Gin's checkered past
Although the recent gin boom is pretty young, gin has deep historical roots. There’s several claims as to the birth place; some Italians claim that they were the inventors of gin as Italian monks were adding juniper to alcohol for medicinal purposes as far back as the 11th century. However, most believe that gin came from the Netherlands, the home of genever. This too is also disputed with claims that gin was in fact first made in Belgium. What is clear is that gin has been around since the 16th century and that the Netherlands became the hot spot for one of the first incarnations of gin, genever. With genever becoming increasingly popular, it started to make its way into the UK through an alliance with the Dutch during wartime. It’s also where the phrase ‘dutch courage’ is believed to have come from: Dutch soldiers drank genever before a battle, giving them a sense of bravery. UK soldiers would share their new found drink with family and friends on their return home. It became popular amongst the poorer communities as a cheaper option to beer and a safer option to the toxic water.

What is genever? 

Genever is a malt wine flavoured with plenty of juniper berries. It’s usually made from grains like barley, rye or corn and sits somewhere between a whisky and gin. You can get unaged styles (jonge) or aged styles (oude). Genever styles can be purchased today and it makes for a fuller bodied, slightly sweeter style of spirit. It was believed to have medicinal properties and is the basis for gin today.

Gin Lane, Beer Street
Gin Lane, Beer Street by William Hogarth** is an incredibly famous image that depicted the horrors of the gin craze. The right shows Beer Street, where everyone is having a pleasant time, order is in place and times are good. The left shows Gin Lane, with people living in squaller, a mother dropping her baby and carnage.

The first Gin Craze

The modern day gin craze is not the first. In the late 1600s, the UK found itself with a Dutchman on the throne, King William III of Orange. He began a trade war with France making it incredibly difficult to import things like wine and cognac. He instead introduced tax breaks for distilling essentially allowing anyone to make gin. A pint of gin became cheaper than a pint of beer, which sounds fabulous, right? Wrong. The gin was full of terrible chemicals like turpentine and sulphuric acid. If you were lucky, you’d get some sawdust in there too. Gin became the root of all evil. It was a drug that the poorest were hooked on. They drank it as a form of escapism, drinking to forget all their problems. There were tales of promiscuity, mothers forgetting about their children and the selling of children just so people could get their fix. It’s thought that this is where the saying ‘mother’s ruin’ came from. Ever wondered where the word gin comes from? Well, it’s believed that it comes from intoxicated brits unable to say genever so just shortened it to gin. 

By 1730s, the government had begun to realise just what a terrible mess they had on their hands. They brought in laws around making gin with the first being the 50 pound distillers license in 1736. The idea was to make it illegal to distill unless you paid £50 which, at the time, that was a lot of money. It wasn’t particularly successful and it took 15 years before the government passed the final Gin Act in 1751. This law stated that distillers must pay a license fee and could only sell to licensed retailers in affluent areas. This, along with the rising price of grain meant that the gin craze completely died out. 

Gin didn’t disappear completely, some of the most well known gin brands today of today were established in the following 150 years after. G & J Greenalls set up in 1761, Gordon’s Gin set up in 1769 and Plymouth Gin set up in 1793. Just over 100 years after the act, Hayman’s Gin set up in 1863. Although it’s easy to dismiss some of the above gins for being mass produced, credit has to be given where credit is due. These are brands that have stood the test of time and helped change the face of gin, taking it from the root of all evil to a classy, refined drink. Part of the law passed meant you had to distill in large batches, stills larger than 1800 litres to be exact, making small batch gin illegal. This remained the same until 2008.

The 1800s saw a new era for gin and it had become a more sophisticated drink. The development of the Coffey still (designed by Aeneas Coffey, nothing to do with coffee we drink) meant for cleaner, better quality spirits. The expansion of the British empire brought about new botanicals and discovery of quinine and the 1830s saw dedicated gin palaces pop up. They were ostentatious and over the top, adorned with mirrors and gas lights. Drinks were cheap and people were encouraged to drink up and buy more. Whilst gin seemed to have a better reputation, it still had its issues. The prohibition era in the USA brought about ‘bathtub gin’, cheap, poor quality gin made illegally. The idea was to make it in small enough batches to refrain from being detected from the authorities. 

Over 250 years later, not a lot had changed since the Gin Act of 1751. It took some persuasion and the likes of the creators of Sipsmith and Sacred Gin to bring about change. Finally, in 2008, the law was repealed. A mere 10 years later, we have the gin boom of today, the second gin craze.

A note on 'bathtub gin'

You may be familiar with the the brand Bathtub Gin. Bathtub Gin is an ode to the historical process of making gin in the Prohibition era. 

