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It’s the most popular spirit in the UK, having recently overtaken whisky and vodka in a survey of our favourite drinks. It has a long, fascinating and chequered history as a drink that has led to riots and ruin, as well as helping to ward off disease and sickness. And its recent resurgence has come about thanks to the growth of hundreds of “craft” gins and small distilleries that are satisfying our thirst for authentic alternatives to the big global brands. Gin is back.

Gin has a long and colourful heritage. Like many spirits, it began life as a medicinal beverage. It’s not known where it was first distilled, but it’s likely that it came out of a medieval monastery, where juniper berries, valued for their medicinal properties, were used to flavour the harsh raw spirit to make a drink known as genever (the Dutch for juniper). Genever (also known as jenever) was taken up in a big way in the Low Countries, and indeed is still drunk there today. It’s thought that it was drunk by English soldiers during the Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 17th century to give them “Dutch courage”. English speakers shortened “genever” to “gen”, which eventually became gin.

A pint of ruin

When William and Mary took over the English throne in 1689, William put a tax on imports of French brandy and encouraged the distillation of gin, his own preferred drink (being Dutch). This unleashed a period of social upheaval that culminated in the “gin craze” of the first half of the 18th century, when hundreds of distilleries sprang up, many based in ordinary houses. There was a time when a pint of gin was cheaper than a pint of beer. The results were ruinous. Crime and ill-health soared as an increasingly ungovernable population soused itself in cheap gin. Little wonder that gin gained the nickname of “kill me quick”. Often it was flavoured with turpentine.

One response to this crisis was Hogarth’s famous engraving, Gin Lane, in which the disastrous impact of gin-drinking on that street’s ravaged inhabitants is contrasted with the healthy and morally upright citizens of Beer Street. Eventually, governments raised taxes on gin. At the same time, the price of grain was rising. These factors put an end to the gin craze by the middle of the 18th century.

Bitter experience

Elsewhere in the world, gin was actually responsible for bringing about improvements in health. As the British Empire expanded into tropical countries where malaria was rife, quinine - extracted from the bark of a tree - was used as a treatment. Quinine has a bitter taste, so it was mixed with gin to make it more palatable. The gin and tonic was born - a quintessentially English drink, made from a spirit with Dutch origins, mixed with the extract of a tropical tree. Today’s tonic waters still contain a small amount of quinine.

Meanwhile, for seasick voyagers and mariners, gin was mixed with aromatic bitters, such as Angostura, to settle their stomachs. The pink gin was born.

Wherever the British Empire spread to, gin went with it too, and one beneficiary was the Plymouth distillery, Coates, which began distilling gin in 1793. Being located in a major naval centre meant that Coates became one of the best-known gin brands across the Empire: at one point, it was supplying the Royal Navy with 1,000 barrels of gin a year. In 2004 it was renamed Plymouth Gin, and is now the oldest British gin distillery still operating in its original location.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, improvements in distilling techniques were helping to create smoother, more refined gins that became popular with the middle and upper classes. London dry gin mixed with tonic became a thoroughly respectable drink, and the rehabilitation of gin seemed complete.

Still crazy

However, gin was to experience another blow to its prestige - this time across the Atlantic, where prohibition in America led to the emergence of thousands of illicit stills, making gins (and other sprits) that were of very poor quality. These became known as “bathtub gins”, although they were not actually made in bathtubs - the name came about probably because the bottles were too tall to be topped off with water in a sink, so this had to be done via bath taps. (In tribute to this era, there is now a brand of gin called Bathtub Gin, made by Ableforth’s in the West Midlands.) Once again, gin became associated with crime and social breakdown.

Another negative association came in George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which the populace is subdued with endless cups of cheap and nasty “Victory Gin”, as in this passage: “As always, the gin made him shudder and even retch slightly. The stuff was horrible.”

But gin today iis a drink that genuinely transcends social boundaries. Though the gin and tonic has snooty associations, it has also enjoyed enduring popularity among working-class drinkers. The rock band Oasis, at the height of “lad” culture, referenced “gin and tonic” in their hit song, “Supersonic”.

