Some of the gins featured below were kindly gifted. Article contains affiliate links.
What a year 2020 was. And what resilience, generosity and determination distillers have demonstrated; adapting events to online experiences, turning their hand to sanitiser production and continuing to not only make our favourite spirit, but create new ones too! Unsurprisingly, most of last year’s releases were line extensions rather than new brands, but my goodness, there were some crackers in there. So, without further ado, here are my top ten of 2020.
Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, knows that I don’t just love gin; I love the stories behind gin too. Where, why and how it’s made. What first inspired its makers. I suppose you could call it the origin story. Today’s tale is a little different; for this time the gin has been created to enable the true story to take place.
Much like their Jekka Edition, 6 O’Clock Gin’s latest release is both a collaboration with, and tribute to, another local figure; in this case Romy Gill MBE. A British/Indian chef and food/travel writer, Romy was a fan of 6 O’Clock Gin from the first time she served the local spirit in her restaurant, Romy’s Kitchen, also located in Thornbury. In a departure from the rest of the 6 O’Clock range, however, Romy’s Edition signifies a step toward the ever growing, and increasingly popular, flavoured gin category.
2019 was yet another remarkable year for gin, which is predicted to overtake vodka as the UK’s biggest-selling spirit a mere ten years since Sipsmith, the instigators of the craft gin revolution, were granted the licence that opened the floodgates. And, with flavoured gin seeing 300% growth year on year (compared to gin’s modest 11%) – and WSTA playing catch-up with a new category definition – those floodgates are well and truly open. But amongst all that there was also innovation (in the ready-to-drink and low-alcohol markets), environmentalism (with Greensand Ridge leading from the front), fun to be had (who can forget #GinADayMay?!) and some really, really cracking gins. So, after much consideration, here are my favourites:
Inspired by the Picts – a tribe believed to be some of the first settlers in the Scottish Highlands Greenwood Distillers call home – as depicted by Theodore de Bry, a 16th century engraver and publisher. Produced by two master distillers – one British and one French. Influenced by the art of perfumery and combining old and new production techniques. With liquid (currently) produced in London and Cognac but blended and bottled in Scotland. The story behind Theodore Pictish Gin is every bit as complex as the spirit itself.
“Bold” is the operative word where Turncoat Gin is concerned. Terry Langton, their founder and head distiller, refuses to cut corners in pursuit of each new recipe (he blames his years working in beer!), and each finished product is always striking in its originality. I was blown away by their Cascade Gin when I first met Terry at Catford Gin Festival in 2017 and when I saw him again at the same festival (albeit in a rather grander venue) last year, Terry returned with not one, not two, but three new gins; the citrusy Our Man in Sicily; the delicate and floral Dragon Tears (featuring the top buds of the jasmine tea plant); and my personal favourite, the spicy Bold St. Chai.
When I was planning my trip to Junipalooza last year, Koval wasn’t particularly high on my list. But I got drawn to that beautiful laser-cut label and then couldn’t resist a sample either. And as I tasted both their Dry and Barrelled Gin, and learnt more about Koval, I got more and more drawn in, for theirs is a pretty impressive story.
Provenance is undoubtedly popular these days – after all who doesn’t like the feelgood factor of buying something local? – but, like anything that matters, it’s not easy to get right. There’s confusion about names (my friend up north is forever confusing Slingsby and Harrogate gins); there’s the all-important matter of honesty and authenticity (it recently transpired Snowdonia Gin is actually made over the border in Warrington); and then, to really mean something, provenance needs to go beyond the name to the product itself. It’s not just what the gin is called and where it’s made that matters, but also what it’s made of and why. Provenance is about stories and people, botanicals and landscapes. And to do provenance properly it all needs to connect with that community.