One might think that calling an already flavoured spirit “flavoured” because of the addition of one botanical is nonsensical. Surely gin is flavoured already you say? Don’t most gins have botanicals like orange, lemon or even elderflower already in them? Yes, this is all true. But “flavoured” gins are different. Let us explain, as it just so happens that Gordon’s Gin have released two for your enjoyment…
Flavoured gins were quite a common sighting in the late 1800’s. Many distilleries of that era would produce multiple gins as part of their portfolio, some of which were flavoured more prominently using one particular botanical. Alexander Gordon (Gordon’s), Charles Tanqueray (Tanqueray) and James Borrough (Beefeater) were all distillers known to produce variants using orange, lemon, ginger and other more exotic ingredients. In many ways, “flavoured” gin is as much a sub category of gin as Old Tom, Navy Strength or even London Dry Gins are considered today.
Gordon’s have distilled many variants over the years since they started distilling in 1769. Thanks to the careful work of archivists, most of the bottling’s have been recorded in one way or another. Ginger, mint, orange and lemon, to name a few, were all sold to discerning drinkers across London and as far afield as Australia due to the growth of the distillery’s reputation.
So why did distilleries produce them and when did they fall out of fashion?
There are a few theories around why flavoured gins were made in the first place. Some say it was because some gins were being sold based on their medicinal merit and because of this, certain distillers opted to over exaggerate an ingredient to increase the “benefit” it may have had (for example citrus against scurvy). This seems unlikely as the rise of flavoured gins arrived after the Gin Craze, where the medicinal invincibility of juniper and gin had been overturned by the perceived harm and negative associations that gin had at the time. There were tinctures, tonics and other medicines that pandered to this so it seems unlikely that gin would have been traded in the same light.
The most likely reason for the rise of “flavoured” gins is that there was consumer demand for it – but not in the obvious way. We think it was more likely due to a desire to both cover up the raw spirit from poor distilling techniques and, in equal measure, because certain fruits and spices were fashionable so having it as a drink would have been popular. Two examples of this are sloe gin and the early Genevers in Holland.
Sloe Gin was created by a desire to preserve the fruit, but also because it was good at masking the flavour of poorly made gin in the 1700’s. Today – most see Sloe Gin as being an entity on its own, but in many ways Sloe Gin is the most enduring “flavoured” gin there is when considering it in the wider context.
As for inclusion by being fashionable – one simply has to look at the early Genevers and the botanicals that are considered core to Dry Gin. The manifestation of Nutmeg, Coriander, Almonds, Grains of Paradise etc… in Genever are good examples affiliated to the phenomenon of importing new, exotic ingredients that once they became desirable commodities, found inclusion in all facets of life – spirits included.
Fashionable flavours were also the driving factor for many dishes and drinks we now know today. In the 1900’s and beyond, the rise of cocktail culture brought with it a rapacious desire to create new flavours, be it in the base liquids or once mixed in a cocktail. No doubt this would have perpetuated the experimental nature of some of the more exotic bottlings.
So, why bring flavoured gins back?
If one accepts that sloe gin is and always has been a “flavoured” gin (incidentally, Gordon’s Sloe Gin is one of, if not the longest running sloe gins to have been produced commercially ) then “flavoured” gins have never gone away. If one doesn’t, then to put it simply, the reason that more “flavoured’ gins are coming to the fore is because there is renewed interest in the category and the demand for it is back. It’s also a great way for distillers to add a spin on an existing product without having to re-invent the wheel and create an entirely new recipe from scratch. A simple infusion of the already existing product will suffice!
With this in mind – in 2013 Gordon’s Gin released Gordon’s Crisp Cucumber. Comprising of original Gordon’s London Dry Gin, carefully blended with cucumber essence and designed to be mixed with tonic for a refreshing taste. It succeeds in doing so but with little panache. Crisper than the original and sweeter for sure, with green cucumber notes emerging if tasted on it’s own. It’s a good alternative to the original for Gordon’s fans, if a little uninspired for those seeking out new flavour combinations.
The release did not garner great response from the drinks community, but seems to have been better received by consumers looking for a cheaper alternative to Hendrick’s Gin. To many individuals, ourselves included, it seemed that Gordon’s as a brand were trying to cash in on the popularity of Hendrick’s as opposed to producing real innovation.
It’s difficult to categorically state whether it was always Gordon’s plan to release a cucumber variant or if it was indeed a release designed to catch the limelight reflected by rising stars. Talking to Tom Nichols, Gordon’s Master Distiller, he mentions that the original plan wasn’t to produce a cucumber variant over others, but it was considered from the offset. He wouldn’t comment further on why it was taken forward instead of other flavour possibilities. No doubt a more prudent recreation of one of their former flavoured gins as an opening gambit would have drawn a little more respect from jaded barkeeps and drinks marketeers.
To taste, the Gordon’s With A Spot of Elderflower has a whack of juniper upfront followed by a thick layer of floral elderflower. It feels more viscous too. It’s far more successful as a flavour combination and would spice up a Pimm’s, refresh a G&T or work well with simple apple juice.
Furthermore, it’s nice to see the team present Gordon’s With A Spot of Elderflower in the context of the 200 years of history and the heritage the brand has in producing flavoured gins. As we’ve said before, Gordon’s Gin is an easy target for the cynically minded. They are the establishment (with a reputed 47% market share in the UK in 2013). Having been criticised for hanging on coat tails (again, quite happily including ourselves in the naysayers camp) it’s good to see them stamp out their own path with a new, successful product.
Gordon’s have a heritage that is beyond what many could ever dream of and it’s a relief that they have harnessed this to contextualise new innovation. If they follow it up with a new variant at some point in the future, this would again re-affirm the brand as furthering their own route and playing by their own rules – instead of responding in a knee jerk way to a competitor. The only question is why it took them so long to deliver a well considered, fully integrated idea.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Ed Pilkington, Diageo’s Marketing and Innovation Director for western Europe, predicted that as much as 15 percent of Gordon’s volume in the U.K. could eventually come from the cucumber and elderflower variants. In our mind, that’s probably a little far fetched, purely because 15% is a LOT of gin (this would equate to just under 8% of the UK gin consumption being one of these two bottlings) – but it shows the level of ambition and faith the team have in these two new products.
Perhaps, where the biggest benefit of new flavour variants will come to the brand is in the Ready to Drink market (RTD). That’s G&T in a can to you and us… the Gordon’s With A Spot of Elderflower G&T in a can is genuinely nice. It tastes better than the original as it adds a little extra flavour without too much fuss or over overpowering floral notes. RTD is clearly a big market for any brand. With this in mind, whether or not the Gordon’s Cucumber and Elderflower flies off shelves or gains any traction in the drinks community could well be beside the point. Expect to see these cans in many a picnic basket over the summer and Gordon’s numbers on the rise once more…
For more information about Gordon’s Gin, visit their website: www.gordons-gin.co.uk
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