Whether mixed in a proper Martini or modern Basil Gimlet, gin is a star behind the bar. The spirit’s botanicals add layered dimension, translating to infinite possibilities in the shaker. The modern accessibility of old-school recipes is fueling interest and helping to bring gin to the bar’s forefront.
“The bartenders and the customers simply know more now than they did decades ago,” says Jim Ryan, brand ambassador for Hendrick’s gin. With a smartphone, you can find the original recipe for a White Lady from nearly a century ago, tracking its growth up to today’s version—all in seconds, he notes.
Gin was the dominant spirit for centuries until it was overshadowed by vodka more than 50 years ago, says Patricia Richards, the master mixologist for the 25 restaurants and bars at the 4,700-room Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Resort. And there is no substitute for the pre-Prohibition spirit: “I find that [gin’s] botanicals add depth, complexity and character to a cocktail that vodka simply cannot,” Richards says.
Gordon Ramsay Steak at Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas sells seven gins, priced from $10 to $14; the top sellers are Hendrick’s, Tanqueray 10 and Plymouth. General manager Jean-Philippe Teresi says more guests have been requesting classic gin cocktails.
The 273-seat contemporary steakhouse offers six gin drinks on its “Perfect Ten” list. The Southside ($11), for instance, features Plymouth gin, lime and mint, topped with Perrier Jouët Champagne. The Red Lion ($14) combines Tanqueray gin with Grand Marnier, lemon juice and orange bitters.
At Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, “Our cocktails are all vintage-inspired with a twist,” says director of beverage strategy Helen Mackey. “Gin has probably seen some upside, and at the very least has become a bigger part of the conversation,” she says. The Winter Park, FL-based chain operates 136 classic American steakhouses worldwide. Locations offer five core gin brands, with the most popular being Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s.
Mackey has noticed guests’ increasing demands for premium, high-quality bottles, and she sees gin fans as very brand loyal. Ruth’s Chris locations have the option of adding other national and local gin brands to their drinks menu, depending on guest demand.
Wynn and Encore offer more than a dozen gins, priced $9 to $95 (the latter is for Nolet’s The Reserve), and the top sellers are Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Bombay. Richards strives to have at least one gin-based cocktail on the menu at each venue. But she admits the spirit can be a hard sell for guests with preconceived notions about gin.
So how does Richards attract new “gin recruits?” Offering eclectic twists on familiar libations is one way. Her Kumquat Collins ($15) uses a house-made kumquat-kaffir lime syrup, Cointreau and the overtly citrus Tanqueray #10 gin. The Basil Gimlet ($14) mixes muddled basil leaves, lime and celery bitters with Martin Miller gin, which has 10 botanicals infused through two distillations, resulting in a citrus-forward spirit.
Softer botanical notes
“The gin category broadened a few years ago with the introduction of gins that do not have the traditional strong juniper flavors,” notes Mike Hanley, beverage operations and training director for Emeryville, CA-based Tavistock Restaurants. Tavistock operates 33 upscale restaurants and 89 fast casual concepts, including Charley’s, Joe’s American Bar & Grill and Napa Valley Grille. The restaurants carry 15 brands of gin spread across its upscale restaurants, priced $5 to $12; Tanqueray, Hendrick’s and Bombay are the top sellers.
Newer gin offerings that are less reliant on juniper give bartenders more options, Hanley says. “This allows the gins to play easier with other spirits in mixing, due to the softer nuances of their botanical choices.”
He is especially fond of New Amsterdam gin (with cubeb berries, elderflower and chamomile), Hendrick’s (with cucumber and rose) and Death’s Door gin, comprised of only three botanicals—juniper, coriander and fennel.
Tavistock concepts offer at least two gin cocktails on their menus. The Clementini ($12) muddles the seasonal citrus with Hendrick’s gin and mint. The Elderflower Fizz ($12) mixes New Amsterdam gin with St. Germain elderflower liqueur; it’s then topped with Prosecco and garnished with a flower petal.
Craft brands and new releases
Small-batch gin offerings, as well as new lines from larger-scale distilleries, seem to pop up each month. “People seem to be opening back up to gin and willing to branch out with some of the lesser-known gins these days,” says Jeff Faile, bar manager for the 260-seat upscale Italian restaurant Fiola in Washington, D.C. “I like exposing people to new and different flavors, which the smaller brands pride themselves on,” he says.
