Please don’t tell anyone, but I’m having an affair. About 12 years ago, I was on a night out with some friends quietly enjoying myself when I was introduced to the love of my life. Was it love at first sight? Not really. I’d met someone like her before when I was much younger, much less experienced and much more naive. But that evening was different. I was ready and I fell in love. I fell in love with a drink called whisky.
Now, this passion has burned inside me for over a decade, tearing me away from an influential and successful job in the music business, to a place of writing esoteric views on something I consider an art form; you could almost say that whisky is my Yoko Ono.
However, I’m starting to have a midlife crisis. Where once I was the ultimate evangelist for whisky in all forms (and I still am, deep down), I now find myself looking longingly at the curves on a bottle of Bacardi Superior, or lusting after a busty brandy balloon full of Remy Martin or Hennessy. I have even caught myself wanting the cheapest thrill of them all—a cold shot of vodka.
But I have managed to resist. Clearly, I am a man of inner strength and I am loyal towards my one love—whisky. That was until I got to know a cheeky and vibrant mistress; one full of flavour and fun. Frivolous yet classy, gin is leading me astray.
Wherever in the world I am, she is also present there. Always at the same bar, with her crystal clear smile and refreshing personality, she has proven to be too much of a temptation to resist, and now I find myself thinking as much about gin as I think about whisky. From being a naughty affair, sneaking a small gin and tonic or a martini when the whisky cabinet door was firmly shut so as not to be caught by the Chivas Brothers or Johnnie Walker peering out from behind the door, I’m now coming out and firmly nailing my colours to the mast by proclaiming my love for gin.
One of the greatest things about whisky is its diverse categories. From the subtle smokiness of a Johnnie Walker Blue Label to the sweetness of a Royal Salute, there is a flavour profile to suit all men (and women), and the same is true for gin.
The only rule when putting together a gin is that juniper must be the core around which the other flavours are wrapped. Apart from that, you can do what you want with it, in terms of getting the flavour profile developed. This means that there are gins with a strong element of juniper and floral notes (Gordon’s, Beefeater), and others with a greater hint of citrus fruits (Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10), and yet others with newer experiments such as the super premium Beefeater 24 that uses twenty-four different elements in its distillation, including grapefruit peel and green tea, to develop a totally unique flavour.
Beefeater gets an honorary mention here, too, as my London home is in the shadow of the distillery and, from the roof of the Beefeater building, one can see directly in to the Oval cricket ground, providing the perfect place to have a gin and tonic while watching the English team teach the Australians a lesson, I think!
London is very much deemed the home of gin, and, with the growing popularity around the world, small artisanal and boutique gin distilleries are popping up all over the place. From Sipsmith’s in West London, which decided to start making gin in 2009 and whose spirits you can now find in duty-free shops at airports as well as top European hotels, to companies such as the online retailer Master Of Malt, which has developed a product made in small-batch demijohns and the brilliantly named Professor Ampleforth’s Bathtub Gin, alluding to the way the spirit would have been flavoured way back in the 1700s.
Gin has an incredible story to tell, which I will get around to over the next few issues of Indulge, along with discovering some of the key brands, their core flavours, and ideas on how to drink gin. I’m hoping that I can sing as loudly about gin as I do about whisky for it is a brilliant and versatile spirit that makes as much sense sipping at home as it does at a bar in Mumbai.
But do me a favour: don’t tell the whiskies in my cabinet at home. They may just get a little bit jealous of my gindiscretion. I
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant, and co-founder of the website Caskstrength.net Respond to this column at indulge@ livemint.com