Orris root; winter savory; coriander seed; juniper; orange peel; elderflower; angelica. Quick: What comes to mind when you read those words? If your response is “gin,” you win.
Gin is a thing of beauty, and it’s one of my favorite distilled spirits. It is a cherished and vital component of many cocktails I order or make on a regular basis, and its diversity excites me and pleases my palate.
The universe of gin is — and has been — expanding; it is no longer “what your grandparents drink” … though they probably still do partake of it.
What’s changed is that hipsters and moms and dads and “average” Americans have discovered the charms of gin, and more and more of the distilled spirit is making its way into American homes. According to Allied Market Research, the global market for gin was valued at $14.03 billion in 2020, a market that is predicted to reach $20.17 billion by 2028. That’s a lot of gin.
With that abundance comes, of course, the opportunity for confusion to enter the equation. You pace up and down the gin aisle at your favorite spirits merchant and are both enchanted and befuddled at the seemingly infinite selections of bottles on display. What does it all mean? “I simply want to make a good gin and tonic,” you mutter to yourself.
Save the stress, I advise, and it’s easy to do so, at least when it comes to selecting gin. Here’s my angst-free system: Buy a bottle a month, gins made in diverse countries, states, and regions, and explore.
To start you off, here are a few selections I’ve sampled recently, and they’d all be worthy of a place in your bar.
A gin brand born on a fruit farm
6 O’clock Gin hails from Bristol, England, and traces it origins to the fruit farm belonging to Edward and Penny Kain. About 30 years ago, the couple began experimenting with their produce, and made some great fruit liqueurs, which sold well. The brand has grown since then, and is now available in many markets in the United States, among other countries.
We’ll start with 6 O’clock’s Sloe Gin, which I used to make, yes, a Sloe Gin Fizz. For those of you who don’t know what sloes are, they are small berries (Prunus spinosa) that are in the same family as plums and cherries. They are native to Europe, and when eaten alone impart a sharp, mostly unpleasant taste.
But take the berries and steep them in gin for six months, as 6 O’clock does, and you have a lovely concoction that’s lower in alcohol than unflavored gins — 26 percent ABV compared to the 43 percent in 6 O’Clock’s London Dry Gin — and tart and sweet in a wonderful way. The berries impart a lovely plum-red color to the gin, and, yes, it’s perfect for a Sloe Gin Fizz, among many other cocktails. I found this gin for sale at Binny’s for $36.99.
6 O’clock also makes a Damson Gin, using Damson plums (or Damsons, as they are called in England), which, like the sloe, are too tart for most palates to be consumed raw. But let them mingle with gin for a while and the outcome is delicious: spicy, warm, and that great sweet and tart combination. Drink this with tonic, add it to ginger beer, or use it as a cocktail base. ($36.99 at Binny’s)
If you want a tried-and-true London Dry Gin, try 6 O’clock’s version, which hews to the juniper-dominant standard known and loved the world over. I used it to make a Negroni — one of my favorite cocktails — and was more than pleased. ($36.99 at Binny’s)
Finally, and if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, try 6 O’clock’s Brunel, a London Dry gin inspired by the mind and creations of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It clocks in at 50 percent ABV, and is made with an extra dosage of juniper, plus green cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cassia bark, cubeb pepper, and lemon. Mix it with tonic water and a slice of lemon, over ice, or try it in a French 75. It’s available for around $40.
From the Golden State, a balanced gin full of flavor
We’ll go to California now, for D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($37 at Total Wine). It’s 45 percent alcohol by volume, and is aromatized with juniper, Meyer lemon, peppermint, coriander, star anise, cardamom, Buddha’s hand, angelica, grains of paradise, galangal, chamomile, and orris root. Yes, that’s 12 aromatics, but the resultant gin is deftly balanced and makes a great Gin & Tonic.
A bottle created with gunpowder tea
Our final gin comes from Drumshanbo, Ireland, a small town located in County Leitrim. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, whose maker describes it as created from “Oriental botanicals, gunpowder tea, and Irish curiosity,” was the base of a cocktail I made recently called The Davy Mac. I found the recipe on the Drumshanbo site, and if you like elderflower, go for this one. It’s made of 40ml of gin and 140ml of elderflower tonic, and is garnished with grapefruit and raspberries.
Here’s what’s in this gin, and it’s a fascinating amalgam: juniper berries, angelica root, orris root, caraway seed, coriander seed, meadowsweet (mead wort), cardamom, star anise, Chinese lemon, oriental grapefruit, kaffir lime, and gunpowder tea. I love to sip this gin — a 1-ounce pour goes a long and pleasurable way — and when I mix it with the elderflower tonic … well, I have a cocktail worthy of a most perfect day.
Bernard Mandeville, an Anglo-Dutch philosopher, satirist, and political economist (1670-1733), wrote a something on gin that I urge you to read; it’s a brief and concise piece that should amuse while you enjoy your afternoon cocktail. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from his words:
“Nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the health, or the vigilance and industry of the poor, than the infamous liquor, the name of which, derived from Juniper in Dutch, is now by frequent use and the laconic spirit of the nation, from a word of middling length shrunk into a monosyllable, intoxicating gin, that charms the inactive, the desperate and crazy of either sex, and makes the starving sot behold his rags and nakedness with stupid indolence, or banter both in senseless laughter, and more insipid jests; it is a fiery lake that sets the brain in flame, burns up the entrails, and scorches every part within; and at the same time a Lethe of oblivion, in which the wretch immersed drowns his most pinching cares, and, with his reason, all anxious reflection on brats that cry for food, hard winter’s frosts, and horrid empty home.”
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