Let’s drink some gin
I love gin. During my long stint as a bartender and professional alcoholic this spirit was a go-to for me, keeping me warm and buzzed through many escapades and blurry evenings in winter and summer alike. Early in my drinking career I knew of gin only in its medicinal, herbal quality: years of cheap booze and chasers at house parties had poisoned my brain to view gin (and most alcohol) through a myopic lens, understanding them as ingredients that needed to be smothered and suppressed in order to enjoy. Choking back unbalanced, antiseptic, and herbal-tasting glasses of gin mixed with anything, I’d find myself wishing I had simply brought a pack of beers and left the Bombay at home. The gin worked for what I needed it to do, sure, but it sucked to drink. Soon enough, I was turned off from the stuff altogether.
Time would pass and, as a first-time bartender freshly hired at a French bistro in Western Canada, I would be once again exposed to the juniper spirit – this time from behind the bar. Under the strict supervision of my manager, an extremely talented mixologist, I began to learn the nuances of gin through the many martinis, gimlets, fizzes, and negronis I would be tasked to prepare throughout my busy shifts. Shake too much or too little, stir improperly or strain too early, and the delicate balance that made those drinks classic was toppled. I learned that making cocktails was easy, but making cocktails well was leagues more difficult and required an awareness of details, subtlety, and intimate knowledge with what you were working with. Gin was the spirit that typified this lesson for me more than any other: I’d note how drastically its flavor could change when slightly diluted or mixed with another ingredient, how easily it blended into the flavor profile of a drink in a way that other neutral-ish spirits like vodka and tequila only hoped to. Even the humble gin-tonic merited serious reconsideration once I had tasted Hendricks and Fentiman’s with a thinly-sliced cucumber. To me, a good gin drink was all about how the notes fit into the harmony, and the individual notes were only as good as the ingredients that made them up.
15 Simple, Lip-Smacking Good Gin Cocktails
Here are our gin cocktail recipes for 14 gin cocktails. Enjoy.
1. The Classic Gin Martini
While it’s not for everyone, everyone should try it at least once. The gin martini is a stiff stirred cocktail made with vermouth that really serves to highlight nuance in the base spirit. It has a cemented place in the pantheon of cocktails and can be ordered with many variations: extra vermouth? Order it ‘wet’. Lemon zest? Have it with a ‘twist’.
Try it on the rocks or straight up and make sure you chill your cocktail glass – it makes all the difference.
2. The Negroni
What is there to say about the Negroni, a perfectly-balanced and herbal aperitivo? Any rhetoric here would fail to capture its charm, any description is too grandiloquent (see what I did there) to convey its simplicity. It is simply better to shut up and drink one.
3. The Eastside Cocktail
This cucumber cocktail exists in varied iterations – acolytes of the Eastside are traditionally fragmented between mint or no mint. In my humble opinion, I say leave the mint for Al Capone’s Southside and let the cucumber and acidity in this drink shine. Shake it hard and briefly: the result is a bright, refreshing, and downable cocktail that is perfect in a summer afternoon patio session.
4. The French 75
Delicate, aromatic, and deceptively strong, the French 75 is an excellent way to turn your mellow brunch into a bender. Keep reading past these recipes to hear about my love affair with the French 75, a cocktail that introduced me to the beauty and dynamism of gin.
If you can, get real champagne for this drink and for the love of all that is holy use fresh lemon juice. I’ll excuse (key word: excuse) the bottled lemon and lime for any of the other cocktails, but I will fight for fresh with this drink. If you’re going to try any of these cocktails, my suggestion is to opt for the easy-to-make crowd pleaser that is a French 75.
5. The Gimlet
With its roots on the stormy seas and in the bellies of scurvy-susceptible English sailors, the Gimlet is a classic through and through. The recipe is about as simple as a shaken cocktail gets and with such a strong foundation to build out of, the gimlet is extremely customizable. Learn how to make this drink and never fear a sparse liquor cabinet again.
6. Gin Basil Smash
The smash: a cocktail made traditionally with an herb as a central component of the flavor. For gin’s inherent herbal-ness, I believe basil is the way to go. Pair it with some crushed ice and plenty of lime juice, and even single strain to let little pieces of basil float around your glass. Try using different types of basil to see how it works with your specific gin (I’d recommend Thai basil).
7. Gin Bramble
A delicious cocktail made with blackberries and lemon juice. I’d recommend single-straining this drink (I like the fruit chunks – some don’t) and re-using some of your shaker ice to get the froth and crushed ice that make this drink so crushable on a summer day.
