Liverpool Is Staging a Gin and Tonic Revolution
With a growing number of dedicated gin bars and a small batch distillery intent on building the foundations of a “gin revolution,” Liverpool bartenders are making the classic gin and tonic their own.
Photo via Flickr user Christopher Phin
It's no secret that England loves gin. If we're not guzzling it from tankards like some Hogarthian street lurker, we're wearing vintage frocks and sipping it from Cath Kidston teacups. The spirit is to us what whisky is to Scotland and digestifs are to France.
While gin has spent some time out of favour, shoved to one side by crafty rivals like vodka and bourbon, the past few years have seen a renewed appreciation for its junipery charms. Inspired by artisan spirit specialists like London's Sipsmith, as well as independent distilleries including Brighton Gin, British drinkers seem to be waking up to the fact that you can do a lot with your Gordon's beside drowning it in supermarket tonic.
And nowhere more so than Liverpool, a city more commonly associated with weekend debauchery than the refined sip of a cool gin cocktail.
Thanks to events like the World Gin Day celebrations, held in the city's "Palm House" (a dome-shaped glass building built by the "Mother's Ruin"-loving Victorians) and last year's Liverpool Gin Festival, the city's distillers and bartenders are making the spirit their own.
Many also attribute this gin resurgence to the popularity of the rather prosaically-named Liverpool Gin. The small batch distillery was founded in 2013 by pub landlord John O'Dowd and Mark Hensby, who runs Liverpool Organic Brewery. According to their website, the pair hope their coriander and citrus-infused spirit will build the "foundations of a gin revolution."
"Gin has always been my favourite drink," says O'Dowd, who was drawn to the idea of opening a micro-distillery by gin's reputation as an anarchic spirit. "It's got a real depth of history behind it. You have to admire a drink which has been around since the 17th century, and used to be made in bathtubs."
The Kirkdale-produced gin rekindles a strong Scouse tradition. During the city's heyday as a port, Liverpool gin flowed, and was seen as being as good as that produced by Plymouth and London Dry producers. Production dried up with the decline of trade at the beginning of the 20th century.
"We wanted our spirit to reflect the history and heritage of gin. It's unique because it's completely organic," says O'Dowd. "We use organic Italian grain from Piedmont and all organic botanicals, many of which you would have found being shipped into the docks in the past."
Since its launch in 2013, Liverpool Gin has picked up a fistful of awards, including gold and silver medals in an international blind tasting of spirits, and a silver in the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition. It's sold in a bars across Liverpool, but you can also pick up a bottle in Fortnum & Mason, or on one of luxury cruise line Cunard's Three Queens ships sailing out of Southampton.
One sip and it's easy to understand the plaudits. Liverpool Gin is as crisp and aromatic as a Scouse bird at the beginning of a night out.
You have to admire a drink which has been around since the 17th century, and used to be made in bathtubs.
"Vodka used to be really popular but it's had its place in the sun," says O'Dowd. "People's tastes have changed, they find that they don't want to drink spirits flavoured with things like bubblegum and marshmallow, particularly when the weather starts to get warmer. I prefer to garnish our gin with flavours like watermelon, star anise, and orange to add a bit of sweetness and spice."
At recently opened Liverpool gin bar Jenever, the focus is also on flavour. Named after the spirit's Dutch ancestor, the bar stocks over 50 variants of gin and specialises in gin-based cocktails.
"We felt that Liverpool needed a gin bar to rival those in London, Barcelona, and many other cities of the world," say co-owner Kitty Rae. "People have started to realise that there's more to gin than Gordon's. We stock over 50 varieties and all of them sell. Some of the more unusual ones, gins I didn't think that people here would go for, are our most popular—like Da Mhile Seaweed Gin from Wales."
Cedar is another Liverpool bar riding the wave of this "ginaissance." The nightclub-turned-gin-bar opened earlier this year and offers 30 gins, ten of which are paired with specially chosen sipping tonics.
"Other bars in Liverpool have got whisky and cocktails covered, so we wanted to give people another choice," says co-owner Josh Moore. "[It's] such a unique spirit. For example, Jensen's produce a gin that's been infused with horseradish; we use it in our 'Not So Bloody Mary' and make it with a tomato consomme and it's totally clear."
As the UK goes into mild hysteria over its annual "heatwave," many will be reaching for gin and tonics—mainly because they're long, cool, and you can drink a lot of them over the course of an afternoon without getting totally smashed. But what makes a Liverpool Gin and Tonic different?
"I think a lot of it is down to the fact that it's a leveller—it's simple, refreshing and classless drink, which is something people in Liverpool relate to," says Rae. " It even tastes great with a curry."
While the weather holds up, Liverpool won't be the only city ditching fruit cider and novelty flavoured vodka for a stiff G&T. It will be among the few with its own gin namesake, though.