The measure of gin

After many years of playing second fiddle to vodka, premium gin is enjoying a global resurgence. Drinks International put some of the world's top names to the taste test. David Longfield reports
27 August, 2008
Page 28 
With immaculate timing - coinciding with preparations for this Challenge - the new EU definition for London Gin was recognised and passed into EU law on February 20 this year as part of the revised EU Spirit Drink Regulations. Along with it came equivalent technical definitions of two other categories - Gin and Distilled Gin - regulating distilling techniques and the addition of flavourings and sweeteners (see box p30) in the manufacture of gin.

"London Gin is the premium gin product and the definition will help maintain its high standards of production and protect the drink from counterfeit products," states the Gin & Vodka Association of Great Britain on its website.

The new regulations enabled the inaugural Drinks International Gin Challenge to be organised in a refreshingly different way.

When it comes to categorising spirits, the accepted terminology of standard, premium and super-premium presents inherent difficulties. The terms are often subjective, relating as much as anything to a producer's marketing and pricing strategies, which can vary from market to market, as do tax regimes.

So categories based on official technical definitions added an interesting spin to the Gin Challenge tasting. Within this framework, the judging panel was asked to judge each gin on three main criteria: flavour profile, individual character and overall balance.

"It was very helpful to agree, as a group, what criteria we would assess for each product," said judge Quentin El-Bez.

"There was a wide range of products and the tasting was very efficiently conducted, allowing enough time for discussion and review. Each category presented various flavour profiles and individual characters but appeared to involve different purposes, different philosophies."

Most of the world's best gins were lined up for the Gin Challenge. Some were, regrettably, notable by their absence, such as Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick's, Broker's, Martin Miller's and Plymouth. In the latter instance, following discussions with V&S it was decided not to include the cult favourite from England's south coast. Although it is produced as a London dry gin, it is unique among gins in having its own Geographical Indication under EU law, meaning it could not be tasted alongside the London gins as defined by the new regulations.

Out of interest, Drinks International planted a bottle of Plymouth Gin among the London Gin samples in the Challenge tasting and, for the record, it averaged the second highest score overall, clearly exceeding the standard for a gold medal - all tasted blind, of course.

As expected, the standard was high. In all, from a field of 40 gins (27 London, 10 Distilled and 3 Gin) the panel awarded 8 Gold, 9 Silver and 8 Bronze medals. Among the Golds, three winners were from France - Eurowinegate's G'Vine Nouaison, Gibson's from La Martiniquaise and Blue Ribbon by Oposit. Indeed Gibson's achieved the feat of being the only Gold winner below 40 per cent abv.

Just two trophies were awarded in the competition and judge Nick Wykes said: "My notes on the gins in the Trophy round tend to confirm what I would have suggested before tasting. Tanqueray: I had simply written G&T next to this one. G'Vine: French vermouth and maybe some orange bitters might really lift this to another level. Gibson's: I had 'character and complexity' written down - not to try Gibson's gin in a Gibson would be a massive oversight!"

Agreeing, Jamie Walker added: "Tanqueray reigns supreme for me and shrugs off all of the new pretenders to the crown. The more exotic gins such as G'Vine with more exaggerated flavour profiles seemed very popular with the mixologists."

There was an equitable spread of Golds among the major producers: Pernod Ricard/Chivas Bros with Beefeater, Diageo with Tanqueray and Beam Global with Larios. UK gin specialist G&J Greenall submitted no fewer than 13 entries, all bar three of them supermarket own-label bottlings. The company scored well, netting five Bronze medals, Silver with two own-label bottlings and its own proprietary brand and two Golds: a bottling for the Tesco Finest range and Veda, a new brand to be launched at the end of the year (pictured, still under wraps).

Greenall's master distiller Joanne Simcock states: "To submit a project name and no packaging to the competition was important for me as I wanted to win on the liquid alone and ensure we certainly were on the right track. I am so happy and proud of the outcome.

"My inspiration for project Veda was all to do with the English country garden. I love to use only natural ingredients and stay well away from just adding ingredients for the sake of it."

Only one Gold medal winner emerged from the Distilled Gin category (although Brecon Special Reserve came very close). G'Vine Nouaison went on to win one of the two Trophies awarded in the taste-off final - and it's from France ...
----=== EU gin definitions ===All gins are made with ethyl 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 must be juniper, and they must have a minimum retail strength of 37.5 per cent abv.

There are three definitions of gin: Gin, Distilled Gin and London Gin.


