I adore gin. It is light, fragrant, and refreshing with quinine or soda, and has a kick like a mule when properly mixed with dry vermouth.
“There’s an old man sittin’ next to me; Makin’ love to his tonic and gin” Billy Joel from “The Piano Man”
Like most people I grew up with, my first experience with gin was the ubiquitous Tanqueray & Tonic with a squeeze of lime. Ahhh! What a drink. Served in a Collins glass on a hot afternoon or evening while relaxing on a patio, the T&T is a drink just built for summer. But like many others, I drank so many of those that for years I couldn’t stand the smell of the stuff. Fortunately, like many of my comrades, I’ve gotten over my near revulsion of the Juniperus spirit and once again count it among my favorite tipples. What is it about gin that makes people love it so much, or that keeps people coming back to the most fragrant of the white liquors? The British Empire, after all, has survived on the stuff for over 300 years. Without it, I think it’s fair to say, the British may not have conquered India...
Speaking of the British conquering India --- according to legend, this was where the gin & tonic was born. You see, until recently, quinine was thought to be an effective treatment for the symptoms of Malaria. The problem with quinine is that it is very bitter and tastes terrible! However when it’s cut with carbonated water it goes down much more easily and, when cut with carbonated water and gin, you have a medicine that people will line up to take. And they did. Not only were the terrible symptoms of the potentially deadly Malaria virus lessened, the sufferers also got quite a good buzz. (This may have helped as much or more than the quinine.) Of course when taken as a preventative it’s even more effective. (That’s not really true, of course, but when sitting outdoors on a hot afternoon and you’re tipping back your third or fourth G&T and someone asks you, “Isn’t it a bit early for that?” you can reply, “I’m simply trying to keep the Malaria at bay.” Offer them a hearty “Cheers!” and order another!)
Gin has been around since the 16th century and was brought to England by William III of Denmark. Gin gets its name from Jenever, the Dutch word for Juniper. Gin at its most basic is simply distilled spirits (ethyl alcohol), then distilled a second time with Juniper berries. But there are several types of gin: Basic Gin can be as simple as spirits with natural flavors added. Distilled Gin, which has the aromatics (Juniper and other herbs) added during a second distillation process. And London Gin, also known as Dry Gin. There are a lot of rules around what qualifies as London Gin aside from the second distillation. Tanqueray, Bombay, Beefeater’s and Gordon’s are all examples of London Gin though they are all quite different in flavor and character.
“A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the direction of Italy.” Noel Coward
So where does one go after having mastered the Tanqueray & Tonic? To the martini, of course! Personally, I find Tanqueray the perfect accompaniment for Tonic but, I don’t much like it in a martini. I go with Bombay Sapphire, or as my uncle would say, “Tea with the Queen”. (A reference to the picture of Queen Victoria on the bottle.) I find the Bombay to be not quite as aromatic as Tanqueray, plus it has a greater variety of herbs which gives it a more complex character, well suited for a “straight-up” cocktail. And Gordon’s and Beefeater’s, though out of fashion these days, do make one heck of a swell martini too!
Just a note: As we discussed in, To Shake or Not To Shake: That Is The Question, when mixing a gin martini, it’s best to stir, you just get more of the gin flavor that way.
If the martini is not your thing, perhaps you enjoy something with a little more color or something long and tall, or you’re not into tonic… Here are some classic gin cocktails that you might enjoy:
The Gin Ricky
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 1/2 fresh lime
- Seltzer or club soda
Fill a highball glass with ice, squeeze the juice from ½ a lime and drop the lime into the glass, add gin and top with seltzer.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
- 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
- 1 1/2 ounces orange juice
Make this pre-prohibition favorite in a cocktail shaker! Shake all the ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice or a twist of orange peel.
Sloe Gin Fizz
(Sloe Gin is made with sloe berries instead of juniper. Sloe berries are not available in the U.S., so sloe gin is usually imported from the UK. I would recommend Plymouth Gin.)
- In a cocktail shaker, dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of sugar with seltzer
- Add 3 dashes of lemon juice, and 2 ounces sloe gin
Shake this most popular of pre-prohibition cocktails over ice and strain into a fizz glass, fill with seltzer and serve. (Note: A fizz glass looks like a short highball glass or a tall rocks glass. If you don't have one, a coupe’ will do or use a highball and increase the recipe by 1/3.)
This world famous gin cocktail was invented in The Raffles Hotel in Singapore in the early 1900's. Though the original recipe has long since been lost and there is much controversy over the proper way to make one, I’m partial to this recipe.
- 1 1/2 ounces dry gin
- 1 ounces lime juice
- 1/4 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces club soda
- 1/2 ounce Cherry Heering (cherry brandy or Kirsch will do)
Pour ingredients directly over ice in a double-rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon slice and a maraschino cherry.
There are so many great gin cocktails, Gimlets, Gibsons, Gin Blossoms, etc. that I cannot even begin to scratch the surface here. Be adventurous and try some on your own. There are also quite a few excellent new gins on the market these days. Hendricks, for example, which has only been around since 1999, adds Bulgarian rose and cucumber to the traditional juniper liquor for a wonderful fresh flavor. America is also producing its share of “nontraditional” gins now like Aviation Gin with sweet orange, lavender and cardamom. Or Voyager with fresh lime, white pepper, lemon, eucalyptus and cardamom. There are scores of others from England, the U.S. and all over the world. Along with being very good by themselves, these newer, more adventurous spirits have gained a great deal of notoriety with the current “mixology” trend which has swept the country in recent years. With the addition of nontraditional flavors to the very traditional juniper, expert mixologists are creating some delightful gin-based concoctions which I’m sure would delight even Her Royal Majesty Queen Victoria and her world conquering, gin-swilling subjects. Cheers!