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Discovering the world’s gins

UK’s Manor House gin collection invites you to uncover the secrets of the world famous gin. Behind the doors of historic gin distilleries, one can unveil the care, skill and artistry behind every drop.

The sommelier recommended an aged Colombian. Or maybe a nice Kiwi or tasty Belgian, or perhaps a Van Gogh or Three Parrots. My first thoughts were on a Hendrick’s or a Bombay Sapphire. But, although wise and reliable choices, they seemed very conservative, a little conventional and unadventurous. Square, even. Especially, when you are in the presence of one of the UK’s largest collection of gins.

The 14th-century Old Manor country house hotel, famous as the Wiltshire seat of the inspiration for Shakespeare’s braggart coward Lord Falstaff (the old lad of the castle), boasts the most cosmopolitan and eclectic gin lists in the country. For many years it claimed the most. But the increasingly faddish popularity of gin has made gin-upmanship fiercely competitive, especially in the West Country.

The Manor House’s collection is now 170, behind that of The Feathers at the entrance gates to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

Orginally from Mumbai, Vivek Salgaonkar curates the collection. He brought out a Columbian Dictador infused with a hybrid of lemon and mandarin. “There’s Ungave made north of Quebec from Nordic junipers, cloudberries, rose hips and Labrador tea. Our two house Swedish gins come from Herno Brenneri on the east coast and the Baltic island of Oland,” he said. “We have quite a few Americans here,” he added, referring to distillates as well as guests.

Steven Spielberg filmed part of War Horse in the hotel in Castle Combe.

“From West Virginia there’s Smooth Amber, Oregon’s Desert Juniper and Rogue Pink Spruce, which is aged in Pinor Noir barrels,” Salgaonkar said.

New York is well represented with Dorothy Parker and DH Kahn’s made by two Cornell University students. Navy Strength Perry’s Tot is very popular.

“Alaska?” I asked. His lips thinned. “Bristol Bay, Slovenia,” I queried, trying to catch him out. He nodded. One key…Italy?... Red Hills from Bologna.

I bit into my lemon. And took my medicine. There was a lot of talk about maturation, D-infusing, pot stills, Coffey stills, column stills, Incan quinine and botanical basket cases.

Hot gin was served at the Frost Fair when the Thames froze over in 1716

Gin can be made from any spirit. It’s the flavouring which matters. The botanicals. Fine gin can have as many as six. The excellent Scottish gin, The Botanist, has 31, 22 from the Isle of Islay.

Sea pink flowers, hibiscus petals, baobob leaves, Chinese licorice, cardamom pods, pine shoots, cloves, angelica, cassia bark, nutmeg, wormwood and frankincense tripped off his tongue from his educated palate.

One of the best distilleries in France is in Dunkirk. They make my favourite Citadelle. Gin is a very colonial drink of course. Menorca’s Xoriguer is very old, going back to the 18th century.

France makes good gin. G’vine is produced in cognac. Camus also produces Josephine. Germany and Spain are also well represented on the list.

“The Netherlands is the birthplace of gin. Our Sylvius commemorates the drink’s inventor,” said Salgaonkar.

In 1559, Dr Franciscus Sylvius allegedly came up with gin while experimenting to find a stomach settler. Soldiers drank Dutch Courage. Charles I granted a charter to the Worshipful Company of Distillers in 1638 and the Gin Act of 1736 caused public riots.

Many homes had their stills. Some concoctions were flavoured and fortified by turpentine and sulphuric acid.

Hot gin was served at the Frost Fair when the Thames froze over in 1716. By 1730, 10 million gallons were produced every year. More refined gin became popular in the cocktail era and the early days of the Cunard cruise line.

“The list currently includes only one New Zealand gin, Greytown’s Lighthouse. The list is a beacon of hope for gin lovers everywhere. Unfortunately, we have nothing from Australia. The gin bar welcome any additions. We want to regain top spot. We have more foreign gins than anywhere,” said Salgaonkar.

The global ginscape is wide. The Philippines consumes the most gin per capita. Panama makes Hermanos, Uganda produces Waragi and India Blue Riband Premium. Venezuela has Wellington Dry. In Japan, Suntory produces Finsbury Platinum and Gin Mare, while Poland markets Posejdon.

English Beefeater goes back to 1820, Gilbey’s to 1857. Only 12 people know the exact ingredients that go into Gordon’s and only seven in Greenall’s. As well as Butler’s, Boodles (Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite), Old English Hammer, Hayman’s 1850, there are more modern artisanal, home-grown gins to try like Sipsmith’s Sloe, Boxer’s, Blackdown Sussex, the Lakelands’ Langton’s, Herefordshire’s William Chase, Hoxton, Martin Miller’s, Worship Street Whistling Shop and Portobello Street, home of London’s Gin Institute.

So far there is no gin called Mother’s Ruin. “Are you ready for Death’s Door?” asked Salgaonkar. “Washington island is finest. Or I could introduce you to a lovely full-bodied, aromatic Swedish number with a perfect nose?”

He opened a bottle of Wannborga O and poured out two fingers over ice before adding Fever-Tree tonic (named after the quinine trees of the Eastern Congo). And swizzling to taste.

Together, like connoisseurs, we savoured the unmistakeable but subdued Scandinavian limestone bedrock, felt the intense sun and heard the never-resting winds over the Baltic – all in a mouthfu.

 

 

 

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