8. Gin Buck
Ginger beer is criminally underrated – I added a couple of gin cocktails to this list that have ginger as a central flavor element in the hopes of converting a couple of strangers. The Gin Buck is one such drink: the spice of the ginger paired with the cocktail’s bright acidity and carbonation makes it an extremely refreshing sipper that has no true equal.
9. Gin Fizz
Imagine a merengue. Now imagine a merengue, but it’s sweet, acidic, and gets you drunk. Now imagine a merengue that is sweet, acidic, gets you drunk, and also sits delicately on top of 4 ounces of liquid that equally sweet, acidic, and alcoholic. Your head is spinning but it’s not because of the booze: you have been introduced to the world of sours and fizzes.
If you can, dietary restrictions aside, make it with egg whites. If not, vegan foam can be purchased wherever you buy niche, specialty bartending ingredients. Dry shake it so hard your arm gets sore. Draw a cool design in the foam with bitters. Take your time with it, and it will pay you back in spades.
Making a good fizz/sour is not easy but once you have the technique down, you’ll be wanting to put egg white in every drink you make (and you usually can!)
10. Gin Mint Mule
More ginger beer! This time, we cut into the spice with a bit of mint, tapping into new herbal elements of our gin. If you have one, follow the mule tradition and serve it in a copper mug.
11. Gin Spritz
I love the ambiguity of a spritz, traditionally made with amari like Aperol and Campari. With our Gin Spritz, we take the same framework of bubbly, soda, and amaro, then give it a little kick in the butt with a small hit of gin and lemon. Mess around with different amari and see what works for you – I like Cynar.
12. Southside Cocktail
This was supposedly Al Capone’s favorite drink in between whacking wise guys. The mint in this gives it a bright herbal finish and if you use a classic white sugar simple syrup (unlike the browner demerara sugar syrup I used) you will have a beautiful, pale, and refreshing drink that could make even the most hardened of mobsters relax.
13. The Martinez
We’ll end our list with two martini-style drinks. The Martinez is a simple adjustment of ingredients from the classic Gin Martini, opting for sweet vermouth and orange zest instead of dry and lemon.
The drinks end up looking and tasting completely different, with the sweet vermouth bringing out spicy notes of the gin in ways a classic martini cannot. It’s also lovely to know in case you only have access to sweet vermouth.
14. The Vesper Martini
It’s a miracle James Bond could talk to a beautiful woman and drive a car after drinking a few of these, much less save England from evil villains. With a hefty 3-ounce base of vodka and gin, this martini packs an absolute punch that creeps in subtly thanks to the round sweetness of Lillet.
Don’t shake it, unlike Bond’s iconic catchphrase. It is a complex drink that unfolds as you nurse it, showing you herbal elements of the gin while the Lillet keeps you grounded. If you like martinis in the way I do, you have to try this cocktail. Drink a few at the beginning of the night and you’ll be speaking in an English accent before dinner.
15. Jammy Sparkling Apricot & Pink Peppercorn French 75
Jam cocktails. It’s breakfast and happy hour all in one.
Falling in love with a French 75
At the end of the shift about a week into working my bistro job, my manager asked me to make a drink I hadn’t made before. Into a shaker I poured an ounce and a half of Citadelle gin, squeezed half a fresh lemon, added half an ounce of simple syrup, filled the Boston glass with ice, and shook. Double-straining the pale, opaque mix into a champagne flute, I’d top it with a few ounces of some Feuillatte Champagne Brut. As the bubbles died down, I’d finish with a lemon zest around the rim and on the stem of the glass. We were ready to drink the French 75. As you bring the cocktail to you, the zest fills your nose with the bright, citric aroma that seems to foreshadow what is to come. Your first sip tastes initially like the dry champagne, whose fine bubbles and mellow creaminess melt over your tongue to leave behind a tangible structure of floral sweetness, acidity, and alcoholic bite. Nothing feels out of place or surprising; the flavors and aromas meld together and simply lead you into the next note and further down the glass, opening a bouquet of color and flavor that seems separate from its 5 compositional ingredients. Before you know it, you’ve had four glasses. To me, the French 75 is balanced, nuanced, and simple – a perfect example of what cocktails should be at their core. I thought the drink, which had taken me completely by surprise, was nothing short of divine: I was suddenly more open to learning about gin.
