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Why am I supposed to like gin? It’s just ruined vodka

The Guardian logo The Guardian 5 days ago Jay Rayner
a vase filled with pink flowers on a table: Photograph: Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images

Let me confess. I live daily with the fear that, like Hector in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, I am “not in the swim”. At the great dinner party of life, I’m on the children’s table, a mere spectator of the grown-up fun. This is because, deep breath, I don’t have a favourite gin. Yup, I know. If I were asked at a bar which gin I would like with my tonic, I would only stammer. But that’s only the beginning. The truth is I don’t have a favourite gin, because I hate ALL gin. As far as I’m concerned having a favourite gin would be like choosing a favourite war criminal, only with a greater impact on my life.

It’s worse even than the time I admitted to not liking a negroni, that cruel and bitter slap of a cocktail, a taste for which is meant to mark you out as a mature sophisticate. Despite all the hype the negroni remains a niche drink. Even if I don’t want to be part of the negroni-drinking gang, there’s surely another gang over there I can go hang out with.

But gin: today, that’s everybody’s drink. It’s like bindweed: bloody everywhere. Tesco has its own brand gin, as do Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. Everybody has an own-brand gin. You probably have one too. Is it named after a character in a Guy Ritchie movie? Something like Copper Head or Lone Wolf or Conker? Many are. But being ubiquitous is not the same as being nice. I dislike the hit of juniper and the dank hit of undergrowth wrenched from a fox-soiled hedgerow. You call it the taste of “botanicals”; I call it the taste of “musty leaf matter”.

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As the number of available gins grew, often marketed by cheery fellas who just happened to wear flat caps every day and keep their woollen trousers up with braces, ready to party like it’s 1869, I became increasingly cynical. Gin production, I decided, was for people who want to enter the horny-handed world of “artisanal food crafting” but can’t be doing with all that filthy countryside business. Gin is something you can “craft” in a city, around the corner from a good coffee shop and a ready supply of Korean chicken wings.

Can you smell my cynicism? It’s nothing as compared to what I stank of when I made the big discovery. As a man who writes about food and drink I’m meant to know things but as ever, ignorance springs eternal. Until a year ago I hadn’t quite clocked that often gin is just vodka to which stuff has been added. It is ruined vodka. Some gin producers don’t even make the vodka. They buy it in, then they ruin it. That’s tragic because I adore vodka; I love its crispness and its cleanness. It was when I was thinking about this vodka love that I realised the problem. Flowery, juniper-sodden gin is just too interesting, too multidimensional for me. I crave something duller, or at best a blank canvas upon which I can paint my own boozy story.

Gin cocktails © Getty Gin cocktails

In this, I may be far less alone than I first imagined. As I examined the gin world, I was struck by how much of it is marketed as tasting of something other than gin: there’s quince gin and clementine gin. There’s watermelon flavour and chocolate orange flavour and lemon drizzle cake flavour. There’s Mystical Unicorn gin liqueur from Aldi, which apparently tastes of marshmallow and candy floss, and Parma Violet gin from Asda, which must taste of nightmares. What none of them can taste of is gin. Is it possible that most people don’t actually like standard gin at all? Perhaps they just want to belong to a tribe? If so, then I’m happy to remain an outcast. You’ll find me over in the corner, alone, nursing a vodka.

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