Spring is slow to arrive in the East and the Midwest, but now is the time to rethink your gin selection.
The average bar these days is likely to carry the Big Three (Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater) as well as Hendrick’s, and maybe one more. More cocktail focused bars will swap in Plymouth, add a few local and/or emerging brands, perhaps a more citrusy New Western gin, even an Old Tom and a Genever or two. Because while the general trends for gin continue to be uneven, especially at retail, it’s at bars and restaurants that the higher-end super and ultra-premium gins are faring well.
Partly, that’s because many classic cocktails depend on gin for a flavor base, and bartenders in general like mixing with something strong and flavorful without being excessively sweet (although any blind tasting of a few gins will remind anyone that gins in general have plenty of sweetness - balanced sweetness when good, overdone when not.) It’s also down to the great work the folks behind Hendrick’s have done to familiarize so many operations across the company with the best ways to mix the unusual style, rose and cucumber-influenced gin.
But the Hendrick’s model also opened the doors to many other gins using an array of botanicals, and while working on a story recently, I sampled some of them; Old World style like The Botanist, distilled with 22 Islay botanicals at the Bruichladdich Distillery there; and New World gins, like a pair of California triplets - Uncle Val’s Botanical, Restorative and Pepper gins, and St. George’s Botanivore, Terroir and Dry Rye gins.
Those seven gins were decidedly different - Terroir in fact was initially conceived not as a gin but as a spirit with a sense of the aromatic impact of Northern California’s Mount Tamalpais, and includes Douglas fir, bay laurel, coastal sage, and wild fennel along with orange, lemon, cinnamon, coriander and angelica. The Botanist includes ladies bedstraw, meadow sweet and mugwort in addition to the classic gin botanicals.
Then there are all those soft, citrusy contemporary gins, those made by small distillers, as well as rare birds like Square One’s Botanical Spirit, made with pear, rose, chamomile, lemon verbena, lavender, rosemary, coriander and citrus, that bartenders have adopted as something new upon which to build a cocktail.
Not every new gin is good; distillers will tell you gin is about the hardest thing to make and then make the same again, such is the varying quality of botanicals available. But today’s drinker wants to be shown something new often, and this time of year, gin is the one to examine.