Simon Ford is considered a leading voice of the global cocktail and bar community with over 25 years experience in bartending, educating on cocktails and spirits, and marketing some of the biggest spirits brands on the planet.
After several years working in the wine industry, he moved into the world of spirits, launching Plymouth Gin in several countries around the world.
Gin with Simon
Simon launched Fords Gin in 2012, which was awarded best new spirit at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards in 2013 and received the Chairman’s Trophy for Best in Class Gin at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
In addition to his life working with gin, Simon has written about bars and cocktails in various publications, created a column and developed and produced a cocktail bartending show. In his free time he continues to devote time and energy to KidsPlay International, an organization supporting gender equity through sports in genocide-torn communities.
As founder and Global Marketing Director of Fords Gin, Simon has created the award-winning Fords London Dry Gin, Fords Gin Officers Reserve, an over proof gin rested in Amontillado Sherry Casks and Fords Sloe Gin. Fords Gin was acquired by Brown Forman in July 2019 where Simon is overseeing the marketing and international expansion of Fords Gin.
Where do you think the category of gin originates from, and in what time period was this?
Gin has a very interesting and complex history. It is very difficult to pin point an exact origin date but there are plenty of significant historical moments that build up to the categories origin story. The Dutch invention of Genever is a good place to start. You can look further back at historical references to juniper being distilled for medicinal usage, such as Jacob Van Meerlant distilling juniper wood for an oil to combat the bubonic plague, or you can look to the Monks of Salerno who, in the 11th Century, distilled with Juniper and recorded making a tonic wine infused with juniper (was this the 1st Gin & Tonic? I think not!).
I think it’s better to really use examples of history when we know it has developed into a product that carries the name Gin and is a liquid that has some resemblance as to what gin is today. There are recipes that resemble Genever that date back to 1495, and during the 1500’s there was a shift to using grain instead of grape, that would lead to the development of the Genever style. There are references to tax and consumption of this spirit recored but it’s really when the Bols family add a Genever to their portfolio in 1664 that it starts to make its way into a commercially and known commodity.
(British) Gin is influenced by Genever. In the early 1600’s distillation popped up all over London, many being started by refugees from the low Countries, so the techniques and style would have traveled with them. In 1638 the Worshipful Company of Distillers starts to take control of the quality and production and when William III, who was Dutch, becomes King of England and popularizes the drinking of this product, a Gin Craze begins where the Brits start drinking gin in epic proportions.
Whatever the Brits were drinking, it was not good and the amount they were drinking was far too much for society to function well, and so between the years 1729 – 1760 several “Gin Acts” are implemented by the government. It is during this period that Gin starts to resemble what we know it to be today. During this period we will see this liquid get the name Gin, which we currently know to be first mentioned in 1714 in Bernard Mandeville’s ‘Fable of the Bees’ and the first gin brands emerge when Boord’s Old Tom is founded in 1726 and in 1740 we see the release of Booths & Finsbury Gin. I think this is a good place to start the origins of Gin. Fords Gin being launched in 2012 is also quite significant!
What is Gin made from?
Gin is a combination of a base spirit that is flavoured in some way by Juniper and other botanicals. The base spirit is usually quite neutral but it still remains an important contributor to the overall quality and taste of a gin. There are gins out that where the base alcohol has been distilled using ingredients such as apple, grape, honey, molasses and whey, to name a few. It is more common to see the base alcohols come from some form of grain such as rye, barley or wheat, and Neutral Grain Spirit derived from wheat is the most commonly used in gin production. Once you have a base spirit, it is then flavoured in some way with Juniper and other botanicals.
You must include Juniper in the recipe and it must be is the largest flavour ingredient if you are using other botanicals. Common supporting botanical ingredients include coriander, citrus peel, fresh citrus, licorice, orris, cardamom, angelica, ginger, nutmeg, grains of paradise and almonds to name a few. There are 100’s of botanicals that can be used though so the sky is the limit. This gives the gin category endless opportunity to innovate, which is exciting.
In a nutshell, how is Gin made?
Making gin is the marriage of the base spirit with the essential oils of the botanicals through distillation. In the majority of gins you place your base alcohol into a pot still with the botanicals and you start heating them, which cooks them together. Alcohol has a lower boiling temperature to water and so when the base spirit starts to hit its boiling point the alcohol vaporizes into steam, separating itself form the water, and taking the essential oils and flavour from the botanicals along with it for the ride. These vapors are captured and cooled down which condenses back into a liquid. This liquid is the bonding of the essential oils and base spirit and at this point it is now a gin albeit a rather strong gin. Water is added to lower the ABV (alcohol by volume) to the desired amount and now it’s ready to be mixed in cocktails. While several other methods of production are used to make gin, the principles of all of them are the same – flavour the base spirit with juniper and other botanicals.
