Whatever way you look at it, gin is on the rise. Not just in bars or supermarkets, but also online. Continuing our trend identification series, we looked at the social data and picked out gin for deeper research in March. We’ve looked at the data and spoken to industry insiders, #ginnaisance is in full flow and the taps aren’t being turned off any time soon.
Last Thursday we met Hannah Lanfear, cocktail expert and brand ambassador at Jensen’s gin. I’d call myself an experienced – rather than knowledgeable – gin drinker. Before I came down to Jensen’s distillery, I realised my experienced was based on taste and not the history of the drink.
What does 200 year old gin have to tell us? What does a “vintage gin” really tastes like? How does that play into relevancy in the market today? Calm, assured and naturally inquisitive; Hannah had all the answers we needed. A former bartender at Milk & Honey and now brand ambassador at Jensen’s, she was just the right person to speak to when looking to find out more about the historical and practical uses of gin.
We met at Jensen’s Distillery, located in a trendy London railway arch in Bermondsey. [Tip – Visit on a Saturday when the Maltby Street Market is in full swing]. Here’s what she had to share:
Tell us a little about how you made the transition from hospitality to join Jensen’s?
While working at Milk & Honey, I studied all the base spirits – the building blocks of cocktails. I soon became fascinated by the flavour palette and history around the origins of drinks. However after 10 years, it was time to start something new – I thought maybe a bar with a jukebox in the corner. When exploring how and where I might start this bar I was approached by a friend, Danish-born Christian Jensen. He was looking for core members to join his new distillery team.
What convinced you to join Jensen’s?
Christian was driven to start Jensen’s on his discovery that gin used to taste better. Great tasting gins had been lost over time. At first he made small batches, carrying his own bottle to events and parties and he soon realised there was broader interest. It all started in a small Tokyo bar, where Christian tried a gin Martini made of some rare London vintage gin. He was captivated by its smooth, rooty taste and artisanal quality. It was the start of what is now an impressive vintage gin collection. Unable to find anything similar back in London, he developed a recipe with James Maxwell (formerly of the Thames Distillery) to re-created a “lost and forgotten” gin taste. Soon the first 1,000 bottles of Jensen’s gin were distilled – “Bermondsey London Dry”, manufactured and based on authenticity. Today, Christian’s second iteration, Old Tom, is Jensen’s best-selling gin. The original recipe tracks back to 1840 and it’s big, rich flavour comes entirely from the massive botanical recipe.
So, what do people ask you when they order their G&T on Saturdays?
Most people don’t know much about the 20th century history gin has, but they are fascinated by the flavours and botanicals we use. Those who come to me and say “I don’t really like gin” often haven’t found a gin that’s right for them yet. I like seeing people try a gin and tonic that stops them in their tracks. Gin has plentiful aromatic flavours, but equally important is the mixer. We’re converting people every day. For instance, if you normally don’t like tonic you could drink it with a rhubarb mixer.
Whisky has a history and fan base that helps it earn a special spot in the drinks cabinet, do you think gin will ever become bigger than whisky?
It is a very different product. Whisky is an aged product, the method of making is slower and the lifestyle it sells commands a higher price point. Whereas gin is easier to make and therefore also more affordable. That’s the reason why you won’t find expensive whiskies in cocktails and G&Ts should come at an affordable price. I believe that gin consumers are becoming better educated in the differences of flavour and history of the spirit. It’s a competitive market and just making a fancy bottle isn’t going to sell – it’s like ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. Artisanal quality and attention to detail is a must. The gin trend hasn’t reached its peak yet and I expect a lot more vodka drinkers converting. The big question for me is how to appeal to newer generations.
Where are you seeing growth internationally?
There has been a big boom in Spain. In Spain gin is served in a large bowl topped wine glass. It almost has a feature of theatre about it and a lot of attention is placed on garnishes. I think gin is on a rise in many places, Australia for example. It hasn’t quite reached America yet. We’re even seeing a change in France, that was more unexpected.
Now, lastly Hannah you are the cocktail expert here. What’s your favourite gin-based cocktail?
I’m all excited about 20th century cocktails, Aviation or The Last Word for example. The latter was originally refined at the Detroit Athletic Club’s bar in the early 1920s. I’d recommend trying it at the London’s Café Royal – they’ve been there for decades and rediscovering their roots, it’s cool to see.
Keen to try a vintage gin yourself? Jensen’s distillery and bar is open for tours or a sit down on weekends.