Tuesday, June 13, 2023

When in London, Drink Gin!

I still remember when I was only 10 years old and my mother took me to my first English class. Back then in Argentina, all the language institutes taught British English, so I learned by listening to tapes that my teacher played on a large boombox and tried really hard to repeat what we were reading in our books. All the stories took place in London, and as I read about the Big Ben, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, and other tourist sites, I promised myself to visit one day. Last month, I finally did it, and as I was researching information about places to go and things to do during my visit, I thought about going to a Gin distillery (Beefeater) to learn more about Gin.

Let me start by saying that though the UK would like to claim that Gin was created there, Gin was truly born in the Netherlands. Gin is indeed a derivation of the word Genever, which means Juniper in Dutch. Juniper berries are the most important ingredient in any Gin’s recipe, giving Gins their special aromatics and flavor. 

But, what is Gin and how is it made? Gin is a neutral spirit that has been infused with botanicals, which must include Juniper berries but also other flavorings, such as seeds like Caraway and Coriander, spices like Angelica root or Licorice, Citrus peel, and or different herbs. The different blends of botanicals is what will differentiate one Gin from another, and here, pretty much the sky's the limit, since one can flavor Gins with any type of combination of flavorings obtaining a different product each time.

   Botanicals used at Beefeater's distillery to make their gins.

The exact date that Gin was created is not known but there is evidence of many Juniper flavored spirits in the Netherlands starting in the 13th century.  Gin landed in the UK, after William of Orange married Mary II and became King of England in 1689. Not only he brought Juniper flavored spirits to the English court but he also promoted their commercialization by lowering the taxes on Gin, and by imposing taxes on Gin’s competitors such as French wine and Cognac. Pretty soon, these policies influenced the British drinking habits and Gin became very popular and the favorite choice of the masses. By 1720, the UK experienced what is known as the "Gin Craze", not only people drank Gin all day long but also a quarter of houses produced homemade Gins. Those were also the days when a pint of Gin was cheaper than a pint of beer, and drunkenness in London was a big problem. Pretty soon things got so out of hand, the government was forced to intervene and they did so with the first Gin act, whose objective was to slow down production and consumption. The government raised taxes on Gin, and raised the cost of the licenses to produce it and sell it, as well as paying informants to bring illegal Gin producers to justice. Of course this was not easily accepted by the masses, and London experienced all kinds of riots and protests. At the same time London saw a multiplication of illegal distilleries that produced Gins that were very toxic for human consumption and that included turpentine and sulphuric acid, considered then flavor enhancers. Yet, consumption continued heavily until 1751, after that many distilleries closed down and consumption finally decreased. Gin was then replaced by another drink that is extremely popular in the UK today: beer.

Now, how is Gin made? The basis of Gin is a neutral spirit, which can be based on grains, potatoes, sugar cane or beets. The base spirit is obtained by passing the fermented juice through a continuous still.  The science behind distillation is very simple, because alcohol boils at 78ºc, a lower temperature than water, which boils at 100º c, this will allow us to make a distilled spirit by simply heating out the base. Alcohol then evaporates leaving all water behind, then it’s a matter of collecting those vapors, which are cooled down by condensation. This process is how all spirits are made, with most going through two or more distillations. The more times you distill the liquid, the more neutral the spirit will be and the higher the final alcohol in your product.  Once you have the neutral spirit or base, then comes the most important part in Gin, the infusion with the botanicals, which can happen in different ways. Traditionally, botanicals were infused by heat (similar to making tea), yet some producers also do a cool infusion, and others a vapor/ steam infusion that will provide lighter, more elegant flavors. The variation in the infusion style, as well as the botanicals’ secret recipes, is what gives each Gin their own personality. 

There are several styles of Gin, but the classic in the UK is known as London Dry Gin, which is used to make most cocktails. It is dry, light in body and very aromatic, with plenty of Juniper berry and citrus flavors. No sweeteners, botanicals or flavors can be added after the distillation is complete, only water is added to cut it down. Though labels include the word London on them, this is a reference to their style and not the location where the Gins are made, actually some London Dry Gins are made outside of London. Navy Strength Gins are made like regular London Dry Gins, but they contain higher alcohol, these Gins must have a minimum of 50% ABV vs 37.5% in London Dry Gins. They tend to be flavorful, as they contain less water and therefore are in a way more concentrated. Old Tom Gins, on the other hand, are sweeter styles thanks to the addition of simple syrup, licorice, or even honey. Contemporary Gins are Gins that feature other flavors than Juniper berries, such as vegetables like cucumbers, rosemary, thyme, etc and finally Fruit Flavored Gins are Gins infused with specific fruit flavors and in certain cases color, which is added after their distillation. Beefeater has a full line of these, featuring flavors that include: strawberry, cranberry, rhubarb, blackberry, etc.  

Most Gins are not aged, yet some producers have experienced aging some of their products in wood in an effort to offer a spin on the classic flavor.

My recommendations are two Gins I tasted at the distillery, which are also available in the US:

Beefeater London Dry Gin, $29.99
A classic staple, made in London following the same recipe created by founder James Burroughs in 1863. It features 9 botanicals that include  Juniper, Coriander seed, Angelica root, Angelica seed, Orris root, Licorice root, Seville Orange peel, Lemon peel and Almonds.

Beefeater 24 Gin, $39.99

A sophisticated recipe inspired by modern London. It features a blend of 12  botanicals (as shown as in London Dry Gin), plus the addition of exotic teas that include Japanese Sencha and Chinese Green tea. 

Sadly the other two samples I tasted during my visit: Beefeater London Garden and Beefeater Monday’s Gin are only available in the UK. If you are interested in paying them a visit, you can book your tour through their website.

Before I leave you, let me share another historical fact about the famous “Gin & Tonic” drink recipe and how it came to be. This well known drink originated out of necessity and in the navy, when it was discovered that the only remedy to fight Malaria was the consumption of Quinine. Quinine, the key element in Tonic Water, didn’t taste good on its own, so in order to make it more appealing to consumers, or I should say patients, it ended up being blended with some Gin. Here is the classic recipe:

Gin and Tonic:
1 part of your favorite London Dry Gin
2 parts preferred Tonic water
Lemon and orange wedges to garnish. 

Blend the gin, with the tonic water, add some ice, and a wheel of lemon or of orange, and give it a stir. Yum!!! so delicious and refreshing for summer. 

Until the next one, drinkupamerica! Cheers, Silvina

#thoughtsoflawina #gin #drinkupamerica #london #beefeaters #londondrygin.