Here in Seattle we're having an on again/off again affair with sunshine and temps over 70, but we are firmly into gin weather. My cocktail year is broken up into the gin seasons of spring and summer, and the whiskey seasons of fall and winter. Not that I don't love other spirits (rum and tequila are year round for me), but I'm surrounded by craft distillers who make some of the most amazing gins and whiskeys so I tend to reach for those. When fall comes around we'll talk about whiskey, but for now I want to encourage everyone to restock their gins.
Now, maybe you're one of those who think gin tastes like Pine-Sol and lighter fluid. To which I say, I'm sorry you've only ever had the really cheap stuff (not to be confused with inexpensive). Gin is the original flavored vodka, and as such has a wildly varied set of flavors and smells depending on the herbs and process used. In general, there are two kinds of gin: Compound gin and Distilled gin. Compound gin is made by soaking aromatics (juniper berries and other herbs/spices/flowers) in vodka and then straining out the solids. They tend to be harsh, so I generally don't recommend them. Most of the commercial gins worth drinking take this Compound gin and redistill it to remove impurities and enhance the taste. These Distilled gins can be all manner of delicious.
All gins must contain juniper and, at least in America, they can be no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume). Since those are the only rules that a spirit has to abide by to be called gin, that leaves loads of room for creativity. Most gins will fall under either the London Dry style of gin or the American style of gin. Both are delicious, and both have their place in your home bar.
London Dry style gins are characterized by their robust flavor profiles with lots of resinous juniper, mineraly coriander, and bold spices like cassia bark and cloves. A good London Dry gin should remind you of a culinary garden mixed with a medieval pharmacopeia. Some of my favorite local London Dry style gins are put out by Fremont Mischief, Sun Liquor, Copperworks, and Sound Spirits. These gins are phenomenal in a classic gin and tonic, and pair spectacularly with flavors like our Strawberries n Champagne or Blood Orange.
American style gins are softer with a less assertive juniper note and more citrus and floral notes. Some can even be quite sweet, with flavors of custard and baked goods. A good American style gin should remind you of an English garden in summer, with culinary herbs and flowers in abundance, and just a touch of earthiness. A few local favorites include Seattle Distilling, Oola, and the Spy Hop gins put out by San Juan Island Distillery. I love gins like this in cocktails where I want to highlight softer flavors, like in our Simply Rhubarb or Lemon Lavender shrubs.
But of course I can't just encourage you to go visit the local distilleries and not give you a delicious way to use your new gins. So here are two cocktails for you to try out. One is better with the London Dry style gins, and one is more geared toward and American style gin. I named them after my two favorite dames.
Dame Judi Dench
1 ounce Blood Orange shrub
1.5 ounces London Dry style gin
.5 ounces Cocchi Americano
Put all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake well, about 20 seconds or until the outside of the shaker is well frosted. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist. Sip and revel in your elegant badassness.
Dame Helen Mirren
.75 ounce Apricot Cardamom shrub
1 ounce American style gin
Cava or other sparkling white wine
In a shaker with ice, combine the shrub and the gin. Shake well, about 20 seconds or until the outside of the shaker is well frosted. Strain into a chilled coupe and top with Cava. Sip and revel in your elegant badassness.
Spring is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest. The trees are wearing their best blossoms, lilacs are budding, and bees are out and about collecting pollen to make delicious honey. I also know it's fully Spring because my cocktail preferences have switched from whiskey based cocktails to gin based ones. One of my favorite gin based cocktails is the Bee's Knees. If you've never had one, it's a sweet/tart/herbaceous blend of gin, lemon juice and honey that tastes like the beginning of the season. I highly recommend trying one at the next possible moment.
I suspect it was the timing of the Service Industry Night at The Barrel Thief in Fremont that inspired the Queen Bee. I had the opportunity to showcase The Shrubbery at SIN and I wanted to give guests an opportunity to try two different cocktails, that incorporated two different shrubs. We settled on a rye cocktail that riffs on the Scofflaw, and a rhubarb enhanced Bee's Knees.
I Fought The Law, made with our Lemon Honey Rosemary shrub, is a tasty blend of dry vermouth, rye whiskey and shrub. It's on the savory side of shrub based cocktails, owing to the rye and the tartness of the lemons, and I thought it was the perfect sip for the slightly chill weather we had that night. But my dreams of spring were pinned on the Queen Bee, and it does not disappoint.
For this cocktail you'll want to break out your softer gins, as opposed to a classic London Dry style. Rhubarb is a delicate flavor profile and a more aggressive gin will mask it. I'm a fan of several of our Seattle local craft gins, and highly recommend Seattle Distilling, OOLA, or Copperworks for this. But if you're not in Seattle and don't have access to those, Hendricks gin or Bombay Sapphire would likely also be quite lovely in this.
Beyond the gin, you will also need freshly pressed lemon juice and honey syrup (put 2 parts honey and 1 part water in a sauce pot and heat just until the honey fully dissolves, cool fully and store in an airtight container). If you don't have a citrus press you can use freshly squeezed lemon juice, but the presser will impart some of the citrus peel oils into the mix and I find that adds another level of flavor which makes home cocktails taste more like the ones you find at your favorite bar.
Here then is how you make a Queen Bee:
1.5 ounces gin
.75 ounce Simply Rhubarb shrub
.5 ounce Honey Syrup
.5 ounce lemon juice
Put everything into a shaker with ice and shake until well chilled, about 15-20 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass and topp with ice. Garnish with half a lemon wheel.