When I was at uni, I tried my hardest to be a gin drinker. I always thought I was so fancy ordering a G&T when I was out. But sadly I quickly learnt why they call this stuff 'Mother's Ruin'.
Gin makes me a cryer. It also makes me very ill. But through my stupidity, I'm still determined to be a gin drinker. To aid my quest, my step-dad spotted a gin masterclass taking place in Wandsworth so he bought me and my mum tickets so we could learn a thing or two.
The evening took place at a pub called the Brewers Inn and was run by the City of London distillery.
On arrival, our host Alfie fixed us a G&T with grapefruit and let us tuck into a platter of nibbles including some gorgeous mini yorkies with roast beef and proper pub grub style sausage rolls before divulging all the secrets of gin.
It turns out gin has a bit of a fruity history and Alfie tooks us right back to the beginning to air out all it's dirty laundry.
Did you know that to be called gin - the bottle spirit has to be at least 37.5% making it some potent stuff...back in those days it was lethal. You might heard abut Navy strength gin? Navy strength gin has to be 57% and that's that's the strength that would enable gunpowder to still light if it was spilt on. Those drunken sailors are even to thank for two popular cocktails - the gimlet; a mix of gin and lime which was created to ward of scurvy and the famous gin & tonic to help against malaria...
It got to the point that the Government had to intervene so they passed the Gin Act in 1751 licensing the trade and forcing distillers to only sell from registered properties. That with several bad harvests pushing the price of grain up and making gin too expensive for Londoners to buy saw the Gin Craze all but dead by 1757.
My favourite story about those gin-crazed days was about the black market Old Tom Gin. Old Tom was a special gin recipe from back in the early days. So the story goes, if you came across a plaque of a black cat (the old Tom), you could buy a shot of Old Tom by knocking & putting your coins into a slot beneath the cat's paw. The barman would then pour out a shot down a tube which would flow straight into your mouth and on you would go with your day...
Once the fascinating history of gin had been shared, we got down to the tasting. We were trying the modern versions of gin, thank god so no chance of going blind. Much like wine, gin has its own distinct aromas and tastes and there's a very specific way to taste it. Oddly enough, one of the best ways to smell gin is on the palm of your hands.
You place your hand on the top of the glass, tip upside down, wipe your hands together to get the excess off then cup them together and have a good old sniff. Once you've got the smells, you do the tasting. Adding a little water reduces the alcohol content so you can taste the botanicals better and you simply let it rest on your tongue before swirling around your mouth...
Now was time to get hands on with the actual cocktail making. Each table got to make their own cocktail, my group learning to master the 'Gin Negroni'.
You take 3 equal measures (25ml) of campari, martini rosso and gin and pour over ice and stir. Simple and so bloody delicious.
I had such a great evening at our gin masterclass and while I probably will never be able to be a hardened gin drinker, I can definitely appreciate a glass or two. City of London offer tours of their distillery and a masterclass/tasting for just £25. I highly recommend you go - Alfie was a brilliant host and you'll hear plenty more sordid details about gin while your there...
The Brewers Inn
147 East Hill, London SW18 2QB