Thanks in part to new lines of premium gin, the once extremely popular spirit is making a comeback. To help educate Cayman’s bartenders and other industry professionals, Cayman Distributors Ltd. held a series of gin seminars hosted by Bombay Sapphire’s Global Brand Ambassador Raj Nagra.
Gin, more or less like we know it today, has been around since the mid-17th century. Since then, it has seen periods of great popularity with the masses, periods where it was regarded with contempt as the beverage choice of rogues and drunkards, and periods where it was considered a drink for the upper class, like when the gin martini was in its heyday.
Now that gin producers, like those of other major spirts, have begun producing premium brands, gin is once again gaining in popularity.
Raj Nagra, the global brand ambassador for Bombay Sapphire, visited the Cayman Islands in late October to educate bartenders, restaurant managers and others in the industry about gin and its rich history, and the virtues of the brand he represents.
“Gin is a very interesting spirit at the moment,” he said, adding that there have been many innovations with gin in recent years.
Although gin might not seem like the most tropical of spirits, depending on how it is used, it can be.
“Gin is becoming a little more important in Cayman,” said Nagra, adding that bartenders are increasingly hearing requests for gin-based cocktails that aren’t the classic martini.
What is gin?
Most people know gin is associated with juniper berries, but many people don’t know that gin is actually a spirit made from grain and just flavoured with juniper berries and other various plant parts referred to as botanicals.
“One of the best carriers of botanicals is wheat, so most gins contain wheat,” Nagra said.
In addition to juniper berries, which must be the predominant flavouring for a spirit to be classified as gin, other botanicals used in Bombay Sapphire Gin include angelica root, liquorice, cassia bark, cubeb berries, grains of paradise, lemon peel, coriander, orris root and almond.
“Some gins have as many as 19 botanicals in them,” Nagra said.
As part of the brand education, Nagra passed around canisters containing dry samples of each of Bombay Sapphire’s 10 botanical ingredients to help the participants more easily identify the tastes when smelling and sampling the spirit.
Every gin has a unique expression not only because of the variance of the type of botanicals used and where they come from, but also because each has undergone a slightly different distillation process, said Nagra.
Gin is classified into three categories: gin, distilled gin and London dry gin. London Dry Gin doesn’t have to be made in London; it just has to have certain characteristics relating to style and sugar content.
Gin gets the flavours of the botanicals by one of two methods – either by boiling and steeping or by vapour infusion, which is a gentler method and the one used in making Bombay Sapphire.
“Vapour infusion creates gin that is more front of the palate and makes for more fresh, lighter and brighter cocktails. Boiled gins are more introspective, with heavy and dense flavours,” Nagra said. “The are two completely different experiences.”
Juniper berries date back to Biblical times and people have been using them to flavour alcoholic spirits – often for health remedies – for a thousand years.
However, gin as we know it today is a much more recent invention. Although most people associate gin with England, it was actually created in the Netherlands. The word gin derives from the Dutch word ‘jenever’, which means juniper.
Nagra said British soldiers found gin in the Netherlands – where they called it ‘Dutch courage’ – and brought it back to England in the late 16th century.
Because of tax measures in England, gin become cheaper to buy than beer, and by the mid-1700s it posed a significant health problem and led to a prohibition on the unlicensed distillation of gin.
Bombay Sapphire is based on a recipe created by Thomas Dakin in 1761 at a distillery he built in Warrington, England. However, Bombay Sapphire wasn’t publicly launched until 1987, after gin had fallen out of popular favour in the 1970s.
“It redefined the [spirit] category,” Nagra said. “It brought the gin brand back to life and spawned the super premium brands.”
Bombay Sapphire was also the first premium gin to highlight the importance of botanicals, which are obtained from all over the world. For example, its juniper berries and orris roots come from Tuscany, Italy; its lemon peel and almonds from Spain; its coriander from Morocco; its liquorice from China; and cubeb berries from Java.
Tasting and cocktails
After smelling the dried botanicals, participants in the class tasted five different gins blindly and tried to classify its flavours using a flavour chart that mapped six taste characteristics: floral, citrus, pine, spice, sweet and root.
Two of the gins – which turned out to be Beefeaters and Gordon’s – had flavour profiles that leaned toward the sweet and citrus side, while another – Tanqueray – was more piney. The other two gins – Bombay Dry and Bombay Sapphire had a more balanced composition that touched on all of the flavours to a certain degree.
Nagra said the balanced, lighter style of gin found in Bombay Sapphire made for the lighter cocktails that are popular today.
“Gin cocktails should be uplifting,” he said.
Participants then tried a popular gin cocktail, the Sapphire Collins, which was light, refreshing and indeed uplifting, perfect for afternoon drinking in the Cayman Islands.
2 oz Bombay Sapphire gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz club soda
1 lemon wedge
Fill a tall glass with ice.
Pour gin, lemon juice and syrup over the ice and stir well.
Top with club soda and stir well again.
Garnish with a lemon wedge.