Beating the January Blues with Botanicals

Easing myself gently into Ginuary…

Article by Amy S

I’ve never really seen the point of Dry January. Abstention seems archaic and rather pointless… moderation tends to feel much more civilised. I decided to swim against the teetotal tide and do Dry Ginuary (try saying that without sounding Aussie), topping up on some soul food by enrolling friends to share the challenge with me.

What started out as a flippant ODD* response swiftly snowballed into a bit of a social whirlwind, planning gin nights in and out, mixing sessions, distillery crawls and fun shopping trips.

I’m definitely no gin expert but have, through the years, realised that what I once considered to be the preserve of ‘grown ups’ at family parties is, in actual fact, a very accessible and yummy drink.  I hope to share experiences to help even beginner ginners share the joys of juniper and get the most out of the vast array of gins available.

Consumer confidence is pretty high, leading to a revived interest in quality wines and craft beers and thankfully at the same time spirits get to share some of the glory. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed lover of gin or simply partake in the occasional tipple, there are some wonderful bottles, mixers, bars and even weekends away devoted to gin for you to discover.

Enjoy a night in with gin to kick off dry Ginuary:

After a busy working day followed by a sprint around the house herding toddlers, a gin & tonic feels like a well-deserved reward.

It’s rather easy to start building a respectable drinks collection at home and get mixing; in fact you probably have all the kit already i.e. glasses, ice trays and swizzlers (anything to give the drink a quick swish). The next thing to do is stock up with a few tasty bottles of spirits – I’m a firm believer in ‘getting what you pay for’ but there are top quality gins available that hit the spot without actually breaking the bank. These are my top four suggestions to kick off your cabinet:

Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin is named after a legendary port from which King Solomon was said to regularly receive a bounty of precious goods.  It has an air of Eastern promise, using Moorish style fonts and a neck tie to add a hint of luxury on a fairly simple bottle with pleasing round edges.

Botanicals hail from various points along the ancient spice route from Indonesia to the UK including cubeb, cumin, cardamom and coriander which they mix with a sharp hit of citrus. These are combined to produce a flavour which is both subtle and heady, giving an initial aroma of musky cardamom with bursts of other spices as a follow-up.

Their spicy ingredients travel from as far away as Malaysia to Greenall’s distillery in Warrington. The business was founded by the forefather of English gin, Thomas Dakin and is home to the world’s oldest continuous gin distillery business where head distiller Joanne Moore and her team work magic with Ophir botanicals to create something which is very drinkable.

I tip in some Fever-Tree Ginger Beer and of course some ice to make a delicious gin buck. If you like gins like Bombay Sapphire for example, Ophir should tickle your taste buds and look rather exotic to boot. With a pleasantly surprising retail price of £22 at mainstream retailers you can afford to run plenty of your own taste tests.

My second recommendation is Xoriguer Mahon Gin which is drunk a lot during holidays on Menorca. Good news is it’s now readily available at Borough Market and other UK outlets including The Whisky Exchange where a 70cl bottle is around £23. Xoriguer is one drink that tastes just as good when you get home as it does while you’re enjoying sundowners on holiday.

The Balearic island of Menorca was under rule of the British Crown for most of the 18th Century when British sailors and soldiers fuelled demand for their favourite liquor.  Craftsmen in the Menorcan capital, Mahon, decided to import juniper berries and distil their own version using wine alcohol from Mediterranean grapes. This is the crucial distinction between Xoriguer gin and most other brands which are generally distilled using grain and that difference is notable in the taste.

The Xoriguer brand was born in the early 20th Century, getting its name from the Pons family windmill which also features as their brand image and is now sold world-wide.

Whilst their chosen botanicals are a closely guarded secret, the results are not – Mahon gin goes incredibly well with most mixers. I love it with a dash of Mediterranean tonic water however, if you want to recreate a summer holiday feel, try mixing with lemonade and lots of ice to create a Menorcan pomada.

Next up is Burleigh’s London Gin which looks premium and sophisticated and when the stopper comes out the smoky, dark aroma is not a disappointment. This quintessential London Gin is distilled in Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire in a copper pot named Messy Bessy using the very British botanical flavours of Parma violet and lavender mixed with my childhood favourites, dandelion and burdock.

The team behind Burleigh’s claim their signature product is perfect for a classic gin and tonic and suggest adding a twist of orange zest or wedge of grapefruit. I enjoy drinking it with Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water that brings out the wonderfully British flavours.

To raise the sophistication stakes, add a dash of champagne and a slug of apple juice to a single shot of Burleighs in a stemmed glass for an absolutely fabulous aperitif.

You can get your hands on 70cl of their 40 per cent signature London dry gin right now for around £34 at Majestic Wine stores if you buy any 6 bottles of wine or spirits or £38 if bought alone. The makers have recently added brand extensions to their range including Leicester Dry Gin as an homage to the home of their distillery along with a PINK edition following Master Distiller Jamie Baxter’s inspirational trip to Japan. They’re all worth trying but Burleigh’s signature dry gin is a must.

I recently discovered Koval Dry Gin, but it’s so good it now has a permanent position in my top 10 gins. Their design team have created a label which wouldn’t look out of place at the V&A – stylish, elegant and colourful, which is probably why it caught my eye.

In 2008 when Robert and Sonet Birnecker decided to make organic spirits from scratch and launched Koval, it was the first distillery to open in Chicago since the end of prohibition in 1933. Their gin is distilled from grains and at 47 per cent you could be forgiven for thinking it’s going to taste REALLY strong. The first whiff reminds me of Guerlain perfume, possibly due to the woodland spice, juniper and wildflower botanicals but the taste is a lot more sensitive than this aroma would suggest.

At around £40 plus £4.95 postage for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange, it has the highest price tag but is very definitely a premium product and remember it’s export strength. If you like Tanqueray 10 but fancy trading up, Koval should be just up your street and you should try it with a slice of lime and slightly more tonic than you’re used to, unless it’s Friday!

Hopefully you’re inspired to try some or all of these gorgeous drinks and come back soon for the next instalment: Nights out with gin. This may need to be written ‘on the go’ so nothing gets forgotten! riddle_stop 2

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