With an appreciation for cocktails and the history behind them comes an innate appreciation for gin. “There’s little room for doubt that gin is the ‘great spirit’ when it comes to crafting cocktails,” says John Parra, general manager of Fox Liquor Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina. He explains that gin is rewarding to work with in cocktails because it’s “a two-sided coin”: both versatile and distinctive, able to blend well with most ingredients, while maintaining its own bold flavor profile.
“Gin is unlike any other spirit—it was made to be mixed in cocktails, not to stand alone,” says Mike Mills, bar manager and beverage director at Butcher and the Rye in Pittsburgh and consultant for Philadelphia Distilling Co.’s Bluecoat gin. “It demands other ingredients to enhance the botanicals inside that are just waiting to be released.” He notes that the recent boom in gin production has only added to the enjoyment of creating gin tipples. “It’s very exciting to have so many different gins at your disposal, and they all have unique flavor profiles, which means drinks-making is that much more challenging and rewarding.”
This rise of gin production, coupled with the proliferation of craft mixology, has led the juniper spirit to experience new heights of popularity. “Gin has made such a surge in the last decade, trickling down from high-profile, low-volume craft cocktail bars to more mainstream, high-volume, mid-market outlets,” says Philip Duff, director of Liquid Solutions Bar & Beverage Consulting and consultant for G’Vine gin. Indeed, craft cocktails are no longer found only at high-end mixology venues: Restaurants and even nightclubs have caught on to the rising trend, which has allowed gin’s popularity to spread from cocktail connoisseurs to just about any type of drinker.
Though gin’s prevalence in bars and among industry professionals is indisputable, bartenders and gin producers agree that many consumers need some encouragement when it comes to gin. However, they believe that educating their guests and turning them into gin fans is part of the fun. “I love it when people tell me they don’t like gin,” says Melody Faraday, bar manager at Bar Argos in Ithaca, New York. “I like changing their minds. I can make a gin drinker out of pretty much anyone.”
At Steuben’s in Denver, bar manager Ryan Layman has also noticed hesitation from his bar patrons when it comes to gin. “Gin can be intimidating or too powerful for some people,” he explains. “When I’m asked to make a cocktail of my choice and I use gin, the response is almost always ‘I don’t ever drink gin, but this is surprisingly great!’ People just need one good experience with gin and then they’re hooked.”
Many mixologists and bartenders nationwide have made it their mission to spread the gospel of gin. “Introducing new guests to a wonderfully crafted classic gin cocktail is something I look forward to every day,” Butcher and the Rye’s Mills says. “If we as bartenders continue to demystify those preconceived notions about gin, then the future for vodka may look very bleak.”
For drinkers unfamiliar with gin, the idea of a juniper-based spirit can seem unappealing, but many bartenders are exposing drinkers to cocktails that prove gin is so much more than just juniper. “Though gin, at its root, is juniper-flavored, it’s also enhanced with any number of botanicals, such as coriander, citrus peel, anise, angelica root and others,” Fox Liquor Bar’s Parra says. “Gin can have citrus, herbal, bitter, floral and vegetal notes.” He explains that this range of flavors is what allows gin to pair with so many different ingredients. “Even a very cursory exposure to gin and its various styles shows that just about any flavor profile—citrus, fruit, spice, bitter, sweet—or cocktail style—shaken, stirred, on crushed ice—works well with gin,” Parra adds.
Jaren Singh, portfolio mixologist for Nolet Spirits USA, concurs that the wide range of gins on the market today is a major factor in gin’s versatility. “The gin category allows for more diversity than most traditional white spirits, and these variations spill over into the cocktails that are made with gin,” he says. “The classic gin cocktail continues to evolve with modern interpretations, such as Dean Hurst’s Strawberry Clover Club at Epicurean Hotel’s Elevage restaurant in Tampa, Florida.” The drink ($10) comprises Nolet’s Silver Dry gin, lemon juice, strawberry syrup and egg white. Another twist on a classic, the Nolet’s Silver New Fashioned, was developed for the brand by New York City mixologist John McCarthy. The cocktail features Nolet’s Silver Dry with honey syrup and Regans’ Orange bitters. Though whiskey is the traditional base for an Old Fashioned, gin works in this recipe to create a crisper variation.
