Hadleigh-based Gin Punch launches craft Gin Tubes
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis speaks to Neil of Hadleigh-based Gin Punch about how gin has risen from the ashes to become the UK's best-loved spirit
'Gordon's Gin has a lot to answer for!'
I agree wholeheartedly with Gin Punch entrepreneur and former Royal Navy man Neil Farrow. My first, and lasting, memory of the juniper-laden drink was a drop of Gordon's as a young student. It tasted like mouthwash, made me gag, and I imposed a lifetime personal ban on the stuff.
But, says Neil, even die-hard gin haters can be converted to grow affection for the spirit – it's all a matter of taste.
I'm keen to be educated in such things. After all, craft gin seems to have overtaken the ironic hipster beard, as THE thing to be into.
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Whenever I order a glass of wine in a bar, eyeing up a blackboard of especially pretty-sounding gin and tonic combos, I can't help feeling I'm being judged. Like an outsider at an exclusive party.
So I'm rather delighted when Neil regales me with the history of gin (one of the first things he does on his gin tasting sessions). It hasn't always been such a fancy drink. I learn that the Dutch troops (back in the day) always used to have a sip of the spirit before heading into battle – which is where the term 'Dutch courage' comes from.
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'If you go back to Hogarth's time,' he adds, 'you see pictures of Gin Lane and the horrendous time in London. Everyone was producing gin. Every man and his dog had a still in his back garden. It got to epidemic proportions and the whole city ground to a halt – they had to put taxes on it to control it! Also, at the time there was a war between brewers and distillers. Gin was taking over from beer, so a lot of the big breweries were going to Parliament to fight against gin as well.'
Hmm. Thank God for the fact there's a craft beer movement at the moment too – or would we have another booze war on our hands? That's certainly something we could all do without in these times of Brexit and Trump.
'It was huge,' Neil continues. 'And it was a horrendously rough drink. Sometimes they tried to cut corners and use things like turpentine. When everyone was making it you didn't know what was in it. But when it became taxed in the Victorian era, the gin palaces were set-up and it went from a working class drink to an upper class drink.'
I rather like the sound of a gin palace – it has a much nicer ring to it that 'wine bar'. But I'm still not convinced by gin. And that's what Neil's passion is. Taking gin naysayers (as well as connoisseurs) and exposing them to a drink they will absolutely love.
'There are a few companies out there that sell gin and talk about gin, but it's slightly snobby. I wanted to bring it down to street level and make it more accessible to everyone.'
As well as having an online shop, Gin Punch operates pop-up gin bars for events and weddings, offers professional tasting events, and has recently launched Gin Tubes, which Neil says may turn into a subscription service in the future (because we all know there are some people who'd love gin delivered to their door once a month).
'I find these small batch producers – generally stuff you won't find in the supermarket. What we're trying to do is open people's eyes to offer them all these amazing tastes and flavours from around the country. Gin Tubes consist of two 100ml gin bottles in a postal tube – with two doubles in each bottle. If you want to try out a selection of gins to see what you like, it's a good way of doing that at a more economical level.'
Neil, like me, doesn't have a good word to say about Gordon's gin. And I want to know what I, a gin detester, should have a go at drinking. After all, I want (need) to jump on the gin train to keep up with my peers.
'There are sweet gins. Savoury. Zesty. Floral. There's something for everyone,' he tells me. 'One I really love at the moment is called Colombo Seven. It's distilled in the UK for the Sri Lankan market. When you go into a curry house and have that hot towel after, you put that on your face and get a massive zesty hit, then the spice of ginger and cardamom. This gin is like that.
'If you've been scarred by Gordon's try Boxer gin. It's so smooth and is a new breed of sipping gins. You don't need tonic with it. It's got a real hit up front, with a zesty follow on and a creamy texture.'
On the sweet side Neil recommends Warner Edwards' rhubarb-flavoured gin. 'They're based in Northamptonshire and have got some fantastic flavours. There's a brand new one coming out called Melissa, with lemon balm. And the Elderflower gin is floral and sweet.
'Savoury-wise we have a seaweed gin from Wales which is fantastic. It's one of those things that people have to try. It's got the slight salt air edge to it, apart from the normal botanicals that are in there. People aren't sure about it, but you give it to them and they struggle to come to terms with it between the brain and the tongue!'
With the rise of gin, so has come with it a parade of new-breed mixers. 'There are some fantastic new tonic brands coming out. Everyone's been exposed to Fever Tree and it's getting very boring. The brand I love at the moment is called Double Dutch. It's made by twin sisters in London who set their business up two years ago. They do some brilliant flavours and they've got down on the sugars.
'When it comes to pairing gin with tonic experimentation is the thing. Everyone likes different things. It's subjective like art.'
Well, if you say so Neil. Right then. I'm off down the pub. I hear The Angel in Woodbridge has a rather impressive range of gins so if you want me, you know where I am!
There are four types of gin produced in the world – London Dry, Dutch Geneva, Old Tom and Compound (this one is usually infused with flavours).
'I like a savoury, spicy gin. My favourites are Cotswolds Dry Gin. I think it's really herbal. And then also Tarquin's from south west Cornwall. That's a nice gin.'
Did you know?
A lot of craft gins are now being produced in Scotland. With whisky taking 10 to 15 years to mature in the barrel, it's no surprise the distillers are looking for a cash cow to fill the gap. With gin only taking about six months to turn around, it's a no-brainer.
Find out more about Gin Tubes here.