Gin can be a divisive spirit. Its herbaceous and juniper flavor isn't for everyone. Most often, people compare gin to drinking a pine tree due to its juniper flavor, but with such a broad spectrum of gins and ways to shake it up, there's a flavor of gin and a gin drink to suit many tastes.
The Roots of Gin
The Dutch are credited with the start of gin, known as genever, or jenever. Its original purpose, like many liquors, was medicinal. Following the tumultuous political events, genever gained popularity after William of Orange began to restrict the importation of French brandy.
Today, a gin can only be considered a genever if it's made according to exact specs in just a handful of regions, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and specific provinces and states in France and Germany. Genever wouldn't become gin until its arrival in Britain.
Jenever and Gin
While incredibly similar, gins are quite different.
Jenever is a neutral spirit, similar to vodka with its crisp palette, although it does have hints of juniper. Gin, however, has a far more pronounced juniper flavor as well as any other botanical, floral ingredients, herbs, or vegetables that might be mixed in during the distilling process. This gin serves as the base for gin liqueurs, such as sloe gin.
Types of Gin
Whether you're new to drinking gin or it's your favorite spirit, it's important to know the distinctions. Today, there's a handful of classifications for gin.
As mentioned above, genever has a more neutral palette than modern gins traditionally have. It can easily be enjoyed sipped on the rocks or mixed into drinks when you want a slight gin flavor that doesn't dominate. Consider a genever martini or try a Holland House- a cocktail that exclusively uses genever instead of gin. The cocktail is a shaken recipe of genever, dry vermouth, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur. There's no true answer to the origin of the cocktail, but it has been in the cocktail scene since at least the late 1800s.
Other genever cocktail recipes to consider include the Barbadian gin punch swizzle, the name and flavor both a mouthful, or the sassily named red light Negroni. Another option is using genever in gin fizzes for a more balanced cocktail.
Most popular in the 1700s, old tom gin wasn't thought of much until the modern cocktail renaissance and the rise and enjoyment of craft cocktails. Slightly sweeter than its cousin, London dry gin, and drier than genever, it's a well-balanced and unique spirit.
There are no strict guidelines or recipe for making this style of gin. It can be aged or unaged, have added sugar or skip the sugar completely. It might have a neutral base or it may have a flavorful, memorable profile. But its consistent hue is owed to the barrels in which it is aged.
It's rumored that old tom gin gets its name from the wooden plaques that resembled black cats, signifying a pub or bar that would provide the purchaser with a pour of hard-to-find gin after sliding a coin through a slot.
Like genever, old tom gin has several cocktails that call for it specifically. A few to consider would be the tried and true, a recipe that calls for old tom gin, vermouth, becherovka (a bitter, herbaceous digestif), and benedictine, or the Martinez, whose original recipe called for old tom gin instead of whiskey.
London Dry and Plymouth
London dry might be one of the most common gins, including Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Fords, and Beefeater. Hendricks, while distilled like a London dry, includes cucumber peel, disqualifying it from London dry classification.
This particular style of gin works well in all gin cocktails, should you not have old tom or genever on hand, and in both contemporary and vintage style cocktails. To make this gin, it needs to be a juniper-forward flavor, without any artificial ingredients being added in during the distilling process or after. It's a myth that this gin can only be made in London--it's merely the label for the style. Until early 2015, however, Plymouth gin was distilled specifically in Plymouth, England.
Some notable London dry gin cocktails to enjoy include the bee's knees, a cousin of the Holland House, the necromancer, a cocktail with absinthe, elderflower, lemon, and London dry, and the familiar gin sling.
Gin, like many liquors, can also be transformed via infusion. Consider slicing up a few fresh and clean cucumbers, and adding them to a jar with gin, allowing the flavor to infuse for a minimum of three days in the refrigerator. This gin will create an incredible cucumber martini.
Likewise, lavender, tea, basil, and rosemary are all excellent flavors to infuse gin. Each of these makes an excellent addition to cocktails, including martinis, gin smashes, or a simple gin and tonic.
Mixing Gin In
Gin mixes well with tonic and club soda, as well as other fruit juices, citrus flavors, and liqueurs. Consider adding an egg white to mix up a clover club or pouring a pink French 75 by adding a splash of grenadine.
A Toast to Gin
There's a world of gin, and there's more to it than the renowned London dry. Its spectrum of dry to sweet lends itself to sipping or mixing into cocktails, with a wide array of possibilities. Once you learn how to drink gin, you'll understand what gin lovers are talking about.