As far back as the 13th century there are records of Europeans distilling a juniper berry liquid. Not in common practice yet, the Dutch took the lead. As masters of the high seas in their day, they had conquered most trading routes giving them the lions share of new spices and fruits from all over the world. With store houses full of exotic new flavors the Dutch begin to shape the process of gin making, along with giving it its name. The more malty and earthy style “Genever” gave way over time to the London Dry style of gin. The British where notorious in their day for, well, world domination. Teaming with the Dutch for some sketchy behind the back deals, the British adopted this “Dutch Courage” and began to tweak its recipe. Before you know it our dear friends across the pond claimed it was theirs with the improvements of the London Dry style and with the first appearances of the Old Tom style. Once Prohibition hit in America, gin became a means to an end, not an art. Being made in bathtubs and being more closely related to moonshine, gin lost its cool and finally burned out when vodka hit the shelves for American consumers. No one really knows why the national palate went dull for a while but not tasting your spirits was, in fact, cool for a while. Some of you might still be in this club. We encourage you to step out.
Like all things, there are bookends in the spirit world. Products that suck all the way to products that excel. Most of us have had cheap, pine cone only, burning gin that left us trying to remember our own name in our best friends backyard when their parents where away. The good news is that gin was never supposed to suck. It was so good that entire countries stole it’s recipe to have bragging rights. Large scale voyages were made just to find its ingredients. Gin really is good. If you’ve had that bad experience and are one of the many who just can’t take the dive yet, here’s my advice.
1) Try different styles of gin. Hollands Genever is earthy, malty and might be more attainable if thought about like tequila. Take any tequila cocktail and replace its base with Genever. We’ve had 100% success with this.
2) Try different brands. There are a lot of wonderful, small batch gins here in the states that are offering a lot of depth and flavor and are great for making cocktails. One in particular is Number 209 from San Francisco. Available in plenty, 209 is decidedly citrus forward, specifically lemon. The extra citrus notes can give a lot of depth to staples such as a gin and tonic or a simple gin martini. Locally distilled Corsair gin is good for the same reasons.
3) Do, please, trust your bartender. Most mixologists in town have read their history and tinkered enough to be able to balance any cocktail well enough for a pleasurable drinking experience. Included on the menu at Watanabe World Cuisine, our recipe The Ballardi has quickly become a gin drink for the non gin club. Using Old Tom style gin, known for its slightly sweeter notes, this light and refreshing cocktail is balanced by the herbaceous black peppercorn and celery bitters. A deceptively delicious libation and you’d never know it was gin.
Taste is as personal as can be, and there will be some of you who just don’t like it. However, let your tongue be your guide as much as possible. Try to rid out all past experiences and give gin, a wonderful summer heat companion, a chance to shine for what it is -one of the most sought after and artistically made spirits of all time.