Gin, a tonic for city bar scene

Hugh Gibb, senior barman at the Sheraton. Picture: Joey Kelly

Hugh Gibb, senior barman at the Sheraton. Picture: Joey Kelly

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IT may well be the Mad Men effect. Who wouldn’t want to look like Don Draper or Joan Harris sipping on a gin martini in cool surroundings?

Or perhaps it just stems from the fact that at one time Leith was the home of gin distillation in Scotland.

Whatever the reason Edinburgh likes to knock back a gin or two. Indeed figures suggest that per head of population the Capital consumes more gin than any other city in Britain.

So there were likely many stiff upper lips on the wobble when it was recently suggested that gin - the aperitif the British Empire was built on - was in danger of being rationed as Scottish juniper berry bushes had been hit by a fungus blight.

Not that it would concern those who take their martinis at Edinburgh’s newest gin palace - the Sheraton Hotel’s One Square bar given its array of global gins.

Whatever your thoughts on gin may have been, prepare to have them radically altered. For a start if Gordon’s, Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater were basically the only brands your consciousness had registered then the fact that the bar currently stocks 43 different gins - with another three on order, including the wonderfully named Bathtub Gin - could leave you shaken, if not a little stirred.

The gin bandwagon has been gathering pace in recent years - the Balmoral jumped on three years ago transforming its Bollinger Bar in Palm Court into the Tanquerry #10 bar - and the Capital’s many cocktail bars had seen gin back in the swing of things. But One Square has upped the ante, even holding gin tasting events to contrast and compare the differences between the many brands.

Head barman Hugh Gibb, 33, says: “The basics of gin are the same - juniper, coriander, cardomum, cassia bark, coriander seeds, bergamot - but it’s the other botanicals and spices which are then added which make them all very different and individual.

“For a lot of people their first taste is with tonic and that can be a real Marmite moment. But serve it on its own, as we would with saffron gin, or with apple juice or lemonade and it can be very different.

“Similarly we stock four different tonic waters which are paired better with some gins than others. We have 1724 - which is the height the quinine is picked at on the Inca trail - and it has very small bubbles, like Champagne and a real orange citrus taste. It’s made by the same Spanish company that makes Gin Mare, which includes olives, rosemary and thyme and basil which is great paired with Mediterranean food - but you wouldn’t serve 1724 tonic with it.”

The history of gin is a bit of a gutter to stars journey. From the images of Hogarth’s deprived and depraved London slums thanks to gin’s cheapness and availability in the 19th century, by the 1920s it was seen as part of a more decadent, elite lifestyle. Gin cocktails became the rage as its transparency made it harder to spot in a glass during America’s Prohibition era. Then James Bond’s martini - as well as G&T with ice and a slice - became the darling of Cunard cruises.

However, its Home Counties image saw it fall out of fashion as flavoured vodkas became more fashionable. Now it’s back, thanks in the main to the upsurge in small, independent distillers doing interesting things with gin recipes.

“It’s definitely made a huge comeback in the past few years,” says Hugh. “Hendrick’s is a prime example of that. A Scottish gin which made a big play of its differences with cucumber and rose, and asked that it be served differently with cucumber garnish.

“That made people begin to think about gin differently. And Scottish gins are really holding their own. There’s Edinburgh Gin, which is distilled in Fife, The Botanist from Islay, Caorunn (pronounced ‘caroon’) from Speyside and Blackwood’s from Shetland. The distillers are using local botanicals in the mix like bog myrtle or rowan berries, and are less heavy on the juniper. It also helps that Mad Men and The Great Gatsby give gin cocktails a certain retro elegance and cool.”

Drinking gin, like whisky, also helps the Scottish economy as 70 per cent of gins are made in Scotland and the UK is the largest exporter of gin in the world. Tanquery in its famous green bottle is produced by beverage giants Diageo (as is Gordons and Gilbeys) and one in 50 jobs in Scotland are reliant on the gin industry.

“We’re even looking at one being distilled in North Berwick,” says Hugh. “Gin is becoming a lifestyle choice.”

For more information on gin tastings visit www.onesquareedinburgh.co.uk/gin-tasting.