The regular crowd at this bistro were heavy gin drinkers and if seated at the bar, some took every opportunity to grill the young, new bartender on every imaginable facet of the spirit – from aging in cognac barrels to its difference from and shared roots with jenever, they would, for my edification, try to scratch the surface of the vast and strange world of gin. Slowly and painstakingly, I would learn some of the more classic ways to imbibe. While shyly stealing glances at her many outfits and taken by her mystery, gin slipped into an increasingly-seductive form for this young drinker, who began a habit of ordering G&T as his first drink at any bar or restaurant, trying (and usually failing) to pick up on the flavors his regular clients swore were present in the foreground of any decent gin. Placebo or not, this process of discovery was exciting and heralded a long relationship with gin cocktails (likely encouraged by some sort of genetic/familial predisposition toward the sauce that I try not to think about too much). I would work in cocktail bars for the next 8 years and hone in on an appreciation of the basics, trying to follow a bartending philosophy that attempted to make the spirits show off their nuance as simply as possible without the need for dry ice, macrofoams, glass-smoking, or whatever other bartending trend was (and still is) being pushed down the throat of my Instagram feed.
It is my hopes that you, dear reader, feel inspired to make classic drinks that subvert your conditioning of mixology as a complex phenomenon occurring in a specific place (a bar) by a specific person (a bartender). I hope that this process of plainly laying out recipes for simple and easy-to-make drinks will demystify the process and make at-home bartending surprising, exciting, and accessible for anyone. Let’s dive in.
Where do I like gin?
I love and accept gin in all its forms but most often cherish it as the base of a bright, refreshing, and acidic cocktail. I grew to love the taste of gin with cucumber and St. Germain, which, haphazardly poured over ice and topped with a decent-quality tonic, became an absolute staple of my summer sipping.
In a cocktail it can be relatively neutral and unassuming, pairing well with a diverse range of flavor profiles and thus applicable to many different cocktail styles. On its own it’s far from boring however: a gin with personality, a few ice cubes, and a lemon zest can draw out some secret flavors and surprise you with its depth in the same way a whiskey would. Importantly, it’s become ubiquitous throughout the world as a staple spirit in any bar or liquor cabinet, always there for you if you need to whip up a cocktail on the fly. Most people have some in their liquor cabinet and with only a few key ingredients, many different cocktails can be made.
What is gin? How is it made?
Put simply, gin is a neutral distilled spirit that takes the majority of its flavor from juniper berries. Its base is traditionally made from grain mash (a mixture of cereal grains) but can also be made using potatoes, grapes, and other natural ingredients. It differs from other neutral spirits like vodka in that its flavor is not always a result of an infusion process but often a by-product of multiple distillations, which aside from juniper berries also makes use of ‘botanicals’, trade secret herbs and spices that give gin its distinctive flavor and unique aroma from brand to brand. These herbs can be anything from orris, licorice, star anise, fennel, citrus peels, cardamom, cassia bark, coriander and more.
There are various methods by which gin is distilled. American and English gins are distilled from malt wine in order to obtain pure ethanol by which they will re-distill and add juniper and botanicals. This pure ethanol is usually extremely high in alcohol content – around 95% – and cannot (should not?) be drank on its own. Through a process of step-by-step dilution, infusion, and distillation, the total ABV is reduced and the flavor of the drink begins to emerge. In order to be legally-defined as gin by the EU and USA’s respective alcohol councils, gin needs to have an ABV of greater than 40% and have juniper as its primary flavor. Gin from the Netherlands, often called jenever and what some consider to be the original, is made from a barley mash beer that is distilled to become a malt wine then further distilled with the flavoring ingredients, coming out slightly less alcoholic than their English and American counterparts. We’ll get back to the Netherlands later, however.
Aging gin is also a common phenomenon, especially in France and America. French gins like Citadelle, made by spirit legends Maison Pierre Ferrand, are aged in used cognac casks to give them a deeper flavor, something that can be noted when tasting this gin in such stiff cocktails like a martini. Much like Champagne and Cognac, gin and its predecessor, jenever, are AOCs, legally-protected and defined.
History of Gin
Gin has a weird history, intertwined with culture, politics, and power, whose origins are hotly debated. Some swear by its emergence in Belgium and the Netherlands through the popularization of jenever, a strong medicinal liquor flavored with juniper made by monks and alchemists throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. This is one of the places where gin’s origins can be traced through written evidence of its trade and consumption, a phenomenon which would rapidly spread to the rest of mainland Europe. Some place its invention in the hands of 17th century doctor and alchemist Sylvius de Bouve, who studied the distillation of juniper medicine. However, this claim has since been debunked given contradicting timelines, forcing alcohol historians to reconsider the origins of juniper’s mixture with alcohol.
Others trace the origins of this combination as far back as 70AD to Greek herbalists and physicians; in between now and then, there have been many small hints toward the continued use of juniper in alcohol throughout history, like evidence of a juniper tonic wine made by 11th century Benedictine Monks in Italy. By the 16th century, juniper alcohol would come to be crystallized in the form of Dutch jenever, whose popularity would explode across Europe and in England become ‘gin’ by the early 17th century.
