This month it’s Gin. Another summer slipping into fall sipping beverage. I like gin, but gin doesn’t like me. So, as with my tequila review, this review is late in the month. Have a martini and deal with it.

Origins and production
Gin originated, as far as anyone can prove, in the Netherlands in about the middle of the 17th century. It was originally made from barley in pot stills, like a whisky, and was heavier in character than what we consider gin today. Using barley in a pot still creates a heavier flavored alcohol. This type of pot still gin is what we now call ‘jenever’ or ‘genever’ and is still made.

Today however, genever or jenever, is most likely made from a number of mixed grains, barley, corn, rye, and wheat. This makes for the same heavier spirit at a lower cost. Jenever may also be made using fermented juniper berries and produces a much more sharply flavored spirit.

The goal of most modern gin distillers is to create a light, yet flavorful spirit, which is more appealing to most people’s palates and sells better as a result. Most distillers use rye or wheat, which creates a lighter spirit.

Gin, like vodka, starts as simply highly distilled neutral grain spirits. While vodka stays there, Gin has juniper berries, and other aromatic botanicals added to the spirit. What aromatics are used vary. I’ve read of bay leaves, coriander, cardamom, rosemary, sage, lemon, lime, orange peel, grapefruit peel, nutmeg, fresh and dried, all being used, and that’s only a partial list of what I can remember at the moment. Suffice to say, except for juniper berries, there is really no standard mix of aromatics across the board.

How these aromatics are used to make gin can vary. The easiest way to make gin is to simply add the aromatic botanicals to the gin in a vat, age, and then filter the gin prior to bottling. This takes longer however and results can be varied depending on the quality of the aromatics. This type of gin is called a “compound gin”.

The second method re-distills the gin after the aromatics have been added. This method is used since it produces good consistent results and is typical of many gins on the market. The distiller typically uses a continuous still for two distillations, producing a highly refined alcohol, and a pot still for a final distillation with the aromatic botanicals. The alcohol evaporates as it’s heated in the pot still, and then is conducted through a box filled with the aromatics. This extracts the oils in the aromatics and produces a spirit with fewer impurities, resulting in much cleaner tasting liquor.

Gin is found in different styles, just as Scotch can vary due to regional preferences, geography, and resources available. The jenever mentioned above is one style, and the most popular style of gin is called “London Dry Gin”. This is made using the second distillation method mentioned above. Examples of this style are Beefeaters, Bellringer, Bombay, Boodles, Tanquray, etc…

Plymouth Gin is a brand name as well as a style of gin. Essentially made with the same process as London Dry Gin but it uses a different blend of aromatics and is heavier in taste, with more fruitiness. Plymouth gin is made at the Black Friars Monastery and is the oldest operating distillery in Britain.

American gins are similar to London Dry gins, but tend to be even lighter in flavor and are lower in proof to be more palatable. A good example of this type of gin is Seagram’s Dry gin.

But the common ingredient in all is juniper, and other aromatics to flavor and balance the juniper, as the producer believes will be palatable and flavorful and most importantly, will sell.

Spreading the word.
Gin may have originated in the Netherlands, but it owes its growth and spread to the British. William and Mary abolished taxes on locally produced spirits to slow the importation of brandy into Britain, and it’s said that over ¼ of households in London were producing gin as a result. Public drunkenness was rampant and a pint of gin was cheaper than a pint of beer.

And where the British went, so did their Gin. The United States in the early days of the colonies drank a lot of imported gin, in addition to the locally produced rums, beers, and ciders. The British Navy (in addition to the better known British Navy rum) also consumed gin in quantity. Gin was used to mask the flavor of the quinine in tonic water to prevent Malaria in tropical countries. So, if you drink gin and tonics, you owe a toast to Malaria for creating that drink in your hand.

Gin faded in and out of popularity through the years. In Britain, gin was once considered low class, and rebounded in favor with Winston Churchill in the 20th century. James Bond helped gin rebound in popularity again in the 1960’s as well with his ordering of a martini “shaken, not stirred”.

