What started as a hobby travelling the world in search of unique gin and beer quickly turned serious once Gemma and Steve Wheeler realised their growing collection should be shared with more than just those sipping in their back garden bar. But it wasn’t just about the variety. Their passion grew out of anger for the lack of the art around drinking that other European countries were so attuned to. After travelling to Spain five years ago and watching as each bartender took a simple drink and broke down the elements, creating theatrics around a G&T, it was clear that that was what they were being called to do here in the UK.
And so after thirteen years in accounting and managing funeral directors, Steve and Gem took their collection from Kent where they live, and set up their first brick and mortar bar in London’s Deptford neighbourhood. Because they only serve gin and beer, it made sense to cut straight to the point and name it, Gin & Beer.
Tired of having to flip through endless pages of gin, Steve joked that “It was like being handed The Bible in a cocktail bar,” Gin & Beer instead divided their gins into four categories: classic, complex, citrus and sweet, and only put their favourites on the menu. Because it’s table service, guests are easily given a recommendation based on their interests, allowed to sample a neat shot, and explained the flavour profile as the liquid goes down. The concept is perfect for those sticking to a traditional G&T or to one of their signature Negronis.
But for those in the mood for a bit more adventure, the gin & beer cocktails are rather unique to London’s bar scene. Steve makes his own Aperol from sour beer, Kriek syrup from cherry beer and IPA reductions. As he prepared Up Gin Kriek with Brockmans of course, we asked where he learned all of the technical skills. “I’m pretty much self-taught. A lot of YouTube videos. I always liked to cook so it was about transferring that same concept into the drinks.” As we took a sip of our cocktail, we couldn’t help but give him credit for being so studious. What we thought might be too sweet, turned out to be the perfect blend of tangy and bitter, bringing out our citrus notes and mixing to create a smooth berry and floral finish. The fusion of the beer, shrub, gin and dried rose garnish made for a complete sensory experience, the taste heightened by the smell.
To soak up the libations, Gem and Steve hand-selected French and British cheeses, a few even from monasteries where some of their beer is brewed in Belgium to match the taste profiles of the drinks menu. But the focus still remains on drinks.
When they first started around nine months ago, they wondered if they were being too naïve. To combat the doubt, they consumed information twenty-four hours a day (they joked), and set out to find people who were passionate not only about each product stocked, but about the concept the married duo wanted to deliver. For them, it’s all about the service, eye for detail and quality. They’ve found just the team to keep the heaving 60-seater bar more than busy six days a week.
We sipped slowly because we didn’t want the cocktail to end, enjoying the relaxed surroundings and occasional rumblings of the trains above. As the bar started to fill, we asked Steve a few final questions, before letting him get to what he enjoys most: making cocktails…
1. Describe Gin & Beer in a few words.
We’re a mix of two styles: the attention to detail you’d expect in a high-end cocktail bar, but in a relaxed atmosphere similar to the kind you feel when drinking in Belgian beer halls.
2. What is the best thing you have overheard at Gin & Beer?
We have the following conversation quite a bit…
Customer: “Is this Gin & Beer?”
Gem: “Yes, what can we get you?”
Customer: “Vodka, Lime and Soda.”
Gem: “Sorry, we literally only sell Gin and Beer.”
Customer: “Oh, ok I’ll have a large glass of house white then.”
3. Why is gin so popular?
It’s multi-faceted. It’s an extension of the craft movement in the UK. People are willing to drink less in order to pay for quality. Gin is also very easy to make, delicious and our national spirit.
4. What about Brockmans appeals to you?
I like its sweetness and consider it to be a great gateway gin. It’s interesting how many others gins are now copying the Brockmans profile.
5. If you could have one last drink before you died, what would it be?
It’d be De Dolle Stille Nacht, the highest gravity beer brewed. It’s punchy, vintage, and ages over time. Trappist beers have really unique properties about them.
Up Gin Kriek
- 35ml Brockmans Gin
- 3 dashes of cranberry bitters
- 20ml raspberry redcurrant shrub
- 25ml Kriek syrup
- 1 Egg White
- Combine all ingredients into a shaker.
- Dry shake without ice.
- Add ice and shake once more.
- Strain into a sour glass and garnish with a dried rose.