As gin continues its relentless seduction of the cocktail cognoscenti, Holly Motion of Drinksint.com ponders its enduring appeal
Gin can probably thank the G&T boom and category diversification for its good fortune in recent years, but the cocktail renaissance – though less mainstream – has played more than its part.
It started with the rebirth of classic cocktails from speakeasies and now, nearly 10 years on, the classics and twists on classics are ubiquitous in cocktail bars. According to the people who make them, classics and their derivatives are not going anywhere.
“All the classic gin cocktails are doing well in our bars. Martinis, White Ladies, Perfect Ladies and, of course, Tom Collins, which is a big drink for Portobello Road gin,” chief gin instructor at Portobello Road gin Ginstitute Jake Burger says.
“The revival of the Negroni, of course, continues – a remarkable reversal of fortunes if ever I saw one. I remember putting one on the first drinks menu I wrote back in 1992 – I think we sold two in a year and they both came back untouched.”
Philip Duff of Liquid Solutions says: “The advent of true super-premium gins, locally-made gins and ultra-niche gins has recruited a whole new swathe of drinkers to the category, already bolstered by the resurgence of the G&T and the Negroni,” “These new drinkers, like all new spirits drinkers when it’s a grown-up spirit like gin, start with the classics first: Martinis, Red Snappers, Southsides and the like, moving on to Brambles and Gin-Gin Mules before getting to grips with boundary-breaking new cocktails such as Artesian’s Camouflage, with carrot, kombucha and sandalwood.
Burger adds: “Many people are carving their own niches in the industry, such as Ryan Chetiyawardana with his incredible innovations and the boys from Jason Atherton’s venues and Artesian driving the boundaries of customers’ expectations in both presentation and taste.”
At Atherton’s Blind Pig @ The Social Eating House, group bar manager Gareth Evans says its own creation Dill Or No Dill has always been the best seller. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to take that off the menu. Essentially it’s a gin sour, but with cucumber, dill and elderflower. A lot of trendy bartender buzzwords in there.” When asked if the desire for gin will wane, Evans says: “Gin is simple, classic and representative of our history. It is something for British people to be proud of – even though we nicked it from the Dutch.”
To succeed in the crowded market gin brands need to have something standout about them and be priced at a level that bars can experiment and ultimately work with.
Evans says he gets sent about two new samples of gin a week. “Not a bad position to be in, sure, but it does mean we are a lot more picky about what we put on our back bar. I think they have oversaturated it to some extent.”
Whether it is dragon eye, baobab, bergamot or seaweed, botanicals give gin its distinctive personality and appeal. The flavour hook and background are undeniably important, but as John Hughes, bar manager at Bramble, Edinburgh (DI’sThe World’s 50 Best Bar #32), points out: “If you have a unique botanical, talk about it for sure, but don’t make it the be-all and end-all of your story. Don’t create a bullshit back-story because bartenders will see straight through it. The biggest thing, of course, is quality of product.”
The two top-sellers at Bramble are, unsurprisingly, the bar’s namesake and the Mint 500 – the latter a Hendrick’s drink with the familiar flavours of apple, elderflower, vanilla, basil and mint. “We’re putting more time into making sure we have a well-curated selection of gins and trying to find things that are maybe a little less well-known or have a point of difference, whether it is abv, country of origin or unusual botanicals,” Hughes says.
Another consequence of this is a dip in quality. says Philip Duff, director of education for Tales of the Cocktail and owner of Door 74 in Amsterdam (#26 in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2014). “There’s a lot of crap coming out, let’s get that clear. I don’t mean brands whose image I don’t like, or whose flavour profile doesn't suit me. I mean poorly distilled gin, with distilling faults. It’s an inevitable consequence of the explosion in craft distilling that’s taken place.
“You’re not going to become Tanqueray, G’Vine or Hendrick’s overnight,” adds Duff. “You need to have a five-year plan.
“Solve a problem for cocktail drinkers: what does your gin do that others don’t? Solve a problem for bartenders: how does your brand make their life easier, or more pleasant?
“Don’t try to be all things to all people – you’ll wind up being nothing to everyone. And make sure it’s easy for bartenders to pour from the bottle,” Duff said.
Price is another consideration. “Gin offers very good value for money at every tier, from value to superpremium, and is a far easier switch (price-wise and psychologically) from vodka than any other typically unaged spirit (pisco, much tequila, aquavit) and certainly than typically aged spirits such as whisky and brandy.”
Brands vying for space in the market would do well to listen. A 70cl bottle of Bulldog London Dry gin retails for £21. “Bulldog is quite premium – it is distilled four times – but without the premium price,” Bianca Hepworth, Bulldog London Dry Gin UK brand ambassador of The Proud Archivist says. “The price makes it a popular choice for bartenders. That, and it is an easily mixable drink that stands up to anything.” Long before her affiliation with the brand, Hepworth used to train bartenders with Bulldog. “You can always make a wicked drink with Bulldog, because it goes with everything,” she says.
