Gin Society Member
Each month, we talk to a Gin Society member about all things gin. For our inaugural Ginsider, we spoke with Jim Kelly. An avid gin lover and collector, he owns Domestique, a corporate public relations business, and is a husband to Nicole and father of four boys – “so life is spent as a taxi driver, life coach and chef”. Kelly shares what he loves about and looks for in a gin.
Do you recall the first time you tried gin?
My long-term memory has long since gone to the dogs. Whatever it was, it would probably not be remotely close to the kind of stuff I drink now. In the same way that Stone’s Green Ginger wine, which was a university staple, doesn’t resemble the wine I like to drink now. If I had to guess, I would say it was a Bombay and tonic, when I lived in London in the mid-’90s.
What do you enjoy most about gin as a spirit?
The beauty of wine is skilled winemakers can bring to life their terroir to create unique wines. Gin offers the same, if not greater, opportunities. I love that really well-crafted gin speaks more of place than pretty much any other spirit (with apologies to my whiskydrinking friends). This means that the variation in gin styles is endless, making it a great spirit to fall in love with and explore.
Preferred way to drink gin?
I am starting to drink more and more gin neat, but you can’t go past a G&T. I do like to mix it up, too. I put a bit of thought into finding great tonics and also different garnishes like bay leaves, rosemary, pink peppercorns, grapefruit, grapes, and pieces of chilli. It’s another thing that makes gin really interesting and unique – mixing up garnishes can really create different taste profiles from the same wet ingredients.
Current favourite gin?
I am always looking for unique and different gins, and Ungava from Canada is certainly in that category. How can I put this delicately – it has a slightly off-putting yellow hue in the bottle that makes you want to make sure your cat hasn’t been near the collection.
It comes from the extreme northern regions of Canada where I would imagine it gets pretty cold, but uses botanicals that I have never seen before – Nordic juniper, crowberry, cloudberry and Labrador tea.
Longstanding favourite gin?
Without a doubt, my go-to gin is Nordés Atlantic Galician gin from northern Spain. It uses an albariño grape base rather than a grain spirit, which gives it an amazing perfume and a unique taste. It truly is fantastic. You have to try it to believe how incredible it is. If I could only drink one gin for the rest of my life it would be this one.
Cucumber or lime?
If I can only pick between those two, then probably lime. But, as I said, one of the great things about gin is that it is a carrier for a wide variety of garnishes. I have been known to offer friends a platter of a dozen or so options – herbs (try tarragon), citrus and other fruits (blueberries, cherries), and spices (try a cinnamon stick or cardamom pods).
Favourite gin-based cocktail?
Old school, you can’t go past a gimlet. There is a reason why it is the original gin cocktail. I had one once with a little agave syrup in it that made it pack a real punch. For a new spin on a non-gin classic, I am a fan of a ‘New Fashioned’. Basically, you swap out whiskey for gin, add good bitters and lime peel.
Best gin experience you’ve ever had?
I am not sure you would call it the best, but it was certainly the most ‘different’. I was in LA visiting a friend earlier this year and had lunch at a new Mexican restaurant called Gracias Madre in West Hollywood that was building a reputation for cocktails using marijuana oil. I had a ‘Stoney Negroni’ that certainly left an impression. If gin is not your go, you can have a ‘Rolled Fashion’. I had one of those as well. Certainly a great idea to get customers to eat more.
What’s your gin collection like?
Too big and not big enough! I can get a bit obsessive so, over the past couple of years, have built a collection of 70 to 80. Probably half are Australian and the other half are from the UK, France, Spain, the US and everywhere in between.
What do you look for in a gin?
A great story and unique botanicals, but it still has to taste like the distiller knows what they are doing. A good example of all three is Clair De Lune, a small-batch gin made by two everyday blokes in Sydney. Sourcing local and native botanicals, it’s full-flavoured and pairs well with soda. The base spirit is made in-house using fermentation techniques from sparkling wines. I love the fact that gin is easy enough for people to have a crack at if they have the passion and the patience.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what three gins would you bring with you and why?
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz gin, the Nordés Atlantic Galician gin and Applewood Distillery Gin of Lust. Can’t get three more different gins, so at least my loneliness wouldn’t be boring.
Any standout gin-focused bars or venues?
My wife Nicole and I spent a week drinking and eating in New York in the middle of 2018 and hunted out the dozens of cool speakeasy bars that the Americans seem to do really well. Bathtub Gin club was a standout. The ‘Seasonal Negroni’ was incredible – Thomas Dakin gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, Campari, poblano chilli, and lemongrass. Stirred and served straight up.
What do you think Gin Society offers gin lovers?
I think it is a terrific idea to source unusual and interesting gins that over the course of a year will give gin lovers a great spread of styles, geographies and flavours.
Aside from drinking it, what’s the best thing about gin?
Geology and climate really restrict quality wine growing to a limited number of countries and regions. Gin has the advantage of being available to anyone with knowledge, a still and the creativity to use locally grown botanicals to bring their ideas to life. That is what makes it a great spirit. Even I have had a crack. Every year we send our clients a bottle of Archie Rose that we blend ourselves at the distillery. Seems to be well received!