Carl Hawkins, aka ‘The Gintleman’, has come up with a genius idea: to offer gin tasting aboard an evening cruise through Birmingham’s network of canals. As a gin lover myself, I was excited to join the maiden voyage, which lasted two hours, and allowed us to taste five gin and tonics, as well as a bonus amuse booze canape creation writes Ruth Millington. Carl Hawkins was behind the creation of Jekyll & Hyde, a Birmingham gin bar, and perfectly paired his expertise with charm and humour to provide a wonderful evening. Here’s what I learnt…
- There’s more to gin than Gordon’s
Carl explained that new gins are brought to market every week, and there is a real difference in their taste, from spicy and citrus notes to more floral flavours. Before we tried any of the gins, he had us crushing juniper berries to appreciate the botanical aromas that are the essence of any gin.
However, it wasn’t long before we were trying out first tipple – the Isle of Wight HMS Victory gin. At 57% alcohol content, it was a potent start to the night, and one of my favourite gins that we tried. Unlike anything I had tasted before, this strong, navy-style gin is their signature expression and its higher concentration of botanical oils were really brought out by the accompanying orange zest, which we added to the drink. At this point, I knew I was going to enjoy the night.
- Garnish your gin
On each of the tables were pots filled with various garnishes. Beautifully arranged, they boasted an assortment of orange peel, strawberries, liquorice and cinnamon sticks, mint, and raspberries. After tasting (just a bit of) each gin neat, we were then asked to add ice and a specific, carefully chosen garnish to our Spanish-style wine glasses. What we discovered was that while orange or lemon zest will lift citrus notes in gins such as Martin Millers, berries add to the floral notes and softer touch of gins such as Nordes.
Carl also talked to us about awakening the garnish. To accompany our shot of Nordes gin, he asked us to take a cluster of fresh mint leaves, and hit these against the side of our glass. ‘Spank your mint’, he commanded us, and we all burst out laughing. It is not a phrase I expected to hear on a gin cruise. However, the spanking of the mint, alongside an addition of ripe raspberries, really brought out the flavours of the fruity Nordes gin. Carl showed how important the garnish is in perfecting your gin and tonic.
- Gin, meet Tonic
Carl also advised that choosing the right tonic water for your gin is crucial. For each gin we tried, there was a different, boutique tonic water. We were the first people in the UK to taste the refreshing premium Italian tonic water ‘Monelli’, as well as unique flavoured versions, including cranberry and strawberry tonic waters, which I would happily drink alone.
My personal favourite was introduced as ‘the champagne of tonics’ and branded ‘1724’. This tonic water has its roots at 1724 metres above sea level and gives a taste of the Andes, whilst showing off champagne-style bubbles. We paired this with the creamy, hand-crafted Wrecking Coast Clotted Cream gin and garnished the glass with strawberries. I think this velvety, smooth combination would turn even a non-gin drinker into a ginthusiast. As this was the last gin of the night, Carl also kindly brought out a dessert of mini meringues with strawberry pearls to accompany it – delicious!
- A G & T is good for you!
As well as tasting great, I discovered that a gin and tonic has health benefits. Tonic water has traditionally been drunk for its medicinal purposes, and combats malaria due to the inclusion of quinine, which also deters mosquitoes. I particularly like the idea, which Carl suggested, of creating a ‘gin and tonic force field around you’ whilst on holiday in hot climates to ward the pests away.
He also pointed out, to much happiness aboard the boat, that there are less calories in a gin and tonic, than there are in a banana. I haven’t heard of a gin and tonic diet before, but it seems like a good idea to me…
- Birmingham looks best by (gin tasting aboard a) canal boat
Starting at Brindley Place, we sailed by the Mailbox, beautifully lit up by night, and out towards Edgbaston, waving at tourists, passing party boats and a number of fluffy ducklings. Although perhaps it was the gin-tinted glasses, this gin tasting cruise made me appreciate the crossway of canals and the buzz on a Saturday night in Birmingham city centre. I would highly recommend this as a weekend event for friends, family, parties or dates. With just 24 seats aboard each gin cruise, I would also recommend booking far in advance. I will certainly be back, as Carl changes the specialist gins on board each time.
If you want to get on board the gin canal cruise, please visit Gin Ahoy to see the upcoming departure schedule. If you prefer to keep your gin tasting on dry land, Carl offers bespoke events to suit any occasion at your home or location of choice. To find out more please visit www.thegintleman.com