I have been exploring and participating in the ginaissance for over a year now and I’m occasionally asked what is my favourite gin. The trite answer, of course, is the one that is poured into a glass in front of me. But there is a wide range of types and flavours to try and for the neophyte it can be a bewildering experience.
Unlike many drinks what defines a gin is its flavour rather than its base spirit. According to the European Union gin must be flavoured with juniper berries and may contain other natural botanicals provided that the juniper taste is predominant. And then London Dry cannot have any sweetening beyond 0.1g of sugar and cannot contain colourings and the flavour, which still has to be predominantly of juniper, is purely the result of redistillation of ethyl alcohol in the presence of all the natural plant materials in traditional stills.
Then we have the distinction between classic and contemporary gins. Classic gins are juniper dominated and whilst the distillation will include a number of other botanicals, their role is to be subservient to and to support the juniper. Contemporary gins, on the other hand, whilst maintaining juniper as a primary flavour, as they are required to by law, have a whole range of other flavours going on in there which may complement or even overwhelm the juniper. So if you want a juniper based drink, you should go for a classic like Tanqueray or if you want a cocktail of tastes and sensations, a contemporary like Hendrick’s with its rose and cucumber may be just the ticket.
Firmly in the classic camp is this month’s featured gin, Hayman’s London Dry Gin, which comes in a squat bottle embossed with “Hayman Distillers” and “Family Gin Distillers since 1863. England”. The label is dark blue with gold edging and the cap is a screw cap. Following a family recipe the gin uses ten botanicals – juniper berries, coriander seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, angelica root, orris root, cassia bark, liquorice, Spanish orange and lemon peel – which are steeped for a full day prior to distillation to allow the flavours to release into the alcohol.
The gin’s appearance is crystal clear and to the nose it has quite a citrus edge to it. As you would expect, in the mouth juniper is to the fore and the taste is quite dry and complex. The after taste is a tad bitter but makes for a perfectly satisfying, traditional gin when mixed (not too much!) with a good quality tonic.
Launched in 2008 it gives a lie to the canard that nothing good ever comes out of Essex as it is distilled in Witham. The original Hayman Distillers was founded in 1820 and acquired by the Burroughs family in 1863 – hence the proud, if somewhat confusing boast on the bottle. Their flagship gin was Beefeater’s which kept the company afloat when gin had a downturn in popularity. In 1987 the firm was acquired by Whitbread but in late 1988 the brewers sold James Burrough Limited’s Fine Alcohol Division back to Christopher Hayman, great grandson of James Burrough who had bought the distillers in the first place.
Interestingly, all the gins from the Hayward’s stable – Old Tom, Royal Dock and 1850 Reserve – use the same 10 botanicals, it is just their proportions that change.