It’s often gin o’clock in our household.
Like many mums of young children, I look forward to an occasional glass of my favourite poison after an exhausting bedtime. And what better than our locally produced Ely Gin?
Last Friday I joined a group of other gin lovers at the Lamb Hotel in Ely, where on arrival, we were presented with generous glasses of gin and tonic, served with slivers of cucumber and whole peppercorns.
Throughout the evening, we got to learn the difference between London gin and the compound variety, sample a delicious array of different gins – and even partake in a Masterchef style smelling test to see if we could name different botanicals. Turns out I can identify cloves, vanilla and chocolate but not my favourite pink grapefruit!
Lubricated with tantalising tipples, the evening took us on a brief history of the iconic spirit, which despite being known as a quintessentially British drink, oriGINated in Belgium and the Netherlands and was brought to these fair isles by William of Orange in the late 17th Century.
A crude version of the drink, produced with turpentine rather than traditional juniper berries, became massively popular throughout Britain, largely because it was cheap to produce and didn’t require a license.
This less than gin-teel version took off with a bang. So much so that over half of London’s grog shops specialised in gin. The drink took on a sordid reputation, with names such as “mother’s ruin” surviving today.
The government responded by passing Gin Acts in 1736 and 1751 in an attempt to bring boozing under control.
Luckily the version enjoyed by the well-behaved party at the Ely Gin night was of a far superior quality (turps not included!).
A computer programmer for two decades, James decided he’d had enough of staring at screens and wanted to run his own business.
Inspired by his dad, who made hedgerow wines out of foraged fruit, James decided to experiment making his own vino.
“The difference between his wine and my wine is that people enjoyed drinking his wine,” he joked.
“People did enjoy drinking my sloe gin.”
Priding itself as “The Spirit of The Fens”, The Ely Gin Company was established in 2011. On Saturday, March 26, 2012, it opened for trading, with James setting up a stall at Ely Market.
Five years on, the brand has gone from strength to strength, branching out into flavoured vodkas as well as gins, using whole, fresh ingredients. Its sumptuous spirits, produced in Little Downham, are now sold across Europe, as well as at festivals, markets and events, and of course, at The Ely Gin Company shop in Buttermarket.
I have to admit that I came rather late to the gin party. It was during the Ely Food and Drink Festival a couple of years ago or so that I first got to appreciate this delicious elixir. After traipsing around face painting, storytelling and ice cream stalls with my then four-year-old, I came across the Ely Gin stall.
“Would you like to try some of our gins?”
Oh yes I would! Quite a generous tasting session, as it happened, with numerous samples on display. I especially remember the raspberry, chocolate, lemon and pink grapefruit varieties! In fact I was feeling decidedly cheerful after a few snifters.
“Come on, Mummy, I’m bored,” my daughter piped up.
“You’ve had your ice cream, this is Mummy’s treat,” I replied.
And thus my love affair with Ely Gin was ignited.
During an Evening with Ely Gin, we learned lots of fascinating facts (many of which may have escaped me after a fair few tasters!). For example, my celiac friends will be happy to hear that despite being made of grain, gin is gluten free.
We also got to sample different types of tonic, a drink traditionally made with quinine, a South American tree bark with medicinal purposes. So therapeutic that it could control the symptoms of malaria and thus helped in the creation of the British Empire, James assured us.
So it’s official: a glass of gin and tonic can quite literally be good for your health! Last week’s sell-out event certainly helped to raise my spirits and we all left with smiles on our faces.