Gin. Why are many of us just now discovering its virtues? Well, although gin’s been around since a Dutch chemist named Dr. Franciscus Sylvus invented it as a cure for stomach disorders back in the 16th century, it hit a rough patch in America in the 1950s. That patch was the rise of vodka. Promoted from that decade onward with giant marketing budgets as clear, easy to drink, odorless, and—when mixed with your cranberry juice—tasting just like cranberries, vodka sales shot up and gin sales began to slide. By 1976, vodka had officially passed gin and whiskey to become the most consumed spirit in America.
The decades wore on, and pretty soon the only people drinking gin were wise bartenders and the geriatrics who never put it down in the first place. Overall, in America, classic drinks like the Gin & Tonic, the Gin Sour and the Gin Fizz gave way to the syrupy sweet drinks we all recall from that decade known as “the ’80s.”
Over the last few years, however, the minds behind spirits production and serious bartenders everywhere have been endeavoring to bring “class” and “classic” back to cocktails and socializing with booze. The result? Gin has returned to the glory it once knew.
“Gin is amazing in cocktails,” explains Dev Johnson, principal bartender at the New York City bar Employee’s Only—where hundreds of gin cocktails are sold each night. “It’s incredibly versatile. I particularly like using it with Campari and sweet or Italian vermouth, which creates the ultimate cocktail—the Negroni. Gin also works well with ginger beer, a wide range of liqueurs and any juice, for the most part. Originally, it was given to the Dutch Army to fight off disease and also to make them courageous. The British, when they brought it back from Holland, nicknamed it ‘Dutch Courage.’ It’s light, refreshing, aromatic and flavorful. Gin has a personality.”
Selecting A Style
Part of that “personality” Johnson speaks of relates back to gin’s many styles. For those just putting a tiny toe in the waters of gin, there are several different types you can choose from. Understanding each will help you figure out which brands are best for your palate and also best for the type of drink you intend to create. Let’s break them down, shall we?
The most intense of the gins, London dry varieties focus around juniper—the key botanical required to call something “a gin.” Thus, in these, juniper is going to be the most prominent flavor. Big, piney, spruce forward and extra dry, London Dry works well in the most classic cocktails like Gin & Tonics or Dry Martinis.
Well, there’s only one. Plymouth Gin. Guess where it’s made? Plymouth, England. Plymouth works well in contemporary cocktails or in the same sense as a London Dry. It’s not quite as bracing as a London Dry, a slight bit sweeter, and it’s still bright and clean and rich with aromatic juniper.
Old Tom styles went out of distribution for decades in America, but with gin’s revival, they’ve come back once more. This style is generally sweeter. Brands to look for are Hayman’s or Ransom. It’s great for a Gin Rickey or classic Martinez cocktail.
New American Or International
Over the last decade this crop of gin has been gaining popularity around the world. This category is particularly popular in America, and many of them are produced here. (Check out Aviation Gin from Oregon or Death’s Door Gin from Wisconsin). These gins incorporate less juniper in the distillation process and instead tend to highlight the secondary botanicals and fruits such as violet, cucumbers, raspberries, angelica root, licorice or even peaches. The result is lighter and a bit more refreshing than a typical London Dry. You wouldn’t want to pour one of these brands in a classic Martini, but they are beautiful in contemporary cocktails and punches.