Sloes and seaweed

And then, around a decade ago, something remarkable happened: a sudden flowering of new gin brands. As with the era of the “gin craze”, a change in regulations has helped this huge growth of “boutique” distilleries. To begin with, when the gin distillers Sipsmith wanted to distill gin in small quantities, HMRC said this would technically be classed as “moonshine” and banned it. Fierce lobbying led to a change in the rules, making it possible for micro-distilleries to flourish.

These new “craft” gins come in all manner of styles and flavours, among them seaweed and nettles, as well as the more traditional botanicals, and sloe gin and damson gin. Inevitably, the big distillers are trying to get in on the act, but the real growth is in the smaller companies (Sipsmith has now been taken over by the global drinks giant Beam Suntory).

The growth of gin - the “ginaissance” - has unleashed a new generation of distillers, who relish the ability to combine creativity and technology to create unique new drinks. Reflecting the somewhat mixed heritage of gin, there is even a small distillery in east London called Mother’s Ruin, many of whose ingredients are home-grown or foraged from the surrounding countryside. Mother’s Ruin also has a small gin and cocktail bar, the Gin Palace, on the site of its distillery: the “vibe” is casual, with eclectic bar furniture and people sitting outside in the warmer months.

A touch of glass

So what does this mean for those running pubs and bars? The first thing is that customers will often now ask for a gin by brand. People are getting to know their gins, and this connoisseurship should be rewarded by offering a range of gins. Tonic waters and other mixers, too, have become much more sophisticated, with brands such as Fever Tree offering alternatives to the old fizzy stalwarts (sssh, you know who). And remember that gin forms the basis of many cocktails, so putting these on your drinks menu will liven up your offering.

Think about what kind of glasses it should be served in, perhaps opting for something chunkier and more characterful. Many of today’s gin-drinkers prefer lime to lemon, and either way, they want it fresh, not from a preserving jar. Ask before adding ice, as some prefer it without. You could hold special gin-tasting evenings, setting aside an area of your pub for a sampling session.

As well as being a pleasure to drink, the new-generation gins can be a talking point. A bottle of Mother’s Ruin or Bathtub Gin on the shelf of your pub or bar would be sure to get the customers talking.

It’s official: today’s youngsters are a bunch of lightweights. Well: that’s one way of putting it. You might prefer to describe them as “generation sensible”. Last year, a study of nearly 10,000 young people in the UK confirmed what many have long suspected - that young people are shunning alcohol.

The study found that between 2005 and 2015, the numbers of people aged 16 to 24 who described themselves as non-drinkers rose from 18 per cent to 29 per cent, while the numbers who had never drunk alcohol rose from 9 per cent to 17 per cent. So: almost a third of British youngsters do not drink alcohol. This is quite a turnaround.

The study did not investigate why this is happening, and there are many theories to explain this shift in drinking patterns, health being foremost among them. But whatever the explanation, this represents a dramatic change in the nation’s drinking habits; for most people of middle age and older, drinking alcohol in their younger years was a formative experience, a kind of proving ground, often beginning with under-age drinking. Getting drunk or having “a few too many” was seen by many as part of a normal night out.

So this new abstemiousness is good news for the livers and other major organs of the younger generation - but not so good news for people who run pubs and bars, where alcohol is of course an essential part of the offering. Pubs are closing at a rate of 18 a week and this shift in drinking habits is not helping to keep them open.

The zero heroes

But now brewers are beginning to fight back by developing alcohol-free beers and ciders that can compete with the “real” thing in terms of flavour and style. So if you run a pub or a bar, you would be wise to consider stocking a decent range of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks, as they are soaring in popularity: another recent study found that sales of low-alcohol and alcohol-free beer have seen a rise of 381 per cent since 2017.

Those with long memories will remember early attempts at alcohol-free beers such as Barbican, which resembled beer in its colour and fizziness rather than its actual taste (interestingly, Barbican is now sold as a “non-alcoholic malt beverage” in Muslim countries where alcohol is forbidden). But today’s offerings are much more sophisticated, the results of years of painstaking research.

