Though today he is a leading authority on the spirit gin and fine cigars, the beginning of Nick Hammond’s relationship with the latter was rather inauspicious. “A friend and I were on a U.K. road trip when we were 17. We pulled into a service station and saw this humidor with tubes in it,” he remembers. “We were like, ‘Wow, let’s get some of those!’” Smitten at first smoke—“it was such fun, unpacking the cigars, lighting them, it was very cool”—Hammond and his pal would buy a cigar every time they met.
Soon Hammond was digging deeper, learning more about where cigars come from, how they are made, the difference between those from various countries… “Like coffee and wine, you learn about different styles, different varietals.”
He also noticed that no one else was writing about good cigars, so he started making notes on what he was smoking. A journalist by trade, Hammond never intended to publish his musings but, “I found what I was writing amusing, and when I told my wife about it, she was encouraging.” And so his notes became the book Around the World in 80 Cigars.
It was at the launch of the book that fate was to intervene and set Hammond off on a new path. “I invited a couple who ran a company producing the most amazing leather goods—bags, satchels, folios—that I’d done a story on,” he remembers. A few weeks after the launch, the couple, Alex and Russ Hughes, called and asked Hammond if he would be interested in some kind of collaboration with their company, Leggets (leggets.com).
The trio began planning a collection of travel accessories. One day, on the way to a meeting, however, they passed by a local gin distillery and popped in to investigate. While there, Alex Hughes turned to Hammond: “How about a cigar gin?”
It’s such a versatile spirit. It’s great fun to mix it, whether you love a martini, a gibson, or a negroni. With a bottle of gin, you feel like a proper bartender—Nick Hammond
At first Hammond was unconvinced. “I didn’t think it was a winner. Cigar people like sweet, dark spirits like whiskey or rum.” But pairing cigars with gin felt like a challenge. Fate intervened once more, this time due to COVID-19 and its lockdowns, meaning that Hammond suddenly had plenty of time on his hands to experiment with ingredients and flavors. “I’d play around with blends, sending them off to the distiller to turn them into gin, then tweak and tweak until, after about six months, I got something that worked.”
That something is Oriental Cigar Gin, with botanicals such as cumin, cardamom, licorice, and vanilla. The Oriental part of the name is a nod to those spices, as well as to Alex Hughes’s Indian heritage—“we even put some of her mum’s own garam masala in”—and Hammond’s own mother, who was born in Darjeeling. Fittingly, the spirit was launched at London’s Oriental Club, where Hammond was photographed for this feature.
The trend for craft gin shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. In 2020 the global gin market was valued at $14.03 billion, projected to reach $20.17 billion by 2028
When it became clear that the gin was going to be a hit, Hammond needed to move to a larger distillery and brought Sara Dewhurst of Sandgrown Spirits on board. “The flavor profile he described to me was exactly the style of gin that I love to create—and drink—and I knew I would be able to produce something really special,” says Dewhurst. “My experience of working with similar botanicals in my own range of gins meant it took just a few weeks to produce exactly what Nick was looking for. The gin is incredibly smooth and is a joy to drink neat over ice as well as in a more traditional G&T, served with a good-quality Indian tonic and a slice of lemon.”
Hammond says he was originally wary of creating “another craft gin,” believing that the spirit’s moment was about to end, but as he rightly observes, “people just love the stuff. It just gets bigger and bigger. Maybe it’s because it’s such a versatile spirit. It’s great fun to mix it, whether you love a martini, a gibson, or a negroni. With a bottle of gin, you feel like a proper bartender.”
The trend for craft gin shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. There are an estimated 820 spirit distilleries in the U.K. and more than 1,800 in the United States. In 2020 the global gin market was valued at $14.03 billion, projected to reach $20.17 billion by 2028. From Kenya to California, there’s a whole world of craft gin distilleries adding their own twist to the classic spirit drink. Read on for four of the best.
