Local Gins and Other Products

William Loftus, known for his writing on beer, also wrote a manual (1868) on liquors, Loftus’ new Mixing and Reducing Book. It deals mainly with spirits, the main ones sold in the UK then, so gin, rum, whisky, etc.

It advises how to dilute these from proof, sweeten, and otherwise prepare them for market. His readership were publicans and hotels, selling stock in trade daily over the bar.

At pp. 19-20 he makes interesting statements about gin, which I will summarize in two principles: first, many cities had their own style, so Plymouth, Bristol, etc. Second, within these groups, producers’ palate varied as well, identifiable no less than the fact of geographic distinctiveness.

He uses the analogy of beer and whisky: Dublin stout differed from London’s – evidently experienced drinkers knew this at a taste – and similarly for Irish vs. Scots whiskies. American whiskey would have provided a further example.

In the gin area he explains that two, or rather three differences explain these variations: degree of purity (neutrality, really) of underlying spirit, amount of flavouring material added, and addition sometimes of an aromatic substance, to lend a distinctive bouquet (presumably of fruits, flowers, herbs, etc.).

He claims that Dutch gin’s creamy taste mostly comes from (wood) aging, vs. One may presume mash bill or method of distillation.

His statements remind us how at one time the mantra of drinking local was not so much a consumer choice, but of simple necessity. This led to recognizable differences in drink and of course food styles.

The rapid movement of information across the globe and improvement of transport methods have, since Loftus’ time, radically changed his postulates.

Beer’s ingredients can be shipped around the world and its once-arcane techniques learned, with spirits much the same. Wine remains anchored to its generative soil but even there a certain uniformity exists in world wine markets once undreamt of.

In a post to follow I will discuss a gin type once considered emblematic of its region, not London Dry, of which so much has been written, but Plymouth gin.



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