In our ever-shrinking global society, drinking is still strangely a tribal and regionally influenced activity. One area’s highball is another area’s wash drink. The names, customs and thoughts about alcohol trend differently depending on where you are. There are, however, two things that I have heard whilst serving gin across the entire United states. The first one is: ugh, I had a bad experience with gin when I was in college, and I have never tried it again.” The second is “wow, I thought I wasn’t a gin fan, but THIS is delicious!” There seems to be this resounding epiphany that a spirit blended into a balanced cocktail with pleasing flavors is preferable to sneaking a bottle out of our parent’s liquor cabinet and swigging until dizzy.
I have become a gin foot soldier, and my eternal battle cry is that “you like gin, whether you know it or not!
Full disclosure: if you have found this blog, chances are probably higher that you already enjoy this most royal and noble spirit. I would also venture to say that you do a bit of entertaining now and then. When it comes to group gatherings, we often shy away from spirits like gin and default to vodka, which we believe will be the most crowd pleasing and “safe”. I assert to you that you can, in your very own abode, become a gin evangelist and turn your guests into botanical believers.
Gin is often misunderstood at its core, so for a quick review, head over to our “what is gin?” blog. In a sentence, it is simply neutral grain spirit infused meticulously with botanicals. Many snarky bartenders (myself included) have said that “my favorite flavor of vodka is gin!” If you enjoy a vodka (especially a citrus vodka), chances are overwhelmingly high that you will be entranced with your first craft-based gin cocktail experience. The London Dry style is especially friendly to vodka drinkers as it contains no added sugar, and the botanicals all conspire into a symphony of flavor that finishes dry and clean. A gin and tonic is absolutely wonderful, but i do suggest that the vodka/soda drinker experiment with a Gin and Club. The flavor lift given by gin’s botanicals really does something to the palate before a meal and during first courses. It’s a great alternative to champagne, and a French 75 Cocktail (gin, lemon juice and simple syrup) will turn heads at your next brunch soiree.
As a mixologist, I find that gin is the spirit that enables the cocktailer to really grasp the alchemy that goes into drink making. I don’t know the exact science, but I do know that gin + acidity + sweetness = something magical. While other spirits mix well with ingredients, gin makes a fifth dimension of flavor appear. It really changes the taste of the other components in a way that I have not seen when mixing rum or whiskey. A White Lady (gin, lemon juice and orange liqueur such as Cointreau; invented in London, no less) will enrapture the margarita fan. In fact, I find that the blanco tequila lover will be a great candidate for gin beverages, as they’re both spirits with boldness that finish cleanly.
This final claim will be the boldest and most contested, but I do stand by it. With Highclere Castle Gin in particular, there is much potential for sipping and enjoying simply on the rocks. I attest that a whiskey lover will find a lot of value in our gin specifically. After HCG is distilled, it is infused with heirloom oats. When I first learned this, skepticism overtook my entire soul. Why on earth would anyone blend gin with oats? Then I had my first taste on the rocks and felt that silky, supple liquid cross my palate. I instantly became a true believer. The oat blending increases the viscosity and body of the liquid, and the dilution with ice gives birth to millions of fusel oils that run wild and free through your glass- you can see them do their work when a drop of water is added to 2 ounces of gin. The old fashioned and Manhattan lover must try the Hanky Panky, (another cocktail invented in London and done so by a female mixologist in the early 20th century) 1.5 ounces each of Highclere Castle Gin and Sweet Vermouth, along with a few drops of bitter Fernet Branca Liqueur will produce a robust cocktail with deep and dark notes
I leave you with the thought that gin is truly a spirit for all seasons and every palette. There are myriad styles and expressions, but the classic London Dry category is the best place to start. Whether you or your guests love a vodka soda, crave a margarita, or sip an old fashioned, there is a gin cocktail that will not only fit the bill, but up the ante.