This post originally appeared on The Culture Vulture blog
There’s definitely something about gin. Undoubtedly one of the most fashionable drinks du jour, a night out just isn’t complete without someone uttering those well-healed words: “make mine a G&T”. Gin has undergone a huge resurgence over the last few years, a resurgence that’s been embraced, and fueled, by watering holes right across the country, and they seem to have changed our gin drinking habits beyond recognition. Remember those days when G&T was just a Gordon’s and tonic, and Bombay Sapphire was your ‘posh’ option? A hazy twinkle in yesteryear’s eye, today’s back bars are heaving under the weight of their ever-expanding gin collections, often without a Gordon’s or Bombay in sight. And it doesn’t stop there. For every individual variety, there’s a recommended mixer and garnish, and the mere prospect of ordering a G&T can become an overwhelming experience depending on which establishment you choose to lay your gin-drinking hat!
But not if you’re visiting Lazy Lounge. Well-documented for its status as one of the finest purveyors of liquid refreshments in Leeds, Lazy Lounge is definitely a bar that has unreservedly embraced this gin ‘revolution’. But rather than intimidate, its staff harness their unbridled gin-enthusiasm to guide awe-struck punters, like me, through the dizzying world of gin. Its owner Tom is an oracle of juniper-based refreshments, and each time I visit Lazy Lounge he introduces me to new and exciting gins, as well as recommending the best mixers and garnishes to pair them with. Phew! His gin collection seems to grow by the day, and his blackboard gin list has now been scrawled in writing so small that you have to squint to read it – which you inevitably shall anyway after several gins!
Lazy Lounge has undoubtedly fueled my own personal love affair with gin, so it was with great excitement that I went along to the inaugural Lazy Gin Club this Wednesday. That’s right, GIN CLUB. This is why I love Leeds. Held in the mezzanine area of Lazy Lounge, this was an evening to learn about, and drink, gin. Happy Wednesday to me.
Our night began with a ‘help-yourself’ gin cocktail, served in an array of chintzy, mis-matched teapots and teacups. Serving gin in this way definitely seems to be a spawn of the gin resurgence, and although I’m not sure that I entirely get it, what’s not to love about a chintzy teacup? (Maybe don’t answer that…)
The cocktail I chose was a gin mojito, which I think I actually preferred to a traditional mojito. Smooth and zingy, it lacked the overly saccharine qualities that mojitos normally display, instead picking up the citrus notes to produce a cocktail that was refreshing and very thirst-quenching. Perhaps too thirst-quenching, considering all of the gin that was to follow… Our rumbling post-work bellies weren’t forgotten either, with a huge, cake-laden buffet provided to sate our hunger (and line our stomachs!). This buffet even included an actual gin and tonic CAKE. Gin club was being taken very seriously indeed.
Thirsts quenched and hunger at bay, it was time for our gin education to begin. Our compere for the evening was Holly, General Manager of Gerry’s Spirits, a highly regarded emporium of wines and spirits in Leeds. Gerry’s is the sort of establishment that you’d trust to be in the know about all-things gin, and Holly demonstrated its expertise wonderfully. Holly regaled us with a potted history of gin, a timeline peppered with fascinating facts about our favourite juniper-based beverage that held the room in a silenced, gin-struck stupor.
For example, did you know that during the Eight Years’ War in the in the 16th Century, British soldiers were said to have drank gin for its calming effects before battle? That’s the origin of Dutch Courage, to you and me.
Did you know that gin was so cheap in the 18th century that it became the drink of the poor, causing so many social problems that the death rate became higher than the birth rate? And that numerous parliamentary acts were passed solely to control the sale and distillation of gin?
And did you know that many of these acts were only lifted as recently as 2008, perhaps signalling the revival of today’s gin-loving culture?
Well I didn’t, and found it fascinating to put our gin culture into a historical perspective. Holly’s potted history was followed by our first tastings of the night, which put the spotlight on gin producer Sacred. Sacred is a microdistillery based in Highgate, London, unique for its status as the only distillery in London to distil its spirits under a vacuum rather than traditional pot stills. Incredibly small, the microdistillery operates out of the back room of a residential house, resulting in a very small, but very special batch of gin. Helen told us that Sacred gin uses twelve organically sourced botanicals, including a type of frankincense called Boswellia Sacra.
I’ll be honest – I’d never tried Sacred Gin before, or (shock horror) even heard of it. But I’m a sucker for a good back story, and Sacred’s story certainly had a charming allure. Especially the presence of frankinscence. I don’t even know what frankinsence tastes like, but its presence in Sacred’s gins instantly shrouded them with a very beguiling appeal!
To start, we didn’t actually taste the gin itself, but a range of botanical distillates that Sacred produces. These distillates are botanicals that are distilled separately under vacuum, and are designed to be blended together to create different types of gin, providing that juniper is the predominant flavour.
Time for another confession. Historically, me and straight spirits just don’t get along. Scarred by the fuzzy memories of too many shots as a student, I avoid straight spirits at all costs, so the sight before me was rather daunting. However the difference here was that this wasn’t nasty cheap vodka, or, *shudder*, Aftershock, but the product of a sophisticated distillation process that results in a spirit harmonised by the distinct botanicals. Although still quite harsh to taste alone, it was really interesting to explore the different flavours and scents that can be combined to create a gin. Flavours that I particularly enjoyed were the mixed citrus and cardamon, whilst the liquorice root and coriander were definitely an, ahem, acquired taste.
Finally, we tried the Sacred Gin itself, starting with the original Sacred London Dry Gin. On the nose there was a mystical spicy aroma with an eye-watering kick, which translated into a surprisingly clean yet fragrant taste. Its finish was very smooth, counterbalancing any harshness that the nakedness of the gin might have resulted in. This was quickly followed by the rising of an intense, warming heat in the throat, not so strong that it burned, but warm enough to conjure visions of billowing log fires and an over sized woolen scarf swathed around the neck. Maybe the gin had really tightened its grip on me at this stage…
The final gin of the night was a blind taste test of another Sacred varietal. I had to admit defeat at this stage – my palate was awash with the fire of the 8 botanical distillates plus the London Dry Gin, and I couldn’t even attempt a guess. It turned out to be Pink Grapefruit, and very nice it was too… I think!
Wednesday was the first of what I hope will be many, many Lazy Gin Clubs. I always find it fascinating to delve under the proverbial skin of a drink or foodstuff, understanding more about how it came to be in the glass or on the plate before me. And although the initial confrontation by so many neat spirits was rather alarming, it was a fantastic, illuminating evening, and one that I’d definitely want to experience again.
The next Lazy Gin Club is penciled in for 30 October, with the esteemed folk of Portobello Road Gin heading down to showcase their ginny wares. Keep your eyes peeled for tweets from @lazylounge to get your tickets quick when they’re released – I have a feeling it’s going to be quite popular…