The recent revival of cocktail culture and the sudden American interest in new flavors — viz: orange Kit Kats, purple Mountain Dew, chipotle Doritos, chicken on pizza — are probably the two main factors in the wave of new gins on the market following the resurgence of gin’s popularity to the American palate. While the mainstays are still with us — Tanqueray, Beefeater, Gordon’s, Boodles, Bombay, they’re certainly not going anywhere, and bless them for that — the new offerings result in more variety among available gins than the drinking world has seen since London dry gin overtook all the other styles.
One of the more popular examples among fans of mainstream gin is Hendrick’s. A traditional gin in most respects, Hendrick’s subtracts nothing noticeable from the blend of botanicals we’ve come to expect — but it adds cucumber and rose, and the cucumber in particular isn’t a background note like the grains of paradise used in Bombay Sapphire. It’s a pronounced, distinctive flavor — hardly as much as if it were cucumber schnapps we were talking about, or dill pickle vodka, but the cucumber is very much alive on the palate. Hendrick’s recommends that it be served with cucumber slices as garnish in place of the usual olive in the martini.
Another new gin that is a little further from the mainstream is Junipero, from the same part of the country responsible for the new century’s predilection for extreme IPAs. Anchor Steam Distillery — based in San Francisco — boosts the juniper in Junipero, making it the most Christmas tree smelling liquor you can imagine — a gin for gin-lovers who want strong flavors without cloaking that traditional blend. A gin to drink with cigars, perhaps, kicking brandy out of the back room, at least for the evening. San Francisco is also home to No. 209, a subtly herbal and spicy gin that diminishes the juniper considerably.
209 and many of the newer gins — especially the new gins that gin drinkers mean when they talk about “these modern gins” — are sweeter than the norm, which can make for an odd martini but should appeal to vodka drinkers accustomed to the sweeteners added to their flavored vodkas. One of the world’s best and most popular gin producers, Tanqueray, recently unveiled their latest gin: Tanqueray Rangpur is infused with rangpurs (a lime-like mandarin orange from India), floral and citrusy and electric green, and is sweet and smooth enough to drink straight or on the rocks. You may find it out of place in a martini, but it makes a good gimlet or gin and tonic.
Two French gins that have entered the market are less extreme than the new Americans. G’Vine is distilled from grapes (like the French vodka Ciroc) and includes grape blossoms in its botanicals; Citadelle has more citrus in the botanical blend than most gins. Citadelle, though, has considerably more juniper than its sweeter and mellower countryman.
In England, Whitley Neill is one of the more exotic gins around, using South African botanicals — baobab and Cape gooseberries — in a sort of “this could have been developed in the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t” blend. The usual botanicals are all still present, but the additions along with the diminishing of the juniper create something orangey and spicy — if you do make a martini with it, be sure and add a dash of orange bitters. Less spicy, despite the name, is Bulldog gin, which uses the longan (or dragon eye, as the company calls it, a relative of the more familiar lychee fruit), a fruit that does go especially well with gin. This is a gin that could easily be lost in a cocktail with too many ingredients — in a martini or a gin and tonic, it would be good garnished with a fresh longan or lychee, to emphasize that slightly fruity tropical note that has replaced some of the pine nose. It’s also excellent with grapefruit juice, in a Greyhound or Salty Dog. New gins can be quite good gins.