Gin has been around for a very, very long time. There are stories that date it back to the times of the Black Plague, where people would sip on juniper-flavored spirits to stop the spread of the foul disease. It was the Italians that initially started adding herbs, including juniper, to base spirits. The Dutch perfected the flavor, balancing the juniper with other herbs to create liquor known as genever, which is where gin earned its name. It was not until the British put their hands on it that is became the spirit we all know and love today. June 13th is the seventh World Gin Day, recognizing of the global popularity of this herbal liquor.
Gin, like tequila, is a flavor that people either love or hate. Bartenders and Britons through the ages have loved it, because of the powerful flavors it adds to any cocktail. When William III (or William the Orange if you like) ascended to the British throne in 1688, he brought gin with him for the British people. The British then brought it to the rest of the world through their empire. When they started to explore more tropical climates, they discovered more than just new people and lands. They found malaria. They also discovered that an element in cinchona bark, quinine, helped stave off the disease. Cinchona bark is incredibly bitter on its own, so the Brits tipped a little gin into the tonic they were given, added the lime they always had on had (scurvy, you know), and created the cocktail they are best known for, the gin and tonic.
Bartenders also fell in love with gin due to the fact it was readily available and offered a unique flavor. Many modern cocktails began with a gin base, and eventually evolved as palates changed and other liquors became popular. The martini glass, and the cocktail it holds, is the default icon for cocktails and drinking establishments. Vodka martinis are more popular in this day and age, but the three martini lunch was a gin based affair. Because of this affinity bartenders have with gin, and the fact we may be in another Golden Age of bartending, the spirit has evolved. Craft distillers have played with the flavors, reviving older styles of gin like Old Tom and adding other elements to it like barrel aging. If you are someone who has not tried gin in a long time, here are five classic recipes for you to explore:
2 oz. Old Tom gin
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
Garnish: Lemon wedge
Pour the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously, and strain over ice into a tall glass. Top off with club soda and add the lemon wedge.
The Tom Collins is one of many cocktails mention by Jerry Thomas in his 1877 book “How to Mix Drinks: The Bon Vivant’s Companion”. It was one of many other Collins drinks that he mentioned, all of them containing a base spirit, lemon juice and simple syrup. It is whispered that this cocktail is based off a punch created by a gentleman named John Collins, a server at Lattimer’s Old House in London. Like many other cocktail origin stories, that may or may not be true.
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Twist the lemon peel over the cocktail, then drop into the drink.
Ian Fleming created this cocktail for his hero, James Bond, to sip on in Casino Royale. It is named after the female agent Bond was sharing it with at the time. Gordon’s is what is mentioned in the text of the book, but any London gin will work. Over the years the cocktail evolved into a martini, and now into Heineken. How the mighty have fallen…
1 oz. gin
1 oz. orange liqueur
1 oz. Campari
Garnish: Orange Peel
Pour the ingredients into a short glass over ice and stir. Twist the orange peel over the cocktail then drop into the drink.
The Negroni has been growing in popularity over the years, as evidenced by Negroni Week, a celebration of the cocktail and all of its varieties. After a long day doing whatever Italian counts do, Count Camillo Negroni went to his favorite bar, Caffé Casoni, and asked the bartender substitute gin for the club soda in an Americano. It became an instant hit, and spread quickly through Europe.
2 oz. gin
½ oz. dry vermouth
Orange Bitters (optional)
Garnish: Lemon Peel
Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass over ice. Stir for 10 seconds or 30 turns of the spoon. Strain the cocktail into a chilled martini glass. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, then drop peel in.
There are hundreds of ways to make even the classic gin martini. You can garnish it with olives or twists, change the proportions by adding more gin or removing some of the vermouth, or leave the vermouth out altogether. Winston Churchill once said that the only way to make a martini was to chill the gin, pour it into a cold cocktail glass, and bow in the direction of France. Some will make the martini “wet”, which is equal parts gin and vermouth. Yours should fall somewhere in between.
2 oz. gin
½ oz. Maraschino liqueur
¼ oz. Crème de Violette
¾ oz. Lemon Juice
Garnish: Maraschino cherry
Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and enjoy.
This is a lovely cocktail. Nicely balanced with the sweet and savory elements in it, and the light purple-bluish hue makes it stand out in a bar. It was created just before Prohibition hit, then promptly lost as the country went dry and Crème de Violette disappeared. This purple, sweetly floral liqueur has reemerged because of the craft cocktail boom. The name came from its bluish color, celebrating the fact that flying was becoming quite the rage.
The liquors that may be unfamiliar to you can be found at Arrow Wine. They may only have a bottle or two of some like Crème de Violette, but they will have them. They have a wonderful selection of gin as well. Ransom is a fabulous Old Tom Gin, and there are many other great newcomers on the scene like Hendrick’s, Death’s Door, Aviation, Plymouth, and Watershed Gin. And as a secret sixth cocktail, if you want to substitute champagne for the soda water in the Tom Collins, you will have a French 75 (named after the World War I gun that provided quite a kick). Or you can just grab a bottle of tonic water, a few limes, and enjoy a simple gin and tonic on World Gin Day. Cheers!