By Stefanie Collins, editor b&c
Bombay Sapphire’s Global Brand Ambassador and industry expert Raj Nagra was in Australia recently, so we sat down and chatted about all things gin, vermouth, aperitif and food matching.
What is it about gin that makes it so popular?
White spirits have been very popular in recent decades and it seems like it’s a natural graduation for consumers to pick up something a bit more interesting and complex while still being quite approachable. I think the fact that people are getting a bit more clued up about the ingredients that go into gin, they can relate to or recognise moat of them.
And I think on the other side, we have the bartending industry growing quite rapidly and as a bartender one of the first things you study are the classic cocktails and gin cocktails account for a large proportion of those are gin based. I think one of the first sort of things that is a building block of a bartender is to get a good grounding in gin cocktails and unlike something like a scotch or a Bourbon, gin just has so many cocktails attributed to it, which is because it is inherently designed for mixing.
The other thing, is that consumers will quite often get introduced to gin by way of cocktails, for example in Australia about 67% of gin is still consumed in a gin and tonic and we’ve really seen a proliferation of brands on the market. And on the other side it’s quite natural for people to be drinking cocktails, so for all those reasons gin has become a lot more popular.
The concept of aperitif is gaining ground in Australia, what are some of the more inventive ways to serve gin in lower alcohol serves?
Obviously people are a lot more aware of how to store products – once upon a time you never saw vermouth stored correctly, it was obviously oxidise and the quality of any cocktail you then made with that vermouth – especially with gin – would be horrifying. There is a natural correlation between gin and vermouth because they have a lot of the same ingredients – both highly botanically driven. And we are seeing a lot more vermouth resurrected and new brands coming into the marketplace.
I think consumers are less inclined to go out and get destroyed – they want new experiences and they want to learn. Knowledge is quite high on people’s agenda. But in terms of lower alcohol cocktails, it means you can have a few drinks in the afternoon and not feel intoxicated but there’s so many gin cocktails that call for vermouth and it’s about finding vermouth that pairs well with gin and for these types of drinks it’s about changing up the weight between the gin and the vermouth and making a more delicate, longer serve. Traditionally gin cocktails with vermouth tend to be quite intense and short. So if you look at look at using vermouth in a complimentary way to gin in a long cocktail it’s a great idea.
We’re hearing a lot about highball serves coming back into fashion, what have you seen in the trade?
Yes, I love drinks like Gin Rickys and I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan this year where you see a lot more of these highball style drinks being served. The whisky highball is so popular and I think that is driven by the fact that there is a great range of base spirits these days, especially in gin, and rather than try and mask the flavour, or build its character into something else, you’re starting to appreciate the quality of that liquid by stretching it.
It’s obviously more complicated than a vodka soda but we are seeing it, and that is a testament to people being more educated and more adventurous. The highball used to very much be a bartenders drink but now people are wanting to drink less but with more flavour.
How would you approach creating a snack menu to match with a gin selection?
I think, with Bombay particularly, the concentration of the flavours tends to operate at the front of your palate. But Bombay gin loves citrus. If you think about fish, the flavour and the texture tends to be more at the front of your mouth, so already you can see the commonality between the flavour profile and where it sits in your mouth – it’s a bit more complimentary. So salt and citrus and gin all work really well together.
The idea of having low alcohol drinks and snacks, consumers love the idea of this epicurean space – we’ve had four sell-out seasons of Project Botanicals, so it goes to show that people are genuinely interested in that territory, so there is a natural harmony between food and cocktails. If you look at something like a cocktail experience in a bar in the early evening and having an appetiser, there is obviously a structure to what sort of drinks there are for the part of the evening. So, there are a lot of vermouth-led cocktails that are aperitif style, or something sparkling-led like a French 75, they’re all considered to be aperitifs.
Once you choose your cocktail, then you can look at the flavour profile and juxtapose that to a dish, or have a complimentary element. There are plenty of ways to approach the matches – you can even look at a style of wine that matches a certain dish and then recreate that in a cocktail form. But when you’re talking about gin, and vermouth, and food – all three of those things really go hand in hand.
Check out the October issue of bars&clubs for more on maximising aperitif season in your venue… out soon!