Like many women my age, I began my drinking career in my teen years. At house parties I’d clutch a bottle of Smirnoff Ice that someone had convinced their parents/older sibling/that random guy hanging around outside Spar to buy, and would merrily chug away until I was three sheets to the wind, waking up in the garden next to a dead badger that some kid thought would be funny to scrape off the road.
Aside from a brief dalliance with Mad Dog 20/20 (aka ‘bum wine’) – which resulted in a trip to A&E after I drunkenly jammed my contact lens into the back of my skull – I’ve always been a vodka girl; initially with Red Bull, then – after realising that being awake for 48 hours every weekend wasn’t doing me any favours – coke (as in Coca-Cola. Chill out).
It’s still my drink of choice, and for a long while it was my friends’ drink of choice, too. At house parties we’d go halves on a large bottle, and at bars there was an understanding that the phrase ‘What’ll it be?’ referred only to the drinker’s choice of mixer. It was a happy time, and now something has come along to disturb the established order. Gin.
It’s happened slowly. So slowly that I can’t pinpoint exactly when my social world turned away from pure, uncomplicated vodka in favour of something made from fey blue berries and tastes like paint thinner, but it’s happened nonetheless.
On our way to a party some time ago a friend and I stopped at an off-licence. “Smirnoff or Russian Standard?” I asked, followed by an uncomfortable silence. “Er, actually I think I’m going to get this instead,” she said, picking up a bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin. “I had a gin and tonic with some people from work the other day, and it was quite nice.”
At that moment, a huge gulf opened between us. Me on one side with my sleek and familiar red and silver bottle of Smirnoff, her on the other with this garish green glass monstrosity and her ‘some people’ and the ‘quite nice’.
And it didn’t stop there. Soon gin was a house party staple, and friends were ordering gin and tonics in bars. Then my bloke friends started singing its praises, and now women all over Twitter wax lyrical about the stuff, banging on about gin sorbets and the “all-gin diet LOL!” and wailing “Is it gin o’clock yet?”
And I take it all in, staring and slack-jawed, because I’m not sure what’s happened here.
As comedian Dylan Moran says: “Gin, it’s more of a mascara thinner.” Indeed, I’ve witnessed more than one friend sobbing on stairs following a night on the Mother’s Ruin – a phenomenon we’ve affectionately dubbed ‘committing ginocide’ – and several of my gin-drinking pals have even lamented the spirit’s acrid taste, which they can only allay with buckets of tonic.
Yet on nights out, when I ask for the requisite vodka and coke, they look at me like I’ve turned up wearing a pair of Crocs. “Oh, you and your vodka!” they chortle, in the same tone that I use with my mother when I’m trying to explain how to do picture messaging.
Gin is the trendy drink du jour, and I’m not on the bandwagon. “Have you heard of Hoxton Gin?” a friend asked, recently. “It’s really cool.” I didn’t realise that an inanimate liquid could be classed as ‘cool’, but sure enough a quick glance on the website tells me that, yes, only HIP YOUNG THINGS drink Hoxton Gin. Instagram-style pictures of partying hipsters splashed over neon backgrounds and STATEMENT fonts make a bold declaration about the product: fashionable people drink this stuff.
It’s the same story with Hendrick’s Gin. Opting for a more understated and bijou brand styling, the product is a massive cult success. It had a pretty strong presence at the Hampton Court Foodies Festival recently, where, I kid you not, I overheard a bunch of trilby-wearing 20-somethings arguing over who’d been drinking Hendrick’s longest. “I’ve been drinking it since before it was cool,” drawled one, explaining, in a single sentence, the recent resurgence of the stuff. Gin is cult cool.
Now I’m not one to stand in the way of progress, so of course I’ve given gin a bash. I’ve tried the cheap stuff, and the swish stuff, poured from twee, antiquated bottles and garnished with cucumber. I’ve listened to the arguments in favour of gin, and am familiar with its history and the remarkable impact it had on women’s standing in society, but this Gin Craze is not for me (as the friend I ended up crying all over in a Pizza Hut delivery store will no doubt attest).
Give me a vodka any day, and let it be known that when it has its resurgence, I was drinking it before it was cool.