A Manchester Gin Journey
There are enough humans around the world who refer to me as “Jenny-tonic” that I feel confident enough saying it is a thing. It’s not necessarily that I am constantly pounding down gin and tonics, it is just that I rarely drink anything else — excluding wine. I love gin. I love how light yet full-flavoured it is. I love the hints of juniper that stroll boldly through a perfect tonic. I delight in the knowledge that it is pretty repulsive on its own, yet add the right amount of ice, lemon and tonic and you have the most refreshing beverage on the planet.
Sometimes, when I want to mix it up, I treat myself to a gin cocktail. Fact: Gin is the best clear spirit on your bar. Its herbal flavour lends itself to refreshing cocktails from gimlets and punches to smashes and martinis. Something with lavender, or rhubarb-fennel, or frozen fruit. A French 75 is my favourite cocktail — gin, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar — because it is bursting with flavor yet feels delicate when consumed.
I could go on and on and on, but the point is for you to envision 1) how obsessed I am with gin, and therefore 2) HOW EXCITED I WAS when The Gin Journey reached out to me about joining them on a gin tour.
I was so excited that I went to Manchester for the day just to ensure I could fit it in. (Clarification: I went to Manchester from Liverpool [a 45 minute train ride] rather than from Los Angeles [a 10 hr 10 min flight].) Despite my nickname, I had never properly learnt about the history or the process of distilling gin, so I was eager to actually understand my namesake liquor.
Which is exactly what The Gin Journey specializes in.
Established in Aug 2013, The Gin Journey aims to showcase the finest gins in the world, while educating and entertaining those who join the itinerary. Led by a gin commando, you are chauffeured around by gin carriage (posh mini bus) to five gin parlours. Each parlour presents you with a different gin and their speciality cocktail created just for The Gin Journey. Whilst you are sipping away, the gin commando explains the unique story behind each gin and points out what extracts you should be noticing.
There were 12 of us on the tour. 11 of us already liked gin, 1 of us didn’t, but she had been fully converted by the end of the 4 and a half hours!
Our first step was to have a smell and chew of juniper on its own. Juniper is the star of the gin show and is responsible for that distinctive tree-like taste that some complain about. By law, juniper needs to be the predominant flavor in anything seeking to be classified as gin.
After familiarizing ourselves with gin’s core botanical, we moved on to lightly swirling and smelling a small shot of gin, before taking little sips to start opening up our palates.
Our first full drink was a classic gin and tonic made with Portobello Road Gin and served with Fever Tree tonic and grapefruit garnish from Hawksmoor Bar. The quality of tonic used in a G&T is just as important as the quality of gin, and Fever Tree Tonic is really leading the way in terms of innovative mixers.
Our second drink was a “Super Blueberry Maple Flapjack Collins” made with Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin and served with maple syrup, hazelnut liqueur, lemon, blackberry and drizzle cake garnish from Home Sweet Home. A very naughty cocktail, it literally tasted like cake.
Martin Miller kicked off the gin renaissance that began in England in 1999. Previously, gin had taken a back-seat to vodka and Miller wanted to bring back what he called “history, romance and adventure in a glass”. Gin is blended to strength using water, which means that between 50% and 60% of gin is H2O. Miller reasoned that if that was the case, his gin would have the best water in the world — Icelandic water. In addition, he added a “secret ingredient” (that is no longer such a secret) – cucumber — making his the smooooooothest gin.
The first confirmed date for the production of gin is the early 17th century in Holland. British troops fighting during the Thirty Years’ War were given ‘Dutch Courage’ during the long campaigns in the damp weather through the warming properties of gin. Eventually they started bringing it home with them, and it very quickly became a firm favourite with the poor.
Over time the abuse of alcohol by the poor of London became a major problem. It is said that around 1730, 1 in 4 houses in London were making gin. Water was contaminated, so it was healthier to consume gin all day than water. William Hogarth in his “Gin Lane”, an engraving about this period, portrays a scene of idleness, vice and misery, leading to madness and death. Even babies were regularly drinking gin — straight.
Friendly with almost everyone at this point, the fourth drink was a “It’s Citrus Thyme” made with Sipsmith Gin, fresh pink grapefruit juice, orange, lemon & thyme syrup, and grapefruit bitters and top soda from Tariff & Dale.
The Gin Act of 1751 was enacted in order to reduce the consumption of gin and (probably more importantly) to be able to tax those who were distilling it. The Act stated that if you wanted to distill you had to pay £50, an exorbitant amount of money at the time. This led to only a handful of families (Tanquerey, Beefeater, etc) embarking on the business of distilling and retailing gin, as a result it became a high-quality drink, which it has since remained.
I had never tried (or heard of) sloe gin before — apparently it is a little difficult to procure Plymouth this side of the pond. Sloes are little berries, about the size of a dime, that grow wild in hedgerows all over England. Sloe gin is made by steeping these little berries in gin. The result is a liqueur that’s tart, but with a delicious richness and depth of flavor.
I don’t know how I had never heard of it before!
I guess it is testament to The Gin Journey that not only did Jenny-Tonic learn more about the history of gin, the distilling process and the differences in citrus additions, but also about a whole new style of gin.
The afternoon was both wildly fun and incredibly interesting. (Is there any better way to spend an afternoon than learning and getting tipsy?) And I would highly recommend taking a Gin Journey if you love gin, are an Anglophile, or just find yourself with a few hours to spare in Manchester, London, Liverpool, or Edinburgh.
The Blondera was invited as a guest of The Gin Journey. However, I retain 100% editorial control and all opinions are my own.