I read a lot of blogs. I read about fashion , food, D.C. city living, and about 100 other subjects. So when 3 different blogs manage to highlight gin within one week, I knew I needed to give this herbal libation a try. In typical Emilie fashion, though, I needed to do some research first. Here is what I learned:
Gin originated in Holland as a medicinal drink for stomach ailments. It is a neutral grain spirit, similar to vodka, which is then flavored with juniper berries and a mixture of other herbs and botanicals. In fact, the word gin is short for genievre, the Dutch word for juniper. The botanicals used will vary based on the brand of gin you are sipping, which will create taste differences between brands. These differences will be subtle and rarely affect the taste of a drink mixed with other strong flavors such as fruit juices. The differences will be truly noticeable only in the simplest of gin drinks: the gin martini, gin & tonic, or the Rickey (Washington, D.C.’s official cocktail).
When you are ready to graduate to these simple clean drinks, you will want to really focus on which gin you prefer. This is when it will become important to know about the 3 main types of gin: London Dry, Plymouth, and Genever.
London dry gin is the most common type of gin. In addition to the standard addition of juniper, London dry gins will also contain lemon and/or bitter orange peels. Commonly known examples are Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, and Tanqueray No. TEN.
Plymouth gin can only be produced in Plymouth, England (sort of like Bordeaux wine can only be made in Bordeaux, France and it is called meritage wine everywhere else). The main difference between London dry and Plymouth gin is that Plymouth gin omits the lemon and/or bitter orange giving it a sweeter flavor. Plymouth (http://www.plymouthgin.com/original/) is also the brand name of the only remaining distillery allowed to make Plymouth gin.
The final main type is Genever gin. Genever gin is the Dutch version of gin and is typically made from malted grain mash (similar to whiskey) and has a less dominant juniper flavor. Bols and Genevieve are relatively popular Genever gin brands.
A fourth, and less accessible gin (in the U.S. at least, our British readers are more fortunate) is Old Tom gin, available only in the U.K. Old Tom Gin distinguishes itself from London dry gin by the addition of simple syrup.
Once I’d done as much research as I could, it was time to actually start trying different brands of gin. I’m lucky that I have a bar where everyone (well the bartenders, and really they are all that matter) knows my name. So I convinced a friend to join me, we sidled up to the bar, and I said “Danny, I want to like gin.” Throughout the evening I tried Hendricks, Tanquray, Bombay Sapphire, and Gordon’s London dry. I stuck with basic gin and tonic so that I could taste the differences between the brands. All of them were good, with my favorites being Hendricks and Bombay Sapphire. Danny made me promise that I try the Hendricks with muddled cucumber while sitting on a porch during the hottest day in August, so I have something to look forward to this summer.
In the meantime, I shook up this twist on the gin fizz, adding muddle strawberries and mint to the lemon, sugar, club soda of the original recipe. Here, the strawberries will work well gins but not mask the complex flavor of the higher end gins (such as Bombay Sapphire, which I used). The mint also highlights the herbal flavor of gin, and marries well with the sweetness of the strawberries. Enjoy!
Strawberry-Mint Gin Fizz
½ cup chopped strawberries
5 large mint leaves
2-3 teaspoons sugar
Juice from a large lemon (about 1 ounce)
3 ounces London dry gin
1) Place strawberries and sugar in cocktail shaker and let sit for a few minutes to create a sugary syrup. Tear up mint leaves and add to shaker. Muddle strawberries and mint.
2) Add ice to cocktail shaker. Pour lemon juice and gin into shaker.
3) Shake vigorously, until the cocktail shaker frosts on the outside.
4) Strain drink into 2 highball glasses with a little ice, top with club soda and stir gently to mix.
5) Garnish with mint or a small strawberry and serve.