You put that gin in what? Choosing the right gin for your favorite cocktails

gin cocktail with juniper berries

Vodka isn’t the only clear spirit on the block. Gin is a delightful spirit, which can be enjoyed in many ways—as long as you choose a gin that pleases your palate. While some people avoid gin due to a distaste for the spirit’s juniper notes, all gins are not created equal! We’re going back in time—then back to the future—to help you find the right gins for your fave cocktails. Grab a few tasting glasses, because you’re in for a fun ride.

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Let’s talk a little gin history and how gin is made

Gin has a storied history. It was popularized in the late 1500s when the Dutch government gave soldiers Genever (a version of gin derived from rye, malted barley, or corn) before going into battle—and so the phrase “Dutch courage” or “liquid courage” was born. British sailors enjoyed rations of both gin and rum as recently as the 1970s.

Over the years, gin has been both revered, the Gin and Tonic cocktail was touted for its effectiveness as a malaria treatment, and dissed, the popularity of the spirit in England led to the Gin Craze of the mid-1700s and was blamed for all the nation’s societal problems.

Gin became popular in England because it was so easy to make. You take a neutral spirit (like vodka) and add juniper, the amount of which was (and is) dependent upon the style of gin and where it was made. The same holds true for how gin is made today. Legally, gin must include a neutral spirit and juniper to qualify as a gin.

Unlike other spirits, most gins don’t require aging, which is why so many craft spirit makers enjoy making gin. That’s not to say making a fine quality gin is as easy as dumping vodka, juniper, and other botanicals into the bathtub. The quality of gin is reliant on both the maker’s capabilities and the distilling process.

Getting to know you: Different styles of gin to try

Not only do types and intensity of botanicals (juniper and others) vary, some gins are sweeter, like Old Tom style gins, which include a little extra sugar (added to make gin more palatable back in the day). To make pre-prohibition era cocktails accurately, Old Tom style gin is way to go. Other gins are dryer (like London Dry style gins), which must be distilled, can’t be an infusion of a compound spirit, and must contain less than .1 gram of sugar per liter. FYI, the mouthfeel of different gins also varies.

Plymouth style gins—which were first crafted around 1793 by monks at the Black Friar Distillery—tend to be less juniper forward, and until recently, were only considered true Plymouth gins if they originated from the region of Plymouth in the UK. And then there are the Navy Strength style gins. Though not legally defined, Navy Strength is the style of gin you want for a good freezer martini because it won’t freeze. (Just make sure you’re not driving anywhere because Navy gin ABVs are HIGH). Sloe Gin has a gin base flavored with sloe berries, technically plums. Sloe Gins are lighter in alcohol, kind of tart, and not really sweet. Good Sloe Gins, such as this one from Spirit Works in Sebastapol, CA, can be somewhat elusive, so ask for recommendations.

To find the gin that’s right for you, follow your nose AND palate

Today, craft gin makers infuse gin with an endless array of botanicals to create unique flavor profiles you must taste and smell to believe. For example, Monkey 47 gin is infused with 47 botanicals native to Germany, while Ireland’s Minke gin is distilled from whey and infused with a botanical native to Ireland, Rock Samphire. (The tasting kits for many of The Crafty Cask’s mixology classes often feature Minke gin.) We’re also huge fans of AMASS Botanicals gins out of California.

There are so many different gins available on the market, so the best way to find the right gin for you is to pin down the types of botanicals (a trip down the spice aisle can be super helpful) and other flavors you prefer. Then, ask friends, bartenders, or liquor store gin experts for recommendations based on your preferences.

Let the tasting begin! Pour the gin in a tasting glass, sip it, smell it, swill it. Keep sampling until you find a gin you enjoy (within reason of course). Again, gin typically starts as vodka + juniper and evolves from there. We’re firm believers that the reason why some people think they don’t like gin is due to the particular gin they tried.

The way the flavor of gin comes across also depends on what you mix it with. The reason Gin and Tonics taste so good is because chemically, the quinine in the tonic and juniper in the gin—both bitter flavors—balance each other out, creating a sweet-ish, refreshing drink. Looking for a balanced, booze-forward option? Our recipe for the classic Vesper is tough to beat.


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