Low in alcohol, big on flavour

So how are they made? Essentially, they are brewed in the same way as a regular beer, using the same ingredients. Then the alcohol is removed, either by heating the beer, which causes the alcohol to evaporate, or by a process called reverse osmosis, which uses a series of filters at a cold temperature. These processes can affect the taste, and the technique of injecting carbon dioxide to give the product its “fizz” can leave a metallic aftertaste, but new methods have been developed to retain those essential beer flavours. The results are often flavoursome and satisfying brews, with beer experts often giving them the thumbs up in taste tests.

Brewing giants such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Heineken have launched dozens of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers in the past three years. Among them is Heineken’s 0.0 and Budweiser’s Prohibition - whose name harks back to the origins of low-alcohol beer in Prohibition-era America. Guinness has developed a lager, Open Gate, which has 0.5 per cent alcohol.

Smaller brewers have also entered the market with low-alcohol beers such as Brew Dog’s amusingly named Nanny State. And now alcohol-free beers have received the ultimate seal of approval from the Campaign for Real Ale, whose Great British Beer Festival last year offered alcohol-free beer for the first time in its history. These were from the Dutch craft brewery Braxzz, which has developed an alcohol-free IPA, amber ale and the world’s first alcohol-free porter.

These beers are not only low in alcohol or alcohol-free; they are low in calories, too, typically containing around half the calorie count of regular beer - another selling point among health-conscious youngsters. Some Olympic athletes have started using non-alcoholic beer as a recovery drink, partly because it helps them to rehydrate, but also because drinking beer is a social activity and drinking alcohol-free beer ensures that they don’t miss out on the fun. This is a key factor for anyone running a pub or bar: people like drinking together, and these days it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the drink contains alcohol.

Naught percent profits

For the publican and bar owner, the advantage of these new products is that they carry little or no duty, thus increasing your profit. There has been some consumer resistance to the fact that most of these beers are served in bottles. If you want to sit and sup a pint of one of these beers, you’ll usually need to buy, and pour, two bottles, which can be expensive. But now brewers are upping their game even further by offering low-alcohol beers on tap. The Suffolk-based brewer St Peter’s, for instance, now offers its alcohol-free beer Without on draught, as well as in bottles.

Canny publicans and bar owners will serve these beers as part of a wider push to attract younger drinkers. For many youngsters, the pub is seen as an off-puttingly old-fashioned place, but there are ways to freshen up your offering. Free Wi-Fi is a necessity, so if you don’t have it, you would be advised to install it - and make sure that the password is well publicised.

Furniture, too, can make a difference. By introducing more contemporary-looking pub chairs and pub tables, you can give your pub or bar interior a livelier, more eclectic appearance. You don’t need to go for a complete overhaul - but a mixture of traditional furniture and newer pieces will help create a more youth-friendly “vibe”. Tables such as Trent Furniture’s Shaker table in a light oak finish will add a touch of cool, while Trent Furniture’s Tall Dakota chrome bar stool will introduce shine and clean lines.

Your drinks offering, meanwhile, could be extended to include not just alcohol-free and low-alcohol beers, but low-low-alcohol ciders, too (one of the most popular is from Stowford Press). And there is plenty of fun to be had with alcohol-free cocktails. Many pubs and bars now offer tea and coffee, with an espresso machine behind the bar. And the trend for pubs to offer activities and experiences seems to be here to stay.

So perhaps there is life yet in that grand old British institution, the pub. It has had to adapt in the past in order to survive, and now it will need to adapt again to cater to the tastes and habits of the sensible, clean-living younger generation.

Have you read the latest edition of Bar Magazine yet?

The magazine’s April edition features an article that looks into current design trends that are taking the bar industry bar storm. As well as featuring new products and collections, it includes commentary from leading furniture designers and suppliers.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that our very own Robert Price was included in the article, giving his thoughts and opinions on what furniture, colours and styles are ‘in’ in 2019.

Bar design trends 2019

So, what are Trent Furniture’s thoughts on current bar design trends?

Rob drew on the fact that the industrial-chic trend that’s spread itself across bars over the past five years seems to have now had its moment in the spotlight.

