Gin Brands Beef Up Unique Botanicals
Gin is known for its juniper-forward flavor, but several brands are playing up other botanicals, fruits and vegetable essences. Hendrick’s, launched in 1999, is perhaps the best known; it emphasizes the unconventional flavors of Bulgarian rose and cucumber, among other botanicals. A number of unique craft gins have been cropping up in recent years.
Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin, released in 2014 (following the 2012 launch of Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin), has flavors of juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage and lavender. Brockmans gin from the U.K. incorporates orange and lemon peel, almonds, orris root, coriander, angelica, licorice, cassia bark and Tuscan juniper botanicals, with blackberry and blueberry added after distillation.
Monkey 47 gin from the Black Forest of Germany uses 47 botanicals, including spruce tips, lingonberries, elderflowers, sloes and blackberry leaves. And Scottish gin Caorunn is made with Highland botanicals; the name is the Gaelic word for the Celtic rowan berry. Its other botanicals include bog myrtle, heather, coul blush apple and dandelion leaf.
Most of the on-premise gin consumption is via cocktails, classic or otherwise. “Being a gin bar has its advantages,” says Rivers at Whitechapel. “Our menu is all gin, our 105 cocktails are all gin-based and although we carry a few other spirits, most of our guests come for gin.”
Several drinks on the list mix not only traditional cocktail styles but also gin categories, created by co-owner Alex Smith. These include the Holmes’ Bonfire ($13) with both London dry gin (Berry Bros. & Rudd No. 3) and genever (Bols); while the Modern Prometheus ($14) mixes Royal Dock Navy Strength gin, Diep 9 Oude Genever and Plymouth Sloe Gin.
Tough Luck Club sticks to the classics such as the Collins and Gimlet, which are priced at $7 each. For an extra $1, customers can add a “buzz button” to any cocktail, which is a golden flower bud called a Szechuan Button.
The buzz buttons proved so popular as a drink garnish that Tough Luck Club decided to offer them as an add-on. Szechuan Buttons have a numbing tingling effect in the mouth and change perceptions of the taste buds, says Holcombe.
One of the more popular gin cocktails at Victoria Freehouse is the Earl Grey, featuring an Earl Grey tea reduction, with gin, orange blossom water and lemon. “It’s a delicious drink for the summer,” notes Strojan. House cocktails sell for $10.
The Yeamans Collins at Prohibition has a savory note that appeals to non-gin drinkers, says McCourt. It’s made with Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon and lime juices, white balsamic vinegar and ginger beer.
Also savory is the Gordons Cup—Hendrick’s gin, cucumber, sea salt, lime and black pepper. Another popular cocktail is the Cloister, made with Beefeater London dry gin, yellow chartreuse, grapefruit and lemon juices and bitters. Drink prices at Prohibition average about $10.
The best-selling original cocktail at the Marvel Bar is the Oliveto, an unusual mix of olive oil, raw egg white, lemon juice, Licor 43 and Gordon’s gin. “It drinks like lemon meringue pie,” says Schweigert.
The second and third best sellers are also gin-based: London Bridge, with licorice root, lemon, cascara and Beefeater gin; and the Ladykiller—Noilly Prat Dry, apricot, Beefeater, Araki and rosé.
Using relatively inexpensive Gordon’s and Beefeater helps to keep cocktail prices below $10. They are both well-distilled products, Schweigert says. “We sell more Gordon’s than any other product in our bar. It’s a consistent workhorse.”
As might be expected, The Gin Room offers twists on all the classics: Negroni, Gimlet, Aviation, and a Dry Rye Gin Old Fashioned ($8 to $10). A section titled The Gin Girl showcases more unusual drinks. “They are not for baby-steppers,” says Bahrami.
For example, the Barreled Rebellion cocktail starts with barrel-aged Knickerbocker gin, and adds Cynar, Clockwork Orange liqueur and Dolin Rouge. The drink is a riff on a Manhattan.
Spreading the Gin Gospel
Cocktail and spirits enthusiasts may be crazy for gin, but many consumers have yet to warm to the botanical spirit. DISCUS reports that gin consumption overall slipped 1.8% in 2015.
“I, myself, enjoy all gins neat—however, I might be in the minority on this one,” says the ginnoisseur Rivers. To help ease customers into the idea, Whitechapel offers seven different flights in various categories ranging from genevers and new London dry to local Bay Area gins as well as sloe gins.
“Some of the more botanical gins are great sippers,” says Strojan at Victoria Freehouse. But he doesn’t offer gin flights as yet.
Bahrami is a big advocate for sipping gins. Although there is only one set flight on The Gin Room’s menu, she and her staff are always ready to custom-design flights for curious customers.
“Gin has the largest spectrum of flavor profiles of any spirit. That’s what makes gin so exciting,” Bahrami says. “So to people who think they don’t like gin, I tell them, you haven’t met the right gin yet.”
Thomas Henry Strenk is Brooklyn-based writer specializing in all things drinkable.