In the United States, gin had faded in popularity to the rise of bourbon and rum, in the early days of the country, and once again became very popular in the United States due to prohibition in the 1920’s. Raw alcohol was easy to make and adding aromatics helped to hide the dreadful over all quality of the alcohol. The term “bathtub gin” originated from this era when compound gin was made in bathtubs.

Cocktails were invented to hide the quality of the alcohol served in speakeasies. This established the spread of the cocktail in the USA, where cocktails are still more popular than in other parts of the world. Gin again rebounded in the late 1990’s in the USA due to the spread of the martini craze.

Spain is perhaps the largest consumer per person of gin in the world, although gin is once again popular in most Western countries. The top consuming countries of gin are Spain, the United States, Canada, and Britain. Although, I’ve read gin and cola is the preferred mix in Spain. Blech to that mix!

Tasting - where the alcohol hits the taste buds.
These are gins that I consider A) good enough to drink from the freezer, on the rocks alone with no or few other additives, or B) gins that mix extremely well and are easily available. See the individual notes on each gin for where each falls in categorization.

Notes for all these gins.

I think gin, like vodka, should be kept in the freezer. If you don’t keep it there, shame on you.

Second, like most food and drink, the ‘balance of flavors’ is important. To my taste buds, this is readily apparent in gin, much more so than other spirits I’ve reviewed. Aged spirits tend to find a balance when aged properly unless they are just badly made. Hence with Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Bourbon, the mellowing due to aging takes down the sharpness of flavors and alcohol bite to a great degree, while it adds flavors via the wood barrel, and develops the strengths and diminishes the weak points of the liquor.

Since gin is not aged, it’s readily apparent to the drinker when flavors are not in balance. While juniper is the main flavor component, it should not overwhelm your tastebuds. Keep that in mind when trying out a gin. Look for flavors besides the pine - resin flavor that juniper imparts.

Color: Clear
Nose: It’s Gin, all right. Heavy Juniper, very slight licorice/anise, lavender
Mouth: Light bodied
Taste: Juniper, floral notes, and some alcohol bite
Finish: Sharp, short, more juniper
Note: A good mixer, nothing really great. So why do I include it? Because it’s a good mixer and is readily available almost everywhere. A decent quality low priced gin for keeping around the house, makes a good gin and tonic, plays well with citrus juices.

Color: Clear
Nose: Mild juniper nose, some fruit
Mouth: Light bodied
Taste: Clean, crisp, mild juniper, some citrus emerges.
Finish: Medium to long.
Note: This is a very versatile gin, best from the freezer, it makes a very subtle and excellent martini. Not as strongly flavored as most gins, it’s 94 proof, and the flavors are well balanced and mix well. Great with a drop of bitters, or a twist of lemon or lime. Works well with tonic, too good to mix with lemonade or orange juice.

I’d buy this over any other gin near the same price point, or even a few more expensive gins at twice the cost.

Color: Clear
Nose: Citrus, spicy, well balanced
Mouth: Light to medium bodied
Taste: Smooth, well-balanced juniper to citrus herbal overtones.
Finish: Medium to long
Note: A very, very good on the rocks, martini, or freezer gin. A few drops of bitters or a twist are wonderful. A garlic stuffed olive works well too. Well-balanced in aroma and flavor. This standard Bombay, and it’s big brother, Sapphire, are gins that do deserve the status they have as top shelf bottles.

Bombay Sapphire
Color: Clear
Nose: Juniper, Bitter orange, spicy herbal notes
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Pungent, lots of juniper, then balanced out by bitter orange -citrus fruit
Finish: Medium finish, more juniper, bitter orange-citrus
Note: This is excellent gin, but it gives me a nasty headache, so I avoid more than a few sips. Versatile like regular Bombay, keep it in the freezer, serve it on the rocks, or in a martini. Add a twist or olive if you prefer, but nothing more.

