Bask in the delight of a gin on the sand
“Now everybody likes to spend their summer holiday
Down beside the side of the silvery sea.
I’m no exception to the rule, in face, if I’d me way,
I’d reside by the side of the silvery sea.”
I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside was written in 1907 by John A. Glover-Kind and first recorded by Mark Sheridan in 1909. It perfectly sound-tracked that time, long ago, when coastal holidays were a big trend. These early visits to the seaside and the recent boom in gin are both big industries. There really is nothing like basking in the sun with a cool glass of something delightful in your hand.
As history dictates, the beach has always been a popular place to relax. As far back as Roman times we have an idea of the beach being for the prosperous and visits possessing a rejuvenating, almost spa-like quality. Back before air travel became so cheap and accessible, and before the early paid air flights of the 1950s to exotic places such as Corsica and Palma do Mallorca, city folk would escape the pressures of urban living with a holiday to the seaside. There are certainly parallels between these two institutions and in turn you’ll find all sorts of surprising seaside inspirations behind certain gins.
As the long summer days descend on us, we simmer in the sweltering heat. We long to feel the fresh cool breeze of the sea as it licks the edges of our shores. The distant twinkle of the ice cream van, mingling with those hushed washes of waves as we suck on sticks of rock and wiggle our toes into sand stuffed with shellfish and draped in seaweed.
All this heat is making me very thirsty. Let’s pour a nice, cool gin. This issue I’m investigating how the seaside has influenced the world of gin and I’m looking at a collection of gins with a seaside theme.
Let’s take a walk. A walk along the shore. Along a stretch of coastline to see what inspiration we can find.
We find a busy beach. The fun fair, a pier. The waves roll along, washing up the side of the old, wooden pier’s stilts, before breaking and pulling gently back with each wet breath. The organ is playing, the seemingly ancient machinery clicks and clanks as it hauls punters up rails in rickety metal boxes. The air smells sweet. It’s permeated with smells so thick, you can almost taste the treats like candy floss, toffee apples and popcorn. Any trip to the seaside would not be complete without a stick of rock. This is where Brighton Gin excels in creating a trademark garnish, Brighton Rock. Brighton Gin Distillery is located close to the coastline and as Ella states, the gin is a, “Traditional, very smooth, and slightly citrus-y gin, so it’s very versatile and therefore can be paired with the sweet and minty flavours of traditional rock. The Rocktail offers the chance for people to try something new from a G&T and the longer you leave it, the more the rock dissolves into the drink and it becomes bluer, sweeter and mintier.”
The heat drives us to look for somewhere to sit. We find a blue and yellow stripy deck chair and ease back into it, gazing at the pier and we can easily think of versatile gin being added to ice creams and deserts. For those sweet tooths among us, we can get even closer to the fun fair by mixing up all manner of inspired cocktails. A quick search online brings up a Hendricks Gin Candy Floss Cocktail, recipe care of www.visa.co.sa, and the Cotton Candy French 75, as found on www.planningpretty.com, to name but a few.
There are also all manner of fantastic flavours out there, such as Sipsmith’s popcorn gin (available through the sipping club) and made using a rare technique called ‘fat washing’, and Poetic License’s Baked Apple and Salted Caramel Gin, evocative of those glorious toffee apples that took many a youngster’s tooth with its sweet and sticky coating.
It’s time to go. We continue our walk up and along the beach, away from the fair and human activity and things begin to become a little more natural, more rustic. The wind has picked up and carries a salty breeze from the crash of rugged waves. Black hooded gulls dive into the water hunting fish. Edinburgh Seaside Gin uses seaside botanicals to create its savoury namesake. Bladderwrack is a seaweed I’m familiar with down here on the cost of Portsmouth, as it drifts in from the Atlantic, but it also lives in the North Sea and as such, is common around the coast of Scotland. Along with Bladderwrack, Edinburgh Gin also utilises scurvygrass, a plant that doesn’t live in the sea, but lives along coastlines and is quite partial to the salt carried in the air.
Edinburgh aren’t the only one to utilise seaweed, another firm favourite has to be Wales based Dà Mhìle, made using seaweed from the coast of Newquay. Its gorgeous green tinge and salty flavours lend itself well to a martini, combining beautifully with the briny element of the dirty martini and the salt of olives. Another fine example is Arbikie’s Kirsty Gin, named after their master distiller Kirsty Black, utilising kelp among other botanicals, to reflect the distilleries relationship with the rugged North-Eastern coastline of Scotland.
One of the more prominent seaside flavours has been in the revival of samphire. Samphire has a story as interesting as its flavour. It has regained its popularity in recent years. The first one I came across was Wheadons gin, back in 2016, a gin that builds its flavour’s around the base notes of pink grapefruit and samphire. I’d never heard of samphire at this point, but was quickly engrossed in its story. There are two types, marsh samphire and rock samphire. Wheadons uses rock samphire. It used to be regularly foraged by dropping children over the side of cliffs where it grows, preferably on the high-water mark. The children’s only lifeline would be rope around the ankles and Shakespeare referred to this practice in King Lear as ‘a dreadful trade’. It was eventually so over-foraged that it was made illegal to forage it all, as per the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Wheadons, based in Guernsey was the first gin I found using rock samphire. The 2,000 years old Ignis Gneiss where Guernsey sits, has one of the largest tidal changes anywhere on the planet, giving a more generous area for the rock samphire to grow. There are, however, more popping up, for example Isle Of Wight Distillery’s Mermaids Gin, named after the Mermaid boats that float in the harbour of Seaview, along with Boadicean hops grown in the local botanical gardens of Ventnor. Curio and Alkkemist gins are other gins using this wonderful flavour that has made a fantastic comeback into gins and cooking. Samphire gives a slightly sweet, carroty flavour twisting with the salt element to give a really tantalising taste.
Salt is an element that combines well with gins of a certain flavour bracket. Its potent base flavour would not necessarily make a good mixer with gin, but it does have its place, with certain gins using salt as a garnish to sprinkle on top of a gin on the rocks and cocktails such as the salty dog being created to work around its dry and tongue-tingling flavour. The savoury aspect of gin can be used to benefit cooking, being added to the batter of fish, in recipes like traditional fish and chips with a gin and tonic twist, care of www.docksidefood.co.uk or gin penne pasta – www.macheesmo.com.
Gin and tonic compliments other food, as discovered in the art of ginstronomy. A little bit of research on this brings up some fantastic pairings, such as mussels, ricotta crêpes with smoked salmon or shrimp and pork dumplings.
The sun is setting. The heat of the day gives way to a cooler breeze and we realise that it’s time to walk home. Starting to stroll back the way we came, our nostrils are full of the salty breeze and the seaweed that floats on the gently rippling water. Flowers brush against our ankles, the lights of the funfair, twinkling in the distance, “I do like
to be beside the seaside” drifting through the air.