Gin is having a moment. Suddenly, the favorite spirit of your uncle and grandfather has become stylish beyond imagination.
We’re not talking about dry martinis, either. Three or four years ago, the gin and tonic exploded as the drink everyone just had to have. Like many trends in the cocktail world, it started with bartender innovation and multiplied as maverick distillers jumped on the bandwagon. Since gin is basically a neutral spirit infused with botanicals, generally made without barrel aging, new brands can enter the market very quickly.
In Spain, the epicenter of the craze, the “gin tonic” has become almost a mandatory way to begin an evening. Bars specializing in the drink have sprung up throughout the country. Spanish mixologists use a large glass balloon called a copa, layer it with ice, gin, and garnishes, and add the tonic as the final fillip. Garnishes are key: They range from muddled fresh berries and cucumber to macerated spices like basil, sage, and bay leaves.
Part of the gin and tonic’s newfound popularity is traceable to the availability of high-quality artisan mixers such as Fever-Tree, Q Tonic, and Fentimans. Unlike commercial brands like Schweppes and Canada Dry, the new wave of tonic waters doesn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, opting instead to use either cane sugar or organic agave (in the case of Q Tonic) as a sweetener. They also contain actual quinine or quinine bark rather than synthetic substitutes. All of this makes for a healthier and tastier drink.
When it comes to the gin itself, choices are exponentially larger than they were just a decade ago. Small-batch gin has sprouted up all over Europe, including in Scotland (Caorunn from the Highlands and The Botanist from Islay), Finland (Arctic Blue), Germany’s Black Forest (Monkey 47), and Britain (Bulldog and Sipsmith London Dry Gins). The best-selling gin in Spain is Larios, which is citrus-accented—as opposed to the classic, juniper-heavy London Dry style. Another popular brand is Gin Mare, which is distilled from Mediterranean olives and resinous herbs.
Some American counterparts are equally impressive. St. George Spirits, a pioneer since 1982, produces a trio of distinctive gins: Terroir, Botanivore, and Dry Rye. Based in Portland, Oregon, Aviation American Gin was instrumental in establishing the American style and uses unusual botanicals such as lavender and sarsaparilla. Other labels worth seeking out include Wisconsin’s Death’s Door, Bluecoat from Philadelphia, and Brooklyn’s Greenhook. Barrel-aged gins are also starting to appear on the market, led by Ted Palmer of Boulder, who infuses his spirit with Colorado juniper and ages it in small casks.
Remember pink gin? Your ancestors probably do. Composed of Plymouth gin with a dash of Angostura bitters to balance the softer and slightly sweet flavor of that variety, the drink became popular in nineteenth-century England and migrated to America. It’s now experiencing a revival, led by large distillers such as Gordon’s and Beefeater, and highlighted by boutique operations like The Bitter Truth. Today’s pink gin is likely to be infused with ingredients ranging from rose petals to red berries.
We’ve come a long way since the Gin Craze, a wave of mass drunkenness that engulfed London in the eighteenth century and threatened to topple the British Empire. Now, as then, it’s best to consume in moderation—particularly since we’ve reached a stage where we can appreciate the art of the distiller and the innovative technique of the modern mixologist. «