There once was a simple time. A time when coffee came out of a jar, wine was red or white and gin was something the old folks drank of an afternoon.
After superb wineries, came hand-crafted small batch-brewed beer. In London - spiritual home of gin, famous for the Hogarth painting depicting the despair of the gin-drinking masses - artisan gin distilleries began popping up in the past five years. The trend caught the eye of liquor marketers Mark Neal and Daniel McLaughlin, who, thoughtfully, noticed the need here for new gins.
In the three years the pair spent talking to distillers and gin gurus in the UK, Australia, even the United States, they became fascinated by the old-school history of the spirit and the modern takes on the classic. It helped that they describe themselves a fanatical gin drinkers. And last month they finally launched their Rogue Society gin to high end bars around the country.
Gold was struck when they found a master distiller in Christchurch who had been distilling for over 30 years in a beautiful 300 year-old copper John Dore still from an original London gin palace. The boys are very protective of the 'intellectual property' - a phrase possibly not used in Hogarth's London - of the still. So all we can tell you is that the shape is what makes each batch special - along with pure mountain water from the Southern Alps, clever tweaking and a mix of 12 botanicals. Even the atmospheric pressure can affect the quality of each 1000 litre batch.
Much time was spent tasting and testing the formula. Mark even brought in a chef mate to educate their palates (and play with some food mixes, while they were at it), their office is littered with over 35 gins from around the world and they even have a view on the right tonic (for the record, traditional Schweppes if you prefer a sweeter G&T, local tonic Quina Fina to bring out more citrusy notes).
Rogue Society Botanicals.
"We wanted something modernised for today's palate, something with more citrus notes," explains Mark. "It had to have versatility because today people are mixing it with more than just tonic."
The pair worked with experienced spice merchants from the UK to source the botanicals - orange and lemon peel, juniper berries as well as cloves, cassia, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cardamom, oris and angelica roots and liquorice. The result is a dry gin with a lovely fruity, floral, full taste.
Mark and Dan spent nearly two years getting the bottle right. They wanted something close to the traditional Geneva-style bottle, even buying vintage bottles overseas for reference. Rachel Doughty from One Design gave it a modern twist, creating a graphics story of icons which nod to the personality of the brand - social, unconventional, Dutch courage and a nickel-plated zinc disc for the neck label (attached by hand by Mark and Dan, it's that artisan). Their rollicking website explains their philosophy - complete with quotes from rogues past.
It's clear Mark and Dan understand their new gin drinker. They've worked with some of the city - and country's - coolest bartenders who want premium tastes for their cocktails.
They forced me to join them for a gin tasting with one of their favourites, Barney Toy of Britomart's Fukuko. The pair's natty-with-a-twist garb perfectly fit the companionable rogue branding, as we sipped and admired.
Barney Toy from Fukuko mixes a G&T with Rogue Society Gin.
Here are Barney's top four gin cocktails:
1. Classic Gin and Tonic
Harder than it looks, and not how your old uncle may do it.
Barney Says: "Ice is your friend," so fill the glass to the top with big chunks. You don't want to wash the gin out with too much tonic. Glassware matters - raid nana's cupboard or the op-shop for good, heavy, even cut crystal, tumblers.
Pour on 45 ml gin, top with tonic (Barney uses Quina Fina or East Imperial for their classic higher quinine, lower sugar taste). Drink and repeat.
2. Gin and Fig Old Fashioned "Fi-get Me Not"
Barney Says: For lovely seasonal autumn tastes; "bottom of the forest floor". A more mellowed out version than the usual bourbon and sugar combo.
45 ml Rogue Society
15ml fig liqueur (he uses Bricolette)
2 dashes of bitters (he uses Bitter Truth for it's notes of star anise, cardamom and cinnamon)
Finish with a twist of grapefruit rind (no pith, twist so the oil is released).
3. Wrong side
Barney Says: Wrong side of the tracks is exactly right for a bunch of rogues
45 ml Rogue Society
30 ml fresh lemon juice (try to squeeze your own, truly it is worth it)
50 ml Orgeat (an almond syrup, sweet and rich)
White of one egg.
Dry shake to emulsify the egg with the other ingredients - the result is creamy, but soft and velvety
2 dashes Hop & Grapefruit bitters
15ml dry vermouth.
Shake all together a second time with ice. Pour into a chilled glass.
Dress with a slice of dehydrated lemon
Dan says, match this with salty white sardines, a plate of figs or a beautiful dried beef copa.
4. Gin and Milk
Barney says: A variation on the classic old milk punch, a throwback to Hogarth sordid gin past
45ml Rogue Society
15ml Benedictine (for warm, spicy notes)
15ml Licor 43 (a Spanish vanilla liqueur)
60 ml full cream milk
2 dashes of Bittermen's Burlesque bitters
Swizzle or whisk all together, top with ice and drink with a straw. A milkshake for grownups.