Gin. Yes Gin! It’s everywhere made by artisan spirit makers, small and large breweries plus huge distillers alike. With distilling regulations eased in the past ten years so the proliferation of new entrepreneurs started to pop up creating Gins of all shapes and sizes, with flavours and colours to match. Now I am sure that most Gin sippers will have their favourites - just like me - but I wanted to explore the historic world of (Gin) cocktails so headed into Plymouth's Barbican the home of historic Plymouth Gin.
Housed in the ancient Black Friars Distillery, Plymouth Gin has been elaborating Gin here since 1793 albeit this magnificent building was built in 1431.
With seven botanicals - Juniper,Orris, Cardamom, Orange and Lemon peel, Angelica and Coriander the style of the modern Plymouth Gin Original is less Juniper forward than others.
At 41,2 abv Plymouth Gin Original These original blends of botanicals ride perfectly on this precise amount of alcohol allowing a gentle or subtle Gin to perform however it is consumed. It’s big brother Plymouth Navy Strength hits the shelves at 57 abv and is much revered in serious cocktail making world wide.
So how is Gin made? Neutral Grain Alcohol is used to make Gin purchased with a very high alcohol; it is then redistilled (rectified) with the addition of said botanicals. Emerging from the still at around 80/90 abv it is undrinkable until cut with water, in the case for Plymouth Gin, Dartmoor sourced water.
The two different styles of Plymouth Gin bear exactly the same botanical flavours but with different strengths.
History tells us that the Royal Navy had a penchant for Plymouth Gin, most useful as Devonport Royal Dockyard was almost in-sight to the famous chimney at Black Friars Distillery. Many a story of how the Royal Navy ‘sailed on Gin’ with barrels of the stuff being part of their stowage for many a year! This was specifically for the officer class of sailor, usually mixed with Angostura bitters to create the infamous Pink Gin. The ratings however were treated to their Rum rations on declaration from the ships Captain!
Fast forward a couple of hundred years to the new Gin market with its myriad of flavours and styles. Not wishing to belittle this colourful market, my style of Gin consumption would be simply either classic (Gin and Tonic) or in a cocktail guise! Guess what? I headed for the cocktail bar at Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth’s Barbican to find a professional bunch of cocktail ‘slingers’ ready to treat me to a number of Plymouth Gin based classics.
Where do you start? Best relax and take advise from those that know so I plumped for a Martini. Famous the world over and first noted in 1904 but popularised in the 1920/30’s at the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar and latterly The Dorchester. The Martini is and always has been a moveable feast with slight variations on its ingredients and parts. As I was invited to join the gang behind the bar to create a ‘hands on’ experience that I know you can all concoct at home!
Martini - we wish a dry Martini - as opposed to the myriad of styles known to all cocktail slingers! So in a suitable beaker add ice to the brim. Pour in 1 large measure of Plymouth Original followed by 40/50% of your favourite Vermouth Blanc ( they can vary in style so try a few style styles) Stir on ice to release the gentle flavours of the blend. Strain into a chilled Martini glass and sip away Euphoria should follow!
Stephen Barrett is a Wine and Food Writer based in Plymouth Stephen welcomes correspondence via his website
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My next cocktaIl is the famous Negroni which again is a stirred concoction, probably originating in Milan or neighbouring cities. Like me some of you love bitter drinks, if so you will be hooked! If not it’s a great way to start tasting fine, elegant bitter drinks ( or cocktails) as the sister ingredient will temper the bitterness whilst adding subtle fruit notes. So pouring equal measures of Campari, red ( sweet) Vermouth and Plymouth Original Gin (or Navy strength if you dare! ) over a heap and stir together for around 30 seconds, strain and pour into a low-ball or an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with the shaved pith of Orange rind. If there are a few Negroni officianados amongst you might with to make a jug full! Both bitter and sweet at the same time it’s a real simple classic you can all attempt!
Simples! Not quite as style, hygiene and daring are all required to complete the task or better still head on down to Black Friars Distillery and Plymouth Gin’s top performing cocktail bar. Remembering that tours are also featured at Plymouth Gin ending up with a slug of their finest to conclude the experience.
Go to www.plymouthgin.com for further info……..