Gin Club Session #4

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Another week another gin club! If you need a refresh on anything covered so far you can start with last week’s here. 

In this session we’re going to cover the White Lady cocktail, Sing gin, and the history of grape-based gins.

A TIME FOR WINE

As we’ve discussed previously, juniper has always had a big presence in humankind’s medical history. But at what point did it make the jump to being in spirit form? 

We could go back to the beginning of fermentation for an answer, but instead will focus on a key turning point during the 11th Century at the University of Salerno, Italy. 

Distillation

The University was tasked to translate Arabic texts left by the Moors into Latin. The legacy left by Muslim occupation had greatly enhanced the understanding of distillation. A wealth of information remained in the forgotten libraries of the region.   

Johannes Platearius was a scholar who overlooked the transcribing of the texts. He compiled a book of herbal treatments; one of which included a recipe for a cure-all using wine mixed with juniper berries. 

WATER OF LIFE

The 13th Century brought aqua vitae, a distilled wine, into the Low Countries (an area of Europe including Holland, Belgium, France, Germany). Dubbed ‘water of life’ by many physicians, chemists, and monks it quickly became the staple tonic used by medical professionals. Arnaldus de Villa Nova, a professor from Montpellier University remarked, ‘…it really is the water of immortality. It prolongs life, clears away ill humours, strengthens the heart, and maintains youth’. Recipes for cooking Juniper berries in wine to cure ailments such as stomach cramps were commonplace. 

 aqua vitae

It didn’t take long for other benefits of distilled wine to be noticed. One Dutch article highlighted, ‘it makes people forget about sadness, and makes their hearts happy and brave’. And so, juniper wine shifted from being purely medicinal to a source of pleasure. 

Until now, juniper spirits were wine based but the 16th Century saw a succession of failed grape harvests and cold weather. This led to the switch of wine for beer. Now, with the distillate grain-based, Genever was born and following in its stead, gin as we know it!

SING GIN

This week’s offering hails from the Yorkshire Dales. More specifically, the village of Kettlesing which gives the gin its name. Very much a family business with Ian Thomson at the helm, his two sons Richard and James and mum Caron. The story goes that one Christmas, Ian walked in with a box of botanicals, an alembic still and the grand plan to re-create some of his favourite gins.  What was first considered the beginning of a midlife crisis would later become the family business. Today, the distillate is created on a 50lt still named ‘Bella’ (after the family dog), each botanical hand crushed to increase the flavour intensity. 

The unique nature of the gin is that it is grape-based rather than grain which creates a much softer profile. The addition of flax, famously grown in the area as a crop, increases the oily viscosity of the liquid.  

 A very delicate gin on the palate with a strong backbone of juniper. 

the savoy cocktail book

Due to the elegant nature of this gin we’ve showcased it in the smooth-as-silk classic, the White Lady. A tale of two Harry’s; the origin story of two bartenders, named Harry. Harry MacElhone from Ciro’s bar in London created a version substituting gin for crème de menthe. This was later swapped to gin in 1929. In 1930, Harry Craddock published a recipe in the Savoy Cocktail book with gin, Cointreau and lemon juice. Egg white can commonly be found in later versions.

Be sure to join us next Friday at 5pm on Blind Tyger Leeds Instagram for Gin Club!