Five Minutes with … Gaz Regan
Gaz Regan, the bartender formerly known as Gary, just released his latest book, The Bartender’s Gin Compendium (Xlibris Corporation, August 2009). He graciously offered to sit still for an interview for our inaugural issue.
NCB Mix: Why The Bartender’s Gin Compendium?
Regan: I was trying to clean up my computer to make it easier for me to find stuff, and I noticed that I had lots of material about gin. I like gin. I thought, “Wait a minute, I bet if I did a lot of copying and pasting, I’d have a book in no time at all.”
That’s not how the book came together, though. I started to do more research and one thing led to another, and before I knew it two years had passed. Books have a long gestation period, you know.
NCB Mix: Here’s where you make your sales pitch: Why should any bartender or industry pro buy this book?
Regan: If you have a question about gin, the answer is in this book. It covers all styles of gin, describes how each is made, goes into the history of all gins, and I peppered the thing with barroom tales, quotations, trivia and hundreds of cocktail recipes old and new.
NCB Mix: Why is gin so hot now among bartenders?
Regan: It’s been hot for a few years among bartenders. The big news is that it’s hot among consumers right now, so bartenders need to know this category inside out.
NCB Mix: Can you define the various types of gin for us?
Regan: Four: Dry, Genever, Old Tom and Plymouth.
Dry gin can be broken into four styles: Compound gin, made by adding oils and essences to vodka; distilled dry gin, made by re-distilling vodka with various botanicals, juniper among them; New Western dry gin; and London dry gin.
London dry gin has just been re-defined by the European Union. Here’s an excerpt from the book that will, hopefully, explain.
“The powers that be in the European Community saw fit, in 2008, to redefine gin, and they didn’t do a bad job of it, but they weren’t bloody wizards when it came to gin, either … I think it’s necessary to point out one aspect of these mandated guidelines that threw a spanner in the works when it comes to that beautiful style of gin that we’ve lovingly known as London Dry Gin for over a century.
“London Dry Gin, as a category, probably needed some tightening up, since it used to refer to any distilled gin that was made ‘in the style of’ London Dry—a pretty vague definition. One of the aspects of these new regulations has made it necessary for some gins to take the word ‘London’ off their labels. Since these new regulations went into effect, you see, in order to use the phrase ‘London Dry,’ the gin must be made by having all its botanicals distilled into it in one fell swoop — and that’s not easy.
“The temperature at which gin distillers run their stills makes a massive difference to the end product, mainly because, in lay terms, some botanicals release their flavors better at different temperatures than others. It might be desirable, therefore, to distill the botanicals separately, each one at the appropriate temperature, and then marry the resultant distillates to make gin. Or perhaps the botanicals can be distilled in, say, three different batches, each at a different temperature, before the three ‘flavored vodkas’ are united in a gin bottle. This sort of stuff can make quite a huge difference to the finished product.
“There are quite a few styles of Genever, but it’s fairly safe to say that in order to make this style of gin, a mash of grains (basically beer) is distilled into a whisky-like spirit known as malt wine. The malt wine is then married to another spirit that’s essentially a dry gin, made by distilling botanicals, including juniper, into neutral grain spirits. The percentage of malt wine in any bottling of Genever will drastically alter the flavor of the spirit, of course, and if Genever is aged, then this, too, has an effect on the product.
“Old Tom was probably a euphemism for gin in the 1700s, and at some point in the early 1800s, when distillers started adding sugar to their gins, probably to disguise their badly made spirits, Old Tom became a term that used to describe sweetened gins. These gins could have been Genever, or Genever-style gins that might have been aged, or could have spent time in wood when they were transported, thus getting just a little age on them. By the end of the 1800s it’s more than likely that most bottlings of Old Tom gin were sweetened dry gins.
“In defining Plymouth gin as a category, it’s possible only to say that Plymouth is a gin that’s made in Plymouth. But we can say that Plymouth gin has less juniper up front than traditional London dry gins, and because more sweet root botanicals and fewer bitter botanicals are used in its production, Plymouth gin certainly has a style all its own. Call it a somewhat gentler gin than London Dry, but a gin with tons of character all the same. And strangely enough, because of the newly written E.U. regulations that define styles of gin, Plymouth gin could legally be called a London dry gin, since all the botanicals are distilled into the gin in one fell swoop.”
NCB Mix: You also mention New Western Gin — what’s that?
Regan: Ryan Magarian, one of the producers of Aviation Gin, wrote a definition for me (it’s in the book):
“This designation seems to have evolved over the past nine years, as a result of efforts from both large brand houses and regional distillers in Europe and in the United States. In taking a good hard look at today’s rather loose definition of dry gin, these distillers realized a greater opportunity for artistic ‘flavor’ freedom in this great spirit and are creating gins with a shift away from the usually overabundant focus on juniper, to the supporting botanicals, allowing them to almost share center stage. And while the juniper must remain dominant in all dry gins, these gins are most certainly defined, not by the juniper itself, but by the careful inclusion and balance of the supporting flavors, creating what many experts believe to be an entirely new designation of dry gin that deserves individual recognition.”
NCB Mix: How do you tell quality gin from those that are poorly made?
Regan: Bad gins are lacking in complexity, and they usually bear a glycerine oiliness, too. They are pretty easy to spot.
NCB Mix: What’s your favorite gin cocktail?
Regan: The East Ender, which is my creation; though it’s actually just a Sweet Martini circa 1900, with a lot of bitters, unless you want to call it a gin-based Manhattan.
The East Ender
3 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
3 to 5 dashes Angostura Bitters
Serve on the rocks or straight up with an orange twist garnish (optional).
NCB Mix: Anything you’d like to share about the book that we haven’t touched on?
Regan: I need to sell tens of thousands of these babies if I’m gonna make the rent this month.