to the US, followed by Spain.
The Spanish market is particularly interesting. While there may be three gin brands behind the bar in the UK, a bar in Spain will have anywhere between 50 and 200 different bottles. To a Spaniard, each gin should be paired with the right mixer, be it tonic water, sparkling wine or cordial.
“The energy we put in to cocktails, they put in to making gin drinks. We have taken some of their input and interestingly, they are starting to take some tips from us in cocktail making,” Moore says. She hopes the growth of premium brands will lead to more discerning gin drinking in the UK.
For that matter, why has gin had a resurgence in popularity? “The younger generation don’t want to drink what their parents did. Gin has provenance and people want to know where things are from – it ties in with the cooking from scratch movement.”