While there might be some disagreement on trends, it would seem everyone is in agreement that the versatility of gin is what makes it such a popular choice among bartenders.
“It’s easy to work with, it’s wonderfully versatile and nearly everybody likes it. You don’t run the risk of being perceived to be ‘wasting’ good liquor in a cocktail, which sometimes is an accusation thrown at bartenders working with aged spirits – though I never really understood that myself,” says Jake Burger.
But, he warns: “Increasingly, people are becoming a bit more precious about gin, I’ve had a few guests ask me recently if they are spoiling their gin by adding tonic.” Close your ears Fever-Tree.
Not a cocktail per se, but the Spanish style G&T serve is gaining in popularity. “It is really happening in England now, with the copa glasses and the multiple garnishes. I think this trend will grow for a while yet,” Burger adds.
Fever-Tree on-trade marketing manager Luke Benson says: “We are seeing more bars with G&T tasting flights where you get a selection of tonics, selection of gins and garnishes to mix your own combinations and more places with G&T menus.”
According to Benson, the vast majority of all gin is drunk with tonic – in the UK, the William Grant UK Market Report 2014 says more than 90%: “So anybody creating a gin needs to make sure it pairs well with a quality tonic water. It’s hard to make a gin that works in every cocktail, so most brands will have a signature serve – usually they will try to get a balance between something your consumer can make at home but remains interesting for a bartender to make.”
When considering which gin cocktails to put on its drinks menu, the team at Bramble individually presents drinks in front of the rest of the staff and only the best make the list. “We are fairly strict, so of 20 drinks presented we may only put two new drinks on. Our major criterion is quality,” the bar manager says.
At Nottingham Forest (#15 Best Bar in the World), the most requested gin cocktail is the Martini. The Milan bar has an entire menu dedicated to gin, with 101 variants derived from bar manager and owner Dario Comini’s My Favourite’s [sic] 101 book. “Consumers’ palates are growing constantly more refined and a number of interesting new drinks are emerging to cater to them.”
But, when asked for his predictions on the future of gin cocktails, Comini says the classic drinks will continue to dominate the scene for many years to come.
Back in Blighty, at The World’s 50 Best Bar #3 Nightjar, director Edmund Weil might not have gone as far as including 101 Martinis on his menu, but he does stress: “A gin that does not stand up in a Martini might as well pack up and go home.
“A Martini is the ultimate classic cocktail for a reason and a benchmark for any self-respecting bar/bartender.” The Dry Martini is a huge seller from the London bar’s off-menu orders.
At Nightjar, reimagined cocktails grace the menu. No 3 gin with sandalwoodis its version of the Prohibition-era Amarosa cocktail, as well as some more experimental serves such as Beyond the Sea with Gin Mare in its Signature Section. The best-selling drink is The London Mule with Tanqueray. A long drink served in a wooden tankard, Kamm & Sons ginseng spirit is among the popular drinks ingredients. “It’s definitely one of those drinks where people see it on the pass and say ‘I want one of those’”, Weil says.
When creating a gin, mixability is of great importance. For Hayman’s director Miranda Hayman, the challenge is to try to get consumers to be more experimental at home and make Martinis and Negronis in the same way they would make a G&T. “We are seeing this in the US where it is more common for cocktails such as a Tom Collins or a Martini to be made at home,” Hayman says.
“The gin category two years ago was very different to how it is today. We believe the gin renaissance and trend for gin cocktails has a good few more years left until it peaks.” Pressed for a number, Hayman responded: five. “In the UK, it is nearing its peak, whereas other markets are just beginning. There is still some way to go. Once it has peaked we believe it will still remain a popular spirit, but that growth in the category will level out.”
At Beefeater, global brand ambassador Tim Stones isn’t as forthright with his predictions. “It is all a bit eclectic at the moment. Beefeater has been around for so long because it is so versatile. Gin is a popular cocktail choice because of its versatility. It is complex and can go with a light and refreshing drink or the other extreme.”
Duff adds: “[Gin] really ticks all the boxes: classic cocktail ingredient, has a huge back catalogue of major drinks such as the G&T and Martini and offers very good value for money at every tier, from value to super-premium.”
And Duff’s predictions for the future? “I think we’ll see gin Martinis overtake the vodka Martini, at least for the cognoscenti, and we’ll see more and more gins being made specifically for gin classics such as the G&T, Negroni, French 75 or Martini.”
Many drinks trends are as quickly out of vogue as they were en. But one thing is for sure, the classics have earned their right to be named just that, and are not going anywhere any time soon.
DRINKSINT.COM NOVEMBER 2014
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