My first realisation that Britain was in the grip of gin mania came via my fashionable young niece. Then signs announcing the arrival of ‘Gin Bars’ began to sprout everywhere – including one near my home in the leafy West End of Dundee.
And so, it was to this establishment that I repaired to review Ian Buxton’s excellent 101 Gins To Try Before You Die. The cheerful waitress announced that the Taypark Gin Bar boasted 42 different gins. But such is the explosion of gin varieties that few of these appear in Buxton’s book. One that did was the rhubarb and ginger flavoured Edinburgh Gin recommended by the waitress as her bestseller.
It certainly had a blush of rhubarb colour to it and a pleasant, slightly sweet taste. As I sipped on this refreshing brew in the shade of the rustling eucalyptus trees in the nearby Botanic Gardens I began to wonder what all the fuss is about.
Gin has been around since 1585 when English soldiers supporting an insurgent Netherlands against the Spanish glugged down the local genever for ‘Dutch Courage’. There was a time when gin was cheaper than beer and certainly than tea. It became ‘Mother’s Ruin’ prompting Hogarth to capture the devastating consequences in his famous depiction of Gin Lane. When Robert Burns was employed as an exciseman in the 1790s the authorities were trying to stop the smuggling of one million gallons a year of gin from the Isle of Man into Scotland where it was distributed by families of the people then known as gypsies. The Victorian working classes quaffed fantastic quantities of the spirit in the fabulously ornate ‘Gin Palaces’.
Then it became respectable across the British Empire with officers adding malaria-combatting quinine and creating the ubiquitous gin and tonic.
Now gin is having its day again, with micro-distilleries springing up across Scotland to meet the insatiable demand for something different and Ian Buxton displays his encyclopaedic knowledge of some of the best European and British brands in this excellent wee book.
I’ll drink to that!
101 Gins to try before you die. By Ian Buxton. pub Birlinn. Hbk £12.99