Th e regulations state:

a Suitable ethyl alcohol and flavourings

b The ethyl alcohol does not have to be re-distilled

c The flavouring can be either approved natural or artificial

d The flavourings can be simply mixed together with the ethyl alcohol to form the gin (compounded)

e There is no restriction on the addition of other approved additives such as sweetening

f Water is added to reduce the gin's strength to the desired retail level, but not below 37.5 per cent abv

g There is no restriction on the colouring of gin with an approved colouring

Distilled gin

Distilled gin is made in a traditional still by:

a Redistilling neutral alcohol in the presence of natural flavourings

b There is no minimum strength laid down for the resultant distillate

c After distillation, further ethyl alcohol of the same composition may be added

d Additional flavourings may be added after distillation and these can be either natural or artificial flavourings

e The distillate can be further changed by the addition of other approved additives since there is no prohibition on their use in the definition

f 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

London Gin is made in a traditional still by

re-distilling ethyl alcohol in the presence of all natural flavourings used.

a 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 5 g per litre of pure alcohol

b The flavourings used must all be approved natural flavourings and they must impart the flavour during the distillation process

c The use of artificial flavourings is not permitted

d The resultant distillate must have a minimum strength of 70 per cent abv

e No flavourings can be added after distillation

f Further ethyl alcohol may be added after distillation provided it is of the same standard

g A small amount of sweetening may be added after distillation provided the sugars do not exceed 0.5 g per litre of finished product (the sugar is not discernible and is added to some products purely for brand protection purposes)

h The only other substance that may be added is water

i London Gin cannot be coloured

Source: Gin & Vodka Association----=== Packaging and design awards ===This was no easy task as each judge had personal likes and dislikes and the presentations on display were so diverse. But, after lengthy discussion, the panel came to an agreement:

Gold - Tanqueray No Ten (Diageo)

Gold - No. 209 (Distillery 209)

Silver - Beefeater (Chivas Bros)

Bronze - Right Gin (Walton Isaacson/W.L. Lyons Brown)

Bronze - G'Vine Floraison (Eurowinegate)

Highly Commended - Brecon Special Reserve (The Welsh Whisky Company)----=== Trophy winner: Tanqueray London Dry Gin ===No surprise was expressed by the judges when one of the Gin Challenge Trophy winners was revealed to be Tanqueray. The brand's origins lie with Charles Tanqueray, dating back as far as 1830 but, now part of the Diageo empire, it remains a must-pour behind many bars around the world.

The dominant flavours in Tanqueray are derived from Tuscan juniper, Russian coriander seed and angelica from Saxony, Germany, along with lemon peel, sweet and bitter orange peels, cinnamon bark, cassia bark and liquorice root.

Master distiller Sean Phillips has presided over the recipe since 1986, along with three others: Paul Doig, Glenn McKay and Kenny Logie. Each 'mini distillate' sample is assessed by a panel of 20 expert 'nosers' in total, and in any given year less than 10 per cent of botanical samples are accepted for use in Tanqueray production. The selected botanical ingredients are left to mature in hessian sacks, sometimes for as long as 18 months before being finally approved for use.

At Diageo's Cameronbridge facility, British wheat grain and Scottish water are used to produce the triple-distilled neutral spirit base. The fourth distillation, with all the botanicals added, takes place in traditional copper pot stills. Tanqueray is bottled at different strengths for different markets, priced £15.99, US$26 (94.6 proof).

Judges' comments: "Light spice, fresh citrus, long warm finish"; "Good balance, real gin flavour and length"; "Power-packed, juniper and spices mid-palate and very long".

----=== Trophy winner: G'Vine Nouaison ===Launched exclusively in Germany in March this year, EuroWineGate's new partner to its Floraison gin will be rolled out from October in other selected markets, such as the US, Spain, Germany, UK, France and Greece.

The main differences with Nouaison are the abv strength - 43.9 per cent- and an increased proportion of juniper and nutmeg, along with a decreased emphasis on the vine flower distillate that characterises Floraison. Essentially, Nouaison is closer to the classical style of gin.

According to master distiller Jean Sébastien Robicquet, other botanicals used include ginger root, liquorice, cassia bark, coriander, cubeb berries, green cardamom and lime. The Ugni Blanc wine base from Cognac is distilled four times to produce a neutral grain spirit, which is then used to macerate the handpicked green grape flowers. The other botanicals are infused over two to five days then distilled in small stills. Finally, the grape flower infusion, botanical distillates and additional neutral spirit are blended and distilled again.

"Nouaison amplifies the aromas of the spices yet retains the smooth and silky grape base and subtle floral touch G'Vine is characterised by," says Robicquet.

Nouaison is the French word for the grape-set stage that comes after flowering ( floraison) on a vine, as the flowers evolve into tiny grape berries. Nouaison will be priced at about €37, or US$40.

Judges' comments: "Sweet, flowery, very sharp, zesty flavour and solid character"; "Roasted, oily fruit, baked citrus and complex spice on the finish"; "Baked citrus, leafy with mushroom hints. Citrus, pine and a touch of menthol".----=== The Gin Challenge judges ===Joining Drinks International's Felicity Murray (Gin & Vodka Association "Gin Taster of the Year") and David Longfield on the panel of judges w ere (clockwise from top right): Steve Manktelow - Ignite Group; Nick Wykes - IP Bartenders; Jamie Walker - JW Global Consulting; Quentin El-Bez - Juicy Shoot; Carl Gobie - Sainsbury's; Robbie Hitchcock - Dynamic Bars

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