What are you drinking this winter? Barrel-aged whiskey? Mulled wine? A nice scotch? Allow us to make a more provocative suggestion. Gin. Yes, gin. Straight or on the rocks. And before you scoff (or worse) let's back up a bit.
While gin has long been associated in the popular imagination with Snoop Dogg and housewives who hit the bottle early and are catatonic by dinner, that reputation is rapidly changing, thanks to a growing group of distillers and enthusiasts.
“One way to look at it is that gin is the original flavored vodka,” says Matt Teacher, author of the recently released The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival. “It just happens to have juniper berries in it.” Modern gin distillers, he says, are in alignment with the farm-to-table movement and they’re exploring the spirit's remarkable versatility. By pushing the juniper back in the mix, other flavors come through.
“Gin has gotten more popular over the past few years because it’s being infused with a whole range of botanicals, fruits, and vegetables. People used to think gin was only good for cocktails, but that ideology is changing. Now they realize it’s good on it own,” says Teacher.
Some of the new flavor combinations, designed to be sipped straight or on the rocks, are startling. They run the gamut from elegant simplicity – Deaths Door, from Wisconsin, contains juniper, fennel and coriander – to the complex. Monkey 47, from the Black Forest in Germany, contains vegetables, forest fruit, eucalyptus, wood, grass and pine.
Teacher says he’s always been interested in gin “as a fan but not an expert.” About two years ago he noticed the gin community growing exponentially and began to research the subject more deeply. In his view, interest in gin amongst bartenders and mixologists began to flow when flavored vodkas reached their limit of expansion. But unlike flavored vodkas, which are generally created by simply adding flavors into the spirit, gins are generally created by infusing the botanicals during the distillation process. Some distillers are even barrel-ageing gin, bringing it closer to whiskey and encouraging the creativity of distillers. “People always say gin is great to make cocktails with and that’s true, but one of the points I try to make is that it can hold its own against any spirit, straight or on the rocks.”