Can you, the average consumer, really tell the difference between “small-batch” gins and those well-recognized bottles produced by multinational corporations? If a recent report by the BBC is any indication, the answer is “yes”. But there are some caveats.
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Much of the world’s tasting observers first turn to the palettes of wine experts. With its tremendous diversity across grape varieties, production methods and, most importantly, terroir, wine arguably produces the top tastebud test for experts. But the expertise of the “experts” is increasingly put into question.
In June 2013, the Guardian published an article about California winemaker Robert Hodgson who has been collecting data on wine tasting events and judges since 2005. His statistical findings show that even trained professionals - those that rate wines, award medals, and propose to you which bottle you should drink when dining out - are, at best, very inconsistent with their oenological analysis and at worst, terrible at what they do.
Hodgson went so far as to give panels of judges the same wine to taste three times during the same tasting session unbeknownst to the judges. Within a time frame of a few minutes, the same judge would grade the same wine from the same bottle differently all three times. And Hodgson was dealing with some of the biggest names in the industry!
If this example from the wine world makes you skeptical about relying on other people’s tongues, what happens when it comes to gin? With so many different brands popping up around the UK, not to mention in Europe and the States, can you really tell which gin comes from a “small-batch” distiller and which comes from an industrially-manufactured distillery? Can you discern a difference in quality?
An article in the Daily Mail from April 2013 by “drinks expert” Jilly Goolden shows that quality differs across the whole budget to super premium range in an 18-gin test. The impetus for the article came when a £9.65 gin from Aldi earned medals and more praise at international drinks competitions than some of its super premium cousins. Goolden gave Aldi’s Oliver Cromwell gin a 9 out of 10, in line with the spirits competition results. But she went on to give Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Blackfriars Gin an 8/10, M&S Gin a 7/10 and Tesco’s Finest an 8/10. All of these compete with Tanqueray 10, which is considered a super premium brand and was only granted a 7/10 by Goolden.
Just the same, Goolden gave several premium “small-batch” brands such as Hendrick’s and Martin Millers top scores. Which the BBC also recently found that the average consumer can discern.
A recent report by the Beeb on the Gin Renaissance took to the streets to see if people could tell the difference between a Gin and Tonic mixed with top-shelf gin and tonic brands could beat the “supermarket” equivalent. The report’s London subjects don’t appear to have much trouble pointing to the top-shelf G&T, a comforting fact for the trove of new distillers and tonic brands emerging.
The lesson here is simple: drink what you enjoy. But to do that, you first must learn what you enjoy. If you’re happy drinking Gordon’s but have been drinking it your whole life, we encourage you to taste lots of other gins. You will likely be surprised at the diversity and will come to a conclusion of which style you like best. Chances are, there are so many different brands within that same style that you will find yourself with a nearly endless variety to try.
At the Craft Gin Club, our goal is to help you find the style of gin that you like and to help you discover more gins within that category.