It’s funny how our big summer events all have associated drinks. Wimbledon wouldn’t be Wimbledon without a nice glass of Pimms. A festival field is not complete unless there’s a cider in your hand. An Ascot outing is generally aided by champagne. So with what, then, do we toast Her Majesty for her upcoming Diamond Jubilee?
For such a quintessentially English celebration, it can’t be anything but gin. It certainly worked for her mum.
Back in the 1730s – that’s just before the late Queen’s Mother’s time – gin was everywhere, affordable even to the most destitute. At the height of the Gin Craze, Londoners were said to have each consumed two pints of the stuff every week. The government responded with the 1751 Gin Act, which brought in alcohol licences for the first time. Six years later, the spoilsports banned gin manufacturing altogether, though notorious Gin Palaces continued to crop up.
The most enduring image of that time is William Hogarth’s Gin Lane painting, depicting a gin-soaked prostitute letting her infant slip to its doom in the stairwell of a drinking den.
As shocking as this seemed, the 1843 edition of Charles Knight’s London detailed a woman named Judith Dufour reclaiming her two-year-old son from the workhouse – where he had been given a new set of togs – only to strangle him and sell the clothes for gin. The book also charted how an elderly drunk, knocked out by ‘mother’s ruin’, let a toddler burn to death.
Centuries on, and gin has not only shed its seedy image but has risen in popularity, with sales of boutique-style brands rocketing 150 per cent in the past year. A gindustrial revolution, if you will. This rehabilitation was cemented in 2009 when the first traditional copper-pot distillery for 189 years was opened in London. Sipsmith, set up by two veterans of the drinks trade, has been a huge success, despite its relatively austere home in a Hammersmith lock-up.
The company picked up Observer Food Monthly’s Best Newcomer Award in 2010 and has spread from a few West London bars to the shelves of Waitrose and Majestic. A fine starting point, then, for some Jubilee jubilation.
A few miles further into the capital and you hit the famous Portobello Road, which has lent its name to Portobello Road Gin, a new offering from legendary pub The Portobello Star. The boozer has teamed with Harvey Nics to launch an exclusive Jubilee commemorative bottle, limited to just 500, which comes with a specially designed tea towel for drying your tumblers in style.
Elsewhere in Notting Hill, you may encounter larger-than-life bon viveur Martin Miller, the entrepreneur, property magnate, publisher, promoter and hotelier, who has now turned his hand to gin-making. With characteristic zest, he has crafted a product “born of love, obsession and some degree of madness”, simply titled Martin Miller’s Gin. It is distilled in England, finished off with water from Iceland (the purest and softest on earth) and shot through with the right amount of quirky charm to make it the perfect addition to a Jubilee party.
Head east and you’ll reach No. 3 St James’s Street, home to Berry Bros & Rudd, London’s oldest wine and spirit merchants, and – more importantly – their No.3 London Dry Gin. It was conceived with the aid of distilling don Dr David Clutton, using just three fruits and three spices to create a gin true to the traditional London Dry juniper taste. Ever the perfectionists, they have sunk a trademark key into every bottle as a treat for aesthetes.
Gin beyond London’s borders
Though London is synonymous with gin, there are still some fine bottles being produced outside the capital. Not least in Herefordshire, where the Chase distillery makes Williams Gin, curiously by fermenting apples into cider and cider into vodka before finally re-distilling into gin. Not only does it bear our future king’s name, but it beefs up its Britishness by suggesting it is served with tonic and a thin slice of a freshly-plucked Bramley.
But what if all this Union Jack waving Britishness makes you balk? Then look to New Orleans for some ginspiration. It was there that the gin fizz was born: a tumbler lovingly filled with gin, lemon juice, sugar, carbonated water and – according to the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide – just two ice cubes.
Egg whites may be added for a Silver Fizz, yolks for a Golden. A whole egg will give you a Royal Fizz, and the truly decadent among you can swap fizzy water for sparkling wine in a Diamond Fizz.
And if the Jubilee isn’t a good enough excuse to indulge, then on Saturday 9 June you can join all the gin joints in all the world as they raise a glass to the fourth annual World Gin Day. A suitably ginebriated start to the summer then…