1. Procera Gin, Kenya
Despite being robbed at gunpoint while he was employed at a microfinance company in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guy Brennan fell in love with Africa. Going on to work in Uganda before settling in Nairobi, Kenya, Brennan says “the end of workdays became synonymous with a refreshing G&T.” It was while enjoying a sundowner that Brennan “had an epiphany. We were drinking G&Ts in a friend’s backyard, looking at the Bombay Sapphire label, and realized that it was crazy that Africa sends all its produce to London for people to make gin and send it back to us to drink.”
Collaborating with African distiller Roger Jorgensen, Brennan developed Procera gin, which features fresh Kenyan juniper—juniperus procera—the ingredient that sets it apart from its European counterparts, giving it a more “bright and nutty” profile. Procera’s gins are available in a variety of expressions, and each comes with a jar of salts to “garnish your drinks, experiment with, have fun with,” as Procera’s co-owner Ivan Dixon puts it. Procera’s bottle also reflects its African roots: in handblown glass by Kitengela Hot Glass, it has a stopper by artisans from the coastal town of Kilifi and leatherwork by Kenyan brand Sandstorm, whose handbags have been spotted on the arm of the Duchess of Cambridge.
2. Adamus Gin, Portugal
Design fans might look at Adamus gin, with its chunky cork stopper, and guess that it’s from Portugal. Adamus is the brainchild of Sara Baía, Pedro Carvalho, and Carlos Santos of fourth-generation distillery Destilaria Levira in the wine region of Bairrada. To create their gin, the trio called upon the blending expertise of master distiller Rui Cruz, who experimented with 86 different botanicals before settling on the final 18 that give Adamus a freshness and unique flavor profile—it is the only organic gin in the world that uses Baga, a grape grown in Bairrada. The Gin Guide describes Adamus as having “aromas of florals and fresh, fruity citrus notes… a finish of earthy juniper with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger spice.”
3. Ginacria Gin, Sicily
Dario Rinaldi launched Ginacria in 2020. An agronomist by trade, Rinaldi hand-harvests the botanicals from across the steep slopes of Mount Etna and the plains of Catania. One of them is juniperus communis subspecies hemisphaerica, a juniper native to Sicily. The spirit also features licorice root and false pepper. “Thanks to the passion for everything that is earth, that is nature, botany, I feel easy in my choice of ingredients because I know their characteristics well,” explains Rinaldi. Ginacria is made using cold distillation—said to preserve the essence of delicate botanicals—a cutting-edge method that makes evaporation possible at much lower temperatures than other distilling methods. The Gin Guide describes Ginacria as having “aromas of piney juniper and citrus . . . a lingering finish with almond and licorice.”
4. Gray Whale Gin, California
Many of us make grand plans on vacation but fail to see them through to fruition. Marsh Mokhtari is not like most of us. “Back in 2016 we were on a camping trip in Big Sur, California. My wife Jan and I were having a wonderful time with our two daughters, watching passing gray whales making their 12,000-mile (19,312 km) annual migration from the warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, to the cool waters of the Arctic. We knew then that we wanted to create a product that actively supported and gave back to ocean conservation and a legacy business to give to our daughters,” he explains.
Mokhtari hosts food and adventure TV shows, Jan is a creative director. Both are passionate about food and drink. “Then it hit us, could we create a spirit that embodied California?” says Mokhtari. The couple bought the URL for Golden Gate Distillery and their venture into spirits began. “Gin is simply vodka with flavor. It’s the spirit that could truly be crafted from botanicals foraged along the migratory path of the gray whale.” Those include juniper from Big Sur, kombu seaweed from the Mendocino coastline, fir from Sonoma Valley, and mint from Santa Cruz. With their gin, the Mokhtaris support “the conservation of our oceans and the incredible creature that inspired it,” giving one percent of sales to environmental causes.
Banner image: Shot at London’s Oriental Club by Greg Funnell exclusively for Christie’s International Real Estate magazine