I've never really understood the allure of gin. It's not so much the gin, I suppose, that is the problem, but the way people drink it. The ubiquitous G&T. I hate tonic water. Fuck tonic, in fact. Tonic tastes like someone just shat in or around my mouth.
The reason tonic tastes so bitter and disgusting is that it contains quinine, a medicine that was used as anti-malarial treatment in the 19th and early 20th centuries and is still recommended today in severe cases.
Do I want severe malaria treatment in my refreshing alcoholic beverage? I do not. No. It tastes like sucking off a 9V battery.
I decided to go to a bar and get them to show me some ways to drink gin I might not hate. Ask for Janice, a gin bar in Farringdon with over 40 varieties, agreed to host my egregious and flagrant excuse for day drinking.
"Ask for Josh," they told me.
"I thought it was Janice," I replied. Oh, how we laughed.
Ingredients: Hayman's Sloe Gin with Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon and a slice of lemon.
Initial thoughts: Oh god, why?!
Tastes like: Bitter hatred mellowing out to friendly tolerance.
Sloe gin sounds like a Pokémon and tastes like dessert. I was really enjoying this drink until Josh – bar manager at Ask for Janice and my gin valet for the afternoon – pointed out that I hadn't yet poured in the bitter lemon. Error.
Once the bitter lemon was in and I'd recoiled at the bittery lemon-ness, I realised it was actually quite palatable. And yet, though the initial taste was harmless enough, there was a lingering anguish on the back of my tongue. A check of the bottle's ingredients flagged up quinine. I'd rather have malaria, to be honest.
Still, it was more drinkable than a G&T. I finished it, and Josh went to get drink two.
Ingredients: Monkey 47 and soda water, garnished with mint.
Initial thoughts: Ooh, planty.
Tastes like: Garden centres.
Monkey 47 has a mixture of 47 botanicals, all finely balanced to create the kind of taste experience you might get from eating a shrub. But an alcoholic shrub.
"This is our most popular drink," Josh said, while I winced through my first few sips. "But it's more for your seasoned gin drinker."
Thankfully the initially overpowering sensation of chewing through a hedgerow gave way to more nuanced notes, and once my mouth had adjusted to the shock of vegetation, I quite enjoyed this.
It had an easy finish, compared to the bitter end of the previous drink, and, coupled with the soda water, made for a refreshing mouthful. If someone bought me one I might not complain, but I'm not sure I'd take this over a whisky. Moving on.
Ingredients: Gin Mare with Mediterranean Tonic, a slice of orange, and a sprig of rosemary.
Initial thoughts: I'm a bit drunk.
Tastes like: Rosemary (mostly because I managed to get a mouthful of it).
"I know you said you didn't like tonic," Josh told me. "But there are lots of different tonics. Maybe we could try a few different combinations."
Two gins down and I was feeling amenable to what was surely a bad idea and the exact opposite of what I came to the bar in search of. Despite my reservations, the Gin Mare and tonic was actually drinkable. It was light but flavourful, and not too bitter.
To be honest, by my third gin everything was starting to taste good.
"Next!" I shouted, even though Josh was sitting directly beside me.
Ingredients: Opihr Gin with Fentiman's Tonic Water and a slice of orange.
Initial thoughts: No, no, and fuck no.
Tastes like: Regret.
"This is my favourite gin," Josh beamed. "It's spiced, and the Fentiman's Tonic is really distinctive, so together you get a really rich, spicy flavour."
Oh Jesus, fuck no. I lied. Everything was not starting to taste good. This drink was entirely misery and the suffering of the innocent. It tasted like human trafficking. I managed not to spit it out. Just.
"What the fuck, Josh, I thought we were friends?"
"So... That's a no on that one?"
"It's like licking a urinal cake that's been doused in petrol. Why would you do this to me?"
I poured water down my throat in an effort to make the badness go away.
"Sometimes I drink Opihr with ginger ale," he said. "You could try that, if you want?"
"Goddamn it, Josh, yes. That sounds incredible! Why is it not in my mouth?"
Josh skipped off to get me one.
Ingredients: Opihr Gin, Fever-Tree Ginger Ale, and a slice of orange.
Initial thoughts: I finally understand joy.
Tastes like: Ardent but non-overbearing masculinity.
One sip and I was all about this drink.
"By Josh, I think we've got it!"
His little face lit up.
This was the gin drink I'd been looking for. It was effervescent and refreshing, and tasty as all fuck. The black pepper notes of the Opihr mixed sublimely with the ginger to give it a pleasing edge. My sexual orientation was now spiced gin with ginger ale.
This was the kind of drink that could make me enjoy summer. This was the kind of drink that made me want grandchildren. I wanted to buy shares in something. And own tweed. I wanted to wear musk and build bookshelves from mahogany.
I felt like I finally understood the breadth of human emotion.
By god, it was a thing of beauty. By god, I was tipsy.
"Josh," I slurred. "For the last drink, make me something special."
I may have winked.
Ingredients: Hayman's Old Tom Gin with homemade whiskey-infused marmalade.
Initial thoughts: No, I'm not crying, you're crying. OK, I'm crying.
Tastes like: This:
"I had a gin with whiskey marmalade once. I can't remember how the guy did it. I'm not sure if it will be any good," Josh said modestly. "But since you're a whiskey guy, I can try and make it?"
"I think you know what you have to do," I told him. "This is your time."
Who knows where inspiration comes from. Who knows how the muse speaks to us, or when she'll visit. That's not for me to answer. All I know is this: At around 4pm on Thursday 15 October, the muse visited Josh. What he created was art in beverage form.
I didn't have the words. I sipped slowly, tears streaming down my face, nodding in quiet affirmation. I had tasted truth, and it was gin melting into marmalade, the sweet notes balancing with bitter and the citrus, smoked with the subtle flavour of whiskey.
After 90 minutes of gintrigue, I'd found two drinks I could call home. Drinks I'd be happy to order instead of a whisky. Well. Occasionally, at least.
My gin journey was just beginning, but I'd made a good start. Especially since that start was at 3pm on a Thursday. I paid my bill, shook Josh's hand, and made my way merrily into the madness of mid-afternoon London.
Is there a gin drink you think I should try? Let me know below!