Building a Better Gin & Tonic, Part I


There was a time I thought I didn't like gin. But then I realized it was tonic I didn't like, thanks in part to a


Building a Better Gin & Tonic, Part I

  • Building a Better Gin & Tonic, Part I

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    There was a time I thought I didn't like gin. But then I realized it was tonic I didn't like, thanks in part to a bad experience when I was 10. But that people, is a story for Part II of "Building a Better Gin & Tonic," the final two installments of In the Cups. Today, I want to talk about gin.

    The most common styles of gin are London Dry, Genever or Dutch-style, Old Tom, Plymouth, and what I'll call "Modern." In Europe there are a bunch of regulations about gin regarding pot-distillation, botanicals and other bullshit. Gin is basically flavored vodka, but which flavors are added, and even how they're added, can impact the resulting product. For the purposes of building a better gin & tonic however, we'll just review the basics of these styles and what cocktails they work in best.


    The name gin is derived from the Dutch word for juniper--jenever. Juniper is the pungent, aromatic flavor most people associate with gin, but genevers are not as piney as some other gin styles. They are distilled from a malted grain mash and often aged in oak. This gives them a slightly sweeter, more rounded flavor and light body. They are great for sipping neat or on the rocks, but work well in any variety of gin fizz cocktail. I am particularly smitten with this Hot Bols Genever Punch created by David Wondrich.

    London Dry

    This is the most popular style of gin and the kind most people have tried and are familiar with. Think Beefeater, Tanqueray and Gordon's. This style of gin has distinct juniper, floral and citrus flavors that are introduced during the redistillation process. Some are more piney than others, so it's worth trying a few to find your favorite. Gordon's is a little too pungent for me. I find Tanqueray to have the right balance of juniper and citrus. Bombay Sapphire is famous for imprinting the various botanicals they use on the side of the bottle: angelica root, cassia, almond, lemon peel, juniper, grains of paradise, coriander, and more. These botanicals are infused directly into the distillate using a cotton bag, not unlike you'd make tea. Or the vapors are passed through the alcohol thanks to a still attachment called a gin head. London Dry gins work great in a G & T, but are also excellent in a Negroni or Martini.


    There is only one Plymouth gin, which gets its name from Plymouth, England. It's aromatic and well-balanced, but a little fruitier than a London Dry gin. Plymouth works better in a Vesper or Aviation than some of the London Dry gins.

    Old Tom

    Old Tom gin is an even sweeter style that was first introduced in the late 1800s. It fell out of favor for a time, but has seen a resurgence in recent years. Ransom Old Tom is the most widely available brand on the market, but Sound Spirits has just an Old Tom gin they say has "more spice, a little less juniper and a lovely hint of oak," compared to their Ebb & Flow gin. Old Tom was the original gin used in a Tom Collins. I think it works great in a Martinez as well. I recently made a cocktail from April Bloomfield's cookbook A Girl and Her Pig using Ransom Old Tom, maraschino liqueur and Campari, which was delicious.


    Thanks to little regulation surrounding gin in the U.S., there are a myriad of modern gins on the market that even appeal to non-gin drinkers. Mild and sweet Aviation gin from Oregon works great in its namesake cocktail. Hendrick's--which I like to call "lady gin"--is popular for its rose petal and cucumber notes. It's from Scotland, but is far from being a London Dry or Plymouth style gin. Voyager gin from Pacific Distilleries in Woodinville has the Goldilocks thing going for it--not too piney, not too sweet, it's just right. Some of these modern gins are nuanced enough that I think they can get overpowered by tonic water. Some of them aren't cheap either. They make great sippers, work well in a Corpse Reviver #2, or Dry Martini.

    The Seattle Gin Society will host its first annual Ginvitational on Saturday, April 21 at Cal Anderson Park from 2-7 p.m. The $35 admission gets you tastes of 15 kinds of gin, including local distillers such as Sound Spirits and Sun Liquor and popular brands like Martin Millers and GVine. Save $10 by joining the Gin Society, and your $25 annual membership will gain you entry into other events and tastings throughout the year.

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