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Infusiasm: London’s second gin craze

Infusiasm: London’s second gin craze

by Great British Chefs 19 June 2015

In a case of history repeating itself London has once again become besotted with gin. Unlike the crude, cheap spirit that so wreaked havoc on the capital in the eighteenth century, the new wave of craft gin producers are flying the flag for quality ingredients, artisanal techniques and unbridled innovation.

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Listed as a gin palace as far back as 1829, the Princess Victoria in Shepherds Bush is keeping the spirit of its former vocation alive. Representing the new wave of bars and pubs which promote craft gin and thoughtful flavours, the team at the Princess Victoria create infusions on the premises using homegrown herbs and their own pocket sized still. We spoke to bar manager Adam Smith about the increasing popularity of craft gin and how one goes about the distilling process. Today’s flavour? Tea: ‘There’s nothing more British than Earl Grey tea and gin!’

Tell us a bit more about the current popularity of gin

It’s a great resurgence - some people have actually said it’s probably the beginnings of the second London gin craze.

You're talking about the gin craze back in the 18th century?

Yeah, the first gin craze was 1727 - 1757, and it basically nearly destroyed England. It’s because gin was such a bad product at that point, there was no regulation, nothing at all. Anyone could make it - and anyone did make it! It was recorded that 8 out of 10 hospitable buildings had a gin still in them, and were distilling. Eventually the government started to crack down, and made the Gin Acts. Over the course of fifty years these basically quelled the production of gin. One of the last gin acts to be passed made the minimum still size 1800 litres, making gin inaccessible to smaller producers. That ended the London gin craze.

At first people thought we were a bit crazy and they didn’t seem to get it, but now we get people trying it and regulars coming back asking us what new flavours we’ve got.
Picking herbs to infuse gin
Many of the flavours used in the infusions are grown in the pub's back garden

There’s a real craft movement going on with gin at the moment. Can you tell us about that?

There is. Since Sipsmith popped up in 2008 and got the law changed I think there are now I think between 150-160 gin brands. It’s a massive, massive movement. I guess the definition of craft really is ‘handmade’, and we’ve got a couple of brands here at the PV where the guy literally applied to Revenue and Customs, got a licence to distil and does it in his shed! He boxes it, sends it off to a bottling plant and then gets it sent out. It can be literally that small a scale of doing it in your own back garden.

And you do quite a lot of it here, don’t you grow your own herbs as well?

We do, we grow our own herbs out the back - rosemary, lemon thyme, mint and lots more. We use them in the kitchen, in our cocktails and increasingly we use them to infuse gins as well.

Are some herbs better than others for infusing?

Some, yeah. We've noticed that the more oily the herb the better it is, just because it catches the flavour more quickly. We’ve tried using oranges in our diffuser and it doesn’t really work because the orange has too thick a skin to catch the flavour immediately, so instead we’ll leave the orange in the gin for three or four days. Whereas the herbs we grow in the garden we literally put through our infuser and in 25 minutes the batch is ready.

Can you talk us through the process? What is it that you’re using?

What we use is, essentially, a miniature still - a miniature version of what any gin distiller would use. There’s a tank full of gin, underneath it is a heat source which is heating the gin up. We could put the flavours inside the tank, but this particular still is what’s called a vapour infuser - so when it’s been heated up the gin will transfer up the pipe as a vapour and infuse with whatever botanicals we’ve got in the glass. When the glass fills up and there’s no more gin in the tank the pressure and temperature will equalise - because the still works on a vacuum - and the gin will get sucked back in through the pipe into the tank where it can then be dispensed through the tap.

It’s quite a clever mechanism of stopping the flame, too.

Yes, the whole system works on a weight. As the gin container empties it moves up due to the counter weight on the other side, which closes the lid on the flame. This obviously helps to equalise the temperature, creating the pressure to suck the gin back in.

You’re using Earl Grey today to infuse the gin. What goes best with the flavours of the tea when you serve it?

A slice of lemon, definitely. For the mixer we use a tonic infused with floral botanicals which brings out the bergamot in the tea even more.

 
 
Miniature gin still
It can take less than an hour to create a batch of flavour infused gin
flavoured gins
The pub plan to create tailored tonic waters for each infusion

Have you seen a marked increase in people trying specially flavoured gins?

We have, yeah. At first people thought we were a bit crazy and they didn’t seem to get it, but now we get people trying it and regulars coming back asking us what new flavours we’ve got. It took a while, definitely, but it’s really taken off.

What are your most popular flavours?

Earl Grey tea, definitely. Rosemary and kaffir lime - which we’ve just had to make a new batch of because it was so popular - and orange gin.

Any odd flavours you've like to try?

I’ve tried to make a cardamon gin...I thought it tasted really nice but it wasn't too popular!

 
 
 

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