‘I don’t like gin’. If ever there were a sentence designed to upset me, it’s that one – or ‘I don’t like whisky.’ The former is often said by whisky drinkers who might even think of gin as a wasted cask of spirit that could have been turned into drams. Those who say they don’t like whisky do so with a grimace, thinking of the wrong type of whisky (for them) that influenced their view. If only they’d tried drams from a PX cask they might change their mind thanks to those wonderfully rich, figgy, dark chocolate and coffee notes such as Nomad Outland Whisky with its beautiful Christmas cake flavours or fabulously syrupy Deanston 2002 Organic PX Finish which reminds me of mince pies (https://thespiritsembassy.com/products/deanston-2002-organic-px-finish-700ml-49-3?_pos=5&_sid=893abaac9&_ss=r).

But I have the same answer for both the ‘I don’t like’ crowds – as I do for dating – you just haven’t tried the right one. Gin, like whisky, doesn’t just have a single flavour profile. Ask non-gin drinkers what gin’s like and they’ll immediately think heavy juniper gins, the old classic profile which distillers address with different levels of finesse and style. I love big butch juniper gins like Sipsmith’s V.J.O.P. Gin but only smooth ones, balance is still needed. Simply put, not all gin is equal so no one should dismiss all gins unless they’ve tried every single one – even I haven’t done that!

When I was choosing the 5 gins for The Spirits Embassy Virtual Gin Tasting on 14th May, I wanted a selection of different gins. Not just ones which people were less likely to have tried already but different flavour profiles. I didn’t want 5 classic gins – 5 London Dry Gins – because I also wanted to appeal to the open-minded ‘I don’t like gin’ people, and also because there are different gins for every mood, every weather condition.

I’m hugely influenced by design – I used to write design notes for book and magazine covers for the designers to create magic with their own stamp but based on my ideas. I look at fonts, not just bottle shapes or styles. I love Four Pillars Gin with their distinctive bottle shapes and strong fonts and I chose their Bloody Shiraz Gin for the tasting expressly because it will appeal to non-gin drinkers, as well as gin lovers. I love it! It’s different but it’s still gin, despite being the colour of the red Australian wine whose grapes were steeped in their gin, and that’s what this tasting is all about.
It’s interesting talking to friends about what gins they drink, including those who prefer flavoured gins – like the beautiful Tinkture Rose Gin we’ll be sampling on 14th May – and those who avoid flavoured ones but will drink favoured gin when they find the right one. It’s all about match-making.
I love my mum, she says she hates Martinis – but her favourite cocktail is a Watermelon and Chilli Martini – and that Tinkture gin is just crying to be turned into a very special Martini which I’ll talk about on the night. And that’s the thing about gin, it’s great with a tonic water, some can be drunk neat but it’s also the magic base for a cocktail. Don’t like gin? But how about gin cocktails? G&Ts might not work for everyone – not everyone likes tonic water but that’s why we have 5 different mixers for the tasting to open up ideas. Gin is an ingredient spirit, you’re less likely to drink it neat (with some notable exceptions) but it’s the core of many great cocktails, not just G&Ts or Martinis but Gimlets, Negronis and all its variations, Collins and so many others – vitally, all made with the right gin for that type of cocktail.
I have a confession. I really don’t like classic Negronis. They’re too bitter for me but I have two tricks which I’ll be sharing on the night to make a very special Negroni which I absolutely love. That’s where Boatyard Old Tom Gin comes in, that historic style of gin made by a great brand which has sold out elsewhere. I also love the Northern Irish distillery’s Boatyard Double Gin and its bottle which just reminds me of a boater. Does brand recognition influence which gins I buy? Absolutely, they’re tried and tested BUT only if the style and flavour profile appeal, too.

How do you judge a gin? I’ll admit, shelf appeal is important to me – it’s why I wanted to try Sabatini gin which is styled like the garden of an Italian villa with the herbs turned into botanicals. Sniff it and you’re sitting on an Italian hillside in the sunshine on a warm summer evening. And it’s the flavour profile that sells the gin to me – those all-important botanicals, especially seasonal or local ones. Pilgrim’s Original Gin is an autumn gin, picking fruit from the garden. The label doesn’t do it for me, it’s a bit messy, but the botanicals do – blackcurrant and liquorice. That’s one of my favourite sweets but with those added classic gin notes, including juniper. That’s what I love about gin, there’s a basic theme but so many ways to make it different. Unique. There’s no such thing as ‘just gin’.

 

I have absolutely loved the whisky tastings I’ve done throughout lockdown, including with The Spirits Embassy, discovering different drams, different distilleries or expressions. We’re doing this with gin on 14th May, a chance to try 5 different gins with 5 different mixers – very much a ‘try before you buy’ and I hope those attending from the comfort of their sofas fall in love with at least 2 of the gins, if not more. I have a feeling I know which one will be the star of the show…

Gins – 5 x 30ml
Sabatini
Boatyard Old Tom
Pilgrim’s Original
Tinkture Rose
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz

Tonics
Walter Gregor Mint & Cucumber Tonic Water 200ml
Walter Gregor Original Tonic Water 200ml
Walter Gregor Apple & Cinnamon Tonic Water 200ml
Artisan Drinks Co. Violet Blossom Tonic 200ml
Fever-tree Ginger Ale 150ml