William of Oranje and the Gin Craze
Not to get into the entire history of the geopolitical fabric of Europe in the late Renaissance/early Enlightenment period, but gin’s rise in popularity – especially in England – is directly linked to the power struggles of the time. In 1689, when Dutch-born William of Oranje became William III, new monarch of England, Scotland, and Ireland, he aimed to strengthen his kingdom’s economy by implementing harsh trade-protectionist policies against his French neighbors. The popularity of French wine and Cognac would try and be cut down through intense taxation, hopefully weakening the French economy and giving William some lee-way to exert a little more economic, military, and religious power when he needed to. He would also put into place his ‘Corn Laws’, which offered taxation breaks on the production of spirits and made the distillation scene explode. Small-scale distillers and entrepreneurs would take to the alchemical process and soon enough, gin was cheaper than beer. The creation and consumption of gin would grow massively in all socioeconomic classes: it was cheap, it was effective, and it was everywhere. Historians dub this period the ‘Gin Craze’.
The explosive unregulated nature of England’s early gin industry would come with its fair share of problems. An increasingly-hammered society fed by opportunist businesspeople, finding great success among England’s poor, led to an uptick in deaths from improperly-distilled spirits and overconsumption. The English government would react with propaganda campaigns about the dangers of gin to society, a substance that would come to hated as a representation of the evils of drink. The Gin Act of 1751 would raise taxes and make distillation licenses harder to come by, slowing down its effect on society.
By the early 19th century, advances in distillation technology would make spirits safer to drink, and the pairing of gin and Schweppes tonic water – originally meant to be paired with malarial prevention substances like quinine – became a staple of the British Royal Navy. Citrus stocks, present to prevent scurvy on long naval expeditions, would make its way into these drinks and foreshadow the emergence of many of our classic gin cocktails today. The term ‘limey’ for sailors is a direct result of this. With the emergence of cordials, such drinks as the gimlet would crystallize and remain staple gin sippers evermore.
Gin today: Three Types of Gin (Categories)
Gin today is traditionally broken down into three distinct categories: London Dry, Old Tom, and Plymouth. We’ll go over them briefly to get an idea of what they bring to the table, and ways you can incorporate them into your at-home bartending.
London Dry gin is the most common and accessible. Such gin juggernauts as Tanqueray, Gordon’s, Bombay, and more compose this category of the spirit, which – in order to be considered ‘dry’ – cannot be colored and is usually unsweetened, not achieving more than 0.1 grams of sweetener per liter of spirit. Furthermore, all botanicals in a London Dry need to be added in the distillation process, not through infusion or blending. As long as the taste is predominantly juniper, gin standards will consider a spirit distilled in the manner above as being eligible to be considered a London Dry gin. With this being said, there are no strict rules for the flavoring of London Dry gins, which can be modern and experimental, or classic and reserved. Furthermore, despite the name, London Dry gins do not need to be made in London – it is a denotation of a style and distillation process, not its provenance.
Old Tom gin, occasionally considered the middle ground between London Dry and its sweeter ancestor jenever, does not abide by the same standards exerted upon other gin distinctions. Strangely, it is simply its distinction from jenever and London Dy that create the space wherein which Old Tom can exist. This sort of gin must be made with juniper (of course), but it can be sweetened, infused, blended, aged or none of those options, creating an open-ended spirit that can be a birthplace for experimental gins. I’ve personally tasted gins in this style that are extra-malty and taste closer to a light whiskey than anything else, which is a huge trip when you’re used to the now-seemingly uniform quality of the London Dry. There has been a resurgence of Old Tom among artisanal distillers, who see the spirit as a canvas for new ways to drink gin.
Lastly, Plymouth gin is a bit of a special definition. Much like cognac, champagne, and scotch, Plymouth gin is a direct reference to its specific place of origin and where it continues to be exclusively made today in Plymouth, SW England. This is traditionally known as a geographical indication (GI) and Plymouth gin is one of the only three gins in the world that carry this specification. It is made in a 15th century distillery that was once a monastery of the Dominican Order, and its existence is a strong reminder of the tradition and long history of the spirit. While the ‘Gin Craze’ was in full swing, the British Navy used this specific brand and offered it to its members, who began to view this gin as standardized and separate from the collection of oft-dangerous spirits being distilled in London’s underbelly. As the British Navy spread throughout the world, Plymouth gin went with. In its flavor it is supposedly less dry than the classic yet has more citrus and an ‘earthier’ taste given a different – and secret – process of distillation and infusion. While not as common as Old Tom or London Dry, Plymouth gin deserves a special mention given its rich history and how it serves as an important reminder of the way gin has existed in our world for many centuries.
