Alongside high tea, cucumber sandwiches and an afternoon session of cricket, drinking a crisp gin and tonic rates amongst the most quintessential of British pastimes. Famously beloved of the likes of the late Queen Mother and Sir Winston Churchill, gin has always been popular, and in recent years this juniper-spiced spirit has become established as the go-to tipple for discerning drinkers, with a vast array of beautifully presented premium bottles and small-batch artisan gins to choose from.
London has long been the home of truly great gin, lending its name to a now international style that is distinctively strong, fragrant and 'dry'. In the 1730s, London boasted a working gin still in a staggering 25 per cent of its buildings, and the city is again at the heart of this second - albeit far higher calibre - gin craze. Sipsmith's Chiswick distillery was the first to open in London in nearly 200 years, and since then dozens of small-batch distilleries have joined their ranks in labs large and small, from the edges of the West to the outer borders of the North and many prestigious addresses in between.
Sacred Gin's clean and fresh Classic London Dry, created by chemist-minded Ian Hart and his wife in a Highgate living room, pushes boundaries by using cold compounding techniques, and is near flawless in their G&T. Portobello Road Gin - distilled by eighth-generation gin distiller Charles Maxwell, making its home the award-winning Notting Hill cocktail pub The Portobello Star - is another favourite among bartenders. One other London brand to especially covet, as a fine addition to display in the gin cabinet, is Berkeley Square. It might not be distilled in the Mayfair square itself, but nevertheless demonstrates the invincible desirability of the address.
The boom in sales of premium gins has in turn created a niche for upmarket tonics, and as the mixer customarily makes up three-quarters of your drink, you should choose carefully. Jared Brown, Sipsmith's Master Distiller and spirits historian, has a word of advice: 'First, I look for a tonic in a small bottle or can, or in a syphon. Beyond which brand to choose, I'd always rather have a fresh and fizzy tonic than a flat one.' While Fever-Tree remains the high-end stalwart, some cocktail-makers are raising the bar even higher and creating their own house tonics with specially imported quinine. These include the dimly lit 214 Bermondsey, located in this increasingly chic South London foodie enclave, which offers dedicated G&T tasting flights, so varied and stimulating are the results.
The recently opened Dry Martini by perfectionist mixologist Javier de las Muelas is the latest bar to have grabbed the attention of gin connoisseurs. This Spanish import has a staggering 80 gins on offer and is gaining a reputation as one of the world's best. Certainly not new, but nevertheless unmissable - every gin drinker must indulge in the Martini Trolley experience at the Connaught at least once in their lifetime. Here a white-gloved mixologist conjures a perfect serve, with suave expertise, right beside your silver-topped table. Evoking all the old-world ceremony with which a serious gin cocktail should be enjoyed, it is legendary for good reason.
Sir Winston Churchill once declared: 'The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen's lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.' And continues to do so, one stiff drink at a time.
Words Tyler Wetherall
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