The Background to Gin
Contrary to most other Gin makers we developed our London Dry Gin quite some time after we had been making and selling our fruit gins. My old friend and co-creator, John Simpson , posed the question one day –“Why don’t people make proper export strength Gin any more?” For him high strength gin was a feature of life when he worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office out in the Far East as it was for me in an army Mess in Germany in the early 80s. We therefore wanted to make a London Dry Gin, the highest quality style of gin possible, and in particular one that captured the lovely strong flavours of what used to be termed “Export Strength” Gins. As a result we came up against a number of hurdles. Firstly the process of making a London Dry Gin includes a number of rules one of which states that “ no flavours may be added after the final distillation process”, so combining the botanicals to get the best flavour and taste involves a lot trial and error. Each time we wanted to alter the recipe it involved making a whole new batch! The creation of a new London Dry Gin was a task that proved more complicated than producing a new fruit gin. It resulted in John and I spending 6 months distilling and re-distilling new ideas with the help of our distiller Charles Maxwell.
Using organic botanicals we finalised our recipe using the ingredients you can see at the top of the page. We combine the base botanicals of Juniper and Coriander seeds with Lemon Peel and Lime Flower and then use Angelica and Orris Root which act as the fixatives bringing harmony to the different flavours. The use of Lime flower gives the Gin a very clean and refreshing taste. A number of customers who taste our Gin expect a harshness from such a high strength Gin but the beauty of our recipe is whilst the flavour is strong it is also incredibly smooth. Many people find they can, much to their own surprise, drink it neat.
We often explain that the high alcohol content is not intended to get you merry quickly but solely due to the fact that all the flavour of the botanicals is contained within the alcohol. A high %ABV (Alcohol By Volume) therefore means that as much of the flavour as possible is retained. This makes a fantastic London Dry Gin with no chance of you asking any barman “Did you put the Gin in this tonic?!” As usual with such things you can take things to excess and much above 57% AB one begins to be a bit overwhelmed by the spirit rather than getting the flavour. It is perhaps not surprising that nearly all the high quality London Dry Gins have a ABV of between 45% and 50% with only the Navy Strength Gins tending to be higher.
Our London Dry Gin works wonderfully as a mixer in all of the classic gin cocktails. With tonic it is refreshing and smooth, try drinking it in a larger glass but with a single measure. Its strength allows all the flavours to remain despite the addition of tonic making a lovely long drink. With Bitters it makes the highly underrated Pink Gin. Finally as a Martini with Vermouth it is fantastic as the Gin combines wonderfully with the Vermouth, just remember stirred and never shaken.
We have won Best in Class, Outstanding and two separate Silver Medals at the International Wine and Spirits Competition held in London each year. This is what the Judges had to say
A Plain guide to making Gin
It may come as a surprise to many people but Gin starts life as Vodka. To be completely accurate Gin starts with Neutral Grain Spirit. This is normally made from Grain but can indeed be made from almost anything including Molasses or even Cows milk.
Starting with the Grain
Many modern alcohol producers use the grains that have been used to make corn syrup or other industrial uses like paper making. They add the grains to boiling water and make what is called in the trade “beer” this then has yeasts added that turn the sugars in the grain into alcohol. At this point the alcohol content is about 8-10%. This “beer” or wort is then fed into a column still where the alcohol is distilled out of the liquid in a tall column. The liquid will often go through this process several times at which point it will have an ABV of >95% and is neutral grain alcohol.
The high strength alcohol is now delivered to the Gin Rectifier (us) and now the art of distilling starts. The Alcohol has de-ionised water added and is put into a pot still along with the ingredients that make up the individual gin.
In general the water is added as very high strength alcohol has a tendency to harden the skins of the Juniper berries and makes the extraction of the oil and flavour harder. Some stills have the botanicals on a shelf above the liquor and the oils are extracted as the steam passes over them. Some recipes call for the botanicals to be macerated in the still for hours or days before the distillation starts but for the most part the botanicals are put into the liquor and are heated along with the liquor. The temperature is very carefully controlled so that the botanicals have all of the flavours extracted with the steam that goes up the neck of the still and is then cooled to distil back into a liquid. Neither the first part of the distillation (the feints) nor the latter part (the tails) are used for Gin making but just the middle cut. It is all part of the Gin makers art that distinguishes these different levels and produces the perfect drinking Gin.
However the process is not yet finished. Whilst some stills do work on a one shot basis (that is each distillation is cut with de-ionised water to drinking strength and then bottled) most produce a Gin concentrate by packing the still with botanicals such that the end result needs to be cut once again with the original neutral grain alcohol before being diluted with war down to drinking strength. The one shot process is the same but does suffer from the problems of consistency of flavour. The concentrated method allows a much better control of flavour over larger batch. The result for us is that one day spent at Thames Distillery producing our gin makes enough for at least one year of sales. So it won’t surprise the businessmen amongst you that we decided not to build our own still only to have it stand idle for 95% of the year.
