Scotland is known for its whisky, and London is better known for its gin. So in the spirit of further investigation, we set off with tour company Shake Rattle and Stir to try out its fantastic Gin Journey, under the guiding hand of founder Leon Dalloway. The night takes you into the fascinating history of this juniper-flavoured tipple, the fruits of independent gin distilleries and a collection of the city's most atmospheric bars...
Let the tastings begin!
1st stop: City of London Distillery
Gin: Martin Miller's Cocktail: 'Lois Lane' - Martin Miller's gin, peach, elderflower, lemon, egg white.
The centrepiece of the spacious City of London Distillery has to be the impressive copper gin still opposite the bar. It was in front of this that we sat as Leon talked us through the process of making and flavouring gin, and we were given our first taste of Martin Miller's, both in the form of the delicious cocktail above, and for the purists, neat. The air was friendly and sociable: us tour-goers all sharing a table, discussing gins and flavours, and asking questions which were answered colourfully and well.
2nd stop: Talented Mr Fox @ One Leicester Sreet
Gin: Sipsmith Martini - 3 options - Sipsmith Wet Martini- TMF Burnt Orange and Black Pepper Vermouth. Sipsmith Dry - TMF Lemon Vermouth. Sipsmith Extra Dry - Death Valley Tincture (aluminium oxidised).
As we were chauffeur-driven from the Strand to Soho for our next bar, Leon took us through a bit of gin history. We were told how it developed from the Dutch drink Jenever; about the first London stills and the days before and after regulation. Seeing gin interwoven with the history and spirit (if you'll pardon the pun) of Britain gave us a renewed sense of purpose on our journey to taste more of it. And at the next bar, the cosy and compact Talented Mr Fox, we were introduced to Sipsmith Gin by one of its founders, Sam Galsworthy. He invited us to sample a selection of different Martinis, each containing a different type of gin, before talking us through the particular distilling tricks that go to make Sipsmith's gin and the effect of different botanicals. Before we left he introduced us to a rare and extremely 'junipery' gin, as a special treat.
Gin: Bulldog Cocktail Bramble Bulldogged - Bulldog, lemon, Mure, Pernod, Anise, juniper, and dry ice filling the room with aroma.
Climbing wooden stairs into the hidden-away Opium bar, we entered our most atmospheric bar yet. Bare beams above our heads, moody red lanterns and the bustle of Chinatown below left us with a feeling we'd discovered some precious London gem - a secret bar up in the rafters of Soho. Leon talked us through the next gin, and gave a bit of background on the bar itself - while he did, the barman mixed our next cocktail, as dry ice billowing from the bar brought with it extra atmosphere and delicious aromas.
Gin: Beefeater Cocktail Autumn Revival - pear infused Beefeater, pomegranate and rum syrup, blue cheese and rolled dehydrated pear.
Probably as close to Tower Bridge as you can get without physically climbing it, the entrance to Perkin Reveller lies just beside St Katherine's Dock and opposite the Tower of London. One evening, Leon tells us, he came through the entry gate to find a Beefeater (that's Yeoman Warder to the initiated) locking up for the night - that's how near to the Tower we are. Well-kempt, spacious and with great views of the bridge, we sampled Beefeater gin here and a deliciously sweet gin and rum cocktail. We decided to get some food here too and selected top-quality cold meats and cheese, croquettes and squid.
5th stop: Worship St Whistling Shop, Shoreditch
Cocktail: G&T - Dodd's Gin with a choice of tonics made only for the Gin Journey, lavender & honey or black cardamom, rose and kaffir lime.
The final bar of the evening was Worship St Whistling Shop. Perched on a quiet side-street where the City becomes Shoreditch, it's lively, dim-lit and extremely comfortable - good, big sofas. It's the perfect bar to conclude an evening of substantial gin... research. Here we were treated to Dodd's gin with a selection of carefully crafted tonic waters, each with a distinct flavour. Altogether, the Gin Journey was a fun and engaging trip through atmospheric bars, empassioned speakers and gin experts, clever cocktails, ingenious ingredients and flavours, expertly stage-managed by Leon Dalloway himself.
The Gin Journey in London is a tour available with Shake, Rattle and Stir.