Why should everyone be drinking Gin?
Gin is the quintessential cocktail spirit, there are probably more classic drinks made with gin than any other spirit, and they are drinks that have been created all over the world. The Gin & Tonic from India, the Negroni from Italy, the Bramble from London, the Martini from New York City, the Ramos Gin Fizz from New Orleans, The Pegu Club from Myanmar, the French 75 from Paris and the Singapore Sling from Singapore and the list goes on. The botanical flavours of gin add complexity to mixed drinks and the essential oils add body. It was made for mixing and throughout history, that is what it has been used for.
Why should everyone drink your brand?
Fords Gin was made with mix-ability in mind. Creating the gin was a collaboration between myself and 11th Generation Gin distiller Charles Maxwell. My work was conceptualizing the recipe, which I did using as many bartender friends as possible for input and guidance. Charles made the gins and then I got back together with the bartenders involved. We tested each batch made, which were continually refined, until we found a recipe that we felt was a good versatile gin for mixing in cocktails. We created a classic London Dry style of gin in the modern cocktail era, using botanicals with flavours that complement ingredients often used in cocktails.
For example, in the recipe for Fords Gin, we use botanicals that complement lime citrus including coriander and grapefruit. As well as ingredients that complement lemon citrus including angelica, orange and of course juniper. We also spent time to pull a good amount of essential oil from the botanicals to create viscosity to compliment cocktails, particularly stirred drinks such as the Martini. I mentioned earlier that I think gin is the quintessential cocktail spirit and Fords Gin is essentially a cocktail gin made to both complement and celebrate that.
Give us one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding Gin.
I often hear people say that gin tastes like pine needles which, while true for a small handful of gins on the market, the majority of well made gins do so much more than carry this flavour profile and many don’t carry it at all. There are so many botanicals used in gin production that its hard for two gins to taste alike.
Coolest story or anecdote about the Gin category?
The Handsome Boy Modeling have created a record called Music To Drink Martinis To. They produced their first music in two decades and it was released with a guide to enjoying music and martinis, featuring recipes by some of the worlds most notable bartenders and martini makers. It doesn’t get much cooler than that!
Favourite cocktail made with your brand, ideally something everyone can make at home or in their bars?
My favourite way to enjoy Fords Gin is in a classic Martini. I believe the martini to be the ultimate litmus test for a gin. Within the world of classic gin cocktails this is the drink that leaves not only the gin exposed, but the gin is given the secondary test of both complementing and holding it’s own when mixed with the vermouth. My favourite ratio of Fords Gin to vermouth varies depending on such factors as my mood, the occasion and time of day but a great place to start is with a 4:1 ratio of Fords Gin to Dry Vermouth and a couple of dashes of orange bitters. Stir this until extremely chilled, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist where you express the oils from the peel over the surface of the drink.
For something a little more refreshing I would recommend trying Fords Gin in a Tom Collins. The base of a gin sour really brings out the botanical flavours so that you can see how Fords Gin plays in cocktails when shaken up. The addition of soda water adds the refreshing element to this drink. The Tom Collins is a great alternative to the G&T, which is another gin drink that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Anything else you want to tell everyone about gin, your brand or anything else?
Yes, gin tastes surprisingly good when mixed with coffee and tonic water. It’s called a Turbo Gin & Tonic, and it’s refreshing and delicious. If the Espresso Martini is a ‘Vodka Red Bull’ that went to college, then the Turbo Gin & Tonic is one that graduated and found a job!
The history of alcohol and cocktails is not only fascinating, but it can be confusing and frustrating too. Especially as it can all change without notice as historians and researchers regularly unearth new pieces of information that up-end our favourite booze stories, muddle our understanding of different categories, and even undermine our most solid facts!
The versatility of this modern gin with classic style makes it a great addition to professional and home bars alike! The story of the Fords Gin bottle is an interesting one, like the gin, it was designed with cocktails in mind. To maximize the bottles reusability and make delicious concoctions, check out “Our Guide To Batching Classic Cocktails” and make some delicious Fords Gin batched cocktails for your next gathering.
As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
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