What’s the big deal with gin?

I love gin. Not to the extent that I have a drink problem, just that it’s my drink of choice when I do fancy a tipple. The virtues of gin are frequently the topic of conversation between myself and a good friend who can’t stand the stuff (we have a strong friendship, but I’ll never understand what goes on inside that pretty head of hers). But I concede that the taste of junipers (the seed cone that is used to flavour gin) isn’t to everyone’s taste.

Gin splits opinion. Gin is the Marmite of the booze world. You either love it or you hate it. Nevertheless, gin and tonic has long been one of Britain’s favourite drinks. And according to a BBC podcast on The hidden history of gin and tonic, we Brits bought over 47 million bottles of the stuff in 2017. What’s more, a Telegraph report earlier this year confirms our love for gin is growing. Gin sales have tripled since 2009. It’s official. We Brits love our gin.

Gin and tonic: a short history

It is claimed that gin was invented in Leiden, Holland in the 16th Century by Dr. Franciscus Sylvius, who used it for medicinal purposes. Although the distillation of spirits can be traced back to the 1100s in the Arab world. It then moved up to Italy where monks in Salerno refined distillation techniques and used it to preserve medicinal plants, including juniper. Juniper has been used by physicians as a diuretic since the early 1200s.

The English became acquainted with gin while fighting the Spanish in the 30 Years’ War, drinking it to warm themselves up and calm nerves. The drink gained recognition as the original ‘Dutch courage’!

The distilling trade grew in London in the 17th Century, but the popularity of traditional London gin grew further when another Dutchman, William of Orange and his wife Mary sat on the English throne. Gin became so common during this time that some workers were paid in gin! By the early 18th Century, around 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled in London.

The addition of tonic to gin as a drink of choice came with the expansion of the British empire across the globe as tonic was heavily laden with quinine, an anti-malarial. Quinine is an extract from the bark of the South American cinchona tree. The tree was known amongst its indigenous population as the ‘fever tree’ because its bark was able to prevent the chills and fever associated with malaria.

Gin did lose its popularity in the UK from the latter half of the nineteenth century, but since 2010 it has very much come back into favour.

What is driving the growth in gin sales?

Gin is now a successful and booming craft industry in the UK. Gin menus, ginvent calendars (the ultimate Christmas gift for gin lovers) and even a gin hotel with a gin school are testimony to the growing popularity of this spirit. HM Revenue & Customs report that there are now 315 gin distilleries in the UK, up from 152 in 2013. If you fancy visiting a gin distillery (a great day out for any gin enthusiast), here are six of the best gin distilleries to visit in the UK.

What’s driving the resurgence in gin’s popularity? It’s not easy to define why, but contributing to its growth has to be our increasing support for buying local produce and things that are made in the UK. Traditional pubs are being forced to diversify or shut up shop. Offering a wider selection of drinks (gins being one of them) is just one way pubs are trying to attract more than the traditional beer drinker.

Supermarkets too are cashing in on the gin trend and offer a huge range of different flavours and types on their shelves. Adding extras to bottles of gin, such as elderflowers, damsons or sloes is also a popular home trend. Decanted into pretty bottles, sloe gin makes a great Christmas present. It’s best to make sloe gin three to six months in advance.

How do we like our gin these days?

In giant glasses filled with a quirky and unusually named British gins, Fever-tree tonic and elaborate garnishes. That is how we like our gin these days!

If you love gin, then experiment with gin flavours and different tonics to find the drink that is perfect for your taste. Here are five ways to serve your G&T, just by changing the tonic. The garnish you choose should also compliment the flavour of your gin. Read more about the best garnish according to the type of gin you like here. Can’t decide which gin? Take a tour of the top 19 British gins picked out by foodie magazine, Olive.

Dry gins work well with limes, lemons, grapefruits and oranges, while citrus gins benefit from the addition of fresh herbs, such as coriander, basil, thyme or rosemary. Cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and star anise work perfectly for spicy gins and cucumber and berries are a match made in heaven for floral gins.

For those who don’t drink alcohol, Seedlip’s distilled non-alcoholic spirit brand is a drink made like gin with a hefty herbal profile. Not only is it alcohol free, it has just 0.2 calories per 50 ml serving and is sugar-free and sweetener-free too. Married with an elderflower tonic and a cucumber ribbon, you could easily forget you are drinking something non-alcoholic. It’s that good.

So, when you next fancy a gin, but you’re looking for a non-alcoholic healthier alternative, give Seedlip a try. It’s served in some of the world’s best cocktail bars, Michelin starred restaurants and luxury hotels. Better still, you can buy it in Waitrose.

For now I think I’ll go pour myself a real gin and tonic. It would be rude not to.

By Dakota Murphey

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