If we're going to talk gin, let's talk ground rules. First, if you are a gin hater, stop hating. Yes, it's been said by naysayers that gin tastes the way Christmas trees smell. That Christmas tree gin would be the London Dry style, which requires juniper to be at the forefront. The more juniper, the drier the gin.
The game changer in the gin world was Bombay Sapphire, the first more citrus-forward gin. It launched in 1998, announcing all of its botanicals on the attention-getting blue bottle. Prior to this, gin companies fiercely guarded their botanical balance, like the Knight's Watch guards Castle Black. In 2000, a not-so-little Scottish rebel named Hendrick's came along and basically turned the gin world on its head. Cucumber and Bulgarian rose petals, you say? Damn right, said Hendrick's, whose aromatic and distinctly non-juniper-centric product is seen by many bartenders as the gateway gin for gin bashers and other tentative souls.
Hendrick's recipe - and success - essentially gave upstart gin distillers permission to play. No longer were Americans just drinking gin produced in England. These days, you can find gins from states across the union - Aviation is from Oregon, Few is from Illinois and No. 209 is from San Francisco - not to mention from around the globe. Caorunn is from Scotland, Whitley Neill from South Africa.
While juniper still plays a role, you're more likely to be experiencing botanicals from a vegetable garden or a fruit orchard, even barrel-aged products. The cocktail renaissance has given the new crop of gin distillers the freedom to create recipes without restrictions and to recreate old ones (for example, the early 19th century Old Tom style has come back into vogue). Moreover, giants like Beefeater and Tanqueray have made their own bold moves into gin's new botanical frontier with products such as Beefeater 24 (which includes tea) and Tanqueray Old Tom, just released .
Since Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick's changed the playing field, no fewer than 100 new gins have made it to liquor stores near you. Here are some of the more notable recent bottlings, in alphabetical order (since we don't want to play favorites - we have too many). All the bottlings are available at K&L Wine Merchants
, except where otherwise noted. Prices are averages.
8. and 7. Barr Hill Gin ($36, 375 ml) and Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat Gin ($37)
Have you ever heard of a gin that only uses two botanicals? Well, now you have. Barr Hill is distilled first with juniper and then with honey from the bees owned by distiller and longtime beekeeper Todd Hardie. The standard gin has a sweeter profile than standard London Dry, but there is still a classic element to it. The Tom Cat is aged in American oak, creating both a depth of flavor from the casks and a balance of piney and sweet notes. Despite the labels, these gins tends to defy categorization because they're uniquely their own, very much an expression of Hardie and his commitment to sustainability, farming and the soul of the land. The company also produces a vodka. Tom Cat only at Wally's.
6. Burrough's Oak Aged Gin ($75)
Beefeater master distiller Desmond Payne was given free rein to create this barrel-aged gin, using the original Beefeater recipe but letting the gin rest in Jean de Lillet casks for several weeks before bottling. The result is a velvety, full-bodied spirit that can - and should - be sipped like whiskey. However, if you find yourself feeling decadent, we won't begrudge you a Burrough's martini (although Desmond might not be too fond of the dilution). Available at only at Wally's and Total Wine
There has never been a better time to be a gin lover. It seems that every day a new gin arrives on the market or is finally imported from overseas (note the recent U.S. arrival of Monkey 47 from Germany). This Saturday, June 14, marks World Gin Day, which makes it most apropos to look back on gin's recent evolution from the much-derided "grandpa's tipple" to the superstar cocktail spirit it is. The newest crop of artisan gins - and nontraditional bottlings from the juniper giants - are changing the way gin is perceived.