WE may be heading into winter but for gin fans, come rain or shine, cocktail culture is year-round. This is because gin’s highly adaptable flavour makes it the perfect infusion for just about any cocktail making it impossible to hibernate socially. But it wasn’t always so.
Monks during the 1100s used it to make medicines by distilling sharp, fiery, alcoholic tonics, one of which was distilled from wine infused with juniper berries. As a medicinal herb, juniper had been an essential part of doctors’ kits for centuries. But its vile taste made it unpalatable until the Dutch tinkered with its flavour in the 17th century contributing to gin’s massive growth in popularity.
For the next few centuries new and faster ways were found to improve the distilling process, the G&T was discovered, and gin boomed. But by 1950 vodka had its moment coinciding with the invention of convenience foods and mechanical solutions like soda guns and syrup dispensers. The first pre-mix cocktail eliminated the need to juice fresh citrus or balance it with sugar. By the 1980s bar tending cocktails and gin were at an all-time low.
Then in 2009, everything changed. The focus on juniper berries for flavour shifted incorporating more botanicals leading to the craft gin movement. Fast-forward to 2023, gin is back on top with more than 5 500 gins on the market. Global revenue in the gin segment currently amounts to US$14.82bn and is expected to grow annually by 7.71%.
A true gin must be made with juniper berries but thanks to the craft gin trend each producer is allowed to use their own secret formula. Combinations of botanicals used include orris, angelica, and liquorice roots, lemon and orange peels, cassia bark, caraway, coriander, cardamom, anise, and fennel.
A big trend now is the demand for premium handcrafted cocktails, especially amongst millennials. Pre-mixed and fresh cocktail recipes are moving away from artificial colourants and flavours in preference for high-quality ingredients with a natural appeal. Gin is valued for its earthy appeal and a natural flavour. According to the survey conducted by the Bacardi Cultural Insights Network in 2020, gin was chosen as the top spirit among premium cocktails and other alcoholic drinks by 37% of bartenders worldwide.
So why do we celebrate World Gin Day? Gin connoisseur, Neil Houston, wanted to find a way to bring the drink to more people so that they could enjoy it. He and UK blogger, Emma Stokes, a.k.a. Gin Monkey, teamed up to launch the first World Gin Day in Birmingham in 2009. Since then, the event has grown and at last count the organisers reached more than 200 million social media users and ran events in more than 30 countries worldwide.
South Africa is still yet to experience one of their events, but it’s easy to get involved. Experiment with one of Whitley Neill’s flavour variants or try all seven. We recommend Whitley Neill’s Protea & Hibiscus Gin, a handcrafted gin of exceptional quality, inspired by the wild and natural beauty of Africa’s landscape. Protea and hibiscus flavours combine to bring a distinctive floral note to create a smooth gin with a unique and remarkable taste that reflects the majestic beauty of the two flowers. Produced and sold exclusively in South Africa, use it to make this delicious cocktail.
WHITLEY NEILL PROTEA & HIBISCUS COCKTAIL
- 50ml Whitley Neill Protea & Hibiscus gin
- 200ml purple tonic
- 2 lemon slices
- Edible flowers (optional)
- Add the gin to a glass with ice, top up with tonic and garnish with lemon slices and edible flowers.
Birthed in London from the expertise of eight generations of distillers and a life-long love of adventure, inspired by Africa and the world, and locally distilled in small batches, the award-winning Whitley Neill gin range consists of seven unique variants of exceptional quality for every taste to enjoy in a classic G&T or experimental cocktail.
The Raspberry, Blackberry, Blood Orange, and Lemongrass & Ginger flavours draw inspiration from from Scotland, England, Sicily and Asia, while the Original London dry-style gin (which received Double Gold at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and Gold at the 2022 London Spirits Competition), Protea & Hibiscus, and Aloe & Cucumber gins are beautifully balanced, African-inspired tipples crafted using a selection of rare and aromatic local botanicals.
Whitley Neill Gin is available at most leading liquor retailers and online at Takealot and Liquor Drop. Not for sale to under-18s, drink responsibly.