I learned to make a Gin & Tonic for my Mom at age 9, a useful skill in a family where the father was an Hôtelier and managed great hotels.
Mom would expect me to make a fire in the fireplace and have a weak Gin & Tonic for her when she got home from her Real Estate job in Westmount or Town Mount Royal, two tony suburbs within the city of Montreal.
I never really wondered about how Gin is made, the same with Single Malt Scotch which I discovered the recipe in Rome in 2008 an unlikely place to drink Scotch.
Just below St Bride’s Church in the heart of the City of London, there is a green wooden door emblazoned with “City of London Distillery & Bar” (C.O.L.D., for short).
Behind it, a flight of wooden steps drops down steeply beneath a large copy of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. In the 1751 print, created to aid the British government’s campaign against drunkenness a mother wrecked by London gin has let her baby slip into the subterranean depths of Gin Lane. A sign on the parapet reads, “Drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for two pence”.
This is the image that welcomes visitors to the only distillery still creating London dry – a type of gin that must meet certain requirements and includes labels such as Beefeater, Bombay, Tanqueray and Gordon’s – within the limits of the City of London.
London dry gin came out of an attempt to regulate what people were drinking. In the 18th Century, gin was a cheap but very dangerous way to get drunk – it used to be laced with turpentine and sulphuric acid. People were worried by the Gin Craze that was sweeping Britain.
The City of London – the district in the heart of London that, from Roman times up until the Middle Ages, was where most of the settlement was located.
The term London dry is applied to gins that meet three requirements: they must be distilled with juniper berries, use ethanol of an agricultural origin (like grains, sugar beets or potatoes) and be bottled at a minimum of 37.5% proof.
Those regulations were laid down by the City of London 300 years ago.
The herbs, spices and fruit used are referred to as “botanicals”, and they give each London dry gin its unique flavour. In the early days of Gordon’s Gin (launched in 1769) and Beefeater (in 1876), only a few basic botanicals like coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice and orris root were used. Bombay Sapphire changed all that in the 1980s by using 10. Now, some gins incorporate as many as 47.
To make the most of the flavour, it is suggested that gin and tonic be served with cubed ice, not crushed, which dilutes the taste.
At Christmas time a nice Gin and Tonic is the best drink. Enjoy!
Mom did enjoy Boodle’s or Tanqueray. But later in life she enjoyed Champagne exclusively, Charles Heidsieck.