In all the hoopla over vodka, especially new flavors, in recent years, what might be considered the original flavored white spirit gin is sometimes forgotten. But gin is making a comeback, and a number of distilleries are bringing this traditional spirit some new-found respect. While total gin sales have been flat or slightly down in the past few years, the upper end of the category has
started to explode, bringing new interest to the whole category.
“The category for the first time in five or six years is about to show growth,” said Paul Campbell, group director for Seagram’s Gin at Pernod Ricard. “A lot of people think we’ve lost ground to vodka, but there are a lot of loyal users out there, and we’re doing a better job of raising awareness.”
While vodka and rum distillers have taken advantage of the demand for new flavor experiences with a variety of new products, the gin category has been relatively quiet until recently. Now distillers are beginning to take advantage of trends with products new to US consumers.
“There hasn’t been a lot of innovation,” said Joanne Kletecka, group marketing director at Allied-Domecq, “so there haven’t been as many reason for consumers to enter the category. There’s also a perception that gin is not as mixable as vodka or rum.”
For some, gin may be an acquired taste like scotch. The botanicals and aromatics used to give gin its distinctive flavor can be intense. A poorly made gin also can smell and taste more like mineral spirits than a beverage.
Both distillers and bartenders are proving just how mixable gin is, and how good some of the high-end brands are on their own, or as Winston Churchill suggested, after the cork to a vermouth bottle has been waved over the glass.
“People are going back to an old-fashioned style of drinking,” said Michael Saposnick, bar manager at the trendy Ouest restaurant in New York. “Martinis until 20 years ago were made with gin. Now they’re starting to come back.”
The Ouest Martini is made with four ounces of Junipero gin and a splash of King Eider vermouth served in the shaker with a 10-ounce Martini glass. The restaurant uses onion-stuffed olives as garnish. Also on the cocktail menu is a French Martini (Citadelle gin and French vermouth) garnished with a pickled green bean. Another house drink is a traditional Bloody Mary made with Stolichnaya vodka, but with a twist — a half-ounce of Junipero floated on top and a pickled asparagus spear for garnish.
BACK TO BASICS
Part of the appeal of classic cocktails like the Martini is that they evoke a glamorous and sophisticated lifestyle celebrated in Hollywood movies of the Forties and Fifties. Consumers, though, also are looking for familiar, comfortable cocktails they can fall back on when they don’t want to experiment.
“I think especially after September 11th, people are talking about `comfort drinks,’ not just comfort food,” said Steve Meyers, senior brand manager for Tanqueray at Schieffelin & Somerset. “People are going back to basics like Scotch on the rocks and Tanqueray and tonic.”
“Last year we started to see people drink gin more,” said Randy Garutti, general manager at Tabla in New York. “Gin and tonic is a safety drink. It taste great, it’s comfortable and it’s easy to order when you don’t know what you want.”
Avenue One in Seattle gets a lot of demand for high-end gins in Martinis, almost always with a twist, rarely with olives. The restaurant has several gins on its spirits menu, including Citadelle, Quintessential, Tanqueray Malacca, Boodles, Bombay Sapphire and more.
“We’ve even made Cosmos with gin,” said owner Arnie Millan, “but a huge seller for us is the classic French 75. People come here just because they’ve heard of our French 75. It does great in warmer months, too.”
Despite its distinctive flavor, gin is very mixable and not just with tonic or vermouth. Operators across the country are finding lots of ways to mix gin in appealing cocktails.
“Gin has so much flavor,” said Pat Sullivan, owner of the B-Side Lounge, Cambridge, Mass. “It’s very complex, but just terrific to drink. Our customers here are drinking for flavor.”
B-Side mixes lots of classic cocktails using brands like Plymouth and Hendrick’s, a recently introduced gin with hints of cucumber and rose in it. The restaurant also mixes gin with all sorts of fresh fruit juices and liqueurs. The B-Side Gin & Juice, for example, combines gin, pink grapefruit juice and Peychaud’s bitters on ice in a Collins glass. A classic Rolls Royce cocktail is made with gin, French and Italian vermouth and Benedictine.
“The people who come here have a sophisticated palate,” Sullivan said. “We go through cases of gin a week and we’ll go through tons in the summer.”
Importers and distillers are helping raise consumer awareness of gin by putting a lot of emphasis behind on-premise programs this year.
“Our promotions and sampling are focusing on the distinctiveness of the product and T-and-Ts,” Meyers said. “It fell off the radar, wasn’t new anymore, but this return to basics captures the essence of what Tanqueray is all about.”
Beefeater, too, is doing lots of on-premise sampling this year, offering operators tasting kits and product seminars.
Smaller, high-end brands count on bartenders to help create word-of-mouth. Hendrick’s, for example, is rolling the brand out to new markets very slowly and carefully, working to place the product in top accounts first to help generate buzz.
ORIGINS OF GIN
Franciscus de la Bo