Samuel Coleridge wouldn’t have stood a chance these days. Every time my wife settles down to write the novel that will lift us out of lower middle-class penury, the doorbell rings. These latter days men from Porlock are couriers bearing gin. We now have so much gin in our kitchen that she has forbidden me from accepting any more.
We are living through a time of gin. Everyday I receive a press release about a new product: there’s Manchester gin, Cotswold gin, Brighton gin and Edinburgh gin, alongside the old classics from London and Plymouth. There’s gin made with tea, cucumber, even chocolate. There’s World Gin Day (which I ignored), gin festivals, gin symposiums, gin tastings, gin and food matching. So persistent are the powerful gin lobby that I was sent two copies of a new book, Ian Buxton’s 101 Gins to Buy Before You Die (of gin presumably) plus a package containing, yes you guessed it, gin! Buxton isn’t entirely sold on the great gin renaissance:
‘While writing this book I lost count of the number of producers, particularly small ones, who assured me of the ‘passion’ of their founders and wanted to tell me of their ‘journey’ and the ‘hand-crafted’ and ‘artisanal’ nature of their brand, evidently in the belief that this made them stand out in some way. It does not.’
That should be above every marketing person’s desk in huge letters. The problem with gin is not only the similarity of the marketing but also the product. A friend in the gin business told me that people get very passionate about their favourite brands but they can never identify them in a blind tasting. I imagine the hit rate for Laphroaig is much higher. So how does Buxton manage to craft such an entertaining book about a repetitive topic? By having his gin and drinking it, of course. His humorous scepticism is part of the fun but he is also at heart, an enthusiast and as a spirits expert is able to explain the varied distillation processes. Some of these gins are indeed very different.
Like Buxton I’m ambivalent about the new gin craze, without sounding like a complete philistine I was happy with Beefeater, but in the past few months I’ve had some gins that have really caught my attention. The Highwaymen gin from the Vestal Vodka people is beautiful perhaps due to the richness of the spirit. It’s almost like a gin made from new-make whisky. Colonel Fox gin is deliciously fiery. Sacred make a Tate gin which is sweetly spicy but completely goes to pieces when confronted with tonic. Gins can be very different.
Despite my wife’s disapproval, I am enjoying having a houseful of gin. Hic! There’s goes the doorbell again. If only the lemon, ice and tonic lobbies were as well-funded.
This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the Guardian.