“Gin is so unique because the introduction of different herbs and botanicals can vary the flavor and body of the gin so vastly,” Bar Argos’ Faraday explains. “So many things work well with gin, but it really depends on which gin you want to work with and what is used in its flavor infusion. Hendrick’s, for example, has cucumber and rose in the mix with botanicals like coriander, elderflower and caraway. You can pick any number of those components to bring forward.” Her Wax Poetic cocktail ($10) combines Hendrick’s with Cynar amaro, house-made lavender limoncello, simple syrup, lemon juice and a house-made Herbes de Provence tincture.
Parra agrees that knowing your gins well is integral in crafting a well-balanced gin cocktail. “A robust and workhorse London dry gin like Beefeater can stand up to the sweet vermouth and Campari in a Negroni, where a softer and more subtly nuanced gin may lose its voice. The reason any one style of gin works well in a cocktail rather than another completely depends on its character and the character of the other ingredients.” The Sageside Cocktail ($11), created by Fox Liquor Bar bartender Angela Allen, features Hayman’s Old Tom gin—a style of gin that’s on the sweeter side—paired with St-Germain elderflower liqueur, simple syrup, lime juice and fresh sage leaves.
Depending on the ingredients mixed with gin in a cocktail, there’s a balanced drink for any preference, from fruity and refreshing to savory and herbal. “I often pair gin with bright citrus flavors like grapefruit and lemon,” Butcher and the Rye’s Mills says. “Mixing gin with fresh herbs and tea also works very well. If you’re using fresh ingredients, you can’t go wrong.” His Never Been Kissed cocktail blends Bluecoat gin with Damson gin liqueur, lemon juice, lavender-infused agave nectar and egg white.
“Sweet liqueurs, citrus and herbs like mint and basil almost always complement any style of gin, be it London dry or Old Tom,” says Layman of Steuben’s. The bar’s Punch in the Mouth ($10), created by bartender Sam Trojanovich, features CapRock Organic gin, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, Leopold Bros. New England Cranberry liqueur, lime juice, simple syrup and mint. “The inherent botanic and citrus elements of gin make it not only easy but adventurous to work with. The complexity of the spirit really shines when mixed with complementary ingredients.”
Many of today’s mixologists care just as much about the freshness of their ingredients as chefs do. Mixologist and beverage consultant Jonathan Pogash points to his seasonal variations on the classic Southside, which is made with Van Gogh gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda and mint. “The Southside is one of my favorite gin cocktails—it’s Mojito-like but a tad lighter and more herbaceous with gin,” he says. “I like playing around with seasonal fruits, adding strawberries in the spring and early summer; fresh raspberries or peaches in mid-to-late summer; apples, pears or cranberries in the fall; and maple syrup and cinnamon in the winter.”
The growth of consumer interest in cocktail history is indicative of a larger desire for products that have a sense of craft and artisanship—products into which someone put care, time and thoughtfulness. Gin particularly benefits from this consumer trend because of its prominent role in pre-Prohibition cocktail recipes. “The classics endure because they thoughtfully and skillfully enhance the essence of gin’s character, using ingredients like citrus juices, bitters, various vermouths, liqueurs, aperitivos and amaros,” Fox Liquor Bar’s Parra says. He seeks inspiration from these classic recipes for his own concoctions, such as the Don’t Call Me Yella ($11), featuring Plymouth gin, Galliano L’Autentico sweet herbal liqueur, Cointreau orange liqueur and lemon juice. At Butcher and the Rye, Mills’ Rose from the Dead ($11) is made with hibiscus-infused Bluecoat, Vieux Carré absinthe, Cocchi Americano Rosa aperitivo, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and Fee Brothers Plum bitters.
For G’Vine, a grape-based gin from Cognac, France, Duff created the Floral Martini, with G’Vine Floraison gin, Noilly-Prat dry vermouth, Esprit de June liqueur and Regans’ Orange bitters. “Adhering to the classic 1906 definition of a cocktail as a mix of alcohol, water, sugar and bitters, the Floral Martini recalls the days when cocktails were proper: fine gin, cold ice, artisanal liqueurs and vermouths, and the delicious bite of cocktail bitters,” he says.
