With 101 Gins To Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton about to go on sale, we spent the weekend reading the book to review ahead of its release. For those familiar with the 101 Whisky series, expect more of the same but for a different spirit, in this case gin, and for those unfamiliar with Ian Buxton’s previous books – the clue for what to expect is in the title…
Retailing for the price of around £12, 101 Gins to Try Before You Die has over 200 pages, images of each gin included and is intended as an accessible guide to the world of juniper laced elixirs. As an author that has published numerous popular titles on Whisky already and enjoyed a 25 year career in the drinks industry, Buxton’s inimitable way with words flows throughout the book.
His latest adventure might be his first into the world of gin but launching in mid 2015, 101 Gins to Try Before You Die is released at a time where there has been an average of 4 new gins being unveiled per week for the last 3 years. With this in mind, a careful curation of the best hundred would indeed act as a handy field guide as the cover suggests. Given there are now well over 600 gins in the world, it is also quite a challenge to put together a truly comprehensive list of the very best.
Any list can be scrutinised and picked apart and in the end, no matter who is doing it, the curation of which to include is always going to leave some controversial decisions. In 101 Gins To Try Before You Die, each Gin is given a page of editorial about the author’s experience with it, with varying levels of insight ranging from none other than a humorous anecdote to others, penned with a little more detail about the nature of the gin itself. There are no real tasting notes on each gin and whilst this might sound strange, it’s one of the aspects that give the book an easy charm. Having one tasting note after an other would merely have lead to a numbing sense of déjà-vu and no doubt, a series of escalating adjectives to eek out descriptions for minor differences between brands and avoid repetition.
While we understand that this list of a 101 gins is merely those which piqued the authors interest, (again any list will have its merits and pitfalls) it’s worth noting that it is a very European centric view on the world of gin, with a huge over-representation of British gins. Furthermore, given some of the big names have been left out (Beefeater 24, Seagram’s, Ginebra San Miguel, Tanqueray London Dry, Bombay Dry), it does raise eyebrows as to why certain smaller brands were included, especially given the write up on some of them is less than favourable. Nevertheless the complete selection makes for an interesting line up, with both new and old brands included and with sufficient variety to not feel as if you are reading the same story over and again.
While we’re not questioning why one brand was chosen over another, in our opinion Buxton’s selection is far from a true account of what the best 101 gins might be, or a list of 101 gins that really explored the true variety and global reach of the category as it is today.
Not having some countries represented is one thing, so too is not choosing too many gins in the obscure subcategories like fruit gins, barrel aged “yellow” gins and yes, even the horror that is Gin Liqueurs. One could also look past the inclusion of only a couple of Old Tom Gins, but the total lack of Navy Strength Gin is surprising given there are a few exceptional options out there and that as a Gin style, it’s an important part of the category and an integral part to the spirit’s heritage.
Graphically, the book’s layout is relatively straight forward and hasn’t pushed the envelope much further than older publications on Gin from the likes of Geraldine Coates or Gaz Regan. If that matters to you or if seeking out a gift for the more design conscious – the visual excitement of Matt Teacher or Simon Difford’s efforts might be better suited. On the flip side, the editorial charm more than makes up for it and our opinions on the aesthetic is in many ways merely a reflection of our own areas of interest, rather than any real issue with it as a book.
Overall, for gin lovers like us who are fortunate to have tasted many gins, this book doesn’t really add much to the wider conversation as to where gin is as a category, why it has boomed and the global craft distilling movement that has emerged over the past 5 years. It is after all a list book with little insight to behind the scenes, often forgetting to actually say what makes any particular gin special or worthy of the accolade of being a “top 101”. In this light, it’s easy reading and enjoyable prose but is undone by the lack of any real substance or new information other than what has been well documented on websites already. We merely find it frustrating as it could have been a better balanced list, that makes the promotional badge that all the brands plaster on their site actually worthy of the title; “recommended in the 101 Gins To Try Before You Die“.
As readers who have found his 101 Whisky series helpful to us as beginners in that world, it’s worth remembering that this really is the main target demographic, not gin geeks keen on insider scoops and interesting typographic arrangements.
So, with this in mind and for more general fans of gin, the book covers many brands and provides a good reference point as for what to try. In parts, it’s genuinely funny and we found it entertaining throughout, while the alphabetically organised format makes it a perfect choice for those looking for a reference book to flick back to. It’s accessible to all levels of interest, having just enough to keep the more knowledgeable engaged while not bludgeoning less geeky readers with endless tasting notes or pedantic differences between distillation techniques. Pick up a copy, swat up and send us your thoughts about it. It’s a mixed bag but worth deciding for yourself.
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