Fiola offers 14 gins priced $9 to $13, and 11 widely styled gin-based cocktails, including a page of Negroni variations. The Milan Mule ($14) is an Italian riff, with Plymouth gin, Amaro Abano, lime and ginger beer; the It’s Expected, I’m Gone ($14) mingles Glorious gin, grapefruit, honey and burlesque bitters.
Faile also tinkers with fringe-gin alternatives in drinks like Let’s Go Dutch ($15), which combines Bols Genever with Bénédictine, Dolin Blanc and orange bitters. “It resembles a white Manhattan in flavor profile,” he says. The Nuovo Inzio ($15) shakes up Ransom Old Tom gin with Amaro Bassano, Campari, Cointreau and orange bitters.
Larger distilleries are also releasing alternative offerings to their more well-known gins. Beefeater 24, for example, includes Chinese green and Japanese sencha teas, while Tanqueray Rangpur’s recipe uses ginger and Indian rangpur limes.
Recently released Plymouth Navy Strength is 100 proof (vs. 82 proof for its standard offering). The strength “pushes flavor forward and lends itself to cocktails that are heavier in body, since the botanicals can still shine through,” says Chris Patino, manager brand specialists and trade education for Plymouth’s producer Pernod Ricard. The trend of barrel-aging cocktails also adds weight and complexity to gin drinks, he says.
Gin-based libations can be a tough sell during the cooler months, since gin is perceived by many to be a warmer-weather refresher. Many mixologists get around this by reaching for the more spice-forward gins when crafting cocktails for the chillier seasons.
For instance, Philadelphia’s Bluecoat gin has a burst of white pepper; Catoctin Creek from Virginia gets its peppery bite from rye; and Junipero from San Francisco has bold baking spices.
“Gin will always have a prominent place on my drink list—even during the cooler months,” says Fiola’s Faile. “I do rotate seasonally, and talk to staff about the different flavor profiles so they can be more familiar with them.”
Hendrick’s Ryan recently served a hot gin punch to 2,000 consumers that was a big hit. “Many forget that there are a multitude of botanicals that go into making gin—many of them either citrus peel or spice,” he points out.
Unique food Pairing opportunities
The multifaceted quality of gin opens up a bevy of beverage and food pairing opportunities. “Our Southside is very light and refreshing; it goes great with our oysters on the half shell,” says Teresi of Gordon Ramsay Steak. He recommends the herbaceous lemon- and basil-based English Garden cocktail with the venue’s caesar salad or market salad.
And Faile loves combining a citrus- and gin-based drink with a fish dish. “We used to have a Branzino dish on the menu with a Lemon Prosecco Zabaglione underneath it,” he notes. “I would always try to talk people into pairing that with a French 75.”
Admittedly, gin still has some strides to make when compared to the popularity of vodka. At Tavistock Restaurants’ concepts, for instance, the gin trend is not as hot as the current tequila or Bourbon craze, Hanley says. And as Richards of Wynn and Encore noted earlier, many guest have preconceived notions about gin and may be reluctant to try it.
Still, the range of available options, plus the creativity by bar professionals and guests’ willingness to experiment, will continue to ramp up gin’s popularity. The Melting Pot, a 141-location fondue dining experience chain owned and operated by Tampa, FL-based Front Burner Brands, offers four gins as part of its core beverage program.
As Front Burner’s beverage manager Paul Brown puts it, “the growing interest in craft spirits and all of the unique flavor profiles can help create a second wave of interest in gin.” ·
Cool as a Cucumber
The popularity of Hendrick’s gin, released in 1999, cannot be overstated. Its availability and use in libations—especially drinks that include its main botanical, cucumber—have been responsible for introducing many cocktail lovers to gin. Hendrick’s-based cocktails have also made the cucumber slice a popular garnish.
Patricia Richards, the master mixologist for the 25 restaurants and bars at the 4,700-room Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Resort, says more guests are eschewing the ubiquitous lime wedge for a cucumber slice in a Hendrick’s-based Gin and Tonic.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse this past September unveiled a vintage -inspired cocktails list that includes the Cucumber Collins. This drink shakes Hendrick’s gin up with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, lime, muddled cucumber and an orange wedge; the price varies depending on the market.
Some of the 141 locations of The Melting Pot, a fondue dining chain owned by Front Burner Brands, offer the Black Pepper Gimlet. This cocktail, which has a suggested price of $7.95, mixes Hendrick’s with lime and club soda, garnished with a black pepper-dusted cucumber slice.