In the last year gin has seen a remarkable rise in popularity to the stage where it is now outselling vodka as the most consumed spirit in Britain. London could make an argument for being the spiritual home of gin but East London’s relationship has not always been as smooth as the East London Liquor Company’s Batch #2.
In 1751, William Hogarth produced a pair of prints which would alter the way Britons view gin for nearly 250 years. Gin Lane and Beer Street were created in an effort to show the evils of one contrasted with the perceived joys of the other. In the height of the ‘Gin Craze’, a pint of gin would cost less than beer with, maybe, one in every three houses in the old East End being gin houses, a place where gin was distilled in an illegal and, somewhat unsurprisingly, dangerous manner. “But 1751 is really the watershed,” says Leon Dalloway, an ex-barman who runs his own gin tours in Hackney. “The Gin Act in 1751 really got rid of a lot of the dangers and gin started to get some class after that.”
Hogarth’s London would be unrecognisable today but the city’s obsession with the spirit is peaking once again.
Craft beer reigns supreme as the drink of choice for many on the taps and in the bottles of trendy Shoreditch bars as the drink of choice but this is becoming a much maligned topic. Bearded gents and trendy gals sip on Sierra Nevada after debating Meantime’s latest pale ale or slump against the bar after one too many Delirium Tremens but people’s eyes are being cast enviously over the top shelf again. From bottles designed with as much attention to detail as the distillation process to the cleanest tasting product available, an obscure gin is as much of a retail asset as it is decoration.
While it has been a push to get gin back onto the bars, the East London market is leading the way. In Tower Hamlets’ Leman Street, The Oliver Conquest currently stocks over 200 different gins from all over the world, each with its own flavour and personality. It isn’t really the kind of place you’d go to order a Gordon’s. Shoreditch’s Callooh Callay has won awards for their stunning cocktail menu and three of their finest cocktails (Oude Fashioned, Flirty Frateli and 24 Carot Gold) all use gin as their base spirit. Never underestimate trendy cocktail bars in the resurgence of anything, be it tacky trend a la tea cups or bringing back something that could have been lost like the British populace’s love of gin.
Over the last two centuries, the production of gin has dwindled in East London. What was an area rich in distillation now boasts only one distillery: The East London Liquor Company. Having been open for less than one year, Dalloway incorporates the ELLC into his tours as a fresh, exciting look at what is being done to bring gin back to its roots.
“The category needed both the cash injection the bigger players have added as well as their ability to get gin into many bars” says Olivier Ward, editor of Gin Foundry, “as well as the diversity and accessibility the smaller craft producers have brought to the table. One would be lost without the other.”
It is this micro-distillery ethos that is getting the notion of a craft spirit back into a public conscious that had long since discarded gin to the back of their parents liquor cabinets. The image and reputation of being something your nan would drink copiously at christmas while slipping into a deep slumber has been something that the new breed of enthusiasts were eager to shake off. BY having such a range and people paying attention to the finer details of the distillation process, gin has been slowly emerging from the doldrums since the turn of the millennium.
For Dalloway, it was this element that forged his passion and interest in gin. “I feel in love with it through the life of a bartender. Working with it getting to try great products, finding out the story behind gin. There’s more of a craft to it than some other spirits.”
For now, Dalloway remains confident that gin will remain a bar staple. Its strength being in the number of high quality products on the market right now. There are a number of spirits looking to catch it up, however. Drink up and try something new.