Brands of Gin that you should know
I think we should run through a few quick gins that you may (or may not) know and highlight some of their unique features as well as their applications.
- An absolute classic entry/mid-range London Dry that you see everywhere, introduced in 1876. The name, referring to the Queen’s bodyguards, is synonymous and evocative of the inherently-English quality and history of modern gin. This gin is bold and full-bodied, working well with nearly any type of cocktail you wanted to make with it. In many ways, Beefeater is the standard.
- Despite a name that evokes the colonial era and the gin culture of the British Raj, Bombay Sapphire is a modern London Dry created in 1986. The name makes reference to the Star of Bombay jewel, and it is well known for its strong citric quality and iconic blue bottle. I particularly like this gin in martinis as I find it pairs really well with a lemon zest.
- Made by the Bruichladdich scotch distillery in Islay, Scotland, the Botanist is an artisanal dry gin that, much like the Islay scotches, is composed purely of ingredients found in Islay. Foraged between March and October, these unique ingredients give this gin a special, local quality that sets it apart from other large-scale productions. This spirit is strong and floral, tasting exceptional when it is allowed to shine. In this way, I’d recommend it with tonic, in a martini, or on its own.
- This is a relatively modern gin that pays homage to the classics. The 47 references the number of ingredients used to make this small-batch spirit, which is round, floral, citric, and herbal. I particularly like this gin and while it can be a little harder to procure, once you’ve tasted it in a gimlet or an eastside I think you’ll understand.
- A French gin that, thanks to my first job as a bartender, remains branded in my mind. This is my ideal cocktail gin, honestly. It’s subtle, elegant, and smooth with a long aftertaste that continues to gently unfold notes of juniper and citrus. Whether in a Vesper, a Negroni, or a Fizz, Citadelle seems to send a strongly-worded message to the English that they aren’t the only ones who know how to make gin.
- Speaking of non-English that can make gin, I thought I should mention the Americans for solidarity’s sake. With stakes owned by A-list cutie Ryan Reynolds, Aviation gin is spicy, bold, floral, and at the forefront of American dry gin-making. It isn’t my favorite style given how it downplays the juniper but I’ve enjoyed this spirit with warmer, sweeter, and stiffer gin cocktails like the Martinez.
- I have a bartender friend that named his son Hendrick’s. Yes, seriously. It’s that good, I guess. This gin is Scottish in origin whose main flavors are juniper, cucumber, and Bulgarian rose. I love this gin: the look of the bottle and the roundness of its flavor create a gin experience that feels relatively ‘premium’. Furthermore, thanks to the main flavors, Hendrick’s is supposedly meant to be drank with tonic and cucumber as opposed to the traditional lime garnish. Take it from me, it’s worth trying with the cucumber. In cocktails Hendrick’s tastes delicious with anything bright and citric that doesn’t overpower it: try it in a Southside, a French 75, or simply with tonic.
Now that we’ve looked over a few key gins that you could likely find at your local liquor store, let’s take a look at the last ingredients for some obscenely easy-to-make cocktails.
For the majority of these, it’s worth to have a few of the key ingredients and tools on-hand:
- Gin (dry is best, as it works with the most drinks)
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- Simple syrup (cook equal parts white sugar and water together and let it cool: lasts forever as it is literally syrup)
- Soda + Tonic
- Vermouth (dry and sweet, which will last forever in your liquor cabinet since you need very little)
- Orange, lemon, and lime peels for zesting
- Shaker, stirring spoon, strainers (mesh and large), and fun glassware
- Decent ice! You don’t want to be conservative with the stuff either: if you’re making cocktails for some friends bring extra ice to make sure your drinks dilute properly and get as cold as you need them to be
- Other ingredients like mint, basil, and egg white are contingent on the drink. Feel free to be creative and incorporate what you have in the fridge! Worst case scenario it tastes gross, best case you just invented a new staple drink you can show off and make for your friends.
- https://flaviar.com/blog/how-gin-is-made/ ↑
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- https://www.bythedutch.com/genever/ ↑
- https://vinepair.com/articles/england-gin-history/ ↑
- https://vinepair.com/articles/england-gin-history/ ↑
- https://vinepair.com/articles/england-gin-history/ ↑
- https://theginisin.com/regulations/what-is-london-dry-gin/ ↑
- https://www.liquor.com/articles/what-is-old-tom-gin/ ↑