Serious botanicals

14 April, 2014

Visitor centres, craft distilleries – gin is upping its game globally. Lucy Britner watches the spirit get down to business

Gin’s getting serious. For a while it was the preserve of the pinky-ringed business boys and their once-a-week housewives. Then it was embraced by the bar community. And now? Well now it’s everywhere.

‘Flavoured’ gins are popping up all over the place and will no doubt come and go in much the same way as flavoured vodka trends. But the trend for stronger gins – in both juniper and abv – is a bit more serious. 

Earlier this year, Sipsmith launched VJOP. Very Junipery Over Proof is described as the ‘ultimate celebration of juniper’. The gin is based on Sipsmith’s London Dry Gin and master distiller Jared Brown has tweaked the proportion of juniper in the recipe and added it at three different stages.

Firstly the original recipe has seen an increase in the proportion of juniper and, after a three-day maceration period in copper pot stills, more juniper is added. Finally, vapour-infused juniper is added via the carter head.      

Sam Galsworthy, Sipsmith co-founder, says: “Imagining the botanicals as components in an orchestra, here we have taken the lead instrument and amplified its presence in the ensemble, and then raised the decibels by increasing the proof alcohol. The result is a special juniper-forward gin.”   

Sipsmith VJOP is 57.7% abv and it has an rrp of £37.95 per 70cl bottle.

Miranda Hayman, director at Hayman’s, says there have been several juniper-heavy and higher-abv gin launches recently in response to the current gin renaissance. “Providing a point of difference or line extension is just another way of maintaining consumer interest and responding to consumers’ increasingly discerning palates.” 

In terms of higher abv gin launches, she says this also correlates to the current cocktail trend: “Many bartenders like to use higher abv gins within cocktails to add a greater depth of flavour.”

The company repackaged its own Navy Strength gin late last year, readying it for world domination – well, substantial rollout at least. 

Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin hit the US first, in 2012, followed by the UK and Europe. 

Hayman says the gin “fares particularly well in Germany where bartenders like their gin to be a minimum of 47% abv within cocktails, due to their specific taste preference.”

Interestingly, Beefeater in the US is 47% and has been for many years, so it seems historic taste preference and not just cocktail culture dictates.

When it comes to higher abvs, Beefeater’s master distiller Desmond Payne puts it simply: “Alcohol is important in alcoholic drinks. It carries aromas and flavours and a higher abv does tend to hold on to flavour.” Though we all agree there’s a limit. 

Payne, who has 47 in common with his gin – he is in his 47th year in the industry – has seen trends and brands come and go. “The thing I’ve noticed is that 10 years ago, near enough all gins were 40% abv. Now, some gins are using abvs as a point of difference – an abv unique to their brand.”

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