World Gin Day is June 9th, so it’s timely to ponder some of the outstanding gins available around the world today. There are so many of them—gin is going through a serious resurgence in popularity as a major player in the cocktail culture of the day—as to be bewildering to the average drinker.
The history of gin is fascinating: from cosmetics to medicine, to “Dutch Courage”, to massive popularity, to The Ruination of Society!!!, back to a medicine, back to popularity, back to The Ruination of Society made in a bathtub, and back to popularity (the current state of affairs). Whew! That’s quite a ride for a botanically enhanced neutral grain spirit.
As a cocktail base ingredient, gin is also one of the most versatile of spirits, imparting both the bite of ethanol and the perfume and flavor of countless blends of botanicals, from simple citrus to exotic and pungent fruits, flowers, seeds and spices. Serious craft bartenders love gin, and enjoy crafting both the classic cocktails (Martini, Negroni, Greyhound,) and their own fanciful creations from it.
So much gin; so little time…
To facilitate your gin explorations on June 9th—or any other day you wish—here’s a gin short list. Call it “9 for the 9th”. Think of it, though, not as a final list, but as a starting point for your gin journey.
New on the market, and from the same Dutch family that brought you Ketel One Vodka. Cosmic consciousness-expanding gin; revelatory sensory explosions of aroma and flavor lurk within its amazing botanical depths; this is the gin for those afflicted with OCD. A floral bouquet bomb of a gin. First timers: best wear a seat belt. This gin may be too intense for you. You’ve been warned.
How can something so radical become such a standard in so short a time? Cucumber lovers converge on this robust, full-bodied, full-flavored Scottish gin that’s everywhere, because everyone likes it. It’s bottled in bold black and white in a stumpy apothecarian bottle with a diamond label that’s as distinctive as the stuff inside.
Bombay Sapphire Gin
When the “line extension” trumps the time-honored traditional worldwide standard of the classic Bombay Red…you know you’re on to something! One of the best “all purpose” gins on the market today: always versatile, appropriate in any drink, and never loses its particular aromatic identity.
Not enough that Beefeater is the gin of choice around the world; they come out with a special recipe Beefeater 24 that uses different types of tea in the blend, and suddenly it all changes. Captivating and inspirational.
Brilliant idea: Cognac Gin! Alexandre Gabriel makes gin in the off-season in his cognac alembic copper pot stills at Cognac Pierre Ferrand, and applies his amazing sensory blending abilities to creating a marvelous gin with body, style and a unique aromatic profile. It should be unique: it has a staggering 19 botanical ingredients in the secret recipe.
New Deal Gin #3
A micro-distilled artisanal gin from Portland that shows why micro-artisans are important: focus, focus, focus on a single idea! This is all-juniper. Only juniper. No other botanicals need apply. Hey, if the focus is on juniper, focus on juniper, right? Precise, distinctive and declarative no-nonsense gin.
And now for something completely different: gin designed by a bartender for bartenders and consumers. Ryan Magarian, drink-slinger, teamed up with the distillers at House Spirits in Portland to make a bright, crisp, fragrant gin that would be ideal in cocktails, mixed drinks and punches. They succeeded.
Assertive with juniper, a basic plant in the Pacific Northwest, lavish with lavender, and with the wild, wild west of sarsaparilla playing sweet harmony in the background, rounded out with anise, coriander, grapefruity cardamom and orange peel, even non-gin fans like this gin. One sign of success: they’re shipping pallets of the stuff to London, where it’s popular.
Ransom Old Tom Gin
Yet another entirely iconoclastic exercise combining tradition and innovation from those Oregon entrepreneurs. Tad Seestedt, a farmer/spirits lover in the Willamette Valley wine country, decided to make a gin—but not just any ordinary gin. He wanted to recreate a vanished style of what was at one time the singular most popular style of gin, Old Tom Gin*, a lightly sweetened and mellow style popular in the 1800s that had literally disappeared by the end of the 1900s.
That gin was made in England and shipped to the U.S. To approximate the aging effect of the rugged sea voyage on the gin, Seestedt aged his small-batch pot-stilled Ransom in small oak barrels. So it’s an Old Tom of a different sort—but made to re-create the original Old Tom style as closely as possible. And it’s lovely, mellow and rich and rounded and warm, perfect for creating new and wonderful cocktails.
*Old Tom came about, the story goes, when sugar was added to inexpensive gin to sweeten it up. The name, however, purportedly came from the Old Tom Pub in London. Somewhat picky about the type of clientele allowed to enter the pub, the owner required the seedier sort to stay outside in the alleyway, where there was a wooden figure of an old tom cat on the wall with a chute sticking out between its paws. Thirsty patrons could put a coin in the chute, position their mouths accordingly, and the bartender inside would obligingly pour a single shot of gin down the chute. This was apparently one of the first convenient automated single-shot alcohol beverage dispensers. The name of Old Tom Gin stuck.
Even though the Bols people don’t want you calling it gin (they prefer to be in an original category all their own these days), this is as close as you’re going to get to what original gin was like. Genever is the Renaissance prototype of modern gin; but genever is more like a young unaged malt whisky than modern gin (what some folks are calling by the distiller’s name, White Dog). Malty and velvety soft and full-bodied, with surprisingly underplayed juniper that doesn’t shriek and an underlying and alluring sweetness; everyone should try this granddaddy of gin.
And there you have it: a short list of gin. Nine for the Ninth (with a free double on Beefeater!). So celebrate the day with a Martini. Or a Gin Fizz. Or a Negroni. Or a Gin and Tonic. The possibilities are endless.