Two weeks ago I went to a Gin bar in Southsea, Portsmouth with some friends. I was faced with about 10 pages of every single gin under the sun, and there were so many options… but which gin did I go for?
As you can see on my bio, I received my undergraduate degree from Plymouth University. I chose Plymouth for slightly unorthodox reasons (there were ships and at the time I was trying to join the Royal Navy) but also because I just love the city. Plymouth Hoe is beautiful and the Barbican is so quaint. I knew that was where I wanted to be. The proximity to Dartmoor and the Cornish coastline were huge selling points and also…
I wanted to graduate on Plymouth Hoe…
It’s safe to say I love the city, and am also rather fond of a Plymouth Gin.
The History of Plymouth Gin
The Black Friars distillery is situated in the more than picturesque Barbican area of the city, in a building which used to be a monastery. The monks at the monastery believed that juniper berries would keep the plague away.Can we say that gin is medicinal? Possibly… I’ll roll with it.
Plymouth Gin has the oldest working gin distillery in England, operating since 1793. Every bottle is still made on the Barbican in Plymouth, using water from Dartmoor and the same blend of ingredients as when they started. Due to this, and their location, it is the only gin in the world to have a Protected Designation of Origin status. Fancy. There’s also a ship on the bottle. Simple things please me.
Much like Mount Gay Rum is said to be ‘the rum which invented rum’, Plymouth Gin is almost certainly the ‘gin that invented gin’.
Plymouth Gin & The Royal Navy
Horatio Nelson used to order barrels of Plymouth Gin for his officers and for nearly 200 years every Royal Navy ship deploying had a bottle of ‘Navy Strength’ Plymouth Gin on board.
The ‘Navy Strength’ gin has an interesting beginning. All Royal Navy warships had cannons on board, but leaks would make the gunpowder wet, and therefore unable to be lit. Plymouth Gin created the Navy Strength Plymouth Gin to pass the ‘proof test’ for the RN. They poured the gin on to gunpowder, if the gunpowder still lit it proved there was enough alcohol (proof) and they allowed the gin on board.
I’ve only tried the Navy Strength gin as part of the distillery tour, but I know that you can buy a bottle in some supermarkets and also online! The standard Plymouth Gin is 41.2% abv. The Navy Strength is 57%.
The Distillery Tour
You can go on a tour of the Plymouth Gin distillery and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve done the tour 3 times (with university friends and my mum) and I took so much away from it. I won’t go in to too much detail, but one interesting fact is that Plymouth Gin was created and able to be drank neat (on ice is perfect) and as part of the tour we did just this. I didn’t feel like my head would be blown off, and the juniper and citrus notes really shine through, but leave an earthy flavour. To this day it remains my favourite gin.
The addition of tonic only began when British sailors went away and added the quinine tonic water and fresh limes (the first G&T really).
The general Plymouth Gin distillery tour costs £7 and lasts 40 minutes, so it’s not at all expensive and you even get a G&T at the end of it.
They also run a Gin Connoisseur’s Tour (£20) which lasts 1.5hrs and a Master Distiller’s Tour (£40) lasting 2.5hrs
The distillery is open Monday to Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 11-5 and they have a shop where you can purchase all manner of Plymouth Gin products, even gin filled Christmas crackers (a firm favourite in our household on Christmas Day)
The Pink Gin
Probably my favourite gin based drink (for entirely geeky reasons, as if we were at all surprised) is the ‘Pink Gin’.
In my first year of university someone bought me The Cruel Sea on DVD. A brilliant choice if you like B&W war films as much as I do. In this film the officers were drinking pink gins. I’d never heard of this before and quickly went away to do my research and give it a try.
I had a bottle of Plymouth Gin already as a ‘moving in to halls’ present from my mum, and I went out and bought myself some angostura bitters. The rest, as they say, is history. It became my go-to for nights out, sunny Barbican afternoon drinks and now after a particularly stressful day, it remains my tipple of choice.
The history behind the pink gin is also tied to the Royal Navy, as sailors used to use angostura bitters to cure seasickness and attempt to settle their stomachs. Bitters on their own are, as the name suggests, bitter… and so they mixed it in with their Plymouth Gin ration. The original mixologists…
A standard pink gin is one part Plymouth Gin and one dash (or more if you like) of angostura bitters. It’s now more commonly served with the addition of tonic water. I recommend Fever Tree, personally.
There are two variations.
The Pink Gin (IN)
The angostura bitters are swirled around the glass before gin is added, leaving the bitters in the glass as the name suggests.
The Pink Gin (OUT)
The angostura bitters are swirled around the glass, but poured out before the gin is added.
Cannot vouch for this one personally. I prefer the bitters left in as it’s a much more complex taste.
I also like to add a slice of orange instead of lime to this as I feel it complements it perfectly.