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Bottle Reboot – Part 1: Gin

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

We began 12 Bottle Bar with a mandate, one that we still advocate.  With our twelve chosen bottles, you can make hundreds of classic cocktails, more than enough drinks to cool you down on a hot summer’s day and warm you up on a blustery night. But, as those of you who are regular readers know, we often can’t leave well enough alone.  Witness the new site design.  And, with it, the first of twelve posts redefining our 12 bottle line-up a bit more broadly.For some time, we have wanted to revisit our spirits selection to make it even more egalitarian – there’s simply no reason to go broke just to enjoy a few (ok, more than a few) good drinks.  And, while the lowest “well” selections will most assuredly not come into play, we’ve decided to broaden our horizons to suggest three or four bottles in each category, from budget to high-end, allowing for accessibility at any price range.This new angle satisfies a lot of issues for us.  First, 12 Bottle Bar is meant to be a solution for bartenders of every skill, economic, and philosophical level – not the “be all, end all”, mind you, but at least an organized way to mix drinks – on a budget.  Second, not every bottle we currently recommend is easy to find.  Finally, by confining ourselves to a single bottle for each category, we have, in the past, shut the door on the possibility of the many new brands coming on the market every day.

What hasn’t changed in our approach — something key to the 12BB strategy — is the demand that each spirit promotes ultimate mix-ability, so to speak.  In other words, the spirit’s profile can’t be so unique or specific that it interferes with the character of the drink in which it plays a primary part.  Right now, I am deep in the throes of proofing my gin book, so my mind is entrenched in the wonders of the juniper spirit.  A lovely place to start, I think, and a perfect spirit with which to inaugurate this new, more “open-minded” direction for 12 Bottle Bar.

In my opinion, gin is the trickiest of spirits.  It’s a shape shifter, a blank slate on which almost any flavor can be plied.  Because it starts as a grain neutral spirit – let’s cut to the chase and just call it vodka – it can be floral or herbal, piney or citrusy. It all depends on exactly what botanicals the distiller decides to add and how he or she decides to add them.  There are many, many gins on the market today that are utterly unique.  Hendrick’s seduced me on first whiff with its heady bouquet of cucumber and Bulgarian rose petals; it makes a gorgeous cucumber-tinged gin & tonic. Cadenhead’s Old Raj is the key to the smoothest, high-octane martini you’ll ever taste.  And Tanqueray is amazingly classic stuff, but its 47% ABV isn’t always the best idea in a cocktail.

So the question for us has always been this:  If we could only have one gin, what would it be?  Ah, that’s the rub.  One gin.  To make a stellar martini.  A classic gin & tonic.  A traditional gin fizz.  Well, that’s another story.  Make no mistake.  Leopold’s is still our go-to bottle.  Its crisp, citrus character works perfectly in every cocktail we’ve made here at 12BB; its clean taste is refreshing in the way only a well-crafted, balanced gin can be, plus its small batch mystique makes it darn cool to have behind the bar.  But, rest assured, there are other bottles that meet our criteria as well, in every price range. Herewith, then, are the 12 Bottle Bar suggestions for gins both “high” and “low”.

PREMIUM ($30 – 40)

Things get a little murky here, boys and girls.  The super high-end, “artisan” gins all have their supporters.  If you have dineros to burn, try everything you can lay your hands on.  If not, these two will serve admirably.

 

Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin

Cardamom and coriander and pummelos, oh my!  Dorothy, this is definitely not Kansas anymore.  Despite changing the balance of the botanicals, Leopold doesn’t stray from its roots as a true gin of the juniper ilk.  It is lovingly made, as the name suggests, in small batches and the care taken shows in each sip.

 

Plymouth Gin

This is the only style of gin with a Designation of Origin under European law, meaning it can only be made in Plymouth, England. Use Plymouth and you will have a singular cocktail experience.  Like Leopold’s, there is a strong citrus component. Unlike typical London Dry gins, which are defined by their heady juniper quality, Plymouth uses less juniper and more Angelica root, a botanical that brings a distinct sweetness to the mix.

 

 

MID-RANGE ($15 – $20/750 ml)

Beefeater London Dry Gin

Only a bit “younger” than Gordon’s, Beefeater is also one of the original “dry” gins.  The 24-hour steeping process used for the botanicals produces a complex brew, with a citrusy, piney personality. Distiller Desmond Payne, who works off the original Beefeater recipe, is an industry guru (he created the fragrant, tea/grapefruit-laced Beefeater 24 which was introduced in 2008).  This gin is, in a word, classic.

 

 

BUDGET ($10 or less/750 ml)

Gordon’s London Dry Gin

Gordon’s is probably the gin that your grandmother drank, if she drank gin that is.  It is the most popular gin in the world and, even though it’s now made in America, it retains its essential lemony, juniper character, making it a dependable mixer at a supremely low price point.  Plus, as one of the original post-Gin Craze London Dry gins, it has some cool history on its side –when it was first exported to Australia, the Aussies paid for it in gold dust.

 

 

As time goes on, we will happily bend your ear with our gin-ventures.  New gins are coming to market every day and many of them are reinventing the way we think of gin.  Gin is no longer just “dry”.  It’s sweet and earthy, herbal and perfumey.  From Whitley Neill’s baobab fruit to Caorunn’s Scottish heather, the new gins are remaking the playing field. Will we use them as our bottle of choice?  You never know.  But the journey – along the gin road and all the others — sure will be fun. Stay tuned for further spirits reboots in the following months.

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