When is a gin not just a gin?
When it’s wood. Or herbal. Or spice. Or pink. Or orange. Gins aren’t just limited to its traditional expressions or categories. Distilleries are making many different kinds of gin now, and in the process, they’re attracting new drinkers to the category.
“I believe that people secretly love gin, it’s just that they might not understand it yet,” says Mattias Dylan Horseman, Hendrick’s gin ambassador. “People tend to think of gin in its older form, London Dry. London Dry gins were the first tha were around and have a very juniper forward flavor. The world of gin has changed drastically over the past 20 years. Lesley Gracie, Hendricks master distiller, was the trail blazer for the movement that’s happening now.”
According to IWSR, a drinks market analysis company, gin was the number three in volume increase globally, with premium/super premium gins up 17 percent in just 2017. According to Shefali Murdia, brand director for Beefeater Gin, which recently debuted a pink gin aptly named Beefeater Pink, “Gin consumption is on the rise, and the category continues to attract a variety of different consumers who have an appetite for new and innovative expressions that offer a diverse drinking experience.”
“I’m seeing an explosion of different gin profiles,” says Clair McLafferty, a Birmingham bartender and author of two cocktail books, including Romantic Cocktails. “There’s such a range now within the gin category, and that can impact the flavor of resulting cocktails, but it also means that there are some gins that can be drunk straight over ice, too.”
Brian Prewitt, master distiller for A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Virginia, created not one, but three different gins when this family-owned, whiskey-centric distillery decided to move into gins. “Our whole goal was to create a really nice, refreshing and well-balanced gin,” Prewitt says. “We created (three very different gins), and in the end, we asked ourselves, do we really only have to come out with one? We said ‘No, let’s come out with a line of gins.’”
The three different gins: Citrus Supreme, with lemon, Spanish orange, lime and lemongrass; Sweet Spice, with angelica, wormwood, coriander and lemon verbena; and Curiously Bright & Complex, with jasmine green tea, ginger and lemongrass. “Gin can be so versatile, and there’s so many drinks you can make with gins,” Prewitt says.
While most of the gin growth has, to date, occurred outside of the United States, American gin makers believe that there’s a lot of potential for growth. “I would love to see it take off,” Prewitt says.
Joe Heron, founder of Copper & Kings Distillery, just added a line-up of two very different, complex gins, A History of Lovers gin, a rosé-forward, pink gin, and The Ninth, a bold, blood orange gin finished in Destillaré Orange Curaçao barrels. “We really feelthat the gin wave is about to crest on American shores this spring,” Heron says. “There’s also a dramatic evolution based on the creative palette that gin brings to spirits distillation. There are few limitations beyond a Juniper backbone. Your imagination is the only inhibitor.”
“Thanks to the craft spirits movement, a whole generation of craft gins have arrived on the market with local botanicals and different kinds of citrus,” says Connor Drexler, founder of the line of Nomikai canned wines. “While the craft gin movement grew, it has corresponded with bartenders adding more gin-focused cocktails to their menus like the Aviation and Bee Sting.”
Drexler believes so strongly in the gin movement that the one cocktail he added to his line-up of wines is a gin and tonic, the New York Gin + Tonic, made with gin from the Warwick Distillery and a handmade bitter tonic from the Volstead Act.
“I think most people are now modern gin drinkers,” Drexler says. “My parents were never gin drinkers, but ever since they discovered a micro distiller in Buena Vista, Colorado, the Bee Sting has become their go-to cocktail. Most of my friends who aren’t in the wine and spirits industry would probably say Negronis or G and T’s are their beverage of choice.”
Horseman says that gin sets “a fantastic base for cocktails.” Though a lot of people start drinking gin through gin and tonics, he recommends new drinkers try out a French 75, which I made with gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and champagne. “It will not only give you a great idea of what gin can do for your cocktail, but it also is the perfect start to most nights,” Horseman says.
Prewitt echoes that sentiment. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my vitamin G and T, but there’s so many things you can make with gins,” he says. “One of my favorite drinks is the Flora Dora, which is ginger, lime, a little raspberry liquor and gin. It’s so wonderful and refreshing, I love that one.”
“Gin is top of the mind for American consumers, thanks to new and innovative expressions in the category,” Murdia says. “In the U.S., gin sales continue to rise, and the consumer is looking to have a story behind them.”
I am an award-winning writer and author of a dozen books, including the critically acclaimed Drink Like a Woman (Seal Press 2016) as well as the upcoming The Joy of Cider (Skyhorse Publishing 2019) and The Wisconsin Cocktail Book (University of Wisconsin Press 2019).