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JUNIPER TO THE FORE

Gin used to be viewed as the turf of old folks or colonialists, sipping on a restorative 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 huge 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 the myriad botanical possibilities since this country is so 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, 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 true gin should always be juniper forward – the genuine London dry style.

So CHEERS magazine rounded up a few of the commercially available favourites on the local TOPS at SPAR shelves and assessed them.

 

TANQUERAY

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 are so appealing on both the nose and in the mouth. There’s a subtle lemon oil nuance and wonderful dryness that keeps you coming back for more.

 

STRETTON’S

Made in South Africa this is a gin for locals to be proud of. It’s clean, bright and dry with unmistakeable 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. Slight sweetness apparent but that’s because the base spirit in the distillation is from sugar cane.

 

BEEFEATER

Another classical London dry. It’s reminiscent of strolling through a pine forest with its resiny juniper brightness, both aromatically and on the tongue. Lovely appealing gentle suggestion of citrus – again lemon peel more than an overt orange. Ultimately cohesive and beautifully balanced.

 

 

HENDRICK’S

It’s the one 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 of the 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 joined by a peppery vibrance and slight vegetal/cucumber vibe. Long and mellow.

 

BULLDOG

You’d be forgiven for thinking this would be a pugnacious or bully boy gin but it’s more nuanced than that. Triple distilled from a wheat base it displays signature juniper but the citrus is in the lime spectrum and is tempered by a trace of lavender florality. Its clean purity can sometimes be construed as an astringency or even bitterness but that provides the dryness on the tail.

 

 

SIPSMITH

This is the gin credited with kick starting the revival in the United Kingdom way back in 2009. Back to basics with 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.

 

 

ROKU

Beautifully crafted with precision, as befits its Japanese origin. Resin, pine cone and fallen needles which speak of the juniper in the spirit. Light, teasing aromatics and flavours of fruit pastilles or fruit blossom with bright citrus, hint of cracked pepper and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.

 

WIXWORTH

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, 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 have 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 as a gin. At 35% alcohol, it’s lower than its London dry mother brand and the recommendation is to enjoy this as a mixed drink with either tonic or lemonade, and a few berries of your choice.