Re-gin-eration: what’s behind the botanical spirit boom?

With 49 new distilleries opening in the last year, sales of gin are expected to exceed 1bn in Britain but the juniper berries used to flavour it are under threat

Name: Gin.

Age: Oh, you know, 900 years old, or something.

Appearance: Crystal clear.

Ingredients: Water, alcohol, juniper berries, a little of what you fancy.

I fancy vodka. Well, gin is basically just vodka flavoured with botanicals.

What are botanicals? Flavourings.

Oh. Besides juniper, people sometimes use lemon peel, coriander, aniseed, caraway, dill, rose …

I get the picture. Gins origins are obscure, but it almost certainly began as jenever in the medieval Low Countries. By the 18th century, it was big in Britain too big, in fact, leading to Londons deadly gin craze. That was controlled by licensing laws, but now gin is back, baby!

Evidence, please. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, sales of gin are expected to exceed 1bn in Britain this year; 49 distilleries opened last year alone. There are now more than twice as many distilleries as there were in 2010, when the government changed rules that made it difficult for craft gin-makers to set up shop.

Sorry, did you say craft gin? I did indeed. Its the next trendy thing after craft beer, with prices similar to posh whisky. Gin is having a moment, you see, perhaps even a movement.

But how can gin be trendy? I thought it was incredibly old-fashioned, the sort of thing drunk by sozzled colonels and their memsahibs? Yeah, but old-fashioned is trendy now, havent you noticed? Thats why people like beards, battered industrial furniture and naming their children Horace and Edna.

I have noticed that people on the internet always list gin among their hobbies, along with cats, cake and tea. Precisely. What could be more sophisticated than ironic quaintness? Plus, gin is nice.

Mmm. Although it is under threat.

What? I thought you told me it was having a moment? It is, but so is Phytophthora austrocedri, a fungus-like pathogen that is killing Scottish juniper trees. It was first detected in Britain in 2011.

So, this pathogen likes the taste of juniper even more than hipsters do? It actually attacks the roots, but yes. In a few years, any distillers wanting to use domestic juniper berries might have trouble finding any.

So, there might be a shortage of locally foraged craft gin? I fear so. Try not to spread panic.

Do say: Ice and a slice?

Dont say: Slow-frozen wild glacier crystals and unwaxed Sicilian lemon?


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