Gin: getting it right and getting it wrong

I rarely write about spirits here, or indeed anywhere else, as I am not a regular drinker of these substances. Yes, I do enjoy the occasional glass of Armagnac, Cognac or Rum, but I am not a great Whisky lover (with some rare exceptions) and Vodka leaves me cold. But I do like Gin, at least when it is mixed with good quality tonic and sometimes with orange juice or other stuff that allows the aromatics of the gin to shine through. And for me, these aromas should always be dominated by those of juniper. So I am grateful for the current return to fashion of this initially rather basic beverage, with its increasing levels of sophistication in the aromatic spectrums of the growing number of gins being produced all over the world. I have tried gins from Spain, Japan, France, Scotland and of course England recently and they all have something different to say.

William Hogarth’s 18th century engraving: Beer Street and Gin Lane. The perfect anti-alcohol abuse propaganda.

If you want to learn more about Gin and its rich and sometimes troubled history, I can only refer to you to the excellent article on the subject in Wikipedia:

Gin is usually at its best in this shape: in a long drink with tonic: the good old G&T

But it has also to be said that some producers get gin just right, while others appear to miss the point, at least according to me and my palate. Gins are like anything else: some are better than others. One should remember that the base material for gin is a very neutral and colourless spirit, just like vodka in fact. In fact this base spirit could be called vodka and sold as such. This base spirit can be made with anything that ferments and then can be distilled. But, in order to get as close as possible to neutrality, the alcoholic base beverage should be distilled to at least 90% proof, in which case the raw materiel that has been fermented and then distilled does not really matter that much. Gin becomes interesting on account of its aromatics, which can either be added during the distillation process (which is necessary for London Dry Gin), or by post-distillation maceration (most other gins). And these aromatics must be dominated by that of juniper berries, which have given their name to this aromatised white spirit initially produced in Holland before moving to England and then to other countries.

One can use all kinds of other aromatic substances to flavour gin, but if juniper is not the main flavour, then the producer has missed the point entirely and should not even be calling their product gin. This came to my mind recently having purchased, successively, two recently marketed gins from two different countries in order to try them with some decent tonic. One bottle has long since gone, whilst the other, although purchased a month before the other one, is still sitting half full in my fridge door. This must means something, at least to me, and I would say that the message is crystal-clear: I just loved one and hated the other!

So perhaps you are dying for me to get to the point and name the suspects in this case.

Good news first: getting gin right.

The Botanist, a gin from Scotland and the island of Islay. This is produced by the Scotch Whisky distillery called Bruichladdich that also makes some of the whiskies that I actually do enjoy. It is distilled slowly whilst integrating 22 local botannicals (or so they say but I cannot verify), plus 9 different berry types, some barks, seeds and peels. Whatever, the stuff is just marvelous, refined in texture and aromatically complex. I picked out just a few of the most obvious ingredients, like juniper (of course), coriander, citrus peels and perhaps just a touch of aniseed (not sure of this one). With a good tonic like Fever Tree, which I much prefer to Schweppes which I find too sweet, this makes one of the very best Gin and Tonic drinks that I can remember. This I call getting it right and even moving the game up a peg.

Now for the bad news (and apologies to the producer who is surely trying hard here): getting gin wrong.

Le Gin de Christain Drouin. This one comes from France and the Calvados region. The producer also makes some very decent Calavados. He should perhaps stick to that since his gin just doesn’t do it for me. For a start the closure is covered with that awful wax stuff which means that you make a total mess of your kitchen table or other places when trying to get into the bottle. But the main problem are the aromatics of this gin. He has used cider as a base product and has, in all probability, not distilled this to a sufficiently pure level of alcohol to get rid of the apple-type aromas. Or maybe he has used to much apple in the aromattics. In either case, the result is that the juniper comes into competition with the apple and the resulting bouquet is powerful rather than subtle and complex. In other words, at least to me, it misses the whole point of gin which should not only be aromatically dominated by juniper, but also be subtle in its expression. This stuff, when mixed with fresh-pressed orange juice tasted like a mixture of orange and apple plus some alcohol. It was slightly better with tonic but I won’t have it again. Definitly not for me. This is called getting gin wrong.

David Cobbold




6 réflexions sur “Gin: getting it right and getting it wrong

  1. David, j’avais parlé ici, sur notre blog, du gin de Drouin que j’avais trouvé original justement par cette approche ‘pomme’. Mais c’est certes une affaire de goût. François Lurton a fait aussi un gin, le Sorgin, à base de Sauvignon, une autre base et enfin, tu as le G-vine aux ‘botanicals’ (j’adore ce terme…) fleurs de vignes. Cela nous change et donne un caractère différent à ce vieux genièvre qui a vu le jour dans nos contrée, pas uniquement chez nos voisins bataves.
    Autre remarque, tu cites Fever Tree qui est certes un excellent tonic, mais à boire tout seul; pour moi, il est trop aromatique et entre en conflit avec la plupart des gins, surtout quand ils offrent des notes aromatiques subtiles comme la rose dans le gin Drouin.



    1. En ce qui concerne le Fever Tree, Marc, je suis d’accord avec toi, sauf pour la variété Indian Tonic – je l’emploie régulièrement avec du Lillet, et j’ai eu aussi l’occasion de l’essayer avec de l’Armagnac ou du Porto blanc. Pour moi, elle n’est pas trop envahissante, au contraire des variantes Mediterranean et Aromatic, qu’il vaut mieux employer seules ou avec un alcool plus neutre qu’un bon gin, armagnac ou whisky.


  2. Back to gin & to tonic.
    Tonic first. The only tonic worthwhile is of course Indian Tonic. All the others are perfumes thingies for perfumed people. Forget them all.
    As for gin, this calvados-cum-gin from Drouin is a total traversty of gin. Have they no respect ?


  3. Gin is a laugh, a comedy. It is the result of a fabulous marketing story based on absolute junk. Not one ounce of natural stuff in there, and disgusting taste. The latter is just personal opinion, I admit, and, therefore, irrelevant. Same holds true for wodka and saké. Bin them all!
    I, for one, just ate a lot of « Millas » (the Occitan version of sweet polenta), flambéed with decent Armagnac. Raaaah, lovely!



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