Gin has come a long way since the mid-17th century when it was outlawed in the UK by the Gin Act and blamed for the social ills of poverty and an increased mortality rate. Even so, it is only in the last decade that gin has evolved beyond being a traditional spirit tarnished by the label ‘mother’s ruin’.
Today it has become a sophisticated, highly-marketable and trendy tipple, with gin drinkers bravely shunning the ‘gin-soaked’ stigma and embracing a freshness and vitality enriched by all things juniper-based.
Naturally, the Leeds bar scene has been quick to react, and heaving shelves have become increasingly resplendent with translucent wonder in all shapes and sizes, while words like ‘botanicals’ and ‘stills’ are becoming frequent additions to our Saturday night lexicon.
So, come with us as we discover how gin has escaped from a prohibitive underworld to emerge with a triumphant cascade of globe-spanning flavours, mixers and garnishes, and how Leeds can guide you through a gin-infused utopia where Gordon's and even Bombay Sapphire have become yesterday’s men.
Quite apart from the now-annual Leeds Gin Festival – a weekend event in July, this year taking place at the Town Hall – and the Gintastic Festival – a new travelling event which reached Leeds City Museum in May – you can now sample a quite literally dizzying array of complex flavours and aromas via a raft of gin-centric bars popping up all over the city.
Cocktails are the flavour of 2015 and many specialist bars have appeared this year to join some established favourites.
Of these, there are two that perhaps stand out as promoting the world of gin most prominently: the understated cool of The Maven, a secretive portal into a speakeasy-style exclusivity near the Corn Exchange, and Mojo, the no-nonsense Leeds stalwart for people who love pretty much everything.
Elsewhere though, a night of Leeds-trotting can comfortably see you chalk off five specialist gin bars to provide an evening of refinement and natural goodness (sort of), offering something new for even the most experienced gin connoisseur.
The hotel bar takes the outside in with airy ceilings, plants and an artificial grass floor. This helps create a relaxing nirvana where specialist staff will ease the daunting prospect of simply ordering a G&T, and recommend something from their menu containing 144 different gins and eight varieties of tonics.
This staggering selection contains a refreshing number of Yorkshire gins, but there is something for everyone in the list which is split conveniently between Floral, Citrus, Sweet, Spicy, Fruity, Herbal, Complex, Origin and Sloe.
Next stop is Lazy Lounge at West Point, which has evolved from a nondescript wine bar to a palace of varying delights, and where an undeniable love of gin is scribbled prominently across ever-expanding ‘Gin List’ chalkboards.
Here, you can relax on the Chesterfield sofas and peruse a menu containing over 100 gins, from the rhubarb-infused to the French oak barrel-rested. And while you’re there, put your name down for the ‘Lazy Gin club’; a two-hour tasting session where you will learn about history, origin and taste.
Taking the lead from the 17th century prohibition, the Pour House playfully offers gin only from its upstairs bar called Gin Lane, named after Hogarth's famous campaign poster sketches. But the exclusivity this affords allows precious space to sample something from the 19 gins on the menu, which feature some of the more established names such as Plymouth, Tanqueray, Hendricks, Portobello Road and Jensen Old Tom.
Our next port of call is the Pintura Kitchen and Bar in Trinity. This wonderful Basque tapas restaurant has a dedicated Gin Bar in the cellar, where you can retire after your meal or simply call in for a drink.
Nine specialist gin cocktails are available in 50ml goblets with ‘Spanish garnishes’, or you can order from a selection of 30 gins on the regular menu.
Back in the Spring we could have taken a walk up to Hogarth's Gin Joint, the pop-up bar sandwiched between Belgrave Music Hall and Sandinista. Hopefully that successful venture will return again, but for now we will retire for the night at Jake's Bar & Still Room.
Leeds’ bar scene luminary Jake Burger is now part of Ginstitute, London’s Museum of Gin, but he has ensured his Call Lane legacy is now far more than just a thriving cellar bar and club.
A refurbished Still Room utilises 3,000-year-old technology via a copper still, to produce a constantly changing range of spirits and liquors, which leans heavily towards Gin. Not surprisingly, so does the bar menu.
Soon enough, after a long night, we are beginning to lean too, proving that every great beginning contains gin.
If you've still got the legs for it, why not discover some of Leeds' weirdest cocktails next?