Don Kavanagh is the editor of Hospitality magazine.

Don Kavanagh: Sky's the limit for gin

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These modern spirits might take Granny by surprise, writes Don Kavanagh

West Winds' gin is packed with 'botanical' flavour.
West Winds' gin is packed with 'botanical' flavour.

I'll admit it - I've been drinking out of season. Normally when the days and nights are cold I tend to aim for darker beers and spirits and red wines but, for some reason, I've been getting into gin a fair bit.

It started a few weeks ago when someone told me it was World Gin Day. I'd never heard of such a day before but am always happy to support these awareness-raising exercises wherever possible. That support was made easier by the sheer quality of the bramble I got that day at the Whiskey Bar and I've pretty much been hitting the gin on and off ever since.

It's a popular beverage, after years of being dismissed as something your granny drank. New producers have enlivened the scene with some brilliantly innovative brands.

Gin is a fantastic drink because it offers so much variety as a result of the "botanicals" it uses. The only firm rule is that gin must contain some juniper, but other than that it can veer from the steely, austere likes of Tanqueray to the sweet, rounded style that is Bombay Sapphire, or even the cucumber-heavy likes of Hendricks.

There is no upper limit on how many botanicals you can use in flavouring gin, so the sky really is the limit.

So it was nice to catch up with Jason "Jackie" Chan recently. This Kiwi bartender has made quite a name for himself in Australia and a few years back he joined forces with Jeremy Spencer to produce West Winds gin, giving the venerable old spirit the revamp it so richly deserves.

Made in Western Australia's Margaret River wine country, West Winds comes in two distinct varieties: the Sabre is a classically dry, traditionally English gin and the Cutlass is an altogether more wild-at-heart version.

I caught up with Jason over lunch at Molten and, for once, the food was secondary to the drink. The Sabre made a perfect gin and tonic, without the need to use exotic ingredients. Simple, elegant and straight to the point, it was the perfect marriage of fine botanicals, quinine and lemon. You can see why the G&T really caught on as a drink because, for all its simplicity, it has an elegance that is timeless.

The Cutlass is a different beast entirely, with a much more savoury character to it, partly as a result of using Australian bush tomatoes in the botanical mix.

It's a big, meaty gin and makes a fantastic cocktail base, rather than a G&T base, as it can overpower a simple mixer like tonic.

But it is packed with flavour and if you like gin it's well worth checking out. It's certainly not the same stuff your granny used to drink, that's for sure.

- Herald on Sunday

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