Juniper The Way Forward
Gin used to be viewed as the turf of old folks or colonialists, sipping a refreshing drink with tonic and a slice of lemon. Not anymore!
Gin has been around for centuries. Its popularity has, like the moon, waxed and waned, but the global fascination shows little sign of abating anytime soon. Bars, clubs, restaurants and homes throughout the republic have reflected the massive growth of this spirit category. In fact, most gin drinkers will have at least one, if not two or three bottles at home to cater for different tastes at the next braai or dinner party.
When it comes to gin, not all spirits are created equal. South Africa has followed the explosive global trend of exploring myriad botanical possibilities since this country is richly blessed with unusual and unique botanicals. It’s why there are easily 100-plus different individual labels on the local market. They are pink, purple, and amber in colour and boast rooibos, renosterveld herbs, umpteen different varieties of citrus, hibiscus and even local Kalahari truffle. For the gin enthusiast, it’s a playground to be sampled enthusiastically. But proper gin should always be juniper forward – the genuine London dry style.
So we rounded up a few commercially available favourites on the local TOPS at SPAR shelves and assessed them.
One of the touchstones of the gin world with its notable juniper character supported by coriander, angelica and liquorice. It’s a popular classic for a reason. The bright, piney aromatics appeal to both the nose and the mouth. In addition, there’s a subtle lemon oil nuance and wonderful dryness that keeps you coming back for more.
Made in South Africa, this is a gin for locals to be proud of. It’s clean, bright and dry, with unmistakable juniper notes on the nose and palate. There’s some orange rind and acacia bark in the brief list of botanicals, but it never loses sight of the fact that it’s a London dry. The slight sweetness is apparent, but that’s because the base spirit in the distillation is from sugar cane.
Another classical London dry. It’s reminiscent of strolling through a pine forest with its resiny juniper brightness, both aromatically and on the tongue. Again, the lovely appealing gentle suggestion of citrus – again, lemon peel more than an overt orange. Ultimately cohesive and beautifully balanced.
It’s famous for being served with cucumber – but that’s logical because there is cucumber in its distillation. The trademark juniper is perhaps not as bold as some others, but that’s from a subtle rose petal tug at the nostrils. The floral seduction continues on the palate with its lively citrus and juniper. It is joined by a peppery vibrance and a slight vegetal/cucumber vibe. Long and mellow.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this would be pugnacious or bully-boy gin, but it’s more nuanced. Triple distilled from a wheat base, it displays signature juniper. Still, the citrus is in the lime spectrum and is tempered by a trace of lavender floral. Its clean purity can sometimes be construed as an astringency or even bitterness, which provides the tail’s dryness.
This is the gin credited with kickstarting the revival in the United Kingdom way back in 2009. Back to basics with a wheat base spirit and traditional angelica root, coriander and liquorice. No mistaking the juniper – there’s a wodge of it leaping out the glass with some blood orange, herb and a musky note. Refined, clean but subtly complex and beautifully dry yet long lasting in flavour.
Beautifully crafted with precision, as befits its Japanese origin. Resin, pine cones and fallen needles speak of the juniper in the spirit. Light, teasing aromatics and flavours of fruit pastilles or fruit blossom with bright citrus, a hint of cracked pepper and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.
Another South African to stay true to London style – but with the subtle addition of renosterbos, an endangered veld fynbos type. Signature fresh citrus, juniper and a light blossom nuance on the nose that is also immediately discernible on the palate. Clean and crisp with orange zest and a shy fynbos or vegetal hint, which doesn’t detract from its London origin.
Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale
Just to show that even though it’s a brand that’s been around for centuries, it’s capable of innovating, Tanqueray has released a second flavour variant.
Blackcurrant by name and the same by nature! There’s no mistaking the Ribena-like sweet, ripe fruitiness of this. Like its counterpart, the Sevilla Orange, this is labelled as a spirit aperitif rather than a gin. However, at 35% alcohol, it’s lower than its London dry mother brand. The recommendation is to enjoy this as a mixed drink with either tonic or lemonade and a few berries of your choice.
First published in TOPS Cheers Magazine issue 62