Bartenders Guide: Gin

"Gin is the 'acid test' of Bartender Knowledge...and the easiest way to differentiate between a college bar rookie and a true master. Want to stand out? Learn how to make cocktails with gin." -Frost

Gin's a tough subject. It gets a bad rap from the hood-rat "Gin and Juice" aspect and the "my grandma drinks that" factor. People often refer to it as "a drinker's drink", intimating that only a total lush would touch it because of its intense flavor.

Me? I think they're scared.

Consider this: The original martini? Made with gin. It was only after James Bond and a fabulous ad campaign by Smirnoff that people began drinking them with vodka. A good gin has dozens of subtle aromatics beneath that first big whack of juniper, waiting for you to unlock them. I think of it as the liquor version of an aggressive Shiraz.

Try this: Equal parts gin, some margarita mix and Grape Pucker. No, I'm not kidding. You can adjust the proportions to taste. If it's too intense, loosen it up with some Sprite. The sweet and sour contrast makes a flavor explosion in your mouth, and you've got a shooter or cocktail that will knock the pants...or of your crowd. If you want to go upscale, try balancing gin with a ruby port and soda for a similar effect. The best bartenders in the world use gin frequently, and it isn't for show. It's because it works.

Hendrick's Gin, a personal favorite of mine, infuses their product with cucumber and Bulgarian Rose. You might think it's an odd mix, but the finished product is soft and elegant and lends itself to several cocktails.

Sure, in the dog days of summer nothing cuts the film off your tongue like a crisp gin and tonic...but any scrub can do that fairly well. It's hard to screw up simplicity. Your job is to go deeper...go bold. You pair a good wine with pair a good liquor with other flavors that harmonize or contrast with it...and gin is just a big bottle of opportunity, for the
Bar-ticulate Adventurer.

Gin is (usually) a white grain spirit whose predominant flavor comes from Juniper berries. (Think Christmas trees.) The most common type of gin is London Dry, in which other aromatics are used to add depth and complexity. Bombay Sapphire, for example, uses over twenty, including licorice, coriander, etc. An example of another type would be Sloe Gin, which is a sweet and syrupy additive flavored with Sloe berries, the fruit of the Blackthorn tree.

Gin is generally flavored in one of two ways, either distillation or infusion. With the exception of Sloe Gin, infused gin is rare and typically of a higher quality. Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick's are both infused gins.

Most gins are fairly dry, meaning they lack sugar. Gin is often mixed in cocktails with sweeter ingredients like tonic water or vermouth to balance this dryness.

Decent well gin: Bombay or Tanqueray. Tanqueray has a nice citrus burst. Top Shelf: Bombay Sapphire or Hendrick's, if you're feeling bold.