My initial foray into gin started innocently back in 1993 when Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre released the historically relevant monster smash “Gin & Juice.” I was not all that familiar given my beer and vodka days but hey, the song was creating a ton of buzz and Snoop name dropped the type of gin he preferred in the song. Next thing you know, everyone at Johnson C. Smith University that was of drinking age [wink] was turning up cups of gin and orange juice. I believe we consumed so many drinks that challenged the depths of what juice you could use for gin that I eventually tired out and retired gin as a spirit in 1997. Boldly proclaiming that I would not return and I had moved on.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was attending a fundraiser and bumped into my man Scott. Now Scott knows his way around a good cocktail. When I looked at his tumbler and it was clear, I naturally assumed he was going with a vodka/tonic. Nope, he was in the gin game. Scott said, “Keith, you need to come back and give it another whirl.” Rightfully so, with some many upgrades and high-end distilleries with complex ingredients, gin has regained a small foothold in the cocktail arena.
The origins of gin are said to be in the middle ages after the discovery of juniper berries. Dutch, English, and Flemish distillers vie for credit on who did what first but it can be said that malt beverages with juniper were being used in pharmacies for a variety of ailments well into the 1800s. Gin additionally had a reputation of being a “poor mans” drink given the low price point and allowance of unlicensed production. Those days are over and gin is being created with new zeal and effort.
Gin is normally pot distilled or column distilled with the basic ingredients of fermented grain mash and then adding in other botanical extracts. While juniper is required, companies have been using citrus elements or spices to give their gin an extra boost. When it comes to storing and keeping gin, you can keep an open bottle with the cap on it for a couple years. Leave it on the shelf and come back to make a gin based drink.
Speaking of which, besides juice, gin cocktails are pretty-well known. It is said that the original martini did not contain vodka but gin. Gin and tonic is very popular along with the Tom Collins, Gin Fizz, Gimlet, the Singapore Sling, the French 75 and the reemerging Ramos Gin Fizz that takes 10 minutes to make with eggs.
Now that the weather is warming up, you can grab a bottle of gin and make cocktails that are cool and collected for sipping and relaxing. Light fare and appetizers of cheese or fish can pair well with a gin drink given the light and fruity notes from the spirit. I suggest doing a search for gin cocktails and trying some out. You will be very surprised at the breadth and length gin cocktails go.
I decided to get back on the gin train and seek out some of the good ones plus try to stack my bar. If you are going to do the same, I would suggest the following staples that have been consistent over the course of time:
Gin will not break the bank and each purchase will be around $25. I believe that many invited guests to your home will not immediately ask for gin or run straight to it given the sudden influence of flavored/infused vodkas. However, if you make a batch of gin drinks to start, I think that they will request it again. Most people need to be led to things they have never tried or long since forgotten. In my case, I walked away and closed that part of my palate off. But here’s to Scott and all the gin drinkers around the world! When Michael Jordan retired and came back to the league, he simply sent a fax. It read: I’m back.
Keith Cradle, Ph.D. (@mrcradle/@craftedwithcradle on IG/Twitter)