On Tuesday 24th January, a total of 25 Liverymen and their guests met at Bakers’ Hall, where they were entertained and educated by Nicholas Cook, who is Director General of the Gin Guild, which is affiliated to the Worshipful Company of Distillers.
We were taught to make sure that any gin we bought was ‘distilled’ – not ‘compounded’….. and that London gin doesn’t have to come from London!
When King William of Orange was enthroned in 1688, there was a significant surplus of grain following a series of good harvests. What better a use for it than to distil it. 500,000 gallons of grain spirit were produced the following year.
By the 1720s, London distillers produced 20 million gallons of spirits - the result being William Hogarth’s portrayal of ‘Gin Lane’ in 1751, full of social deprivaty,whilst its sister ‘Beer Street’ illustrated a nation made healthy by beer!
Whilst it’s not gin unless juniper is involved in the mix of botanicals, we learned that it’s the blend of botanicals that decide the distinctive taste of an individual gin – although it must be difficult to maintain this taste through the years, as harvests and quality of the botancials vary.
The first two gins we tasted (over our finger food) both came with a mixer - one with tonic & lime, the other with ginger ale & orange – the latter being a new and refreshing to the author’s palate. Fever-Tree supplied the mixers, and Nicholas emphasised that it was important to have a quality, fresh mixer, (Note to self - to consign any half drunk bottles of Schweppes tonic in the fridge to the bin !).
Not only was there a huge variety in the taste of the gins – we had a rhubarb gin, one made using grapes, one very high in alcohol (57.5%) and another that was described as ‘lady – like’ (subtle) - but there was also a huge variety in the bottles, not just in label but in shape, glass colour and glass shape. The most exciting of these was Christopher Wren – where the dome of St Pauls is the shoulder of the bottle and the inside of the dome is the base !
In a lively Q&A session, the Second Warden pointed out to our host that there is a link between gin and bakers.
Commercial bakers yeast production was developed in the 1870's in Holland. At that time hygiene wasn't of today’s standards so, to avoid unwanted bacteria growing with the yeast, they ran "semi alcoholic" fermentation producing 5% alcohol as a by product.
In total we tasted 8 different gins. Spitoons were provided for those who were driving home.
Nicholas mentioned to me after the tasting that the Distillers Co. hosts a spirit tasting event, usually in July, where around 200 top spirits are available for tasting. This is open to other livery companies and is apparently very popular.