Riddle talks to, the energy behind Gin Foundry, about what makes it such a unique tipple loved all over the world.
Q and A by Nick Scott
Can you explain to our readers why Gin and London have such a strong association?
OW: Historically – it started back in the 1650’s when London was the centre of the East India Trading Company and London was the greatest city on earth. Spices, exotic new foods and a huge amount wealth flooded into the country. This tends to drive consumer culture and – although simplifying the story a lot – combined with a couple of changes to licencing laws and a shift in the perception of spirits, this lead to the great Gin Craze of the 1700’s. It was the first real epidemic caused by alcohol and gin was at the heart of it hence becoming an integral part of the story. The association between the two (Gin and London) has never been far apart since.
EW: Agreed, due to this tumultuous past Gin and London have inked their stories in the history books and gin is part of the foundations of this great city with many big distilleries still producing gin within the capital. It’s in modern days however that the two have also been associated with the rise in craft distilleries with the breakthroughs from the teams at Sipsmith, Sacred and others. Also, you can’t overlook the importance of a huge revival in our cocktail culture not seen since the 1920’s where gin’s applications are almost infinite.
Gin has a rich history – what’s your favourite anecdote from it?
OW: Too many to choose really! I like the fact that Gordon’s Gin chose a boar to adorn each label, representing a great hunting trip where the family had saved royalty by slaying a boar. The Tanqueray family have a pineapple on their crest as it was the ultimate symbol of wealth in hospitality at the time. Neither are particularly interesting in their own right – but it makes me wonder what the symbols of our generation are for the new wave of gins being released each week and whether they will look iconic or simply out of place in 150 years time.
EW: For me it would have to be the fact that during the worst of the Gin Craze, bootleggers resorted to adding highly hazardous ingredients including things like Oil of Turpentine, also called sulphuric acid, to give it that extra fiery kick. It also amazes me that, at the time, people would be drinking pints of gin as standard measures. On the other end of the spectrum, what excites me most is the recent history of gin and the huge craft movement that has swept both the US and Europe over the past two decades – it’s such an exciting time to be in the gin business.
How would you describe the difference in taste of a cheap supermarket gin compared to your favourite?
OW: Supermarkets get a lot of flack for cheap, poorly made booze and rightly so, but to be fair to them – they have got a lot better over the past 5 years. The key differences are in the “burn” and the flavour journey. Smooth is an over used word in tasting notes but it’s because its true. Good quality gins are smooth and have a flavour journey as you drink them. They develop, linger and leave you with an experience.
EW: I’d have to agree with Olivier, supermarkets have had a bad reputation over the years but quality has been increasing overall. Supermarkets still have a lot to learn but there are some collaborations with chefs as well as well-known distilleries that make us hopeful that supermarket gins won’t always equate to cheap gins. In terms of taste, quality gins are complex yet well balanced and can alter certain cocktails differently depending on their botanical line-ups. Cheap gins however are singular in taste and ultimately only lead to one thing, inebriation.
What should gin be mixed with, and what should it not be mixed with and why?
OW: Whatever floats your boat! If you like your drink with something – go for it. I’m never going to tell someone they are drinking it wrong if they are enjoying what they are drinking. All I’d say is try different things than tonic. There’s a big world out there and gin shines in ginger ale, apple juice, vermouth, and all sorts of other ingredients.
EW: That’s the beauty of gin, it can have so many applications and combinations. Once you know the botanicals found within a particular gin, try either matching them or contrasting them with the ingredients you use. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
The comedian Dylan Moran refers to gin as “mascara-thinner” – why do you think gin has a reputation for making women feel depressed, and is it an unfair reputation?
EW: All alcohol is technically speaking a depressant so gin is no different than vodka or rum in that respect. We spent a lot of time researching this matter as many people have asked us why some women cry if they drink gin. The simple answer is that it’s an urban myth. There is no chemical reason for people to feel depressed drinking gin but there are many people who associate the two even if unfairly.
OW: Many of the female associations with gin being a negative thing (Mother’s Ruin etc…) date back to the Gin Craze. A lot of this was propaganda based around trying to jolt people into stopping what had become an epidemic. Female drunkenness and debauchery was a big taboo, it was used a lot in media at the time because it was an efficient way to shock middle classes. Targeting women and critically the bond between mother and child as being under threat should they choose to drink gin (implying that they were going to be the cause for future “lost generations”) was a really effective propaganda as it went to the heart of a lot of the middle to upper classes fears. The connection to depressed women drinking gin only comes in later years (1800’s) and is really complicated to explain in a short answer as it links widowers, destitute older women and their role in society.
Does gin deserve the same level of connoisseurship and discernment associated with whisky? And if so, why does it not enjoy that status?
OW: It does deserve it, if not more so. A lot of the flavours of whisky come from barrels and the alchemy of time and wood. Whisky is magical and deserves the attention it gets because of that mystique and the craft involved in making it. Gin’s flavour comes mostly from human decisions and recipes. In some ways it’s less romantic than the stories of time in cellars and dunnage warehouses but in time, Gin will have the same amount of connoisseurship attributed to it as people begin to understand the human skill involved. It’s a phenomenal skill to be able to take variable, seasonal ingredients and transform them into same flavour consistently. It’s a craft to be able to create a perfectly balanced gin, and even more so, it’s exciting to see how much more diverse the flavours of gin can go in comparison to many other spirits.
Part of the reason it isn’t given a similar status at the moment is because of a lack of heritage. Only a handful of British gins have real history whereas most of the Scotch distilleries have many decades under their belts. This will change in time. The other reason is that whisky is still (rightly or wrongly) predominantly considered a spirit to enjoy by itself where as gin is seen as a mixer. The value you then place on it is therefore lower.
EW: I think it absolutely does. To create balanced yet complex recipes takes patience, experience and dexterity in understanding both distillation techniques as well as how certain botanicals interact with each other at various levels of evaporation. We won’t get in too much detail here but distilling gin with 8 botanicals over a naked flame in a copper pot still vs in a cold vacuum rotary evaporator can produce two very different gins. The way to get there is by education and making consumers understand the process from start to finish. Gin’s various styles are also making a comeback with Navy Strength gins commanding higher prices as well as Barrel-Aged gins which resemble whiskies in their ageing process. This breadth of variety will allow gin to market itself just the way whisky does.
How have gin making methods improved over the decades?
EW: The real advances in gin making methods have come from the technological improvements of the copper pot still and we have the Germans mostly to thank for that. Good quality and safe stills no longer have to be created in huge sizes and can now be fully customisable to suit a producer’s needs. Each step of the distillation can be closely monitored. Advancement in steam jackets to reflux columns and all the way to cooling machines have allowed producers to have much more control over the process.
Can you tell us anything else about gin which our readers will probably not know but should?
– London Dry Gin doesn’t mean it’s made in London, it is a distillation method. To be considered a London Dry Gin, a ginsmith must add all botanicals into the copper pot prior to distillation. Once distilled, that spirit can no longer be altered other than by being cut with water to reduce the ABV.
– There are over 250 gins that are easily available in the UK.
– Each week, an average of 2 gins are launched in the UK.
– Many distilleries claim to be “small batch” gin makers. Any gin that existed before 2008 are lying as the law required huge stills and the legislation only changed in 2008 to allow for smaller stills.
– We are massive gin geeks and proud of it – we think we should make a badge.
– There is an amazing gin filled advent calendar for those interested in trying new gins.
– The Philippines is the biggest market (by consumption) for gin in the world, and 90% of the gin consumed is made there locally!