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Gin vs. Vodka

The history of American cocktails after World War II is very much a tug of war between gin and vodka.  As gin’s popularity waned, and the ingredients used in gin cocktails became obscure, vodka soared on the strength of its marketing campaigns, its mixability, and the ease of hiding it in the most mundane drinks.  That’s all well and good, and will hopefully soon be behind us as gin returns to prominence — but in the meantime, vodka has supplanted gin in a good many drinks.


The martini is the most obvious, of course; while a martini was for decades a gin drink and only ever a gin drink, by James Bond’s time vodka had begun to appear, and by the age of the three-martini lunch, one or two of those tax-deductible martinis were probably vodka spritzed with the breath of vermouth and floating a plastic-sword-speared olive.  The gin and tonic, thankfully, has gin right in the blessed name, so at least people who want vodka have to order a vodka tonic.


But order a rickey or a gimlet and you just might get vodka and lime.  Even the Tom Collins has been to a great degree displaced by its vodka cousin, the lemon drop.  Had the trend continued unabated, might we not soon see the Ramos Vodka Fizz, or a French 75 made with Ciroc?  It is, luckily, very easy to fight back — by replacing the vodka in traditional vodka drinks with gin.


A Cosmopolitan is, to its credit, one of the better vodka drinks.  The combination of cranberry juice, vodka, triple sec, and lime juice is built to proper cocktail proportions — this is a far cry from the vodka and Diet Coke concoctions that put drinkers up in arms.  But use 2 parts gin to 2 parts cranberry juice and 1 part each of fresh lime juice and triple sec, and you’re dealing with an even more well-rounded drink — the dryness of the cranberry and tartness of the lime play against the flavor notes of the gin beautifully without being overshadowed, and given the piney nose of gin’s juniper, what more festive pairing than cranberry?


Then there’s the Greyhound and the Salty Dog (which is just a Greyhound in a glass with a salted rim).  So often made with vodka these days, both vodka and gin are attested in older cocktail guides.  The bitterness of grapefruit juice is a good complement to gin — and without the gin, well, it’s just a glass of juice that’ll get you tipsy.  Where’s the pleasure in that?  Combine three parts grapefruit juice to one part gin, on rocks or with soda, and enjoy.


One of the drinks that put vodka on the map was the Moscow Mule — vodka and ginger beer.  Audrey Saunders, the bartender behind the Pegu Club in New York City (one of the epicenters of the modern cocktail scene), has come up with the Gin-Gin Mule, showing that the Moscow Mule was missing something all along.  To 1 1/2 ounces gin, add 1 ounce ginger beer, 1 ounce simple syrup, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice; muddle mint in the glass before pouring the drink, serve over ice, and garnish with more mint.  Audrey insists on homemade non-carbonated ginger beer, which she makes in bulk: boil a gallon of water, blend a pound of ginger with two cups of it, return the ginger puree to the water, and let it stand for an hour with the juice of two limes; strain, pushing on ginger to extract as much juice as possible, and add 1/4 cup of brown sugar.


Of course, these drinks needn’t be used purely as revenge against vodka’s crimes — they’re also good introductions to gin for people familiar with the vodka versions.  None of these drinks hides gin’s flavor, but they pair it with familiar “safe” flavors — if you’re new to gin, it would be better to start here than with a Singapore Sling or an Aviation.

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