Article by Jason Rogers
Now that things are finally starting to get back to normal here in Xi’an, I can finally indulge in one of my newer cravings: gin! I remember the first time I had gin. It was my first time getting drunk actually. It was mostly a fun night that would have been mostly forgettable except, late into the evening, I made the horrible mistake of letting my already heavily intoxicated (and ruthless) friends make me a concoction of 90% gin & 10% juice – one that I happily drank like water. My last conscious moments that night were of me huddled in the floor clinging to a bucket like a life preserver in rocky waters. It was quite some time before I touched gin, again but when I did, I fell in love with the stuff. Why, you ask? Because I had learned respect to respect the gin – the hard way.
Gin shouldn’t be guzzled down like some loose juice (as I’ve heard it described by some old people), or called bathtub incense. It’s a refined spirit that can take on many forms – something quick and refreshing, an easy all day sipper, or even one of the pillars of classic cocktails. So, if you happen to be a gin hater, let me tell you why you are mistaken.
Gin’s earliest origins are a little contentious. Some believe that it originated as a byproduct of the Dutch spirit ‘Genever’, which is kind of a hybrid between whisky and gin, (great stuff by the way you should try it sometime) or a product of monks who would flavor spirits with juniper berries (the key ingredient in gin). The tasty stuff doesn’t really take off until it has made its way to England. During the 1600s, gin had taken England by storm. Due in part to some bans on French spirits and the fact that gin was ridiculously cheap, the juniper spirit became more common than bangers and mash in the UK. This led to what some call the Gin Craze, where gin was being consumed more than beer and had gotten a bad name – similar to absinthe. Gin became an obsession, especially among poorer people, who made less-than-safe home gins. This pushed the local government to create licenses for production. It wasn’t till years later, when distilling technology improved and gin was a regular ration of the British Navy, that a cleaner more refined spirit began to come from London, one that would inspire great drinks and a new found respect for the power of gin.
In its rawest form, gin is just vodka flavored with at least 51% juniper. Juniper is a small berry that has a lot of flavor that some people just don’t like. For those who still fear the taste of juniper, which reminds some of cleaning solution or potpourri, you are in luck. The gin category has exploded over the past few years, and you can find gins in every make and model. It’s like Baskin-Robbins for booze. You can get sweeter gins (old tom gin), barrel-aged gins (oaky gins), flavored gins (like sloe berry, rhubarb, lavender, etc), as well as spiced gin (think spiced rum only more aromatic). The sky is the limit. The reason why gin is so special, and deserves so much care, is that it has other flavors, other botanicals, that can create incredible arrays of tastes. You can figuratively capture a season like summer wildflowers or the fruit of a small island in a single bottle. There are gins from all over the world now; Nordic gins, Japanese gins, even a few Chinese gins. You can make a Gin and Tonic (just gin + tonic water on ice) with 20 different gins and get 20 different tasting drinks. Not to mention, gin is the key ingredient in so many classic drinks like; the Martini, the Negroni, the Gimlet, the Last Word and the Aviator. These are all amazing drinks worth trying, even if gin isn’t your first choice. People have been using gin in cocktails for centuries, and for good reason. If you are still on the fence, when it comes to gin cocktails, it’s all about the technique.
How to use:
Gin can be as easy or as complex as you like. The key is finding one that suits you, like a good suit. As I mentioned above, there are several classic and modern cocktails that use gin as its base. Some, like the Martini and the Last Word, require some skill or special ingredients, but others, like the Gimlet and Tom Collins, are easy classics. If you are new to gin cocktails, I would recommend going to a nice bar and trying a couple of the drinks I listed. If you want something to try at home, try these:
2oz – 60ml Gin
1/2oz – 15ml Lime Juice
1/2oz – 15ml Sugar Syrup
Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake and pour into a martini or coup glass and enjoy.
1 1/2oz – 45ml Gin
Equal part Tonic and Soda Water
Fill a tall glass with ice, pour in each ingredient slowly. Give a little stir and serve with a lemon slice.
2oz – Gin
1oz – Lemon Juice
1/2oz – 15ml Sugar Syrup
In a glass, add the gin, lemon and syrup, then add ice. Top with soda and stir briefly. Serve with a lemon wheel and cherry.
Jason Rogers is a mixologist extraordinaire living in Xi’an.