Gin

26Apr10

Scott and I started this blog off with a gin-based drink, and that’s no coincidence. Gin is a favorite for both of us, and we think you will like it, too. But what, you say, is gin like? Well, here’s the basic run-down.

Gin is a distilled liquor that gets its signature flavor from the juniper berry. It probably comes from the word “genièvre” which is French for Juniper.  Known for it’s medicinal properties, juniper has been mixed with spirits for hundreds of years. The gin that we drink today is actually a style called “London dry gin” that is known for being flavored with not only juniper, but also a whole host of other spices. Gin is often referred to as having a “botanical” taste, which just means it tastes of plants, particularly juniper. (But botanical sounds much smarter, doesn’t it?) Juniper pairs well with citrus, which is why many common gin drinks involve citrus. Along the same lines, you’ll also find that many gins have a citrus flavor of their own, derived from things like bitter orange peel, etc.

Gin has a pretty interesting history, and I recommend you check it out on Wikipedia. Here are the highlights:

  • Franciscus Sylvius is credited with inventing gin in the 17th century.
  • Liquor production laws made gin the number one alcoholic beverage in England for a couple hundred years, but it got an unsavory reputation during that time. Some terms that are associated with this nadir in the history of gin are:
    • gin-soaked
    • gin joints, gin mills
    • Mother’s Ruin
  • Until very recently (like, until the start of the 20th century), “common” gin was known for being flavored with turpentine. This is also related to the liquor laws that gave gin its salty reputation.
  • In the 1920s, another unfortunate name arose, “bathtub gin.” Because it was easy to produce, bootleggers would make gin (sometimes in bathtubs), but it tended to be pretty awful stuff.  It’s popularity rose since it was a liquor that did not have to be aged to reach it’s peak flavor (like whiskeys). Fortunately, there are many fine gins on the market today, none of which are made in bathtubs.
  • Perhaps the best known gin drink, the gin and tonic,* was used to prevent malaria.  Tonic water contains quinine, an anti-malarial drug, and it was one of the few effective treatments for the deadly disease in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Gin helped to disguise the bitter taste of the quinine in tonic water.

Did I mention gin’s reputation was less than reputable in the past?

Nowadays, gin is not flavored with turpentine. In fact, it’s quite pleasant stuff. Here are the things that Scott and I like about gin:

  • Its flavor is unexpected. There is something earthy and clean about the way that gin tastes. In the right context, it’s also extremely refreshing.
  • Because of its interesting flavor, gin creates a totally different cocktail experience than liquors like vodka, which mostly aims to be tasteless ad provide a base for other ingredients.
  • There are thousands of simple, delicious cocktails made with gin. Because it’s been around for centuries, civilization has had plenty of time to come up with tasty gin concoctions.
There are a number of different reputable brands of gin. Here’s a taste guide to help you figure out which one might be right for you:
  1. Tanqueray: Tanqueray is known as the vodka drinker’s gin. This is because it is very smooth and has an extremely mild flavor, almost tasteless. This brand is good for those who aren’t sure if gin is for them or for drinks with exotic ingredients that you want to be the focus of the drink.
  2. Plymouth: Like Tanqueray, Plymouth is extremely smooth with a very light taste. Another good gin for first-timers and ingredient-focused drinks. The bottle is very deco so it looks nice in your bar. Plus, for you history buffs, this is known as Winston Churchill’s favorite gin. (The former British Prime Minister is renown for his recipe for a dry martini which included gin and special amount of vermouth. “Take out the bottle of Vermouth, wave it over the glass and put it back,” were Churchill’s instructions).
  3. Beefeater: This gin has a bit of a stronger taste and a little more warmth to it.  Gin is often known as being a “British” liquor and  this one is a particularly good example.
  4. Bombay: has some nice spice, similar in some ways to Beefeater. We don’t drink much Bombay or Beefeater, but they are staples of the gin world and have been for many years.
  5. Bombay Sapphire: This is the one in the iconic blue bottle. Bombay Sapphire is easy to find in bars, and it makes a good cocktail. If you’re in doubt about ordering a gin drink while out, ordering it with Bombay Sapphire will keep you from drinking something more closely resembling the bathtub gin of Prohibition. Bombay Sapphire’s taste, though smooth, has a very distinct botanical quality.  It’s a complex gin that, while pleasant, is a long way from vodka.
  6. Hendricks: Hendricks has a strong botanical taste, which means it sometimes overpowers other ingredients in a cocktail. By the same token, though, its intense burst of juniper can really make a cocktail sing. Cucumber is one of its main ingredients, and it shows. We recommend garnishing this one with cilantro or lemongrass for an exotic kick. And it stands up well as a cocktail to have with dinner. It’s great in drinks like gimlets, the Fitzgerald and others, but it can be tricky when you’re pairing it with flavored liqueurs. Hendricks’ powerful flavor doesn’t really do well for dairy-based gin drinks (like the Alexander). But finding out what you like is half the fun!
  7. Corsair: Corsair is distilled in Bowling Green, KY (coming soon to Nashville, TN). Since we’re based in Nashville, that means that Scott and I get to enjoy this distinctive local delight often. Like Hendricks, Corsair has a strong botanical taste, but it also has strong citrus notes. If you like Hendricks, you’ll probably like Corsair and vice versa, but they do not taste the same. Corsair works well with flavored liqueurs that pair well with citrus (if you’ve got some St. Germain on hand, these two play well together), but like Hendricks, it can fight with other ingredients and is tricky with dairy-based gin drinks. We often use Corsair to make Fitzgeralds, gimlets, G&Ts and a host of other drinks.

You may not agree with us on all of this, but this is a good guide to the common types of gin that we recommend. As you try them out, let us know what you think we got right and what we were a bit off about.


*I’ll admit, many folks would say that the martini is the best-known gin drink. I’m not here to argue. I’m just saying you’ve probably heard of the G&T.*

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7 Responses to “Gin”

  1. 1 waitsfornone

    Hendrick’s gets its distinct flavor from Cucumber and Rose Petals. (to paraphrase the bottle). Also, is it just me or is the Corsair bottle really horrible?

  2. 3 Whit

    I’m a Hendricks man myself. Great post! Looking forward to reading more.

  3. Thanks for the write up. We at Corsair feel that gin hardly ever gets the attention it deserves. There are so many variations in Gin, it is shame with people can’t see past their youthful indiscresions (which probably included a nip of their parent’s bottle of Gordon’s) or the evergreen flavor that makes it so refreshing. Gin has the potential to carry so many complexities it deserves thorough consideration. Thanks for the post!!

    -Ben Kickert
    Corsair Artisan Distillery

    • I agree. A lot of people are surprised when I say that I really like it, as I’m only 28. But it’s my favorite spirit. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. 6 Stan

    A nice write up! I enjoy Hendricks and love to pair it with St. Germain and mint flavors. Beefeaters and Bombay have been staples for me for years. I’ve not tried the Corsair, so I’ll have to hunt that down.

  5. 7 Dustin

    Good synopsis Nads. It’s my favorite liquor. I still need to broaden my gin horizons though. I usually stick with my faithful G&T, but I’d like to explore some other concoctions.


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