27 March 2015

Gin: a Buyer's Guide

I love gin in the spring and summer (and also the fall and winter, but you know...).  Gin and tonics are like grown-up Sprite, and gin pairs so well with any fresh fruit juice.  So, this is how I justify geeking out on gin for you, my loyal readers, and helping you figure out how to stock your liquor cabinets for spring while also refreshing my own options.

Expensive gins I do not buy but think are interesting

Hendrick's Gin ($35) gives off a boutique, old-world vibe, but it was actually introduced onto the market in 1999. It's a pretty special product, though, because besides just juniper in the infusion, they thrown in Bulgarian rose and cucumber. These added flavors are subtle, but with the addition of fresh cucumber slices, they become more apparent.  It's unique and quite tasty, and it's best sipped with the aforementioned cucumber and lemon slices rather than getting buried in heavy tonic water.

Williams Chase ($60) is the most expensive on this list, but it's also pretty interesting, with juniper, apple, and elderflower, along with a little citrus.  Like Hendrick's, try it without mix-ins first. Be forewarned, this U.K. gin is hard to find in many parts of the U.S. I'm too cheap to buy this, so if anyone is thinking of sending me a birthday present in July, email me and I'll give you my street address.

Mid-priced gins you can bring to a party without embarrassing yourself:

Tanqueray 10 ($30) is described as having a varied bouquet and a subtle citrus note.  I may be drinking too much of the rough stuff, but to me it tastes like nothing. So, if you're not too into juniper flavor, this smooth, inoffensive concoction is for you. It's Tanqueray's small-batch gin, and their marketing is great (how many times have you heard people ordering a "Tanqueray and Tonic"?  Now, how many times have you heard anyone order a "Seagram's and Tonic"?) Because it's so uninteresting, I think it works best in a martini.

Beefeater Gin ($23) is old-school, heavy juniper flavor that stands up really well to tonic. It's also got a nice hint of citrus and a more complex collection of herbal notes that some of the cheaper gins lack. Tastes like a Christmas tree, but a pretty smooth Christmas tree (which I mean as a compliment, by the way).

Boodles ($23), affectionately termed "proper English gin", has been around since 1847.  It's harder to find than Beefeater in run-of-the-mill liquor stores, but it's a more interesting version of gin along a similar old-school vein.  The recipe of aromatics and botanicals includes coriander, sage, cassia bark, nutmeg, rosemary, caraway, angelica root and juniper berries. It makes a great dry martini.

I am not including Bombay Sapphire, as I do not know that the hell that is.  Gin is not blue and should not taste like a bouquet from the grocery store.

The gins I keep buying again and again:

Disclaimer: I think gin should taste like you're sucking on a Christmas tree, and I don't mind if it burns a bit going down.

New Amsterdam ($16): this is a smoother, lighter version of a very affordable gin.  It's brighter in citrus overtones with a pretty subtle juniper flavor, and it's slightly creamy.  So, actually, this one does not taste like you're sucking on a Christmas tree, but I like it, anyway. Works just fine in G&Ts and is particularly delicious with grapefruit juice.

Gilbey's ($14): Made since 1857 in England, this is another piney, citrusy gin, but the pine is lighter, the citrus a little brighter, with just a touch or burn.  This, like all of the gins in this category, makes a good G&T or other citrusy cocktail. It's also quite nice in a gimlet or Negroni, because it's not too rough.

Gordon's ($12): Yes yes, I know you think this is getting into rot-gut territory, but it's actually a winner in the Huffington Post Gin and Tonic Taste Test.  And why?  Because it tastes like gin should: a mouthful of Christmas tree with just a little paint remover thrown in.  Just kidding, though the juniper flavor is pretty simplistic compared to Boodles or Beefeater.  Your martini might be a little rough, but the aforementioned cocktails will work just fine with this Grandpa-style gin.  I love it, actually, and am trying to stage a hipster-style comeback, ala PBR.

Seagram's ($12): I've seen this on a lot of "good budget gins" lists lately, and I haven't tried it since my grad school days in its birthplace of southern Indiana, but unless it's changed quite a bit since the early 00s, I say to you: no.  Just. No.