After a few months of hitting the mulled wine hard you’d be excused for not wanting to look at the stuff again, let alone drink it. Enter, hot gin. Given the spirit’s surge in popularity over the last few years - the UK bought a record 47 million bottles of the stuff in 2017 - it’s no wonder we’re finding new and exciting ways to drink our favourite tipple.
I first stumbled across hot gin in December 2017 at a festive pop-up in Ealing. I’ll be honest, I’m not a diehard gin fan, I have a couple of bottles at home stashed away for parties and gatherings, but it’s in no way my tipple of choice - until that fateful day when I tried a hot sloe gin cocktail in Ealing.
It was a deliciously smooth drink with wintery spices that warmed the throat. You could taste the alcohol and the berries, but it wasn’t overpowering like some gin drinks can be and it certainly didn’t leave that back-of-throat burn. I could’ve easily put away three or four. (Thankfully I didn’t, it was a school night.)
Hot gin dates back to the 18th century, according to gin-maker Sipsmith. After trawling through the history books, one of the distillery’s founders discovered that during the wintertime, London held frost fairs on the frozen River Thames where gin would be heated with a red hot poker. Fast forward a few hundred years and the warming beverages are creeping back into the spotlight. Lindsay Blair, the global ambassador of Daffy’s Gin, the new trend is a sign of “the trade creating more ways for consumers to enjoy their favourite spirit”.
There’s science behind why the hot alcoholic bevvy tastes so great. Cold temperatures suppress certain flavour compounds in gin while hot temperatures “accentuate the botanical notes” and “provide greater depth of flavour” says Blair. You might notice your gin becomes more spicy, floral or fruity once it’s been heated. She adds that you also benefit from the fact you’re inhaling hot vapours while drinking hot liquid.
While it might seem like a trend that can only be enjoyed in the winter months, Alexandra Chlistalla, bar manager at The Grand Hotel and Spa in York, says it can easily extend to summer too. “Think beyond mulled drinks,” she muses. “Warm gin and apple or orange juice is a perfect tipple for summer evenings outdoors.”
So how do you make it? The good news is that pretty much all types of gin can be heated and still taste great. The bad news is that you can easily weaken the alcohol content if you’re not careful. Mixologists agree you should heat gin gradually in a saucepan on the hob, but make sure you don’t burn it or boil it. Excessive heating (anything over roughly 78 degrees) will evaporate the alcohol meaning you’ll be left with something nearing a mocktail.
If you can’t be bothered with washing up saucepans, you can also make it by topping up your beverage of choice with hot water, says Dale Robertson, general manager of The Spiritualist in Glasgow. “A hot gin and tonic is a great starting point if you want to try hot gins. Pick your go-to gin, add a tonic syrup and some citrus then top with hot water.”
After my encounter with professionally-made hot gin cocktails, I decided to make one for myself. I’ll be honest, the whole situation was a bit bizarre: it was 8pm on a Wednesday night, I was in my pyjamas, slippers and a dressing gown. I got a mug out of the cupboard and decided I fancied a hot drink with a difference. A lightbulb came on above my head: out came the honey, gin and orange juice, and on went the kettle.
I made what I’d describe as the poor man’s hot gin toddy - mainly because I didn’t have many ingredients in my kitchen. I used a tablespoon of honey, two tablespoons of juice from an orange, one single measure of London dry gin and topped up with hot water. It was garnished with an orange slice, however that didn’t really detract from the fact I was drinking it out of a mug in my living room on my own.
To my great delight, hot gin was super easy to make. It was also very delicious. The first thing that hits you is the smell of orange as you bring the cup to your mouth, then you get a rush of flavour. It’s such a simple drink, very warming and afterwards you’re left with a rosy glow. Needless to say, I was in bed by 9pm and I slept like a log. What can I say? I’m a party animal.
For those who want to try hot gin at home, but aren’t quite as basic, Blair recommends hot buttered gin. To make this, you will need: 35ml of warmed London dry gin, 15ml sweet vermouth, 10ml vanilla syrup, 50ml apple juice and a heaped teaspoon of butter. She advises to pop all the ingredients in a microwaveable glass and melt the butter into the cocktail in the microwave for roughly 30 seconds.
Robertson recommends making a spiced hot Negroni. “In Scotland winter lasts for about 11 months so we tend to be partial to drinks that warm us up from head to toe,” he explains. To create this drink, you’ll need: 40lm gin, 40ml Campari, 40ml sweet vermouth, 40ml orange blossom honey syrup (made from equal parts honey and water), 50ml water, a stick of cinnamon, some orange peel, two star anise, two cloves and six matchstick-sized slices of ginger.
“Simmer all the ingredients except the gin over a low heat for about six minutes. Add gin and pour into a heat-proof glass. Cut a strip of orange peel, wrap around the cinnamon stick and drop into the glass. In this recipe, I add the gin to the hot liquid to give it a gentler warming in the glass. I find the Campari and vermouth overpower the gin if they are simmered together. For the really adventurous, you can add a few slices of fresh chilli to make a super hot and spicy Negroni.”
Hot gin is so versatile that you can drink it after work with colleagues or during a night in on the sofa with your best mate. You can also take a leaf out of my book and drink it solo. It’s hard to make hot gin look Insta-worthy, but what it lacks in the photogenic stakes it makes up for in taste. The only downside really is that it goes down too easily and afterwards you’re left wondering whether to get another (and another after that) or just go to bed.