No spirit is as misunderstood as gin. Many flat-out reject it, likening it to the juice of a Christmas tree, while others are afraid it’ll leave them weeping like a schoolboy.
But in reality, gin can be anything you want. It’s really just a vodka infused with juniper berries. And yes, they are piney, but that’s just one of several components that can influence its taste. Which is what a new wave of craft producers are proving as they take gin out of your grandpa’s liquor cabinet and re-establish its unruly reputation.
Back in 18th-century London, at the height of the gin craze, botanical herbs were added to it to mask an inferior, sometimes deadly distillate. Juniper was both pungent and plentiful, so it became the preferred adjunct
in what is known as the London Dry style — think Tanqueray or Beefeater. Nowadays, though, distillers have carte blanche to introduce all sorts of unexpected elements into the bottle.
This movement surged with the arrival of Hendrick’s, an “international” style of gin flavored with rose and cucumber. Bulldog followed, riffing on citrus notes to enhance approachability. Anchor Spirits in the Bay Area helped revive the semisweet Old Tom style, while Citadelle and Bluecoat made the case for barrel aging. Then Nolet’s pushed the envelope for elegance, spicing its spirit with saffron.
Its versatility in full flex, gin is suddenly a go-to again. “With the public calling for the new and exciting, distilleries are churning out some deliciously funky and colorful gins,” says bartender Alexa Doyer of Opium in Portland, Maine. Now drinkers are re-evaluating gin’s role in everything from the classics — rickeys, gin and tonics — to more elaborate concoctions, like the Last Word. Looking for something sweet? Order a Singapore Sling. A touch of bitterness? Try a St. Christopher, with its cool Aperol kick. And don’t sleep on the refreshing sloe gin spritz, a mix of recently revived tart-berry-infused gin and dry sparkling wine.
With so many options, it’s no surprise that entire cocktail bars are springing up around the spirit. San Francisco’s Whitechapel is a Victorian shrine boasting the largest selection of gin in North America, while Chelsea’s Bathtub Gin is a Prohibition-era throwback with hundreds of bottles lining the back bar. No matter if you live somewhere in between — the craft-gin renaissance is going on all around you. “Gin went from extra-dirty martinis and G&Ts to one of my favorite spirits behind the bar,” says Doyer. She’s in good company.
The Singapore Sling
Portland, Maine, is quietly fomenting one of the country’s most playful drinking scenes. And Alexa Doyer is on the front lines, pumping out masterful cocktails at Opium, a hip and modern lounge offsetting the otherwise traditional New England quaintness of its home, the Danforth Inn. Her cocktail menu arrives as index cards hidden within a treasure chest and includes this refreshing take on one of gin’s most enduring recipes.
1 ½ oz. Hardshore gin*
½ oz. Cherry Heering
¼ oz. curaçao
¼ oz. grenadine
¼ oz. Bénédictine
2 oz. pineapple juice
½ a lime, squeezed
Pineapple wedge for garnish
Shake all the ingredients and then double strain over new ice into a Collins glass. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.
*A local, small-batch gin whose distillery is right around the corner from the Danforth. Doyer says its uniqueness “truly represents Portland’s character.”