GIN IT TO WIN IT: 250 YEARS OF GORDON’S
To celebrate 250 years of Gordon’s gin, we reflect on a quarter century of gin excellence – we trace the beginnings of the Genever spirit in mainland Europe through to the rumblings of a juniper-led revolution in London, considering how Gordon’s has been at the heart of the art of mixing drinks before sharing a few interesting cocktail recipes from the archives.
AS ENGLISH AS TEA
The Duchess of Bedford introduced afternoon tea to London in 1842, a mere 73 years after Alexander Gordon had introduced his gin.
That certainly puts in context how synonymous the spirit has become with England, and London in particular.
Alexander Gordon had a laser focus on simplicity, quality, innovation and making consistently enjoyable gin. To celebrate 250 years of the quintessential London Dry gin, we raise a glass, or a teacup, to the man that led a revolution in pursuit of quality gin and ignited a mission that would continue to grow for over a quarter of a century, with the art of mixing drinks at the very heart of it.
THE BERRY BEGINNING
Juniper berries are necessary to make gin, but what genius introduced these to grain spirit and never looked back?
Juniper berries were first used to impart their flavours on alcohol almost 2000 years ago. In the 1st Century AD, Pliny the Elder of the Roman Empire described how they infused their wines with juniper berries for supposed medicinal benefits.
Skipping to the 15th and 16th Centuries, distillers in the Netherlands used the juniper berry (or jeneverbes in Dutch) to mask their unpalatable grain spirit crafted through unrefined distilling techniques: giving birth to Jenever (or Genever).
OH, SUITS YOU SIR
The Thirty Years’ War saw English soldiers fighting, and drinking, alongside Dutch counterparts. Here, they discovered the Genever spirit – made even more popular in the UK by William of Orange’s ascent to the throne and the war resulting in the ban of French imports, like Brandy.
By the 17th Century, now going by the shorter term ‘gin’, the spirit had become hugely popular with Londoners as huge levels of demand swept the booming industrial city. Adult Londoners, on average, were consuming 3 litres of cheap gin per week before The Gin Act of 1751. This gin was often tampered with by publicans or entrepreneurial spirits who saw opportunity in watering down the liquid or adding substitutes to make it appear stronger, responding to the growing markets.
THE FIRST HIPSTER OF GIN
Against the current, amidst a sea of gin mayhem and mediocrity, a Londoner of Scottish descent was set to buck the trend.
Determined to pursue a quality gin, the young Alexander established his distillery in Southwark – an area celebrated for its excellent clean water supply – and set about mastering the art of distillation.
A pioneer in his craft, records from 1777 show Mr. Gordon went as far as Poland in his search for the finest ingredients to create a gin to be enjoyed and trusted by all.
Along with his recipe for the perfect gin (known to only 11 people today and kept a closely guarded secret), Alexander’s philosophy to gin distillation has survived for over 250 years. The brand’s popularity initially soared amongst a city of substandard ‘bathtub gins’, before reaching every corner of the globe by 1800 – thanks to an industrious British Navy who were fond of the Alexander Gordon’s superior gin.
The standards set by Alexander Gordon have been maintained for 250 years; to this day, the distillery noses over 3000 botanicals a year, rejecting 9 out of 10 in their quest for quality. Modern practices inspired and instilled by the original gin ‘hipster’: Alexander Gordon.
IN THE SPIRIT OF MIXING
After Alexander Gordon’s death in 1821, the distillery stayed in the family until 1889 when it was sold to John Currie & Co. In 1898, Reginald C W Currie merged the business to the newly incorporated firm of Tanqueray Gordon & Co. to continue the gin revolution Alexander had ignited over 100 years before.
The emergence of this new gin powerhouse (the biggest of its time) hallmarked the beginning of something beautiful: not only were two of the world’s finest gins uniting, but a new relationship with drink slingers began to blossom.
In 1924, the Gordon’s brand launched one of the first Cocktail Shaker bottles as the first ever ‘ready to drink’ variant in response to the rise of cocktail parties. Not only did these bottles allow for shaken drinks, but Gordon’s commitment to explore the emerging cocktail space and, in turn, educate drinkers was pioneering.
Gordon’s went as far as developing recipe books to educate and inspire not only home entertainers, but the innovators and forerunners of this burgeoning cocktail scene: bartenders.
