GIN - From the Gutter to the Top Shelf
From the Gutter to the Top of the Shelf
William Faulkner once said, “Civilization begins with distillation.” Unfortunately, that was not the case in Great Britain.
Gin is a divisive drink. It has been for centuries. Responsible for an early booze-fueled crisis in England, the botanical-infused distilled spirit was once seen as scourge on a society. Gin’s reputation as the crack cocaine of its day was cemented with lurid press tales about gin-fuelled degradation and squalor, culminating in William Hogarth’s infamous 1751 engraving “Gin Lane.”
Three hundred years later, it’s become the elegant answer to vodka and, increasingly in the US and Britain, an artisanal concoction. The industry has been undergoing a welcome renaissance. Many of the gins being produced in small batches across the countries bear little resemblance to the stodgy London dry gin your parents drank. While we’ve all grimaced at a cheap bottle of Gordon’s or a poorly made Tanqueray martini, you’re going to be blown away by the sheer range of flavors and aromas coming out of these little distilleries.
Time for Some History
Gin’s origin is tough to pin down. Legend has it that in the 17th century, a Dutch chemist named Franciscus Sylvius accidentally distilled jenever, a juniper-flavored liquor, while trying to develop a diuretic to treat kidney disease. Later on, more ambitious distillers used jenever as the basis for a newer and stronger alcohol called gin. This, it turns out, is at least partially false. While jenever is indeed the ancestral forebear to modern gin, and while it really does have some medicinal qualities, references to its creation trace back several centuries before Sylvius’s time. In fact, during the Dutch War of Independence, a full thirty years before Sylvius had been born, the spirit was already popular enough to bear the nickname “Dutch courage.” Gin became so popular among English troops that they brought it back with them after the war.
Then came the bad times (mentioned above).
These days, however, gin is indeed rather civilized.
This is in large part due to the cluster of “craft” gins that set up shop at the turn of the century. Since Hendrick’s and Martin Miller’s launched in 1999, coinciding with the British cocktail bar boom, gin has become unstoppable, as more and more distillers compete to become bartenders’ and tipplers’ favorite. Even the recession did not prove much of a hiccup, as a general consensus to drink “less but better” seemed to win out. Britain is its greatest exporter, as it now home to 315 distilleries, which is more than double the number that were operating across the nation five years ago, and the government is hoping to make it into the new whisky—prestigious and lucrative.
American Small Batch Gin
Jump ahead to 2001, and gin joined the burgeoning craze for artisanal everything. Todd and Scott Leopold were some of the firsts to give gin the small batch treatment, repurposing their organic and sustainable beer brewing practices for distilling spirits. Their Leopold’s Small Batch Gin—distilled with juniper, coriander, Valencia oranges, and many more—quickly won fans. Sold in a now ubiquitous apothecary bottle, the gin married old traditions and trends like organic ingredients.
This fusion has come to define American small batch gins. While juniper remains the marquee ingredient, this approach to gin-making welcomes weirdness in the choice of botanicals, and the handcrafted branding is helping gin compete with profitable bottles like American single malt scotch and fancy, tastes-like-nothing vodkas. Gin is also the perfect spirit for startup distilleries who can swirl an easy-to-make ethanol base with their bouquet of botanicals and churn out bottles within a year, well before their cash-cow whiskeys are finished aging in barrels.
Without further ado, here’s a little starter pack of American small batch gins that you’ll probably love, regardless of whether you consider yourself a gin drinker or not:
- 1. Leopold's American Small Batch Gin
Putting aside the dubious veracity of his role in the creation of gin, it’s a safe bet that the alchemist Franciscus Sylvius would be a big fan of Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin. Packaged in an apothecary bottle, this delightful spirit boasts a strong, but extremely pleasant juniper taste in addition to a clean, smooth finish.
- 2. Death's Door Gin
On the northern coast of Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin-based distillers working on Death’s Door Gin are taking locally sourced ingredients and turning them into one of the smoothest, most playful London dry gins on the market. Restrained enough to work in any number of cocktails, but also vibrant enough to shine through with its own identity, this gin would be a great addition to any bar. And, wait, it gets better: a portion of the proceeds from each bottle is donated to the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
- 3. St. George Terroir Gin
True to its name, the Terroir Gin from St. George’s Spirits draws its distinct, powerful fragrance and flavors from an entire forest’s worth of ingredients. In a single sip, you’ll notice the zest of pine needles, hints of woodsy aromas, and an overwhelming freshness. Closing your eyes, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported among the Redwoods on California’s northern coast. While strong, and perhaps a bit shocking for traditionalists, this is a gin that’s altogether fine enough to sip on its own, but can also make for particularly fresh-tasting cocktails, too.
- 4. Brooklyn Gin
There’s typically an inverse relationship between a bottle’s fanciness and the quality of its contents, but Brooklyn Gin makes a strong counterargument against that theory. Instead, the same level of craftsmanship you encounter on its heavy, thick glass bottle is on display in this fresh-tasting gin that’s good enough to drink on its own with just some ice and a few drops of fresh lemon juice.
- 5. Aviation Gin
When one of your company’s founders is a former bartender, it’s a sure bet that your product will be great for an entire range of cocktails. Consider Aviation Gin as evidence. Its subtle, clean finish and nose are perfectly suited for all manners of Rickeys, Tom Collins, and French 75s—and perhaps that’s why the Aviation website hosts such an extensive list of recipes. On its own, Aviation Gin’s delicious, multidimensional botanicals make each sip a delight—lavender blending into herbal notes, and ultimately drawing back to reveal its smooth juniper base.
SUMMING THINGS UP
With the help of all these sociable aristocrats, inventive colonialists, and daring distillers, gin's disreputable past is a fading memory. Whetted your whistle? Stop by one of our six locations, and one of our highly trained staff will help you find the perfect gin for you. Chin-Chin!