The name ‘bathtub gin’ has a few references. The first is that it’s thought that bathtubs had the only taps that would fit a bottle underneath them for diluting the spirit down. It’s also thought that it was the only vessel large enough for people to infuse their gin in. Infusing gin in a large container is one of the simplest ways of making gin and something that can be done at home (you can buy at home infusion kits that include all the equipment and botanicals you need to create your own gin from vodka). Cold compounding is essentially allowing botanicals to steep in a neutral spirit before being filtered out and bottled. Bathtub Gin uses this method and it’s why you may notice there is a slight colour to the gin. It’s one of a handful of gins made in this manner but it is still of excellent quality.

Tonic and its importance

Tonic is, obviously, a key element to a gin and tonic. Usually, gin becomes the focus but the tonic is just as important. It can make a huge difference to how gin tastes and can bring out other flavour in the gin. As the gin industry has grown, so has the tonic industry. In 2018, it was worth over $1billion and projected to be worth $2.5billion by 2025. Tonic was first commercialised in 1871 by Schweppes (another example of a long standing company, they set up in 1783!) and has been developed immensely since then. Nowadays, we can get all sorts of different flavours and styles of tonic, from subtle to bold flavours. Personally, I prefer the more subtle, plain styles but each to their own. 

Tonic water, by definition, is a carbonated soft drink with quinine dissolved in to it with a distinctive bitter flavour. However, quinine’s medicinal properties were the primary reason that tonic came to be. Quinine is found in the bark of the Cinchona tree and was first found in Southern America in the 1600s. There is an anecdote of a Spanish Countess who had contracted malaria and used quinine as an antidote thus the colloquial name ‘fever tree’ was given to the tree due to its healing properties of ‘fever’ a.k.a malaria. At the time of British expansion, the Army were prescribing quinine to its soldiers to keep malaria at bay. It wasn’t particularly palatable on its own, it was incredibly bitter. So, to make it more pleasant, they would dissolve the quinine in water, add sugar, fruits such as lemon or lime and, of course, their gin rations. It’s thought this first happened in India, hence the name Indian Tonic Water. It quickly became the archetypal drink of the British Empire and a g&t still is a favourite of many today. However, the health benefits are not the same as they were. In fact, the quinine levels in today’s tonic waters are pretty low and don’t show any particular health benefits. 

The tonics we used were Double Dutch Original, two from Franklin and Sons, their Naturally Light and their Sicilian Lemon and Fentimans Naturally Light. 
History lesson over, now to focus on the gin. For the tasting, we asked participants to have two glasses handy, one for neat gin and one for mixing. Although not everyone enjoys it, we recommend trying a sip neat as flavours can change drastically when tonic is added. 
Gin no. 1 Jawbox Gin

Jawbox gin takes its name from the nickname given to the famous Belfast sink. A necessity of any northern Irish household, it was used for just about anything. It became a hub of the home, lending itself to a lot of chit chat hence gaining the name jawbox. Founder, Gerry White, believed that people didn’t come to bars solely to leave drunk, a bar is a social place, often filled with chatter, much like the Jawbox sink. So, being made in Belfast, he gave the gin the name Jawbox as a representation of just that. Gerry set up Jawbox Gin in 2014 after being inspired by the expansion within the industry. He uses the Echinville Distillery, who make a few other Irish spirits, and together, they worked out the ideal recipe for Gerry. It took some time, just as most processes do, but they eventually came to a place were they were satisfied they had made a great gin. 

We started with this gin because it’s a pretty classic, great all rounder. Made up of a total of 11 botanicals including 3 secret ones. These include classics like juniper (of course), orris root, coriander, liquorice root and lemon peel along with cardamon, black mountain heather and cubebs (a small berry that’s not too dissimilar to a peppercorn- it adds a floral note along with a peppery note). 

It's a pretty versatile gin that lends itself to both cocktails and with a range of mixers. It’s a juniper forward, classic style of gin with citrus flavours and spice that build through the palate. Liquorice adds some much needed sweetness to the mix making it a pretty well balanced classic gin.

We paired this with Fentimans Light Tonic and a lime wedge to bring forward all the citrus goodness and add a little zest. It would work equally well with ginger ale! 

Gin no. 2 Cotswolds Gin 

Cotswolds Gin is shop favourite amongst ourselves and customers. However, there is a lot more to Cotswolds Gin than just their gin. They are a fully operational distillery making a whole range of wonderful spirits from (where possible) local ingredients. They set up in 2014 when owner Daniel Szor decided on a new business venture and realised he could combine his love of whisky along with spending more time with the family, in the Cotswolds. Whilst Cotswolds Distillery is known for their gin, their main aim was to make whisky. They started making gin whilst waiting for their whisky to mature and it was received with great success. With the help of Harry Cockburn, previously of Bowmore and Dr Jim Swan, a master of whisky, they set up the distillery and were ready to start making gin within 5 days. Cotswolds have since become well known within the craft industry for exceptional spirits.

