Tim Moore, the founder of Little Bird Gin, tells us that the black-clad woman on their label was inspired by Vargas’ airplane designs from World War II, but that the tattooed beauty is also a decidedly “modern girl.” Reflecting both the heyday of London Dry and its recent resurgence, she is a good spokesperson for Moore’s small batch gin company, which launched earlier this year in South London.
Every Saturday Moore and the Little Bird team set up shop under one of the Maltby Street market arches. A woodworking studio during the week, the space is transformed each weekend into a nostalgic gin café serving Bloody Marys, breakfast martinis, and a changing menu of cocktails with names such as the Rhubarb Robin Negroni, the Peck’Em, and of course, the Perfect Gin & Tonic. When we visit, the Warming Cornish Bird is the special – a heated treat of gin, Cornish orchard cider, martini bianco, honey, lemon, grapefruit bitters and spices (check below for a similarly warming recipe called ‘Flying South’ from the people at Little Bird!). Amidst an eclectic mix of old tables, vintage glasses, and wartime pop songs, visitors can relax after visiting traders in the other arches, including two of our favourites, the St John bakery for bread and donuts, and Monty’s Deli for a Reuben or salt beef sandwich.
Having suffered something of an identity crisis over the last few decades, gin is now back and outselling vodka in the UK (or so we’re told). And with artisan and small batch companies cropping up all over London and the UK, the variety of gin flavours varies dramatically. Little Bird, for one, is infused with grapefruit, orange, ginger and seven other botanicals, making it citrusy, robust and very refreshing. Because it’s a London Dry gin, it also follows the rules which state that no artificial flavour is to be added – either during or after the distillation process. It is this potential to blend natural botanicals that gives each London Dry its unique flavour.
"Having suffered something of an identity crisis over the last few decades, gin is now back and outselling vodka in the UK (or so we’re told)."
“About five years ago everyone starting working on more interesting gins; and here they all are now” says Julia Forte, from The Star at Night, one of Soho’s most well-loved cocktail bars, and the home of The London Gin Club. There is no limit to the amount of botanicals you can bring into the mix, with the Star’s own gin, Seven Dials, containing seven botanicals, while another gin on the menu, Monkey 47 (made in Germany but still considered a Dry gin), has 47. Taking a different tack, Hayman’s 1850 is done to a recipe from that year, and is rested in oak barrels for three weeks as per the tradition. And for serious history buffs, there’s Old English gin, which follow a recipe from 1698, “although,” Forte tells us, “they’ve left out the turpentine.”
In order to really bring out the distinct flavour of each brand, drinks at the Star are served in large wide glasses, allowing the gin to breathe; and each gin mix arrives with a carefully chosen garnish that compliments the different botanical infusions – whether the traditional juniper, or fennel, geranium, or aniseed.
The London Gin Club (essentially a gin appreciation society), started up earlier this year, can be joined for free, and offers discounts to members on the Star’s gin tasting menu and other incentives. And with around 65 different gins available at any given time, they cater to almost any proclivity you may have. On a recent visit, we enjoyed a couple of perfectly blended gin and tonics, while the star of the show was the seasonal Christmas martini, made with ginger liquor, and not for the weak of heart.
The Star will be celebrating their 10th birthday next Friday 30 November and Saturday 1 December. Little Bird will be featured on their tasting menu in December.
Beat the winter blues by Flying South with this warming cocktail from Little Bird:
100ml Little Bird Gin
500ml Dry English Cider
50ml Martini Bianco
50ml Fresh Lemon Juice
2 dessert spoonfuls of Honey
5 drops Grapefruit Bitters
6 drops Angostura Bitters
10 Cloves and 1 – 2 Cinnamon Sticks
Stir the ingredients slowly over a very gentle heat and let the spices infuse the drink. Ladle out into your favourite cup and garnish with a thin slice of apple to serve.
Text by Ananda Pellerin