What I mean by that is that a lot of gins on the market today are really no more than flavoured vodkas in all but name. However, by the same token, it's still my belief that paying anything more than £26 for a gin is a mug's game. Beyond that you are drinking the packaging and hype.
True gin is a handcrafted spirit. Believe me, if we can make Martin Miller's Gin for around £25 after the lengths we go to - including using Icelandic water for perfect blending - then it beggars belief that you see gins out there priced at the thick end of £40.
Price aside, here are my 9 favourite gins - Martin Miller's Gin excluded, of course; I'm sure you can guess what is my most favourite gin - and some suggestions as to what foods work well with them.
1) The first gin I would go for is the standard Beefeater, which is still hard to beat if what you are looking for a good strong belt of juniper. In my opinion, this is the benchmark gin against which others can be judged. The heavy juniper notes work well with strong flavours. For me, it's perfect with salmon gravlax, combining well with the smokiness of the salmon, alongside the dill and pepper in the marinade.
2) Another favourite would be Tanqueray, that's the standard distillation, not some of their fancier offerings, which was said to be Frank Sinatra's favourite gin. I personally prefer the higher export strength version at 43.1% abv, though, at that strength I guess “ol Blues Eyes" could have been better named “ol Red Eyes". Its added punch gives it a good bite, with a rich juniper flavour and strong notes of angelica and coriander coming through in the finish. This gin is distilled in Scotland, works well in a dirty martini and is a perfect complement to crab and firm white fish. Appetisers, such as crab cakes, work well, as do salads dressed with crab.
3) My third gin would be another Scottish gin, also made by Diageo: Gordon's. I tend to go for the higher strength “yellow label" version, sold mainly on the continent, as this is so much better than the weaker version sold in the UK. This gin makes a great Vesper, another fantastic aperitif style cocktail, that is great paired with oysters. Its mixture of dryness (from the vodka) and subtle sweetness (from the vermouth) is perfect with the salty sweetness of the oysters.
4) My next selection would be Plymouth Gin. This is a very sophisticated gin with a light fresh flavour but with a delightful, slightly bitter aftertaste which I love. However, as far as gins go, Plymouth is considered a bit of a “Marmite" among gin fans; people either love it or hate it. Its complex flavour profile makes it perfect for the complex, muscular flavours found in Spanish food. I have enjoyed it with tonic as an accompaniment to a dish of scallops and chorizo.
5) Speaking of Spain, the true gin of the Mediterranean can only be Mahon, my fifth choice. Mahon is said to have been distilled on the island of Minorca for over two hundred years, mainly to serve the hundreds of British sailors stationed there in the Napoleonic wars. It's bright and fresh with prominent floral, violet notes. This gin is a beautiful partner to strong, hard cheeses like Manchego, or even Cheddar.
6) And whilst we're on the subject of gins that work well with cheese dishes, let me introduce you to my sixth gin, Hayman's Old Tom. This gin is an accurate reproduction of how gin was made back in the day. Gins then had a much sweeter flavour profile. True, it's light on juniper but is a clever blend of refreshing and sweet. Again, its fruity sweetness works well with salty foods. I love it when served with hot goat's cheeses such a smoked Chevre.
7) Now that reminds me, my seventh choice would be another great gin from Hayman's, their sloe gin. The rich, brambly sweetness of sloe gin shares many of the characteristics of port, but is somehow lighter despite being stronger. This, of course, makes it an unusual and welcome alternative to port with the Christmas Stilton.
8) For mussel dishes, a favourite gin pairing of mine is the overtly “blue collar" gin, Seagram's Extra Dry. This gin is a real bargain in the US, though a little pricier in Europe, where it seems to have more upmarket pretensions. Put that aside, though because this is a fine gin. I get great slabs of fennel and liquorice behind the juniper, making it work beautifully with dishes like steamed mussels served with cream and ouzo.
9) Last but not least would be another Scottish gin, Hendrick's, which at the very “un-Scottish" price of £30 rather breaks my £25 rule. But then, as they themselves say, this is not an everyday gin, and not for everyone. Being a bit of a maverick in the pack, with its powerful cucumber profile, it tends to be paired a lot with sushi dishes that include cucumber as an ingredient. Boring! The eccentric nature of this gin cries out for an eccentric pairing. I wouldn't have believed it, but friends of mine actually persuaded me to try jellied eels as a takeaway washed down with a number of Hendrick's martinis. Believe me, it worked, and very much in the spirit of the brand, but not for everyone.
Sitting here in chilly London waiting for summer to finally arrive, I'm dreaming of a gorgeous, refreshing gin and tonic. I have been experimenting lately by using orange instead of lime as a garnish in a G&T. What would I pair with it? Alongside a sharp refreshing orange sorbet: out of this world.
Before I leave you, here are my Top 5 London bars where I love to drink a good G&T or gin cocktail:
- Arch Bar
Great selection of gins, wonderful locations, excellent settings and generally very good service.
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