#8 Drink Gin

In Down and Out, Food & Drink, White collar denial on November 2, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Madam Geneva, mother’s ruin, royal poverty,  cock-my-cap, Vera Lynn… gin is oft associated with the down-on-their-luck, as well as the colonial idler.

During the 18th century Gin Craze which almost brought the capital to its knees, the widespread unemployment was blamed on gin which apparently turned what were referred to as ‘the lower sort of people’  into work-shy layabouts. Mass migration from country to city had made London the biggest city in Europe, complete with attendant poverty and overcrowding. Historians have since acknowledged that the reverse might be true, that turning to cheap spirits provided the easiest way for the unemployed to deal with their predicament.

Hogarth’s famous etching Gin Lane, created at the height of the epidemic in 1751, is considered the quintessential scene of depravity, a backstreet of reprobates dehumanised by the filthy Dutch import. The image is in fact one of a pair, partnered by the patriotic Beer Street in which a far more wholesome group of citizens are shown merrily (and responsibly) enjoying tankards of ale. If you don’t have an office to go to during the day, you can see both artworks for free at the British Museum (or read about them here). The brilliantly named ‘Tippling Act’ of the same year eventually quelled the problem by controlling distribution and raising the price of gin.

These days, gin is a sophisticated and, indeed, patriot choice. Today’s unemployed do not have to stoop to dubious distillations; London Dry Gin, is now a drink for those who know their botanicals. Two excellent new London gins have been launched in the past 18 months:

Bulldog BottleFashion brand and club favourite Bulldog, sold in a dangerous-looking black bottle complete with studded collar. A sophisticated blend of botanicals includes dragon eye (similar to lychee), poppy and lavender. www.BulldogGin.com

sipsmith The more artisanal Sipsmith, a limited production-run gin from a Hammersmith-based micro distiller, complementing zesty flavours with a floral nose of orris root. www.sipsmith.com

These join historic London Brands such as Beefeater (distilled in London since 1876) , a classic majoring on citrus and coriander seed with an underlying spice of cinnamon, and family firm Haymans, which add a hint of liquorice to their citrus flavours. www.beefeatergin.com and www.haymansgin.com. Meanwhile many top mixologists and bartenders tip Tanqueray London Dry Gin, now distilled in Scotland; Matthew Widdowson, bar manager at Bluebird in Chelsea, recommends Tanqueray No.Ten for the perfect G&T  ‘packed with loads of citrus-peel freshness like grapefruit and lime’. Plymouth Gin (produced since 1793) remains a personal favourite, but mainly because it was the first gin I learned to like (thanks to a very good party thrown in about 2002 by publisher Bloomsbury).

For those who can’t afford a premium gin, own brand gins are compared and rated here. Netto Dry Gin (£6.59) and Tesco Value  Gin (£6.98)  both score encouragingly highly.

Best of all, no job = no hangover anxiety. Chin-chin!

Further reading:

Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason by Jessica Warner (Profile Books)

The Much-Lamented Death of Madame Geneva by Patrick Dillon (Justin, Charles and Company)

Advice from excellent (Time Out) drinks writer Alice Lascelles on how to make the perfect G&T: http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/feature/the-perfect-g-and-t

www.diffordsguide.comhundreds of cocktails searchable by base spirit, style, name or mixer.

As always, please feel free to add your own gin tips and cocktail recipes in the comments box. The more the merrier – in this case, literally…


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