In the Spirit: It's a Win with Gin
The ori"gins" of this juniper and botanical infused clear spirit may be up for debate, but what's not is that juniper berries that are at the essence of gin's aromatics and taste. In truth, gin is the world's first flavored vodka and uses wide-ranging natural botanicals such as Douglas fir, orange peel or coriander at the discretion of the distiller.
Gin's history has some dramatic peaks and valleys. Dating back to the Middle Ages and coming more to the forefront in Holland (called Jenever and used to treat ailments such as gout, arthritis and digestion), gin's popularity increased and expanded to England. In the 1700s, after a drop on taxation, gin basically became more popular than water. What followed were the down and dirty social repercussions of having such a cheap and popular spirit widely available.
When prohibition came to the United States, gin's popularity soared since it was easy to make at home (think "bathtub gin.") Today bartenders and drinkers alike revere gin not only for the simple gin and tonic but also because of the plethora of classic cocktails and new concoctions being created daily around the world.
Gins is not only varied by its botanicals, it also has different styles to be considered for your cocktail. Here's a sampling of different characteristics:
Our consulting mixologists suggest classic Beefeater London Dry Gin or Plymouth as excellent, all-purpose, widely available brands for a tonic or martini, but for quirkier finds, consider these picks:
St. George Terroir Gin
Terroir is a French term usually reserved for wines and represents this beverage's sense of place. Made in California with local Douglas fir, laurel and sage. "A forest in your glass" describes the aromatics and flavor profile, which lends to terrific cocktails especially with summer fruits.
St. George Terroir Gin, $30
The only gin from Islay, Scotland is an international style with classic botanicals in addition to 22 local herbs and flowers that distinguish The Botanist. Makes a perfect Negroni and any other cocktail in which you want something distinctive from the juniper forward London Dry style.
The Botanist, $37
Hayman's Old Tom Gin
Hayman's is a family business dating back to the late mid 1800s in England that takes this round, soft touch of sweet style gin classically to your glass. Victorian England preferred the Old Tom style and now so can you. Just last year they dedicated their gin still, "Marjorie" after the granddaughter of the founder.
Hayman's Old Tom Gin, $24
So now you know you want a cocktail. Where can you go to check out these gins in their proper cocktail? Check out these gin-centric bars around the country where you can go to drink and learn about this versatile spirit.
Gin Palace - New York, NY
Chaim Dauermann guides his guests through a no-nonsense, gin experience. "Gin is everybody's thing," says Dauermann when talking about the spirit, "Gin is the most elemental spirit when it comes to cocktails." This single spirit concept location has the dark and moody interiors reminiscent of a speakeasy club from the 1920s.
Here you can have a gin and tonic on tap or indulge in five different tonic types made in-house that can pair with different styles of gins to take your cocktail to the next level. With original concoctions like "Never Seen Star Wars" looking like planet Hoth, the sense of clever fun comes through. Weeknights tend to be calmer when true gin enthusiasts can enjoy the ambiance and chat up the bartenders.
Scofflaw - Chicago, IL
Danny Shapiro is the head bartender and co-owner of Scofflaw in Chicago's Logan Square. The bar is not only known for its innovative yet approachable gin-focused cocktail selection, but also touts one of the best burgers in the city.
The name comes from one who "scoffs at the law," harkening back to prohibition days when people drank even though it was illegal. Shapiro says, "We wanted to represent doing what is not expected and different while making it comfortable and relaxing." Their $8 cocktails make it easy on the pocketbook as well. They even make their own proprietary Scofflaw Old Tom Gin that is heavy on the juniper and perfect for seasonal offerings. Try it in one of the specialty cocktails named "Temple Destroyer," which includes kiwidita, mint and fortified wine.
The Flintridge Proper, La Cañada Flintridge, CA
The housemade gin here is light on the juniper and roasted to soften it up, which might make it the perfect entry-level gin. In addition, many of the botanicals utilized are procured within 15 miles of the restaurant, giving it a uniquely local character. Owner Brady Caverly says, "The Proper focuses on localized and consistent elements in our restaurant and in our classic cocktail program without the snobbery that sometimes comes with it."
Caverly likes to encourage the expansion of a gin drinker's palate by offering flights of gin as well as educational tastings that showcase the integral role of gin in the back bar. Sip on the locally inspired "Devil's Gate," composed of Plymouth Navy Strength gin, local berries and a house-made ginger syrup.
The Flintridge Proper
This story is part of our special report titled "In the Spirit." Want to read more? Here's the full list.