I can remember when, if you wanted gin, the choice was between Gordon's, Beefeater or a dubious generic label. That seems like a long time ago; there are now hundreds of brands to choose from. And not just in gin's heartlands in Britain, America and Spain. There are also Italian gins and French gins, Australian and German gins. There are gins aged in oak and gins so delicately flavored that they are closer to vodka. Your gin might be made from rye, grape spirit or potatoes.
All over the world—in Los Angeles, Madrid, Barcelona, New York and London—there are bars that sell nothing but gin. So in preparation for World Gin Day on June 11th, I thought I'd have a chat with the experts at the London Gin Club in Soho to learn more about this ever expanding world. This place used to be called the Star Cafe, and it was frequented by bohemian artists such as the late Sebastian Horsley. About four years ago, after the original owner died, his daughter Julia Forte converted it into a gin palace. Happily, she's kept the retro decor intact.
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They stock over 100 types of gin. What all of them have in common is juniper—but gin is also flavored with other so-called botanicals, such as cardamom, orange peel, anise and coriander seed. As long as you have juniper, then pretty much anything goes. Forte went on to tell me about the three European legal categories. If it just says 'gin' on the label then the flavors can be artificial. You are basically buying flavored vodka. The next step up is 'distilled gin,' where the flavor comes from distilling botanicals, but things like essential oils can still be added afterwards. Finally there is 'London dry,' which doesn't have to be from London or indeed particularly dry. The key thing is that nothing can be added after distillation except water and sugar.