Though gin is praised for its versatility, it still takes a certain amount of skill to create a balanced gin cocktail—something to which today’s consumer flocks: well-created, thoughtfully composed products. Meanwhile, genever—gin’s predecessor—is finding its own way into the cocktail spotlight. “There’s a significant demand among both bartenders and consumers for spirits with a story, a heritage and authenticity,” says Jaron Berkhemer, marketing director for Lucas Bols USA. “Bols started making genever in 1664 and put an unprecedented degree of passion and skill into the production process, which we still maintain today. As the premium gin category is currently growing, both bartenders and consumers are taking a closer look at its origins, and they inevitably encounter the starting point of it all: genever.”
With a bolder and maltier character than many gin brands, genever is building a strong presence in tiki cocktails—another booming trend—that feature bright fruit juices and ingredients like tea and herbal liqueurs. The Pallansena Punch, created by the Bols Bartending Academy team, blends Bols genever with Galliano L’Autentico, Bortolomiol Prosecco, Dilmah green tea, pineapple syrup and lemon juice. Fox Liquor Bar’s Rotterdam Swizzle ($11), created by bartender Garrett Waddell, features Bols genever, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum liqueur, Cointreau, lime juice, muddled strawberries and Peychaud’s bitters.
As consumer demand for craft products grows, so does interest in locally made offerings—and yet again gin forges the way on this trend. “The recent cocktail resurgence has led to a renaissance in the crafting of local, artisanal gins,” Fox Liquor Bar’s Parra says. “People all around the country are, more than ever, celebrating the many products distinctive to their region, from food to wine to beer, and so we see the proliferation of regional, artisanal spirits as a natural next step in this evolution. Gin is quickly becoming more local, more nuanced and is even beginning to boast a sense of terroir.”
While cocktails certainly require a high level of skill, gin itself is a handcrafted spirit, with producers choosing among different botanicals and ingredients to create a unique expression. Though London dry styles must adhere to specific regulations, modern and Western gins have very few limitations—and a growing number of these types of gin are appearing on the market. “I’m a big fan of new Western-style gins,” Layman of Steuben’s says. “They’re generally less juniper-forward, with a higher presence of citrus and floral botanicals. Leopold Bros. American Small Batch gin and Hendrick’s are two of my absolute favorites.” His Monkey Business cocktail ($10) features Leopold Bros., Lillet Blanc aperitif and Fernet Branca amaro. “I see a lot of gins showcasing the region of the world in which they are distilled. For instance, Terroir gin from St. George Distillery in Northern California is distilled with Douglas fir and coastal sage, giving the drinker a unique experience,” Layman adds.
At Chicago restaurant MK, The Early Harvest ($13) features St. George Botanivore gin, The Bitter Truth Apricot liqueur, and lemon, carrot and ginger juices. “Gin gives distilleries the opportunity to make a product that people are familiar with, but they do it in their own way and put their clear signature on the finished product,” notes MK bar program director Michael Hogan.
Though London dry gins still certainly have their place on the back bar, bartenders and consumers alike enjoy supporting their local producers. “There’s a fabulous locally produced gin that I back strongly called Myer Farm,” Bar Argos’ Faraday says. “It’s a self-distributed, organically farmed, small-production product from Ovid, New York. People really dig that—they like to feel loved by their beverage and having those craft features really aids that.” Her Flora & Fauna cocktail ($10) highlights Myer Farm gin mixed with clover honey simple syrup, lime juice and house-made flower bitters. “The gin has clear citrus notes with a great cinnamon spice to it,” she notes.
As a spirit with historical relevance, craft appeal, and a distinct and nuanced character, gin delivers—and today’s consumer, more than perhaps ever before, has taken note. “People are drinking differently,” Fox’s Parra says. “Our collective palate craves new and more character-driven gustatory experiences, and our choice to drink gin expresses a natural stage in our maturation.” And with the category showing no signs of slowing, it’s safe to say the future of gin is bright. “We’ve all watched the market explode over the past several years and this is just the beginning for gin,” Faraday says. “It’s only up from here.”