I have to confess: I arrived a little late to the gin party. It’s a spirit that is not shy and I initially had some difficulty understanding its strong botanical personality. But now I look at that beautiful bottle of Bluecoat gin in the picture above and the classic martini next to it, and I don’t know how I ever thought I could make cocktails without it. I’ve come to realize that although it troubled me at first, gin’s juniper/botanical essence is the very thing that makes it such an awesome base spirit for a drink. It’s the perfect complement for the floral flavors in liqueurs like St. Germain and Crème de Violette, yet equally at home with the herbal notes of green and yellow Chartreuse. It opens up a world of possibilities for using simple syrups infused with things like ginger and jalapeño, as well as for muddling ingredients like basil and cucumber. What started out for me as just an appreciation for gin has developed into so much more than that, and I now find myself gravitating towards cocktails made with gin more than those made with any other base spirit.
There are a number of types of gin and it helps a whole lot to have a basic understanding of the differences between them:
London Dry gin starts out a neutral base spirit (very much like vodka) that is then redistilled with juniper and other botanicals. It does not have to be made in London but it cannot have any additional ingredients added in after distillation. It’s flavor profile is predominantly juniper and citrus. Gins like Tanqueray and Beefeater fall into this category. Hendrick’s does not because it has cucumber and rose infused in after distillation.
Plymouth gin can only be made in Plymouth, England and is similar to London Dry except that its flavor is softer and has less botanical notes and more citrus. This makes it a great starting point for people who are trying to develop a taste for gin. There is also a version called Navy strength with an ABV of 57%, which is fairly high.
Genever is originally from Holland and is made from a malted mash rather than a neutral spirit. I find its flavor and aroma to be very similar to whiskey, just not nearly as strong.
Old Tom is a British style of gin that has been around for a long time, and is recently making a reappearance on the cocktail scene. It is still juniper forward, but sweeter.
American gin does not neatly fall into any of the categories above. They are always redistilled with juniper and often have a crazy number of additional botanicals which you will immediately pick up in both aroma and taste. Many are small batch and handcrafted. Bluecoat is an American gin, as is Death’s Door.
So this information is nice to know, but how does it help? One of the most important things you can do when you’re trying to learn about cocktails is to figure out what you like best. This is true whether you’re making cocktails at home or ordering them out in a bar or restaurant. For example, if you don’t consider yourself much of a gin drinker then maybe you want to give Plymouth gin a try and see if that begins to change your mind. Or if you’ve only had a gin like Hendrick’s or Bombay Sapphire (both very botanical and floral) and you found that those flavors and aromas did not appeal to you, then maybe you want to try Bluecoat or Tanqueray, both of which have more of a citrus/juniper element to them. If you’re making a cocktail from a recipe or coming up with your own, you’ll want to consider the other ingredients that are in the drink. Is there cucumber and basil? Then you probably want something like Hendrick’s or The Botanist to play up those flavors even more. Or is the recipe for a Negroni which calls for more of the classic London dry gin style like we find in Beefeater. A gin and tonic? Totally up to you here. Which way do you want to go? The point is to try to taste as much as possible. That’s the only real way to begin to learn what appeals to you the most. And it’s fun!
Check back tomorrow when we’ll be making the classic Aviation Cocktail.