I’ve never been a big fan of fussy drinks. Slices of orange are usually discarded from glasses of Blue Moon, while wedges of lemon or lime very rarely stay in the neck of a Mexican lager bottle for long.
A wee drop of water is ok to open up particularly-complex single malts, or perhaps a bucks fizz if I can’t ‘make my mind up’ on Christmas morning. Vodka and orange works well for me, but looking down a list of cocktails holds little or no interest.
So it was with a quizzical look on my face that I took up an invitation to visit One Square, the bar at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh that specialises in gin tastings. The bar has more than 50 gins from all over the world fighting for space among the optics and offers guests the chance to try three or four different gins, all matched with recommended tonics.
Now, I’m a huge fan of the gin revival that’s been going on in Scotland for the past decade or so. There’s such a rich variety of different aromas and flavours going on in our nation’s small-batch gins that I’ll often enjoy them without the need for tonic water.
But bar manager Hugh Gibb set out to open my eyes to the weird and wonderful world of possibilities that appears if you try different gins with different tonics and different accompaniments. He began by showing me a collection of jars containing juniper, lemon, orange, cassia and cardamom, just some of the many hundreds of botanicals that can be used to add flavour to gin. The botanicals are important because they can act as a guide for a bartender as they begin to select the accompaniments for a perfect gin and tonic.
Hugh opened his tour through One Square’s gins with an offering from Spain, Gin Mare, which lists basil, thyme, rosemary and even olives among its botanicals. The rosemary and thyme were evident on the nose of the gin itself, while the taste reminded me of lime, orange and a spicy end note, as well as the ubiquitous hit of juniper. The olives added a smoother, more rounded feel in the mouth. Once made up into a full drink, the Gin Mare was served with orange, rosemary and Fevertree tonic. Hugh is an advocate for using different tonics for different gins and he shies away from many of the mass-market tonic waters.
From Spain to Germany and Monkey 47 was the next stop on the tour. As the name suggests, this gin contains 47 botanicals. On the nose, there were aromas of citrus and cloves, while the taste was fruiter than other gins, with a more warming sensation from the alcohol. As a drink, the monkeys were accompanied by a herb tea syrup, orange and cloves, giving what Hugh referred to as more warming winter flavours. He mixed it with 1724, a tonic water produced in Chile, which was full of citrusy lemon flavours.
Finally, we stopped off at France on our travels, where we were greeted by G’Vine, a gin made using a neutral grape spirit and with grapes from the Cognac region of France as its main botanical. Using grapes as a botanical certainly brought some more floral and sweet aromas to the nose of the gin, the smell of which reminded me a bit of Cinzano Bianco. Hugh served it by coating the glass with elderflower cordial and then using pomegranate seeds, which helped to bring out some of the more spicy and peppery notes in the gin for me.
Hugh certainly opened my eyes to the benefits of mixing gins with different accompaniments, and especially highlighted the difference that flavoursome tonic waters can make to the finished article.
Back home, I decided to give it a go myself with some Caorunn, a gin made at the Balmenach distillery on Speyside. Caorunn has a delightfully bright and exciting nose, with juniper, citrus, heather and a touch of smoke drawing you in. On the palate, it’s soft, warming and almost creamy, with subtle flavours of lemon rind.
It almost seemed a shame to add anything to it – but the taste was definitely enhanced with a slice of red apple, the recommended serving suggestion from the distillery.
Perhaps I could be won over to more complicated drinks after all.