Food

Spirit guide: Gins with character make for classy cocktails

June 13, 2012 at 1:19 PM ET

Courtesy of The Optimist /
There are now more varieties of gin on the market and cocktail menus are exploding with offerings using the spirit.

With new styles of gin hitting the market, drinkers can no longer be separated into those who like it and those who don't. Defined simply as alcohol flavored with juniper and other botanicals, gin now comes from producers ranging from the makers of peaty Islay Scotch to American artisans with a taste for bracing overproof spirits.

“With gin the sky’s the limit and that’s one of the reasons it’s become so popular,” says Priscilla Young, bar manager at the Mandarin Oriental’s new Brasserie S&P, which soft-opened in San Francisco this week with 34 selections on the menu. Unlike other spirits like scotch or mezcal, there are very loose guidelines when it comes to making gin. The base can be nearly anything—London Dry Gins are typically made from wheat while Holland’s genever gins use fermented barley or rye and still other types start with grapes, sugar cane or even apple.

Most gins require no aging, which also means it's easier for producers to experiment and release new products quickly. Even restaurants and bars are making proprietary batches. Young hopes to blend one that caters directly to her palate, something “dry and citrus-driven.”

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While Young created many new cocktails for S&P, her menu highlights the incredible gin list by focusing on two classic cocktails: the martini and the gin and tonic. Customers mix-and-match gins with vermouths and house-made tonics, though there are suggested combinations. Her current favorite is the Indian Summer in Mt. Tam: fresh and anise-inflected St. George Terroir Gin with saffron-infused tonic water.

Spirit guide

Here, a few of Young’s favorite gins at S&P and more bars where you can find them.

Oxley gin

"Instead of bringing the temperature up during distillation, they bring it down to below freezing," says Young of this English Dry Gin infused with 14 botanicals. Cold distillation keeps Oxley light and clean tasting with floral and citrus notes. "Give me that on the rocks with a grapefruit twist and I’m a happy girl,” she adds.

Where to find it in New York:1534. The French Colonial-themed bar uses Oxley in the Wakea, a lightly sweet and subtle variation on an Aviation cocktail. The drink combines Oxley with lavender syrup, lemon, maraschino liqueur and dry Champagne.

St. George Terroir gin

“I’m really partial to St. George, I carry all of their gins," notes Young. "One that is extremely different is their 'Terroir.' Inspired by aromas found in California's coastal forests, the West Coast gin is infused with native botanicals like bay laurel, sage and Douglas fir.

Where to find it in Napa:Goose & Gander. Here, the refreshing Coastal Pimm’s Cup highlights Terroir’s woodland notes with lemon, cucumbers, bitters, soda water and Pimm’s #1. The herbal cocktail is topped with locally-sourced bay leaves, fennel and borage flowers.

Silvertip gin

The name of this Montana-made gin comes from the process by which it's produced. “It’s distilled using only the silver tips of the juniper [leaves]," Young explains. "A husband and wife team make it in small batches and all the botanicals they grow in their own garden. It has notes of Thai basil—it’s a bit more herbaceous and earthy.”

Where to find it in D.C.:The Hamilton. A take on a French 75, the French 14th (named for the restaurant's street address) blends the smooth and aromatic Silvertip with lemon juice and Prosecco as a sweeter alternative to traditional dry Champagne.

The Botanist Islay gin: The peaty, Islay gin is made by Bruichladdich, a top Scotch producer. "They highlight the chamomile and not many gins use chamomile," Young says. "When I saw that I thought instantly that it’s appropriate for the Mandarin because of their amazing tea program.”

Where to find it in Pittsburgh:Legume. This restaurant's Pickled Gibson offsets The Botanist’s florally-herbal flavors by mixing it with salty-spicy green onion brine and Dolin Dry Vermouth.

Death's Door gin: “When I see Death’s Door on a menu I give the bar manager kudos," Young says. "It’s slightly higher in proof than the usual style—around 88 proof—so it works great in a cocktail. It drinks more like a white whiskey so it’s a great gin for male drinkers stuck on small batch bourbons.” The distillery in Wisconsin uses their own vodka as the base and infuses it with juniper berries, coriander seeds and fennel seeds for a bold, slightly spicy gin.

Where to find it in Atlanta:The Optimist. The oyster bar serves a slightly savory version of a gin and tonic made with Death’s Door, Fever Tree tonic from London and celery bitters. It's garnished with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

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