Norfolk quick to get in on the latest craze for gin
- Credit: Archant
Andy Newman gets into the spirit of the latest drinks fad.
While some food fads are mercifully short-lived (a fate I predict for the new hipster favourite, the 'avo-latte', an abomination which is essentially a coffee served in an avocado skin), others seem to catch hold of the public imagination and become full-on phenomena.
After years when for most people drinking a gin and tonic meant either Gordons or Bombay Sapphire, suddenly we are awash with artisan gins. Ordering a G&T has come to mean being burdened with a surfeit of choice.
As a nation, last year we downed the equivalent of 1.12 billion gin and tonics; in 2016, sales topped £1 billion for the first time, and at least 40 new distilleries opened. There are now around 300 gin producers in Britain, compared with just 116 in 2010.
Norfolk has been quick to get in on the act. The latest local version, St Giles Gin, joins Norfolk Gin, Bullards and Black Shuck. Not quite up to the county's tally of nearly 50 craft breweries, but certainly heading in that direction.
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I'll confess that I have always been someone who hates it when people mess about with the flavours of things. Coffee should taste of coffee, beer should taste of hops, and gin should taste of juniper. So is this explosion of new gins a triumph of pretension and marketing over good sense?
As my old wine tutor taught me, 'the road to wine knowledge is littered with empty bottles'. Perhaps I should apply that thinking to gin, simply consuming as many different examples as possible.
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In the end, and in the interests of thorough research, I decided that to really get to grips with what gin is all about, I should invent my own.
For very good reasons, you can't just acquire a still and start making your own alcohol. Apart from receiving a visit from HMRC to ask why you're not paying duty on your brew, you really need to know what you're doing when it comes to distillation, or you can end up with alcohol which contains all sorts of impurities and which will not just make you blind drunk, but actually blind as well.
Whilst Norfolk has to an extent jumped on the gin bandwagon, London is still its spiritual home (if you will pardon the pun), so it was to the City of London Distillery that I travelled to create my very own gin under expert supervision.
Gin has to contain juniper, and most will also contain two other botanicals: coriander seeds and angelica root. It's after that when it becomes interesting, with literally dozens of botanicals ranging from berries, seeds and fruits to herbs and spices. It is this mix which allows an almost infinite variety in the end flavour, and why every artisan gin is different.
After some considerable sampling (I do all this for your benefit, dear reader), I decided to create a bitter citrus gin, using bitter orange peel and rowan berries, as well as pepper and ginger, and even rose petals. You are probably as dubious as I was that this would taste anything like a gin; I put the measured-to-the-gram botanicals in my own miniature copper still with a litre of 96% grain spirit, and turned the heat gently on.
Somehow, with a great deal of guidance from the master distiller and not a little luck, what came out was delicious: unmistakeably gin, but with its own unique character. By good fortune, I had created a gin which had all those bitter citrus and spice notes I was after.
There was only one name to give my own creation: Bitter & Twisted. Making it has given me a unique insight into the skills of the master distiller, and an admiration for those prepared to throw their creations into the competitive - but growing – gin marketplace.
Inevitably someone has come up with the idea of a National Gin Day, and it's this Saturday. I'll be celebrating it by sampling a range or the new artisan gins, including all of those made in our county.