We all know that gin is England’s national drink, but how did this come to be? It all happened after the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), when the English soldiers, allied with the Dutch and fighting the Spanish, arrived in the Netherlands. The Dutch soldiers drank a distillate (invented in Holland) that they nicknamed “Dutch courage,” which was actually gin. The English liked it so much they took it back to their homeland.
Several centuries later, the British have so vastly improved gin-making techniques that they’ve outpaced everyone else in the world. Each year Travelers visit England to enjoy the colorless, but certainly not tasteless, distillate in unique ways.
Here, some fun options for discovering and tasting gin in England:
In the town of Poole, Dorset County, the cruise line company Dorset Cruises offers two tasting voyages for gin lovers: Dorset and Conker Cruises. The first offers gin tasting on a beautiful 1938 yacht, and the second is a three-hour expedition aboard a vintage cruiser, where you can lounge and enjoy cocktails and a variety of gins crafted by Conker Spirits, a prestigious, Dorset-based distillery.
If England is the land of gin, London is its kingdom. Gin Journey offers an exclusive chauffeured excursion by car through the historical district of Shoreditch. The experience includes gin and cocktail tastings in some of the area’s trendiest bars. That driver will come in handy once you’re done!
Also in London, on Portobello Road, you’ll find The Distillery, a luxury hotel dedicated to gin. It consists of four floors, two of which are gin bars that include a varied selection, including a brand called Portobello Road Gin. James Bond enthusiasts should drop in at Mayfair’s for a visit to the elegant Duke’s Bar, which, according to experts, is where the world’s best martini is served. Legend has it that it was here that novelist Ian Fleming was inspired to create the iconic James Bond phrase, “shaken, not stirred.”
The British have so vastly improved gin-making techniques that they’ve outpaced everyone else in the world.
Let’s travel now to Leicester and make a stop at 45 West Distillers, which includes a gin school, where “students” can choose from 120 extracts and natural botanicals to create their own gins, which are then bottled and labeled.
In Plymouth, Devon County, you’ll find Blackfriars, England’s oldest distillery and one of the city’s earliest buildings. It’s a place you won’t want to miss. Legend has it that it was at different times in history an old Dominican monastery (hence the image of the monk at the base of the gin bottles), a prison and also where Mayflower settlers stayed before traveling to North America.
And to finish off…
After this exciting journey, you’ll surely want to take home a great bottle of gin as a souvenir. I recommend buying a bottle of Brockmans, a soft, yet complex creation with a lower alcohol content, which allows for a deeper appreciation of some of its ten botanicals, including berries, orange peel, licorice and cilantro. ■
PHOTOS: © Dorset Cruises, Gin Journey, The Distillery, 45 West Distillers.