Reviving Gin

How the trend back to traditional bartending brought back the classic spirit.

By Matthew Debord

The past few years have been very good for the spirits business. For a long time, the world could be quite neatly divided into scotch and vodka. Vodka had its moment in the 1980s and 1990s, while scotch — single-malt variety — surged in the 2000s.

More recently, it’s been all about bourbon. In all this, good old gin was somewhat left by the wayside. A component in many classic cocktails, from the reliable gin-and-tonic to the vintage martini, the spirit was displaced by vodka. Of course, gin is vodka — a distilled grain beverage — but flavored with herbs and botanicals.

Gin’s problem was that the floral aromas and flavors seemed out of step with citrus and pepper vodkas, and the old-time associations of gin without the men’s club vibe of scotch and the Southern heritage of bourbon meant that the spirit needed several things to go right to make a comeback.

A new generation of cocktail experts rediscovered gin and its charms, just as a fresh group of high-end gins were hitting the mHendrick’s was the first to make a mark as its popularity increased in the 2000s. Stalwarts like Bombay, Tanqueray and Beefeater, while perfectly good, had taken drinkers away from the more overtly cucumbery flavors of old-time gin. Hendrick’s brought them back and in the process revitalized the G&T and return gin to the martini mix.

Made in small batches in Scotland, Hendrick’s runs about $40 a bottle and can found just about everywhere there’s a decent liquor store and online.

Before Hendrick’s, a lot of my gin-loving pals were fans of Boodles, a somewhat obscure spirit made in the “London Dry” style, meaning nothing sweet in the flavoring mix (it dates from a time when English gin was homebrewed rotgut that needed to have the edge taken off). It can be found for around $30 and makes a dandy martini.

More recently, I’ve been enjoying an American gin from Minnesota, Prairie. At under $30 a bottle, it’s affordable and organic. It’s also distilled from corn, which gives it a smooth, creamy character. Lightly flavored with classic juniper notes, it makes a wonderfully refreshing G&T in the summer, as long as you use a high-end, low-sugar tonic and add a splash of club soda at the end.

Also worth tracking down are Death’s Door, from Wisconsin, at about $35 a bottle and Oregon’s Aviation, which retails for about the same.

Jon Elmore

So what about the better-known, mass-market gins? My go-to is and always has been Beefeater, which I think has the texture and flavor to make a meaningful contribution to all the great gin cocktails: G&Ts, martinis and one that’s become really popular, the Negroni.

You owe it to yourself to start drinking Negronis (just not too many, as they can pack a punch). This lovely Italian cocktail requires an ounce of dry gin, an ounce of Campari and an ounce of sweet vermouth. You can stir or shake with ice, but I prefer to make this one on the rocks.

Pretty simple: pour the gin, Campari and sweet vermouth over three or four ice cubes, stir and allow the drink to sit for a minute to “water” as the ice melts and the flavors combine.

I garnish with a lemon twist, but an orange twist or thin slice is fine, too.

Beefeater makes a good Negroni, but I also recommend sampling a high-end gin and good vermouth, mainly because Campari is Campari and there aren’t many ingredients here. You can also cut the drink down to size by adding a bit of soda on top, which eases the punch.

This is actually a nice gin cocktail to enjoy year round, although it’s a summer staple. Personally, I like it in fall because it’s sort of rich and satisfying, more so than refreshing like a simple Campari and soda.

I’ll be the first to admit that gin is sort of a niche preoccupation, but it’s definitely worth keeping some around and trying to convince your guest to ditch the vodka for an evening. A well-stocked bar will have a bottle or two of gin to keep the scotch, vodka and bourbon company.

You can even try a little trick. When a guest does ask for a vodka tonic, make it with gin instead and see what happens. In my experience of making dozens of G&Ts this past summer, my guests were astounded at how delicious the drink could be, asking for seconds and demanding to know where my gin hailed from.

I was more than happy to share that information and then explain that the gin wasn’t even from the United Kingdom — it was from the American heartland! Everyone was pleasantly surprised and a few folks even wound up ordering some bottles of their own. You won’t remember vodka in quite the same way.

MATTHEW DeBORD, a native of Huntington, is a former associate editor at Wine Spectator magazine and the author of several books on wine. He currently resides in New York City and is the senior editor for the Transportation & Lifestyle section of Business Insider — a business, celebrity and technology news website.

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