A Falkirk Festival for a great Dutch drink

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Amid much recent press coverage of a major gin revival in Britain (not least in Scotland), the Falkirk Gin Festival is back at the Macdonald Inchyra Hotel next month.

It will feature no less than 80 different gins from more than 20 different exhibitors - and will take place in two sittings, from noon till 3.30pm and from 4.30pm to 8pm.

On past form it is likely to be extremely popular, but outwith the ranks of the professionals and true connoisseurs, it’s moot just how many attendees will know that the drink most famously associated with England (especially as “London” style) actually comes from the Netherlands?

When you consider that nobody confuses Scotch Whisky with any other kind of whisky or whiskey (it has legal protection, after all), it could seem odd that such a classic spirits choice has somehow lost its peculiarly “Dutch” origin over the years.

In Netherlands cities it’s common to see people stopping at a bar on their way home from work to enjoy a gin on the rocks, served in a long, tall glass, and iconic brand names such as De Kuyper are familiar to any Dutch national who enjoys spirits.

But some odd things happened to the original name over the years.

Called Jenever (juniper, after the berries which are its distinctive flavour hallmark), cheap gin was often served as a ration in the British army immediately before battle - and became known as “Geneva”, even although it had no connection with Switzerland.

It gave soldiers about to do battle (often with the French) “Dutch Courage”, and wasn’t associated with refined taste or high society - as was, for example, Cognac.

In 18th century London rotgut gin became a deadly drug used by the poorest in society, as shown in the harrowing “Gin Lane” art of William Hogarth - and as “Mothers’ Ruin” it was the heroin or crack cocaine of its day.

Respectability came only by degrees, but having shrugged off the negative associations of the past, gin - courtesy of its now-familiar London Dry Gin moniker - became more refined, and even aspirational.

When cocktails became all the rage it reigned supreme, because (say experts) gin is the main base ingredient in more classic cocktails than any other spirit.

England can claim some of the world’s most sought-after and revered gin brands - Pusser’s and Plymouth Gin have strong nautical associations, and there’s no doubt the Royal Navy (often wrongly thought of as having a fixation purely with rum) and the “yachting set” have helped mould the drink’s modern reputation.

Plymouth has been distilling gin since 1793.

Now, including one distillery a very short drive from Falkirk, gin is also “Scottish” - because as a quality drink its reputation knows no borders, and everyone wants to make the most of it.

Meanwhile one extremely well-known brand name with a Scottish name (and a famous ad line which suggests ‘it’s got to be ...’) is certainly a gin, but has become such a colossal international sales commodity that it is thought of as a white spirits category in its own right.

Tickets for the Falkirk Gin Festival on April 14 cost £25 (plus £2.14 booking fee) - details at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/falkirk-gin-festival-2018-tickets-37413576013