They use a traditional 500 litre copper pot still along with 9 carefully selected botanicals.They use 10x the usual amount needed in a pot still which helps create the rich flavours in their gin. Some of their key ingredients include lavender from the Cotswolds, bay leaf, black pepper, fresh grapefruit and lime peels. Cotswolds is left non-chill filtered which means they don’t cool the spirit and filter out any of oils. The result is that the spirit turns cloudy when cold. So when you add tonic and ice to Cotswolds, it turns cloudy. 

Tasting it neat, it’s incredibly floral and herbal- the lavender really shines through. Add the tonic and the citrus elements come to life. It’s clean, silky smooth and lead by the juniper but complex with each of the botanicals coming through in just the right amount. It’s one of great things about Cotswolds Gin. Pair it with Franklins Naturally Light tonic, a slice of grapefruit and a bay leaf if you have one.

This was one of the favourites from the night and, tasting Cotswolds, it clear why. The complexity of their gin is exceptional yet it isn’t over the top; there’s just the right amount of complexity. I’d recommend trying out their other spirits, their whisky is great too! 

Gin no. 3 Whitby Gin

Another favourite amongst ourselves and customers. Whitby Gin is a seaside gin made to reflect the rugged but beautiful North Yorkshire coast. Jess and Luke are the makers behind the gin and decided to swap their desk jobs for distilling back in 2018. Very much self taught, they started out in Luke’s parent’s 40 sq ft utility room after nine months of working on the recipe. The idea for all this came from a camping trip to the Outer Hebrides: they came home with a small still and a big idea. Although they are only tiny having a mere 4 members in the team, they do now have a full scale operation and have been in their distillery for nearly two years. In fact, they just got a brand new 350 litre still named Dora-Grace! Whitby is one of the only spirits we bought before even trying it. Usually, we sample what we can, particularly new spirits, before deciding whether to stock them. It was a bit of a gamble but it certainly paid off. 

Jess and Luke were keen to ensure their gin represented Whitby so they knew from the out set that their recipe had to include heather forged from the North Yorkshire Moors, sugar kelp from Robin Hood Bay and raw local honey. This combination along with 12 other classic gin botanicals, including Juniper, Coriander Seed, Citrus Peels and Liquorice Root, makes for a fantastically balanced, beautiful gin. They do everything by hand, from foraging the botanicals to labelling each bottle making it truly small batch and ensuring sustainability. Whitby is distilled in a London dry method meaning no added sugars or flavours and is also non-chill filtered just like Cotswolds. 

To taste, its incredibly well balanced with subtle floral, herbal and citrus note mingling with juniper. There’s an element of sweetness from the liquorice but nothing is over powering, everything is there in just the right amount. One of my favourite things about this gin is the slightly saline, salty finish that leaves you wanting another sip. We paired it with Double Dutch original tonic, a slice of grapefruit and a sprig of rosemary to accentuate the flavours.

This too was one the favourites from the night and, again, it’s easy to see why. Some one mentioned on the night that this was his favourite and he planned on having it with fish and chips. I have to admit, I think that would be a perfect combination and it made me want to immediately order a large battered cod and chips to enjoy with my gin. 

Gin no. 4 Masons Yorkshire Tea Gin

Now, Yorkshire Tea gin may seem like a novelty but this is a serious gin. Another Yorkshire gin, Masons Gin are based in Bedale and have built themselves up to be big players in the world of gin. Founded back in 2013 on World Gin Day by makers Karl and Cathy, Masons have worked hard to ensure their gins are some of the finest out there. Their mentality is to do things the right way and to not compromise on anything. They made Yorkshire’s first distillery on their doorstop with the idea of bringing craftmanship to Bedale. They hired local people and worked hard starting out at small weekend markets and fetes. Fast forward seven years and they have become a staple in the gin industry. They now have a whole range of fantastic gins and are very proud of their Yorkshire heritage. 

Masons gin are certainly resilient too. Last April, they suffered a huge fire at their old distillery. Thankfully, no one was hurt but it was a devastating fire that destroyed everything. It was something that could have quite easily lead to the end of the business but Masons didn’t see it as this. Instead, thanks to the support from people all over, they put their plans for a new distillery and visitors centre in to motion. They released a special edition gin called Phoenix with donations from each bottle going to the fire service that helped and opened in March of this year, ready to take on a new chapter. That, however, was not going to be the case. Just two weeks after opening, the country went in to lockdown, putting a stop to all their plans. You’d think by this point Masons were on the verge of giving up but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, they continued to supply their range to various shops and switched some of their production over to making hand sanitiser for the local community. It’s clear that Masons are a tough bunch who are ready to take on anything thrown at them. We wish them well and look forward to their distillery reopening!

