Gin is In: Why This Botanical Blend is the Hot Spirit of the Season

by Ryan Leeds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 26, 2020

Leo Robitschek (center), Vice President of Food and Beverage at Sydell Group.
Leo Robitschek (center), Vice President of Food and Beverage at Sydell Group.  (Source:Sydell Group)

Laughter might be the proverbial best medicine, but gin isn't a bad alternative. Juniper berries, which often provide the basis for this ancient spirit, were once used by Egyptians to cure jaundice. Greeks believed them to be performance-enhancing and a remedy for colic, while Romans steeped them in wine to fend off chest ailments. Fortunately, modern medicine has developed beyond the fleshy fruits of a conifer, and gin has now taken its rightful place in the bar's spotlight.

It's been a long struggle, given the stuffy image of this clear hooch. "Gin used to get a bad rap in the sense that it was considered your father or grandfather's drink or that it would make you crazy," says Leo Robitschek, Vice President of Food and Beverage at Sydell Group. The New York-based, openly gay mixologist began slinging drinks at Manhattan's trendy SushiSamba and has climbed the ranks to become one of the most-awarded and sought-after cocktail masters.

What Is It?
Robitschek defines gin simply as "the original flavored vodka."
"Most [gins] have anywhere from 4 to 12 botanicals, but some can have up to 100," he explains. "The gin we all know and love is the London dry gin. That has to be distilled twice with botanicals and a mash. Nothing can be added post-distillation, and juniper must be the primary botanical. There are new world style gins that break some of these rules. Hendrick's, for example, macerates gin post distillation with cucumber and rose. Aviation Gin (made famous by actor Ryan Reynolds, who just sold the brand in a $610 million deal), is more cardamom-forward."

In the Beginning
Vodka remains the preferred alcoholic beverage among LGBTQ consumers, but what if you want to broaden your palate? Robitschek has some answers.

"The most popular gin drink people should try is the gin-gin mule, which was made famous at New York City's Pegu Club. It's a Moscow mule made with gin and mint. Another option is the Southside, which is essentially a gin mojito. The most famous gin cocktail is the classic martini. The negroni has also received a lot of traction recently."

Robitschek offers some advice for gin newbies. "Gin is a lot higher in alcohol than vodka, so you have to look at the proof. Vodka is much milder, so you can't substitute one for the other at the same amounts when mixing cocktails. Another thing is that gin really stands up to vermouth much better than vodka, so I encourage people to play with vermouth." He cautions against cutting corners on low-quality ingredients. "Your drink is only as good as your worst ingredient. It would be like ordering an amazing dry-aged steak and pouring ketchup all over it." For a basic gin and tonic, he suggests Fever-Tree tonic water.

Leo Robitschek
Leo Robitschek  (Source: Sydell Group)

Beyond the Cocktail
Robitschek admits that when it comes to using alcohol in food, gin doesn't immediately come to mind.

"Most people think about cognac- or wine-based options in food, but gin can definitely be used in sorbets or as a marinating liquid," says Robitschek.

An Internet search reveals some tempting and curious culinary recipes, including gin and tonic cake, gin and tonic pancakes, a no-bake gin and tonic cheesecake, and, for savory souls, a gin and lemon chicken wings recipe.

Gin (in moderation) is also one of the healthier spirits to consume. Juniper berries have been shown to increase blood circulation, are high in Vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, gin is lower in calories than most other alcohol.

Best Gins for Your Home Bar
When asked about his personal gin preferences, Robitschek states that his home bar is always stocked with a bottle of Beefeater and Tanqueray Ten. He's also fond of The Botanist, a Scottish gin that boasts an impressive 31 botanicals.

EDGE sampled several gins and acquired a fondness for these three brands:

Monkey 47 — This German-based brand packs 47 different botanicals into its recipe. The pleasing floral bouquet offers enough sweetness that it can be enjoyed on the rocks as a sipper or with club soda and a generous twist of lime.

Glendalough Rose Gin — Looks like a cosmo, tastes like pine. This pink-hued Irish libation uses three types of roses to produce a natural color. The flavor profile of menthol and eucalyptus are a bit of an acquired taste, but this would be perfect in a negroni.

ROKU Gin — Japan's premier gin, produced by Suntory, is significantly lighter-bodied than usual London dry gin. Roku means "six" in Japanese, and it signifies the number of local botanicals used. Excellent in a martini.

The Aviation
The Aviation  (Source: GIN: HOW TO DRINK IT, 125 GINS, 4 WAYS by Dave Broom, Mitchell Beazley, Photo: Cristian Barnett)

Get Schooled
In October, award-winning spirits writer Dave Bloom releases his 13th book, "Gin: How to Drink It: 125 Gins, 4 Ways."

Bloom delves deep into history to reveal the fascinating tales on the origin of gin. After testing thousands of gins from around the world, he narrowed his list down to 125 of his favorites to profile in the book, along with classic and unique cocktail recipes. Broom also highlights genever. This riff on gin is always distilled from grain and is specific to Belgium, Holland and specific areas throughout France and Germany.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater, food, and nightlife journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine and The Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

In the Spirit

This story is part of our special report titled In the Spirit. Want to read more? Here's the full list.