Color: Clear
Nose: Citrus, floral notes, spicy, juniper
Mouth: Medium bodied
Taste: Juniper, then lots of citrus, spice, flowery
Finish: More of the same, slightly oily, medium length
Note: This is another very versatile (balanced in nose and flavor) gin. Makes a wonderful gin and tonic, plays well with other liquors for cocktails, and is good all alone on the rocks. Along with Bellringer, this makes my high value quality for the dollar list. I’d buy this over some of the more expensive gins on the market for my own cabinet.

Color: Clear
Nose: Juniper, slight floral- lavender hints
Mouth: Light bodied
Taste: Juniper, floral notes, alcohol bite in the back of the mouth
Finish: Sharp, short, more juniper and bite
Note: Like Beefeaters, a good budget mixer, readily available almost everywhere. Another pretty good mixing gin for keeping around the house.

Color: Clear
Nose: Juniper, mixed with an herbal spiciness, fruity overtones and floral notes
Mouth: Light to medium body
Taste: Strong juniper, then mild fruit and cucumber emerge in the background with a hint of roses.
Finish: Medium to long. Strong juniper and then crisp fruit, cucumber, and floral notes come out, a very slight heat.
Note: This is a mixer, but a very good mixer. Makes a very good martini, and works well on the rocks with a small twist. Don’t use any citrus juices with this one. What I do recommend is a slice of cucumber in place of an olive, or any floral flavoring you think matches to roses with a small twist of lemon. A slight splash of bitters is good but be careful not to add too much.

Plymouth Gin
Color: Clear
Nose: Juniper dominates, then some citrus spicy notes
Mouth: Slight bite, light to medium bodied
Taste: Juniper, citrus, some spicy hints, and more juniper
Finish: Medium to long, hint of bite, more juniper
Note: This is a very well balanced gin. Notice that I say balanced in many notes? And I tend to recommend those as gin to try and buy? This is one of those. This is a very, very good gin for sipping on the rocks, mixed with tonic water or seltzer with lemon or lime, or martini use.

Color: Clear
Nose: Juniper with slightly fruity citrus notes
Mouth: light to medium bodied
Taste: Strong juniper, then citrus, clean and sharp flavors
Finish: Medium length, warm finish
Note: A great all around gin, the usually spotted “call gin” in most bars. Good on the rocks or from the freezer. A splash of bitters is wonderful. Tanqueray is distilled 4 times, so it is very clean tasting. Tanqueray is considered by many to be to be rather mundane. Part of the reason for that is that it is found almost everywhere and so is considered common and not all that good as a result. That opinion is wrong, nothing mundane or common about Tanqueray, this is good quality booze.

Tanqueray Rangpur Gin
Color: Clear
Nose: Fruit wins over the juniper, strong citrus notes, herbal savory notes, slight bite of alcohol.
Mouth: light to medium body
Taste: Sweet, tangy lime citrus, juniper, herbal notes of ginger, bay leaves emerge with some mild heat.
Finish: medium long, more lime and herbal notes linger, hint of bite
Note: This gin is best when kept in the freezer. Very refreshing if you like tart drinks. Best on the rocks to keep it chilled and to my taste buds, get the best flavor balance. Very good mixed with tonic or seltzer with a lime or lemon squeeze. Not the first choice for a martini in my book. At room temperature, it’s not pleasant at all. Despite that last negative bit, I’ll keep a bottle in the freezer during summer for hot weather sipping.

Q (Quintessential Gin)
Color: Clear
Nose: Smooth clean floral, some juniper, slight alcohol bite
Mouth: Light to medium body
Taste: Juniper, flowers – lavender- slight metallic hints. Then more citrus smoothes and balances it all out.
Finish: Medium, metallic flavors, citrus hints, very smooth finish
Note: I first tasted this in a little shop south of San Diego, where the owner had just done a tasting and offered to share some of the tasting bottles with me since we hit it off talking about booze. This gin is very smooth, but the balance of flavor is somewhat odd. This is one of the gins I’d pass by for a bottle of Boodles or Bellringer. But if you want smooth over flavor balance, this one works best with a drop of bitters on the rocks or in a martini with a good amount of vermouth.