Historically gin has been the base spirit in a number of cocktail recipes most would deem ‘classic’ – gin and tonic, gin martini, Tom Collins, the Negroni, Aviation, Gimlet, and so on. The term ‘classic’ however, denotes a potentially faded era where gin’s versatility and polymorphous flavor profile have been left behind. Until recently, ‘classic’ cocktails were reserved for acquired tastes, and gin was a square peg in a round, vodka-centric hole.
Yet as economic seasons change, so do the expectations of consumers who want more from their drinking experiences – more flavor, more fresh ingredients, more of a story, more value. Gin is capable of providing us with all of the above, and new brands combined with the efforts of the modern cocktailian mind, will emerge from its prescribed cocoon more colorful and appealing as ever.
“All gin starts out like vodka then flavors are added to it. The cheaper gins only have the oils of juniper and citrus added to the bottle and are not very complex,” says Gaz Regan, author of The Bartender’s Gin Compendium. “The better gins on the market have the flavors infused into them such as juniper, lavender and angelica. Dry gin is exactly this.” London Dry Gins, such as Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray, are by most accounts the most popular style of the spirit as it performs well in a mixing capacity.
Martin Miller’s Gin, for example, prides itself on its use of traditional distillation methods, and a combination of quality botanicals and citrus flavors to produce its award-winning English-style brand.
“Another category is Genever, essentially a dry gin blended with whisky, which predates dry gin and originated in Holland,” Regan continues. “Old Tom is the third category – historically there is much debate as it is dry gin only with added sugar and sweeteners. Then we have Plymouth Gin, a fourth category, which must by law be distilled within the city of Plymouth, England. There is only one Plymouth Gin, and one Plymouth Gin distillery. It is slightly rounder and fruiter than the majority of London Dry gins.”
While the English have traditionally dominated the gin producing market, there are some recent additions to the category that are distilled in the likeness of French wine and spirits. Citadelle Gin, distilled by independent producer Cognac Ferrand, is inspired by a recipe created in the 18th century. Made with 19 botanicals, Citadelle is produced in the same copper pot still used for Pierre Ferrand Cognac.
“Because a cognac pot still is small, it allows for greater precision in distillation,” says President Alexandre Gabriel. “It creates a spirit with more texture and viscosity. For this reason we are able to use more botanicals to create a more complex gin.”
Utilizing French technology for American production, however, is DH Krahn Gin, in New York, NY, which uses a Stupfler System Alembic (copper still), created by a French coppersmith and third generation distiller, and limited to one distillation cycle per batch. Founder Scott Krahn wanted to inspire new growth in a spirit category that was at the time in an extended market slump.
“The DH Krahn small-batch American gin is based on a mid-19th century gin recipe,” says Krahn. “Gin is known for the London Dry Style, which is sharp and angular. But it’s important for people to be open-minded and to educate themselves about it.”
That ‘sharp and angular’ taste of many gins is the result of their traditional dependency on the juniper berry for flavor. As gin recipes have developed and adapted to a contemporary palette, however, the juniper ingredient in many brands is stepping into a supporting role and out of the lead. DH Krahn, for example, uses fewer juniper berries in its distillation process in order to let its other five botanicals surface.
Ryan Magarian, a founding partner of Aviation Gin, in Portland, Oregon, says that “what defines the craftsmanship of gin is what you do with the alternative botanicals.” Aviation is the original in a new, unofficial category of gin dubbed “New Western Dry”. Magarian’s work with House Spirits founders Lee Medoff and Christian Krogstad, was the basis for a spirit that would be appealing to both the bartender and the gin-wary consumer.
“Aviation is named for the experience I had with the cocktail of the same name,” says Magarian. “I had a narrow vision of what you could do with gin. It represents my own understanding of gin’s full potential, and not about looking back at gin but looking forward with it.”
“The secret to a good gin cocktail,” says Regan. “Is to let the gin shine through. It goes well with a number of complimentary flavors – nutty liqueurs, herbal liqueurs like Chartreuse, and mint, as well. With those things as an introduction, bartenders will then be able to feel their way around the category by themselves.”
Dan Warner, mixologist for the Beefeater brand, agrees. “The main challenge in using gin is figuring out where to start, because you really can make it work for you,” he says. “With Beefeater 24, for example, you need to think about the citrus edge, and the Japanese Sencha and Chinese Green tea botanicals that add complexity and character.”
Gabriel stands by the advice of fellow spirits and cocktail expert Dale Degroff, who suggested that in order to make cocktails tastes better, one must replace vodka with gin. While this theory may sound surprising to the average customer, it should be understood as the logical next step in great cocktail development. Classic cocktails can be made using the newer styles of gin, while all styles should be embraced as applicable to recipes old and new.
“There needs to be a total re-education of the American bartender when it comes to gin,” advises Magarian. “There is an overall lacking in the American bar, and it needs a reintroduction to the spirit. It’s a multi-use, multi-dimension product, and there are endless opportunities for creativity.”
While new boutique brands are bringing gin cocktails to a whole new dimension, our experts would agree that the ingredients you mix them with should be of the same quality. Artisanal tonic waters such as Fever Tree and Fentiman’s are favored by those seeking the best gin and tonic possible.
Q Tonic, based in Brooklyn, New York, is what founder Jordan Silbert deems “superior tonic water” made with authentic quinine from South America and a dash of all-natural agave for sweetness. “I started the company because I really like gin,” says Silbert. “But when you mix it with some of the mass-produced tonic waters with 25 grams high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, you can’t really taste the intricacies and subtleties of a great gin.”
Q Tonic is not only meant to enhance the customer’s drink but their overall on-premise experience. “These days, when people really have the option to drink at home or go out and have an experience in a bar or restaurant, part of that experience is being served better quality ingredients. “We suggest bringing the bottle out to the table with a glass of ice, the spirit and a garnish so people can pour their own and have the best gin and tonic out there. It’s a relatively cost-efficient way for a bar or restaurant to make a statement about providing their customers with the best possible experience that they can.”