EU Gin Definitions
All gins are made with ethyl alcohol alcohol flavoured with juniper berries (juniperus communis) and other flavourings. The ethyl alcohol used must be distilled to the minimum standards stated in the EU Spirit Drink Regulations. In all types of gin, the predominant flavour of must be juniper, and they must have a minimum retail strength of 37.5% abv. There are three definitions of gin: gin, distilled gin and London Gin.
This made from:
- Suitable ethyl alcohol and flavourings.
- The ethyl alcohol does not have to be re-distilled.
- The flavouring can be either approved natural or artificial flavourings.
- The flavourings can be simply mixed together with the ethyl alcohol to form the gin (compounded).
- There is no restriction on the addition of other approved additives such as sweetening.
- Water is added to reduce the gin's strength to the desired retail level, but not below 37.5% abv.
- There is no restriction on the colouring of gin with an approved colouring.
Distilled gin is made in a traditional still by:
- Redistilling neutral alcohol in the presence of natural flavourings.
- There is no minimum strength laid down for the resultant distillate.
- After distillation, further ethyl alcohol of the same composition may be added.
- Additional flavourings may be added after distillation and these can be either natural or artificial flavourings.
- The distillate can be further changed by the addition of other approved additives since there is no prohibition on their use in the definition.
- Water may be added to reduce the strength to the desired retail level. g. There is no restriction on the colouring of distilled gin with approved colourings.
London Gin is made in a traditional still by re-distilling ethyl alcohol in the presence of all natural flavourings used.
- The ethyl alcohol used to distil London Gin must be of a higher quality than the standard laid down for ethyl alcohol. The methanol level in the ethyl alcohol must not exceed a maximum of 5 grams per hectolitre of 100% vol. alcohol.
- The flavourings used must all be approved natural flavourings and they must impart the flavour during the distillation process.
- The use of artificial flavourings is not permitted.
- The resultant distillate must have a minimum strength of 70% abv.
- No flavourings can be added after distillation.
- Further ethyl alcohol may be added after distillation provided it is of the same standard.
- A small amount of sweetening may be added after distillation provided the sugars do not exceed 0.5 grams/litre of finished product (the sugar is not discernible and is added to some products purely for brand protection purposes).
- The only other substance that may be added is water.
- London Gin cannot be coloured.
London dry gin: the story
- 1618-48: English soldiers first encounter genever while fighting in Holland during the 30 years war in Europe. The Dutch juniper flavoured grain spirit is given as a morale booster before battle (hence the expression “Dutch courage”). They bring back genever home when they return.
- 1688: The Glorious Revolution and the Dutchman William of Orange and his wife Mary accede to the English throne as the only jointly ruling Monarchs in our history: genever becomes the fashionable drink at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, where drinking genever is seen as a gesture of Protestantism.
- William is determined to continue his War with France and as part of this he introduces extremely high duty on Brandy as well as then lowering the duty on locally produced spirits. His aim is to kill the French brandy trade and hobble the enemy financially. This coincides with a string of good harvests in the early 1700 which produces a glut of corn just a the time when alcohol production is roaring ahead.
- 1730: In some parts of London, and particularly the area around Oxford Circus know as St Giles, one house in three sells gin, while it spreads amongst the London’s poor.
- 1743: In London in 1750, adults drank an average of 181 litres of gin per year, or half a litre per day: the authorities become alarmed about the social effects of wide-spread drunkenness, as the “Gin Craze” takes hold.
- 1751: The Tippling Act begins to effectively control sale and production of cheap gin and paves the way for the production of quality products.
- 1794: The Trade Directory for the City of London, Westminster and Southwark lists over 40 gin and malt distillers, with 90% of English gin then distilled in London.
- 1830: The first gin palace, Fearon’s, opens in Holborn. Those fashionable bars are the inspiration for Victorian pubs, which borrow their interior design.
- 1832: Through the invention of the continuous still, a more pure spirit can be made, leading to the creation of an unsweetened, aromatic style of gin known as “London Dry” (by opposition to sweet gin), as so many distillers are based in the British capital.
- 1874: The Criterion, the first proper American cocktail bar, opens in London at Piccadilly Circus.
- 1920: The first “official” cocktail party is held in London.
- 1990s: The second great cocktail revival is led by the bar scenes in London and New York. Grants Whisky start production of Hendricks Gin.
- 2005: The growth of artisan Gin production and an explosion in the number of new producers.
- 2010: Foxdenton 48% London Dry Gin first sold.