We chose Masons Yorkshire Tea gin as it’s always one that intrigues people. Usually the question is ‘does is taste of actual tea?’ and if you’re imagining your usual morning cuppa (milk and a sugar in mine) in a gin then I’d say no it doesn’t. It does however have the aromatic, refreshing elements of tea. I’d say its flavour is more like black tea, or along the lines of iced tea. it’s balanced by sweet citrus flavours, piney freshness and subtle spice whilst being juniper forward. It’s a super refreshing twist on a classic dry style. 

We paired this with Franklin and Sons Lemon Tonic and a slice of lemon for a delicious take on an iced tea. I’ll admit, it’s a dangerous drink as it’s just so more-ish and, as I’ve already mentioned, super refreshing. If you’re looking for and ideal summer drink, look no further. 

Gin no. 5 Tarquin's Strawberry and Lime Gin

Tarquin’s Gin is a personal favourite of mine. For some years now, I’ve admired how silky smooth their gin is. So, when looking for a good flavoured gin to use on the tasting, this seemed like the perfect fit. Flavoured gins can be hit or miss and, although this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, we knew that it’d be a crowd pleaser. 

Tarquin’s have humble beginnings much like Whitby Gin. Around the time when craft gin was starting out, when micro distilleries were popping up all over the country, it seemed that not much was happening in Cornwall. At the time, a 23 year old Tarquin found himself stuck at a desk job in London. He is a classically trained chef having worked at the Cordon Bleu in Paris but somehow ended up in a much duller environment. He quickly realised a new a dream, to make the first Cornish distillery in 100 years and get back to being creative. So, off he went, back to Cornwall with a surf board, a 700ml copper pot still and a suitcase of botanicals. Much like Whitby, Tarquin had never distilled anything before. It was a totally new area and required a lot of learning and experimentation. Tarquin spent a lot of time looking at how to use botanicals, making individual distillates of whatever botanicals he could. This helped him grow a huge library of flavours and, 100 trails later, 12 botanicals were selected to create Tarquin’s Gin. 

Tarquin’s are pretty traditional in their making. They have three 250 litre copper pot stills called Tamara, Senara and Tressa along with a 500 litre still called Ferarra. These are all sealed with bread dough to stop any dangerous leaks. Strawberry and Lime uses their flagship recipe as a base, as the strawberry and lime macerates over night. The next morning, violets are added and the stills are fired up. It’s a proper fruit gin that reminiscent of strawberries and cream. However, it’s not overly sweet- the juniper is still present and there’s a welcome spice from the green cardamon. The lime adds a zesty acidity which helps bring everything into balance.  

We paired this with Franklin and Sons Naturally Light tonic and a slice of lime for a summery aperitif. I think this would work really nicely in a spritz style cocktail or just neat over ice. In fact, neat with some ice cream would a delicious way to finish a meal. 

A note on botanicals
We all know that gin without juniper is simply not gin, it’s flavoured vodka but there has to be something said for some of the other core botanicals. I sometimes wonder if putting coriander and liquorice on the botanical list may out people off as they are pretty divisive ingredients. However, look at the botanicals in gin and you’ll find the majority use similar core ingredients. Most gins will contain things like angelica and/or orris root which act as binding agent. They help the botanicals stick to the liquid as well as imparting a slightly floral, earthy taste. Although not every gin will use liquorice, it’s often used to add natural sweetness and earthiness removing the need to add any artificial sweeteners. Coriander appears on pretty much every gin recipe and, most of the time, it actually refers to coriander seed which is quite different to fresh coriander. Coriander seeds are fragrant and partner really well with juniper. They have a lemony, citrus smell and flavour. 

There was a lot covered in the tasting which has lead to a lengthy post, but gin is such a detailed area it’s difficult to cut it down to the basics. I hope this provides some insight into the world of gin and shows what lies behind the labels. The favourite gins of the night were Cotswolds Gin and Whitby Gin which, I will admit, are some of my favourites too. That being said, it’s impossible to pick just one! 
Based on the popularity of this tasting, we’ll be doing a second gin tasting on the Thursday 18th June celebrating World Gin Day. WGD is a celebration of all things gin and excuse to crack a bottle open… not that we need an excuse! They’ll be no physical events this year but there are plenty of virtual events for you get involved in. To find out more, click here or check out your favourites social medias for information on events they're participating in.

We look forward to welcoming to you to our next tasting. You can find out more by clicking here

Stay safe. 

StarmoreBoss x

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