Rob explains: “Dark and raw interiors are being replaced with natural, airy atmospheres with splashes of bright playful colour. Colour palettes are bright and are being paired with natural textures and plenty of natural light.”

Rob was also quick to explain that retro is a permanent fixture that can bring continued rewards, if done correctly. There’s a fine line between having a retro interior design and becoming a novelty themed establishment.

“Within the realm of retro, there are so many options for operators to take inspiration from. More recently, though, we’ve seen more bars and venues draw from 70’s design trends.”

Item’s like the loopback side chair and bentwood tall stool have art deco designs that were popular through the 60s and 70s and can be upholstered in a range of different fabrics and colours such as mustard yellow, dark orange and browns that were commonplace popular in this era.

You can read the article in full here on pages 61 to 66.

Got your own opinions on current bar design trends? Let us know in the comments section below.

Public holidays, including Easter, are a great time to increase your customer numbers. With a four-day weekend for most, there is plenty of opportunities to get some additional passing trade into your café.

It won’t just be your café that’s looking to make the most of the period though so you’ll need to get a little creative.

To help, we’ve put together some Easter themed ideas that are sure to get your café filled up:

Easter specials

The simplest and most common promotion technique in attracting Easter trade is to add some themed items to the menu. For restaurants, this would involve adding seasonal dinner plates but for a café, this could be done by selling fresh homemade hot cross buns, an Easter egg milkshake or some themed brunch options.

Host an egg hunt

If you’ve got some outdoor space, one way of getting good numbers into your café is to host an Easter egg hunt for children. Alternatively, you might prefer a host something less space-sapping, such as an egg-painting workshop. Both are just as likely to be a hit with young families.

Coffee inside an Easter egg?

Okay. This one might be a step too far for some, but it’s certainly going to get people talking about your café. A couple of years ago saw a few cafés in Australia and New Zealand start a craze that involved serving coffee inside Easter eggs.

The craze didn’t quite make its way to the UK but could your café be the one that brings the idea here? It’s certainly an idea that’ll get people talking! You can see what we mean in this video by Karvan Coffee in Perth, one of the cafés to serve the eggspresso.  

Café furniture

If you are looking to give your café a refurbishment to make it stand out from the competition, Trent Furniture has a range of traditional, contemporary and unique chairs, table and stools for cafés. Browse our full café furniture range today to see what’s available. 

If you don’t appeal to young families then your restaurant is missing out on a huge market. Having an atmosphere and facilities that are suitable for children means that you can attract additional custom through school holidays, weekends and evenings.

Some restaurants pass themselves as being child-friendly simply because they give infants a colouring sheet upon entry. But for parents, there are far more considerations that make your restaurant a child-friendly space that they want to take their children to.

For some restaurants, having children running around doesn’t fit with their brand. But if it’s a demographic you’d like to reach, here are some ways of creating a truly child-friendly atmosphere:

Children’s menu

You’ll struggle to find many youngsters that are happy to eat of the standard menu. We all know how fussy children are!

But while children’s menus are usually full of chips, nuggets, fish finger and beans, why don’t you add some healthier options in there, too? This is guaranteed to score a few brownie points with parents.

Furniture

A full-size chair simply isn’t going to cut it if you want to be seen as a child-friendly restaurant. The children’s faces will barely make it above the table, let alone be able to eat from it!

You’ll either have to have some booster seats handy or have a set of high chairs for the youngsters to use. Make sure that you have plenty available, too. The last thing you want to be doing is turning families away because your only two high chairs are currently being used!

Facilities

In terms of facilities, a toilet with a good baby changing space is top of the list for most. Preferably, your restaurant will have a designated baby changing room available complete with all the amenities the parent needs.

At the dinner table, you’ll need to stock up on some child-sized cutlery and some plastic cups. Believe us, giving kids plastic cups will save plenty of glasses being smashed!

Activities

Relying on children using phones and devices is a big mistake. Families eat out to spend time together and socialise; so the last thing parents will want is for their youngsters to have their heads buried in their phones. Instead, have a stash of toys, crayons and activity placemats ready for the children.

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