Alcohol

The Gin Boom Taking Over Great Britain

Good news for martini and Negroni fans.

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March  6, 2019
Photo by Food52

We've partnered with VisitBritain to bring you delicious ideas on what to do, see, eat—and of course, sip—in London, and beyond! Stay tuned for more travel tips to help you plan your very own British adventure.

Whenever I’m traveling, I make it a point to check out spirits I can’t get at home. In Rome that meant amari so herbal and bitter they’d contort my face with every sip. In Lima I tried as many piscos infused with local ingredients as I could find (like with huacatay, aka Peruvian black mint). In Mexico City I sought out craft mezcals made from rarer varieties of agave. And no matter where I am, I’m always looking for a bottle of gin I’ve never seen before.

It’s my favorite spirit to sample for a few reasons: One, I’d be ordering a Negroni or a gin martini with a twist anyway. And two, I geek out on guessing the particular botanicals used in any new-to-me bottle, which can range from classic (juniper, coriander, citrus) to spicy (cumin, cinnamon, pink pepper) to totally wildcard (lavender, sugar snap peas, asparagus). So when I went to London for the first time this past fall, I was thrilled to finally explore gin in its birthplace. Turns out there’s never been a better time to do so, and I found more cool bottles than I could ever hope to try in one trip. That’s because the UK is currently experiencing a major gin boom, the likes of which the country hasn’t seen since the spirit’s early (and troubled) heyday in the mid-18th century.

According to Jake Burger, the co-founder of Portobello Road Gin and the Ginstitute—a gin history class that also guides you through developing your own custom gin blend—the spirit’s Renaissance can be traced to about 10 years ago, when regulations on gin distilleries were relaxed. “It used to be the case that you had to make a very large amount of gin a year to be granted a legal license to do so,” Burger told me over the phone. “So it was closed to all but the established companies.”

In 2009, Sipsmith became the first distillery to be granted a new license in almost 200 years; Portobello Road wasn’t far behind in 2011. “At last count, we've got over 1,700 different gins available in the UK,” Burger said. “That's not 1,700 distilleries, of course—a lot of these businesses are making more than one gin. But certainly there's an explosion of new gins that have hit the market.”

The second major factor—which shouldn’t be that surprising for anyone who’s enjoyed a beautifully garnished G&T put together with a chef’s precision—is the backdrop of a reinvigorated British food culture. “In the last 20 to 30 years, we've seen England rediscover the principles of cooking, and fall in love with local produce with heritage and providence,” Burger said. “Gin slots into that world very easily.”

For Negroni and martini fans like me, this is all great news. To stand out in the crowd, large and small producers alike are reexamining the classics, and creating more experimental gins aimed at consumers with experimental palates. It’s the reason you’ll find nifty bottles like Opihr, inspired by ancient spice routes and infused with ingredients like cardamom, ginger, and cumin; and Bloom, a floral gin infused with chamomile, honeysuckle, and pomelo peel, coming out of the oldest continuous gin distillery in the world (G&J Distillers in Yorkshire). Meanwhile, a whole parallel industry around the experience of drinking gin has sprung up, from souped-up distillery tours and make-your-own-gin lessons like Burger’s to gin-themed tasting menus, hotel stays, and even spas.

If you want to experience Great Britain’s gin boom for yourself, there are a number of ways you can get in on the action—and not just in London, but all across Great Britain. Book yourself a gin experience in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or the British countryside. Check out some of my favorite bottles new bottles, or get crafty with your own gin cocktails (or even infusions) at home. There’s really no wrong way to play it.

Illustration by Jordan Kay

BOTTLES TO TRY

  • Portobello Road
  • Brecon Gin
  • Bloom
  • Ophir
  • Sipsmith
  • Chase Gin
  • Hayman’s
  • Edinburgh Gin
  • Hendrick's
  • Sipsmith
  • The Botanist
  • Square Mile Gin
  • Cotswold Dry Gin
  • Seedlip (non-alcoholic gin)
  • Tanqueray

COCKTAILS TO MIX UP

From London to Edinburgh, Cornwall to Yorkshire, there's so much to do, see, eat, and experience all across the United Kingdom. In partnership with VisitBritain, we're so excited to share our favorite unexpected discoveries to help inspire your very own British adventure. Follow along on Instagram to see what's going on across the pond at @LoveGreatBritain and what Great Britain is eating at @GreatBritishFood.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Comment
Cory Baldwin

Written by: Cory Baldwin

Food52's director of partner content Cory Baldwin has been an editor at food, travel, and fashion publications including Saveur, Departures and Racked.

4 Comments

cassiem March 24, 2019
Unfortunately, the same hasn't really spread to other countries. Gotten used to Cornish gins, then moved to Southern Spain and have learnt to expect disappointment out of 9/10 gin and tonics I order.
 
Brenda C. March 7, 2019
I know this is about British gin, but if you're a traveler and you're looking for someplace new to go, head to Newfoundland, Canada, and give the Newfoundland Distillery's Seaweed Gin a try. It's so good, I can't stop telling people about it. Unfortunately it's not yet available anywhere outside of Newfoundland that I can find. I have to wait for my next trip back home to get some more. https://thenewfoundlanddistillery.com
 
Eric R. March 6, 2019
While London, and the U.K. more generally, may have popularized gin, the spirit's true birthplace is in the Netherlands--Jenever. However, given the nature of the partnership of this article with VisitBritain, the cultural appropriation is understood.
 
Geri E. March 6, 2019
Are the gins mentioned here available in the US? I used to the live in the UK and miss the variety of gin immensely, but I've noticed some aren't accessible (like gin advent calendars!).