'Ginaissance': Classic Spirit Enjoying Artisanal Boom; Once Dismissed as Old-Fashioned, Gin Is Now a Favorite Hipster Tipple

By LeBor, Adam | Newsweek, June 24, 2016 | Go to article overview

'Ginaissance': Classic Spirit Enjoying Artisanal Boom; Once Dismissed as Old-Fashioned, Gin Is Now a Favorite Hipster Tipple


LeBor, Adam, Newsweek


Byline: Adam LeBor

In a small, bottle-lined room tucked above the Portobello Star, a 19th-century pub in London's Notting Hill, I take my first sip of the gin I have just concocted out of 11 carefully chosen flavors. It lingers on the palate, the dominant juniper notes offset by the dryness of licorice root, the savory taste of celery seed, the citrus tang of orange and pink grapefruit, and a hint of warmth from black and pink peppers.

Yet, even as I savor the drink, it is clear that it needs something to counterbalance these powerful flavors. If my gin is an orchestra, all the instruments are being played as loud as they can be played, and all at the same time. Derek Jones, my instructor at the Ginstitute--a bar-cum-museum that opened in late 2011 and offers a three-hour experience that includes designing and bottling your own creation--knows exactly what to do: "a touch of lemongrass." I follow his recommendation, and he adds a few drops of alcoholic distilled-lemongrass essence. It works, the undertone of sweetness balancing the spirit's astringency.

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The Ginstitute is one of a growing number of London bars specializing in gin. The quintessentially English spirit, long associated with older, suburban crowds, is in the throes of a renaissance--a "Ginaissance"--propelled by new brands and marketing. In the U.K., younger people are now more likely than older consumers to drink gin: 42 percent of Britons aged between 18 and 34 have drunk gin in the past year, compared with 27 percent of over-45s. Sales are also soaring across Europe, North America and Asia.

"Craft distillers have really captured the public's imagination, and the boom shows no sign of stopping," says Olivia Williams, author of Gin Glorious Gin, a social history of the drink. Each sip of a classic gin and tonic is a taste of a rich social history--one that the Ginstitute explores in its micro-museum. Trainee blenders sit surrounded by rows of dusty bottles, many from brands long since vanished. Copernicus II, the smallest copper pot gin still that is working in London, stands in a room next door.

"The history of London and gin are so entwined, you cannot tell the story of one without the other," says Jake Burger, the Ginstitute's lead instructor. That may be so, but gin was first created in the Netherlands. Typically brewed from wheat, barley or other neutral grains and flavored with juniper berries, it was initially sold as a medicine to treat everything from stomach complaints to bubonic plague. Gin became popular in England in the 17th century after British troops fighting alongside Dutch soldiers in the Thirty Years' War were given the spirit before going into battle--hence the term "Dutch courage."

When Holland's William of Orange was crowned king of England in 1689, one of his first acts was to liberalize distilling. The result was a gin craze: By 1730, more than 7,000 shops selling only spirits had sprung up around London. Some 10 million gallons of gin were distilled each year in the city. The floral, spicy drink was sometimes distributed to workers as part of their wages, which made alcohol abuse a major problem among the poor. A night out would involve two or three people sharing a quart of neat gin, which was usually between 50 and 55 percent proof. The drink would likely be adulterated, sometimes with small amounts of sulfuric acid, to ensure a warming after-burn.

Blamed for riots and mayhem across the capital, gin soon earned the name "Mother's ruin." The well-known 1751 print Gin Lane, by artist and engraver William Hogarth, depicts some of the horrors that resulted from drinking too much of the spirit. The centerpiece is a prostitute, her legs covered in syphilitic sores, oblivious to her baby tumbling from her lap.

In the early to mid-18th century, Parliament passed a series of Gin Acts to regulate the trade and reduce public drunkenness. …

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