Gin the Ultimate Companion – New Book Review
Gin, the Ultimate Companion is a new book by Ian Buxton, published on 7 October 2021. The subtitle is “the essential guide to Gins, Flavours, Cocktails, Tonics and More”, and, as we shall see, it lives up to this description admirably. It may be the only book on gin that you’ll ever need.
This new book is timely, as gin is once again Britain’s most loved spirit, with an ever-growing market worth billions. Shelves groan under hundreds of competing brands marketed in their distinctive and stylish bottles, and it seems like a new gin appears almost daily.
New gin fashions are emerging too. For example, the market for Pink and Flavoured gins is now worth millions. Also, high-quality tonics and mixers are now available, and not before time. Furthermore, this gin craze isn’t just British; it’s a global phenomenon. Hence there are fabulous gins to discover from far-flung places as well as from local artisans.
Gin has never been more exciting, and even the most dedicated gin lover will find it hard to keep abreast of it all without a reliable and trustworthy guide.
Author Ian Buxton needs no introduction to those in the Spirits industry. He is an expert on the subject, gained from being a director of Glenmorangie and a consultant to many famous spirits brands. Vitally, he also writes engagingly and clearly on the subject in a style that will appeal to most spirits drinkers regardless of demographic; that’s no mean feat.
Structure of the book
Inside the attractive book jacket, the contents are divided into manageable sections so that there’s no need for an index. Hence Ian Buxton starts with gin’s rollercoaster history. Then there is a brief explanation of gin styles before he shows how the Botanicals make every gin brand unique.
The book subdivides into Essential gin, Coastal gin, then Pink and Flavoured gin. Finally, it ends with brief sections on cocktails and tonics.
Essential gin forms the bulk of the book. Here you’ll find, in alphabetical order, ninety classic brands from around the world. These are the personal preferences of the author, based on their stories and taste. Each entry has two pages. The first page has a bottle picture and factual information, while the page opposite contains the authors’ description and why he chose it. Refreshingly, Ian Buxton avoids rankings, scores or other hubris.
Hence in this section, you’ll find some famous brands such as Bombay Sapphire, Hendricks, Beefeater, Sipsmith and Tanqueray alongside smaller craft bottlings. I was delighted to see validation for some of my personal favourites (Kirkjuvagr, BBR, The Botanist, The Lakes, Edinburgh). At that point, I realised just how much more great gin there is yet to try. Two examples include Sharish (a Portuguese gin that turns blue with tonic) and Villa Ascenti, an Italian gin from Piemonte.
I’d like to see tabulated the suitability of the gin for different uses; say taken neat, or with tonic, or in a classic cocktail such as Martini or Negroni. While some gins are complete all-rounders, others may be more suited to a particular drink.
It’s great to see ten examples given a separate section, as many of them are linked to seafaring or employ wild botanicals that grow locally on the shoreline. Hence these can invoke a sense of place or “terroir.” Meanwhile, may I make a plea for including Blackwoods in the next edition?
Pink and Flavoured gin
Pink and Flavoured gin has established its own valuable and fast-growing category. My personal preference has been London gin, so this newer style has largely eluded me until now. They can push the very definition of gin to its limits, as often, the inclusion of juniper and other botanicals are minimal. However, the best have attractive colours and unusual flavours which are more than novelty and suggest that such spirits are here to stay. Well, sloe or damson gin was always a countryside staple, so including red berries for colour and flavour isn’t much of a stretch. However, others are more unconventional, such as Orange Marmalade or Jaffa Cake gin. The book contains ten examples, so now I realise I need to try them!
Cocktails and Tonics
The cocktail section is a short one but does include a couple of original suggestions that I’ll be trying out. There are also essential classics like Martini, Negroni and Gimlet. Finally, the book ends with a treatise on tonics. It’s a timely reminder that spoiling expensively crafted gin with a poor quality mixer still happens far too often. Now, a proliferation of new high-quality mixers means there’s plenty of opportunities to experiment.
Gin, the Ultimate Companion lives up to its billing and is all you need to get the most from your gin, whether you are a novice or an enthusiast. Indeed, as this book is also handily sized and attractively priced, it will make an ideal stocking-filler this Christmas.
Indeed, after reading this book, I bought a couple of extra copies to fulfil that very purpose!
Gin, the Ultimate Companion, by Ian Buxton. Paperback, 272 pages.
Published 2021 in the UK by Berlinn, ISBN 9781780277530
RRP £14.99. Hive £12.15 with free delivery.