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.