RECIPES FROM THE HISTORY BOOKS
With a close relationship to cocktails, and bartenders, for 100 of their 250-year history, you better believe the Gordon’s archives holds some pretty interesting recipes in their canon of self-produced cocktail guides.
Below, we explore 3 of our favourites from this illustrious tie to cocktails – providing the measurements and methodology verbatim for accuracy and giggles.
THE BOAR’S HEAD (1958)
Legend has it that one of Alexander Gordon’s ancestors rescued the King of Scotland from a wild boar on a hunting trip and was awarded the Boar to his coat of arms for his bravery. As a symbol of courage and determination, Alexander adopted his family crest as a seal of quality to communicate his standards for quality gin. This cocktail is a nice telling of the Gordon’s story – a lot of London (the gins), with a French input (raw materials) and nod to Alexander’s Scottish roots (whisky).
We’ve no idea if it came from the brand or bartender, but this storied mix sounds enticing: the juniper-led London Dry should pick up herbaceous, wormwood notes from the dry vermouth, whilst the citrus layers in the lemon gin will be spiked with a light smoke from the Scotch.
RECIPE (approx. per serve)
- 1/4 Gordon’s London Dry Gin (22.5ml)
- 1/4 Gordon’s Lemon Gin (22.5ml)
- 3/8 French Vermouth (35ml)
- 1/8 Scotch Whisky (12ml)
- Add all ingredients to shaker
- Fill shaker with ice and shake well
- Double strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a maraschino cherry or olive.
(Alcohol content: 22.99g per serve)
CARNABY STREET (1968)
Any cocktail described as ‘light and sassy’ deserves another look. A ‘tall, lanky (drink) that’s tart and tingling’ definitely needs deeper consideration.
This groovy little number was dreamed up in the swingin’ 60s, calling for tart acidity and bitterness from the lemon juice and cranberry to dance with the clean, dryness of Gordon’s and soda water. Bitters lift up brighter aromatics and add further complexity to this epochal recipe that was hip to sip, for sure.
- 45ml Gordon’s London Dry Gin
- 15ml Fresh lemon juice
- 30ml Cranberry juice
- 2 Dash bitters
- Soda water
- Add Gordon’s, lemon and cranberry juices to mixing glass with ice
- Stir and strain into Collins glass
- Add bitters and top with soda water.
(Alcohol content: 14.22g per serve)
OXFORD PUNCH (1920s)
This one had to be included, purely for fun. Three main takeaways from this recipe:
- Do not try to make calf’s-foot jelly.
- It is exactly what it sounds like it is.
- Do not try to make calf’s-foot jelly.
Aside from its epochal ingredient, the drink sounds fairly appealing. Swapping it out for a more modern and, eh, palatable, emulsifying ingredient could produce a tasty punch.
- 1-pint Gordon’s Jamaican Rum
- 1 pint of Cognac Brandy
- 1/2-pint Sherry
- Wine glass of Curacao
- 1/2-pint Fruit syrup
- 1-quart Orange shrub
- 1 tsp Orange-flower water
- 1-pint Calf’s-foot Jelly
- 4 Lemons
- 2 Seville oranges
- 4 Sweet oranges
- Put the thinly-pared peelings of 4 lemons and 2 Seville oranges into a mortar containing 1/2 lb of granulated sugar
- Beat up into a smooth mass, adding the juice from the lemons and oranges
- Add the juice of 4 sweet oranges and 1/2 pint of water
- Strain the mixture into a jug (standing close to a fire)
- Add 1 pint of Calf’s foot jelly and 2 quarts boiling water
- Add fruit syrup, orange shrub, orange-flower water, Curacao, Sherry, Brandy and Rum
- Stir well together
- Strain and serve.
THE GINNIEST OF GINS
The distillery today is located in Fife, Scotland, and is responsible for the production of the whole range of Gordon’s gins, retaining the philosophies and standards for quality instilled by Alexander Gordon 250 years ago.
Today, only 11 people have the knowledge and skills required to make Gordon’s gin; including the Master Distiller, Terry Fraser, who leads the team with over 35 years’ experience.
With its bold juniper-forward profile and unmatched quality, Gordon’s is proudly the ‘ginniest of gins’ made from only the finest ingredients and built for cocktails or the perfect G&T.
Keep up with all the bar lingo, tips and tricks @diageobarac on Instagram.
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