Gin has recently experienced a surge in popularity, with many small distilleries  producing different varieties and flavours to meet the demand. Local wine merchant Bruce Evans looks back at the history of this classic British drink and shares his favourite South West producers.  

Hopefully the sun is out and the idea of a G&T may be bubbling at the back of your mind.  Wimbledon hasn’t happened, but strawberries have still been on the table  and the summer classics are still available in your abode. Gin is certainly at home in the sun and perhaps in any weather.

The classic British drink actually came from Holland.  When they went into battle everybody was lubricated.  The Brits drank beer, the Dutch gin, which was lighter and more effective, so ended up in our navy.  The problem was that a 40% gin, when spilt on gunpowder, stopped it lighting. Hence the term ‘navy strength’,  as uncut gin (57%) still allows the cannons to work.  The Dutch drank their gin neat; the idea of tonic came from our association with India.

Of course gin has had its moments in history, look at Hogarth’s paintings. But now it is back and there is a swarm of producers out there.  Gin is relatively easy to make.  Take a base spirit and redistill it with some botanicals, especially juniper, and you have gin.  Hence a lot are doing it.  However, in my opinion, gin has to have a juniper base and be a 40% plus spirit. Many are not doing this and still calling it gin, and not really doing it very well.

Rosemullion Gin, distilled in Cornwall close to the Helford River

However if you look around there are lots of good producers in amongst the dross.  The newish Rosemullion  operation in Cornwall is run by ex-chemists and it shows. They make their own base spirit (unlike most) and make a nice range of London gins and rums.  They have just cleaned up in the biggest spirits competition in the world, held in San Francisco.  Thunderflower , made by Anita in the South Hams, has won a gold in the World Gin Awards with her lightly herbed gin with juniper notes and a tiny hint of aniseed. The intensely citric gin from Papillion on Dartmoor is always in my house for when the mood is right, plus it helps the butterflies!

Two favourites from the Papillon range

In this country every good gin needs a decent tonic and, with the explosion of boutique gins, there has been a significant expansion in tonics.  Fevertree is now much bigger than Schweppes, (who have really raised their game in response) and local producers like Luscombe are adding their wares to the party.  If you are looking for which of the many flavours of tonics and garnishes to match with your carefully chosen gin, remember that you should surely allow the gin to shine through, and also remember not listen too much to anybody else.  They are your taste buds and it is your choice.  Life is complicated enough without someone telling you to do this, that and the other with your drink.  

Bruce Evans runs Grape & Grain Wine Merchants  at 130 Crediton High Street

Jul 6, 2020
Food & Farming

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