When it comes to makeovers, there’s one spirit that is barely recognisable from a generation ago. Where once gin languished at the back of the nation’s drinks cabinet gathering dust, the ‘ginaissance’ of the past decade has seen it become a staple for discerning drinkers everywhere.
Sales topped £2.6 billion last year, with Brits downing more than 83 million bottles, doubling the value of gin sold in the past two years alone.
The first lockdown didn’t dampen our enthusiasm either, with a recent report from market research company CGA showing it has been the best-selling spirit for online shoppers since March.
And now, it seems, gin has really hit a purple patch. From parma violet to lavender flavour, blueberry to black grapes, the latest trend is all about the colour purple, leaving pink gins looking so last season.
But the question is, do purple gins actually taste good or is it only the shade that dazzles? Our drinks expert HELEN McGINN puts a selection to the test…
Gin used to be the drink left at the back of people's drinks cabinets, but in the last decade it has gone through its own 'ginaissance' (stock image)
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin, 70cl
From South Australia’s Yarra Valley, distillers Four Pillars teamed up with their grape-growing neighbours to steep whole Shiraz grapes in their own high-proof gin.
The reddish-purple result is gin-ius: you get the unmistakable hit of juniper on the nose, then a whack of sweet black fruit and a tingle of spice on the palate.
There is no added sugar so it’s not nearly as sweet as a gin liqueur, not to mention being stronger, at 37.8 per cent alcohol compared with about 20 per cent for a liqueur. Rather, the sweetness comes naturally from the grapes.
It works brilliantly with tonic and a twist of lemon peel, or try adding a dash to a glass of sparkling wine: gorgeous! 5/5
Kokoro Blueberry & Lemongrass Liqueur, 50cl
KOKORO, which means heart in Japanese, is a small batch gin distilled in London. The Japanese sansho berry, from the Afan Woodland in Nagano Prefecture, is one of the main botanicals used to flavour it, but it then gets a properly purple twist with the infusion of blueberry and lemongrass.
The violet colour is gorgeous and the flavours balance fruit and sweetness. Try it neat over ice — it’s certainly smooth enough and, at just 20 per cent alcohol, won’t blow your head off. Or you could use it as one of the ingredients in a Bramble cocktail, mixing it with a dash of lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mûre. 3/5
British Lavender Dry Gin, 50cl
This dry Scottish gin is made for M&S in the Old Curiosity Distillery’s secret herb garden and includes lavender in the long list of botanicals used. There is also butterfly pea flower (which probably accounts for the vivid colour) and rose in there, giving the gin a distinctly floral character but with juniper still as the headline act (just as it should be).
The fun thing about this gin is that when you add tonic water, it changes from purple to pink before your eyes! I swear that’s not the drink talking. Apparently it’s to do with how the change in pH affects the butterfly pea flower pigments. Serve with lots of ice and a thick twist of lemon peel. 4/5
Fox & Foreman Bramble Shimmer Gin Liqueur, Blackberry, 50cl
If you love blackberries, gin and glitter, then this is definitely for you. The three come together to create quite a party in this particular bottle. It’s a gin liqueur — so prepare the tastebuds for a fairly hefty dose of sugar — but the flavour is reassuringly raspberry and blackberry-ish and the added shimmer gives it an irresistibly decadent feel. Try this on its own or mix it with prosecco for a properly sparkling cocktail.
At just 20 per cent alcohol, it’s not too potent either. 3/5
Whitley Neill Parma Violet Gin, 70cl
Those little packets of parma violet sweets might also have been your favourites when you were younger. One sniff of this and you’ll be transported back to the sweet shop in an instant!
The aroma is amazing, a bit like having a handful of crushed parma violets in your glass. Which just about made up for my disappointment on pouring this and realising the liquid was clear, not violet at all. It’s just the colour of the bottle.
Having said that, when it comes to taste, at the heart of this gin is juniper with a floral twist from the aromatic violet flower. The result is bonkers but I love it.
Serve with tonic, lots of ice and a thick slice of lemon peel. 4/5
Zymurgorium Sweet Violet Gin Liqueur, 50cl
If Willy Wonka had made gin rather than chocolate in his factory, I imagine it would have looked something like this totally mad concoction.
Made by a small micro-distillery in Manchester, this is a violet gin-based liqueur that is a truly vibrant colour. To my taste it feels a little too sweet and syrupy on the palate on its own, though, and works rather better combined in a sparkling wine-based cocktail.
Put a shot of this in a champagne flute, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and top up with sparkling wine. Delicious. 3/5
Helen McGinn’s latest book, The Knackered Mother’s Wine Guide, is out now (£8.99, Bluebird).