Friends, it’s time we have a little chat about gin, partly because gin is the least-understood bottle in the bar, and partly because it’s one of the most subtle and beguiling spirits available. Though it’s now heavily associated with the UK, gin was actually invented by the Dutch. They dubbed it jenever, a name that was promptly shortened by a drunken Englishman.
Gin’s secret shame, of course, is that it’s actually the world’s first flavored vodka—a neutral grain spirit that’s distilled a second time with juniper and other botanicals. In the days before vodka drinkers flooded the bar scene, gin used to be the most popular clear spirit on the planet. It’s classic. Timeless. And if you give it a chance, it’s likely to surprise you.
Here are a few insidery brands you ought to be drinking:
Sipsmith London Dry ($40/ 750ml bottle)
In 2009, a new copper-pot distillery opened in London for the first time in nearly 200 years. The gin made there is Sipsmith, and it’s one of only two London dry gins actually made in the English capital. Delicate, herbaceous and smooth, with a peppery finish that’ll make your taste buds stand at attention, it’s ideal for a Negroni or a traditional gin and tonic.
Broker’s Premium London Dry ($25/ 750ml bottle)
The brand has been around since 1998, but the recipe is reported to be more than 200 years old, and with age comes character. Broker’s has achieved wonderful balance between citrus and spice. It’s made in a copper pot still in a lovely place near Birmingham, England. Why the copper? Well, it absorbs undesirable sulfur-containing compounds, reduces bacterial contamination and has excellent heat transferring properties—and those old pot stills sure are nice to look at.
Plymouth ($34/ 750ml bottle)
This sharp and citrusy gin is the only one in the world with its own appellation contrôlée—Plymouth Dry. That means by law Plymouth gin may be produced only within the city of Plymouth in Southwest England. Many say it’s the water that makes Plymouth so tasty. The River Dart runs through peat over granite, imparting interesting minerals. Plus, they use only the highest-quality juniper berries that grow wild on Italian hillsides.
Prairie Organic Gin ($20/ 750ml bottle)
By current industry standards, no spirits roundup is complete without the inclusion of at least one organically produced brand. So here you have it, straight outta Minnesota. This is a good starter gin. Light-bodied, with subtle hints of juniper and lemon, it will mix unobtrusively in virtually any cocktail.
Monkey 47 ($45/ 375ml bottle)
Launched in Germany in 2010, this daedal gin is just now making its way to America. Made with an array of unusual botanicals (abelmoschus moschatus, anyone?) sourced from India and the Black Forest among other places, Monkey 47 is unlike any gin on market. With every sip, there are myriad flavors jostling for position on the palate, from rosemary to lavender to burnt evergreen. It’s a delightfully nontraditional gin that begs to be experimented with in cocktails (see recipe below). The brand has a trippy backstory too, and comes in an apothecary-style bottle you’ll want to keep after you’ve drained the last drop, which you can do with this cocktail.
Max and Monty
2 parts Monkey 47
½ part manzanilla sherry
½ part pineapple juice
½ part simple syrup
¼ part Bonal Gentiane Quina
Lemon slice, for garnish
Orange slice, for garnish
Add a single ice cube to a shaker, and combine all of the ingredients, except the lemon and orange slices. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with the lemon and orange slices.