I Hate Gin!
Bushwa! You got stupid drunk on cheap, bottom shelf gin in college and now you hate the stuff. Can’t bear the thought of gin. It smells like aftershave and tastes of antiseptic. Fair enough. You got off on the wrong foot. Forget, if you can, that bottle of poison which was slightly worse than shellac remover and let us try again.
Unlike whisky, gin is not meant to be taken neat without any sort of mixer. Even scotch and American whiskeys benefit from a splash of water, but we’ll talk about that in a later post. Gin, generally, needs something more than just a splash of water. There are several brands of gin out there which can be enjoyed on their own but, for my money, they are better mixed.
One reason many people claim they dislike gin is the strong scent and taste of juniper one finds in a London dry style of gin. Therefore a gin and tonic or martini is probably not the best way to reintroduce you to the glories of gin. Juniper (and the myriad other botanicals you find in a quality gin) will be toned down in most mixed drinks and marry with the other flavors in the cocktail. Gin-based cocktails can either be spirit forward, where the gin takes center stage, or it can be just another member of the chorus line. Occasionally (but rarely) gin will play a supporting role to the other ingredients. Gin likes to be front and center, the star of the show and the belle of the ball and, if treated with respect, will not throw a tantrum and kick you in the stomach.
Knowing that juniper puts some people off, many producers are now toning down the juniper in favor of more citrus and other flavors. Gin and vodka start out very similarly after the first distillation. If the distillers aren’t careful with this citrus trend, they are going to come very close to blurring the line between gin and vodka and that’s a bad thing. That being said, there are still plenty of very good gins out there that don’t taste of aftershave. Old Tom style gins have a very slight sweetness to them that mellows out the other flavors. The recipes are generally based on 19th century formulas and have a different flavor profile from their 20th (and 21st) century offspring. In a similar vein, but usually without the sweetness, are newer proprietary gins like Hendricks (made in Scotland) and other small batch gins made here in the U.S. These gins tend to be softer in character and you have to be careful that the other cocktail ingredients do not gang up on them and take away their lunch money.
The following recipe features gin as the primary player, but is by no means the only one on stage. This cocktail has a fairly complex flavor profile with the spiciness of the bitters playing against the sweetness of the curaçao and the botanicals of the gin. The small amount of lime juice is just enough to keep the drink from becoming too heavy.
Pegu Club Cocktail
2 oz Gin (your pick)
1 oz Orange Curaçao (Grand Marnier)
1 teaspoon Fresh Lime Juice
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
1 dash of Orange Bitters
Stir with ice until cold and strain into chilled cocktail glass. For a slightly less voluminous version use 1 ½ oz of gin and ¾ oz of curaçao.
I told you that gin was a great mixer. Embrace the gin!
I found a variation of the Pegu Club in Ted Haigh’s book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.
1 ½ oz Gin
½ oz Cointreau
¾ oz Lime Juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
This is quite a departure from the original, though the concept is the same. The amount of lime juice has been increased dramatically, so the sweeter Cointreau replaces the curacao and the orange bitters are dropped completely. Try them both and see what you prefer. Either way, it’s a great gin-based cocktail.