Hello! It's Des again. Bethan's other (better) half.
While Bethan was off galavanting the other week, I had the pleasure of attending an event in her stead - like the good Instagram husband-to-be that I am (totally in this relationship for the free food...)
My destination for the evening was the newly-ish opened Botanist bar here in York, for an evening of gin tasting and menu sampling.*
Our gin-guru for the evening was Shane, who you can see preparing some drinks in the background of the photo below.
He led us through the tasting of six different gins, and told us a little about the history of the drink via some William Hogarth engravings.
One stranger-than-fiction anecdote was the story of the gin-puss: during the gin craze in 18th century England, at the time when gin had been made illegal, one aspiring distiller secured his anonymity by selling gin through a carved wooden cat.
A customer would approach the cat calling ‘puss’, the cat would then call back, the customer would place money in the cat’s mouth and the gin was dispensed though a tube in its paw. This story is how ‘Old Tom’ became a name for gin.
Weird, but true. Have this anecdote for your next night out on me.
For each gin brand, we started with the neat spirit before adding the pairing (berries, fruit or herbs), and finally adding tonic as well. This was an interesting experience - both me and my companion found the first sips of the neat spirit rather brutal, with some distant memories of neat, cheap vodka from decades past floating up in my mind!
However, after the first sip things dramatically improved, with the individual flavours and nuances of each different gin starting to blossom. The addition of the botanicals transformed the spirits yet again - I didn’t need much convincing, but it was clear that these were all very different drinks.
While I’d like to say we made detailed notes on which gin partnered with which botanical, and scored each one across the different flavour categories to best offer recommendations to you, dear reader, by the time we got to the tasting we’d enjoyed more than a couple of complementary drinks, so while we all enjoyed ourselves tremendously I can’t report back in great detail about the tasting itself.
The only thing I can conclusively report is that my personal favourite was the Brockmans gin, with a garnish of grapefruit. I’ve no idea whether this makes me a philistine or a sophisticate, but I thought it was great!
Rather than taking my advice, I recommend chatting to your bartender to get the best gin experience. He or she will be able to pick the gin, garnish and mixer to fit your personal tastes.
Another thing this event really proved was that while the gin and tonic is a wonderful drink, gin as a complete drink - with the right garnish - can be a far more intense flavour experience.
While the gin selection was uniformly excellent, cocktails at the Botanist seemed slightly more style over substance - lots of dry ice, flowers and pottery, but the drinks themselves a little on the sweet side and rather one-dimensional for my taste.
The food was, like the cocktails, beautifully presented, but unlike the cocktails was absolutely delicious.
We tried a wide spread of small plates, which went down extremely well. A few of these to share between friends would be a great lunch or small dinner, but the bill might rack up quickly as they’re a little on the pricy side.
My favourite was the whitebait, which came served with some sort of spicy mayo.
Is it just me, or has whitebait reappeared on a lot of menus in the past year or so? I’ve had it more times in the past few months than probably in my entire previous life! Either way, a welcome addition.
Overall I highly rate The Botanist for gin lovers, the selection is excellent and the staff really do know their stuff. On the cocktails front, admittedly I was not overly impressed, though I'm possibly not their target market. My favourite cocktail is usually a gin martini, so I would have been sated either way.
The food is also worth consideration for those looking for bar snacks on the more substantial end of the scale. Whilst the menu isn't exactly cheap overall, it is varied and well presented.
* Our drinks and food were complimentary, however my cutting wit and criticism come from the heart (basically I'm not easily bribed by free food/gin)