Is gin becoming Lancashire's favourite tipple?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 October 2014 | UPDATED: 14:07 07 June 2017
Gin is proving to be a tonic for the drinks industry. Roger Borrell reports from the cocktail lounge
It was once known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’ and William Hogarth’s 18th century engraving showed that Gin Lane was one step on the road to perdition.
Today, it is no longer cheap enough to be the curse of the drinking classes. Instead, it has become the spirit of choice for those with a discerning palate and a passion for cocktails.
To meet this demand, hundreds of new brands have been launched in the past year, providing drinkers with a mind-boggling choice with ‘craft’ distilleries springing up worldwide to produce premium hooch.
A lot of the spirit we drink today has the name London Dry but, in spite of this, some of its roots are in Lancashire. In 1761, Thomas Dakin founded the company that would become Greenall’s Gin in Warrington and, more than 200 years later, it is still going strong.
Several smaller north west distilleries have been in the headlines, including Liverpool Gin which is made from scratch using only pure certified organic botanicals. Further north, Langton’s No 1 Lakeland Gin is made near Skiddaw and good enough to be stocked by Selfridges, while another Lake District spirit, Bedrock, has won a host of awards.
So where do you start? A good place would be the new cocktail bar at the Michelin-starred Northcote in the Ribble Valley.
Steve Goodwin-Allen is assistant general manager and he oversees the plush new cocktail bar which has 28 different gins. ‘They are always changing,’ he says. ‘What comes from the kitchen reflects the seasons and you could say the same about the gins.
‘The differing seasons are reflected in the botanicals used. A nice summer gin, for instance, would be lighter and more refreshing.’ One of the most popular is a gin called Bloom, produced by Greenall’s and containing a mix of botanicals that include honeysuckle, chamomile and a citrus fruit called pomelo. It is light, delicate and floral and Northcote serves it in a strikingly large glass with strawberries.
‘There has been a real resurgence in people drinking gin, particularly the boutique brands,’ says Steve. ‘There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Gordon’s, but we like to give guests something different and at a reasonable price.
‘Hendricks really started it all off with their gin in an apothecary bottle. That got people talking about gin again. We have some American gins, including one that is 47 per cent proof from Great Lakes called Death’s Door.’ That might have been appropriate in Hogarth’s time.
Another unusual gin, a favourite of chef and co-owner Nigel Haworth, is a German spirit called Monkey 47, named because it contains 47 botanicals and spices. Gin Mare is made in a small Costa Dorada fishing village and containing Mediterranean botanicals such as rosemary and thyme.
So with so much choice, drinkers of good old straight gin and tonic shouldn’t have too much trouble choosing their accompaniment. Don’t believe it. ‘We use Fever-Tree,’ says Steve. ‘But they produce four tonics to match different gins!
Gin was originally used for medicinal purposes but Dutch sailors started drinking it during the 30 Years War, hence the phrase ‘Dutch Courage’.
In the 1690s the British government cut taxes so gin was cheaper than beer, During this time 17,000 gin shops opened in the capital.
Although London then only had a population of 600,000 around 11 million gallons of gin were being drunk every year – half a pint a day for every man, woman and child.
An American barman fled Prohibition and went to work at The Savoy in the 1920s. He devised many cocktails using gin, and they were extremely popular with a certain young lady who would one day become The Queen Mother.
Olivia Williams has written a fascinating book, Gin Glorious Gin – How Mother’s Ruin Became the Spirit of London. It is published by Headline, price £12.99