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Food & Drinks

Gin is booming, thanks to herbs

Gin cocktail
Gin cocktail. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Gin makers are experimenting with surprising flavours from basil, rosemary, mint leaves and rhubarb herbs, making it one of fastest growing alcohol category.

It is the mix and match of alcohol with hints of floral or citrus flavour that is arousing the appetite of Kenyan drinkers, especially millennials.

Nairobi is now surfing on the gin wave. From collectors, creators and enthusiasts alike, the thirst for the botanical spirit has gained momentum , forging a culture of its own.

Gin societies are also becoming commonplace.

Here, gin enthusiasts and those interested in the culture of “Mother’s Ruin” alike interact with gins from around the globe and compare notes at exclusive tastings.

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ImaGIN, the brainchild of Cynthia Wandia and Diana Mong’are is one such initiative that seeks to create a forum for people to not only appreciate gin but “to create an avenue for them to explore the sophisticated and flamboyant gin selections from all over the world.”

“It all started with the dream of opening a gin bar, but we wanted to test out the market first to find out if people were interested and see whether both newbies and gin enthusiasts would sign up,” Diana tells BDLife.

Cynthia, who had been collecting gin for the past eight years while living in Germany, had the opportunity to experiment with various gin cocktail recipes at dinner parties with friends.

“She moved to Kenya and the two of us bought a few South African gins as gifts. We started hosting friends for cocktail tastings, and the rest is history,” Diana says.

ImaGIN is currently a mobile craft gin cocktail bar, with private tasting events, where they serve cocktail ‘flights’ in sets of three, event vending as well as private catering, where they create custom menus. They have an impressive gin collection, featuring a variety of brands crafted from coast to coast to quench the thirst of their following, affectionately referred to as “ImaGINers.”

“We specialise in a high-end craft gin collection; if it is sold in a club or general liquor store, then we likely don’t serve it,” Cynthia says.

“We want clients to experience different gins that they would not be exposed to regularly.”

The collection is categorised into two; standard craft gins and a top-shelf variety. On the standard collection: “We use these to create cocktails for the gin flights and offer a mix of flavours based on the botanicals in the gin to suit different tastes. For instance, we appeal to floral, Mediterranean, classic, spicy notes,” she says.

Fruits and gin cocktail

Fruits and gin cocktail. PHOTO | COURTESY

For the top-shelf collection, Diana says, they serve “premium cocktails made from special gin collection, handpicked from different parts of the world, with some of the most unique bottles crafted in Swaziland, Japan and Croatia.”

Gin drinkers are notoriously picky, be it over the tasting notes, the nose or the precise ratios of their favourite gin cocktail.

Even so, understanding the audience in Nairobi is something ImaGIN seem to have mastered since their inception. What have they noticed about their audience’s preferences?

Flavour reigns over alcoholic content, it seems. “So far, we have seen a leaning towards the more floral, sweeter cocktails that bring out the botanicals rather than the alcoholic content of the beverage,” Cynthia says.

In particular, they have noticed a preference that favours blue berries, lavender, rose petals, and a peach iced tea blend.

“We also challenge our guests by introducing ingredients they may not traditionally associate with cocktails or with gin such as activated charcoal, black tea or kombucha,” she explains.

The gin appetite has been spiked by demand for pink gin, at least globally. Between 2017 and 2018, a 78.3 percent increase in flavoured gin sales was recorded, in comparison to the 6.7 percent increase for more traditional recipes, according to the IWSR. Consumption is also on the rise, and is expected to grow by about 4.4 percent between 2018 and 2023.

The report also states that the consumers have fostered a unique interest in craft and premium gin, a trend that “has transformed and will continue to transform the industry.” One Kenyan brand, Procera Gin, has aligned itself with this global demand and created an artisanal gin that incorporates Kenyan cedar (Juniperus procera), packaged in a unique handblown flask, locally made by Kitengela Glass.

A debate that the Nairobi gin scene has tussled over in the recent past pits London Dry Gin, which is widely popular, against the crop of pink gin that has recently taken root in the city, particularly since the penetration of Beefeater’s approach to the variety with their Pink Strawberry flavour.

The duo’s take? “It’s hard to compare the two since London Dry describes the distilling process while pink gin depends on the botanicals used, such as strawberries, rose, rhubarb and hibiscus,” Cynthia says. “It’s also really hard to make a pink gin that doesn’t come off as artificially flavoured,” Diana adds.

Which is best?

As gin collectors, a fascinating talking point centres around favourite gin brands, as well as flavour preferences.

“I love floral gins, they are really refreshing and require little garnishing [in cocktails] since the botanicals used are quite strong on the nose,” Diana says.

Cynthia, on the other hand, leans towards more citrus flavoured gins. “I am more of a classic Mediterranean gin lover; they are fresh, with herbal and citrusy notes that taste like summer all year round,” she says.

As to which gins they would highly recommend, Diana rates Whitley Neil Rhubarb & Ginger from England and Monkey 47 from Germany, the latter of which consists of 47 botanicals.

“Gin Mare from Spain with its Mediterranean flair, Monkey 47 from Germany which is the ultimate queen of flavour and Malfy’s Con Rosa from Italy that is infused with Sicilian pink grapefruit, which might be the only gin I know to successfully nail the pink gin concept,” Cynthia says.

A quirky part of the ImaGIN concept features a 1977 Volkswagen Kombi named Betsy, the machine that powers the mobile bar all around Nairobi.

“She {the car} is currently being restored, so we can roll up to any location,” they said.

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