Gordon’s Gin is possibly the most famous gin brand out there, holding around 35% of gin sales in the UK alone and retaining a strong foothold in every market in the world.
Gordon’s iconic reputation has been built since its initial conception as a Southwark based distillery in 1769 by Alexander Gordon. The production later moved to Clerkenwell in 1786 and the white spirit sailed the seas through the 1800’s, creating legions of fans the world over. As with many gins of the time, it was in huge demand and in some cases was handsomely paid for in gold dust (Joseph Franks of Melbourne). The British distillery is now based on the Laindon site in Basildon, Essex to meet the high demands of production. It still houses ‘Old Tom’, a copper still dating back over 200 years (Gordon’s is also distilled in various locations around the world).
The exact botanical blend is locked in the lips of only eleven people in the world, a secret that’s been kept for an astonishing 240 years. The London Dry Gin is triple-distilled and allegedly contains juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice, orris root, orange and lemon peel, ginger, cassia oil and nutmeg. According to Gordon’s, up to 3,000 botanicals are nosed yearly in the quest to find the exact blend of flavours to create their consistent taste. Gordon’s juniper berry crop is hand-chosen every year and stored for two years to intensify the oils and encourage the flavours to mellow out. This intensifies the juniper flavour and is said to be the reason behind Gordon’s more traditional profile. The brand began production of a Sloe Gin in 1906 which has remained in production to this day with new batches released yearly.
Gordon’s green bottle is instantly recognisable in the UK and has gone a long way in further cementing their iconic reputation. It’s actually quite rare to go into a pub or even bar and not see it! The clear glass version of Gordon’s Gin however is also familiar to many, but it is surprising to hear how few know the difference between the two. Stay with us here, the gin anorak is coming on but it’s worth it… The green bottle is at a strength of 37.5% ABV whereas the clear glass version is an Export Strength variation originally designed for external (non UK) markets at 47.5% ABV. As much as the green colour of the bottle may seem to be a marketing ploy to attract attention on a back bar, it’s quite the opposite. Green came first. The real reason for its use is due to manufacturing constraints back in 1800’s Britain as it was too expensive to produce clear glass given how rudimentary the techniques were at the time. Most bottles were green back then. The now distinctive clear version of Gordon’s Gin was first used in celebration of a large Australian order placed in 1907, more than 100 years after the gin was launched. Ever since, the distinction between domestic and export has remained. There you go, a totally geeky fact to use for your pub quiz! Anorak off.
The strange beast adoring the lid is in fact a boar. The legend goes that during a hunting trip, a long lost ancestor of the Gordon clan rescued the King of Scotland from a wild boar. It was then that the emblem was born and forever graced the label of every bottle. Despite having the boar within their coat of arms, the liquid bares little resemblance to the brutish animal. There’s no point hiding the fact that we’re not the biggest fans of Gordon’s here at Gin Foundry HQ. It’s too weak for our now jaded noses as we seek out nuanced flavours and an all round sensory journey. Most importantly, it feels too watery at 37.5% ABV.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and we’re not haters. Not by a long way. We are strong believers in giving credit where credit is due – Gordon’s Gin was – and still is – one of the very original players and one of the world’s first mass-produced quality gins. That alone is an astonishing feat. It’s also probably fair to say that their development, techniques, launches and continuous growth over 200 years have created a market for many other gins to be created in the first place. They are undeniable pioneers and deserve recognition and validation.
For decades, certainly for the 20 years leading up to the 2006 gin boom, Gordon’s was the one and only name people would instantly associate with gin and it’s still beloved by many passionate supporters. While it won’t blow your taste buds away, it’s important to note that it makes no real claim to do so. It’s quite acceptable and yards above most supermarket home brand gins. Although shy of any real definable characteristics, other than being citrussy, after a couple of sips it blends to a smooth, easy to drink gin that works well in gin and tonics. It is this simple fact that goes a long way in explaining why Gordon’s has been an enormous success with the mass public. At the higher Export Strength, the juniper is much clearer, but so too is the coarse spirit so, with more flavour comes more of those less desirable qualities too. The ginger and nutmeg notes feel more assertive at the higher ABV too (even though the actual botanicals themselves may not be in the mix).
In more recent times, various varieties have been released to capitalise on consumer trends led by other gins, such as Crisp Cucumber. The Gordon’s Cucumber bottling is a blend of the original recipe with a natural cucumber flavouring that launched in 2013. In early 2014, Gordon’s Elderflower was added to their expanding “flavoured” gin collection and is made in much the same way, with a natural elderflower flavouring being added to the original recipe. While it’s nice to see that they are releasing new expressions and are trying to create new interest around a brand that deserves more respect than it commands, it is also blatantly trying to piggyback on to other gins’ success (e.g. on Hendrick’s Gin’s cucumber message). It feels a little clunky rather than trying to create something fresh and exciting. You can read our review of the flavoured gins by clicking here.
Given Gordon’s Gin is the establishment, innovation for them needs to be considered in that context. It’s a behemoth to turn around. However, sales have been declining or stagnant for a few years (eg. sales of standard-priced gins rose 2.3 percent in 2012, while Gordon’s edged up only 0.8 percent, according to IWSR research) – perhaps they need to stop chasing coat-tails and instead there needs to be some more adventurous thinking originating from the top. The move towards using the archive more and contextualising the cucumber and elderflower variants in the light of their former products made 100’s of years ago is a sign that they are starting to think a little harder and as a result the tide could begin to change.
Gordon’s is the only brand of gin that has the right to bear two Royal Coat of Arms by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. At the time of writing, Gordon’s Gin is the number two selling gin in the world after Ginebra San Miguel and has distilleries the world over. Incidentally, it’s amazing to think just how much gin the Philippines must drink for their home brand to be ranked number one ahead of Gordon’s, especially as it is not sold anywhere else in any form of volume. Gordon’s Gin might have hit a rocky patch as this current gin boom has drawn the conversation towards craft and onto new producers, but don’t be fooled into thinking it won’t regain it’s shine at some point. Amongst gin connoisseurs, it may not be anyone’s first choice for many reasons, however next time you see it on a bar , think twice before you give it a bashing – it’s a sleeping giant that deserves some well earned respect.
For more information about Gordon’s Gin, visit their website: www.gordons-gin.co.uk
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