Gin is making a global comeback, especially those with a twist
For at least a couple of decades, gin has been in decline and vodka in the ascendant. Vodka had largely replaced gin in the dry martini, and as the spirit most likely to be ordered with tonic and a twist of lemon.
However, fashion comes full circle. In London, New York and other cocktail centres, the classic gin and tonic and gin martini are back with a vengeance. Now Hong Kong is catching up.
Today Sipsmith, a critically acclaimed British artisanal London dry gin, is being launched here. Hong Kong's first specialist gin bar, Origin, has opened at 48 Wyndham Street, managed by prominent mixologist Antonio Lai, and Tastings owner Charlene Dawes.
The bar has Hong Kong's largest selection of gins, ranging from classic London dry styles such as Gordon's, to other, more esoteric, concoctions.
These include Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, made in Germany with 47 botanicals; Waitrose Heston, distilled for the British supermarket chain from a Heston Blumenthal recipe which includes lemon and Earl Grey tea; and Botanist Islay Dry Gin, from the Scottish whisky island, made with 31 botanicals, 22 of them native to Islay.
Lai uses Beefeater gin as the base for his redistilled and "slow-cooked" spirits. These have been reprocessed with additional flavours, including sage, cucumber, basil, grapefruit, chocolate and tea. He also ages negroni cocktails in bourbon barrels.
Lai stresses that although the botanicals may vary hugely, the common thread is juniper, which is gin's main flavour. "We have ways of changing the character of the gin, but Beefeater has a good botanical balance and we want to keep the juniper flavour."
While some flavoured vodkas seem increasingly desperate - bacon, smoked salmon or popcorn anybody? - craft distillers use varied blends of botanicals to produce an interesting range of gins.
Lai likes Monkey 47 - "just drink it on the rocks" - and Beefeater 24, which is flavoured with tea. "They put it into a copper pot for 24 hours to macerate the botanicals and then they do the distillation. Tea with gin is a good marriage."
Expect to see a growing range of gins in back bars and on liquor store shelves. December saw the Hong Kong launch of Ungava, a Canadian gin made with indigenous herbs; and Berry Bros' award-winning No 3 London Dry Gin, already "seeded" in several top bars, will shortly be launched properly by new distributor Edrington.