Last weekend I went out twice in town, on a Friday night to The Lord Wargrave – a pub just off the Edgware Road – I was pleased to find they had a good variety of gins on offer, but then found the only choice of mixer was Britvic tonic, and as hard as I tried to enjoy my Gin Mare and Britvic, it really just ruined it.
The following night at The Chapel Bar in Islington, another decent selection of at least six premium gins to choose from beyond the standard Gordon’s, but this time the tonic was dispensed from a tap, to the brim. The barmaid also wanted to add lime to the Tanqueray No10 and cucumber to the London No1, “so I could tell them apart”, but thankfully I managed to stop that, but the damage was done. Needless to say, on both nights, only one round of gin was taken, then we moved on to something that they couldn’t ruin. Both establishments are otherwise very nice places, but this lack of understanding of how to serve gin, to the point where they are actually managing to ruin an excellent gin like Gin Mare worries me, it is doing nothing for the brands or the industry as a whole. No one will ever shift from Gordon’s if they are totally unable to appreciate the difference, and if decent pubs in the West End of London can’t get it right, then who will?
At the other end of the scale, in the shadow of Crossrail building works in Soho, sits a traditional looking pub called The Star, which is the home of the London Gin Club, and, within these walls, they know how to do gin. We booked in advance, essential for peak times if you want a table, and I can tell you now, if you like gin, then you really do want a table!
Greeted by shelf upon shelf of fine gins, I caught glimpses of several favourites that you simply never see in other bars – Cotswolds, Crossbill, Daffys, Rock Rose. Then others that I have tried but never owned – Pickerings, Haymans, Blackwater – but the idea of the night, as much as these favourites are tempting, was to try and have something I had not had before, which these days is becoming harder and harder to do without going to see a specialist.
We started with a tasting menu, four shots of carefully selected gins with their respective garnishes and as much Fever-Tree Indian tonic water as you need. Copa Balon glasses and large lumps of cracked ice are also replaceable on request. I thought I might have a look at their web site to see if they had any more information about the menus, but follow the ‘tasting menus’ link and it has been 3 years since they added a new post on that page, so I was glad we have good memories, even after a night of gin drinking. Our tasting menu contained Broken Heart, Isfjord, Garden Tiger and Bertha’s Revenge, in that order. We were instructed, and, not wanting to seem rude, we nodded along, as if new to the business of gin-drinking. The Broken Heart was nice, the Isfjord stunning – smooth and rich, made from Iceberg water and a smooth balance of botanicals including lemon-grass, cardamom and orange peel. Isfjord was going to be a hard act to follow, and I knew fourth-up Bertha’s Revenge was going to be wonderful as I am lucky enough to own a bottle. So Garden Tiger was in a tricky spot, but in practice it was so wonderful I could have sipped it neat all night. At 47%, Garden Tiger is not mucking about, it is indeed a gin with claws – and the garden part of the name is easy to place too, with citrusy floral notes that make for a tasty, complex and smooth gin. We did not have any other of their Tasting Boards, but I can certainly recommend this one, four fantastic gins. (edit: Look at ‘recent posts’ on their page for updated taking menu information, it seems they do update it, they just don’t manage the links within the site very well)
We had a couple of cocktails next, along with a Charcuterie Board and some bread. I had a traditional Bees Knees and Charlotte (who was bank-rolling the evening for my Birthday) had a very ginny Ginger & Pomegranate cocktail of their own design, both food and drink were delicious.
We returned to some straightforward gin & tonic drinking: One after the other we had Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin, of which I had heard great things, and Thompson’s Gin, a product that includes Caviar among its botanicals, and of which I had previously lived in ignorance of. Both were really lovely, with the Thompson’s perhaps getting the nod, but only just. Again, these gins were different, adding a whole new set of flavours to the ever expanding gin universe, and more worryingly, my ever expanding gin wishlist, something I have concluded that I will never reach the end of.
Finally, and feeling rather tipsy by this point, we decided to try two final gins before heading for home. I had Hernö Old Tom gin from Sweden, something I had tried once before and loved; Charlotte selected the wonderfully named Death’s Door Gin, again, both were sublime, with the Death’s Door being particularly spicy and smooth – would undoubtedly make a great Martini.
Other tonics were available, but we only had Fever-Tree Indian Tonic all evening and I do wish pubs and bars would take note of this simple fact. We were also given the bottle, so could add as much or as little as we liked, and only in the Hernö did either of us ever use more than half a bottle.
The average price of a Gin & Tonic was a little under £9, but you could pay a fair amount more for some of the more expensive brands. I would certainly recommend any of the gins we had, without exception, but if you want something exceptional, then the Isfjord; Bertha’s Revenge, Death’s Door and most notable of all Garden Tiger, are all stand out, five star gins – but frankly you should just go to The London Gin Club and experience a night with them for yourself, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.