The beginnings of the gin craze are shrouded in notoriety. Just over 100 years ago it was the scourge of the working classes, an unregulated, often highly toxic spirit that was more cheaply and easily available than fresh water (hence its nickname Mother’s Ruin). The following half a century saw its reputation improve until it became the tipple of choice for the conservative “gin and Jags” crowd to enjoy at their country clubs.
We’re now well into the third wave: the craft, often limited batch, gins. This stage in gin’s evolution was kickstarted by Hendrick’s, with its then-revolutionary medicinal bottle, its cucumber garnish and its air of hipster cool. It was the perfect champion for a spirit that’s now as much about the peripherals – the glass, the bottle, the label – as it is the spirit itself.
“Gin is very easy to make,” says Ron Cregan, head of business development at creative agency Sedley Place and a judge at the World Drinks Awards. “It’s effectively juniper-flavoured vodka. You or I could have our own gin in a couple of days: you go to a distiller, rent the still, put in some botanicals and off you go. For a small batch you could probably get a case for the low-thousands. This is why you find a lot of hipsters and crafters getting into it – you couldn’t do the same for whisky, not least because you have to age it for three years in a cask, so the cost of entry is quite expensive.”
So how do you begin to navigate the world of gin, with its myriad small producers? “I’m wary of gins that boast about using 20-odd botanicals,” says Cregan. “It’s too simple a spirit – out of the 20 you could probably name three, unlike the equivalent whisky or wine, which you’d need a pen and paper to keep track of. That’s not to say there aren’t some fantastic gins out there, though. I look for something that’s very refreshing and relatively simple. And I’d make sure I put a decent tonic in it, too – there’s a reason Fever Tree has been such an amazing success story.”