Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gin - Magic in bottle

When I was in prep school, parties revolved around kegs for the guys, Smirnoff ice for the girls, and industrial size bottles of cheap vodka, Crown whiskey, or whatever could be lifted from parents' liquor cabinets. It was at one of these such parties at a lovely lake house that we had utterly dismantled in a week of heavy drinking, boating, and sport, that I discovered gin.

G&Ts because a staple of nightlife from then on throughout university until this day. However as anyone can attest, everything tastes great soaked in tonic, and it was not until an old Radleian introduced me to his own brand of G&Ts that I began to appreciate the great and subtle differences in gins (his particular recipe happened to be a couple cubes of ice, a lime, a near full cup of gin, and the most infinitesimal amount of tonic ever. This particular chap became a long standing partner in crime and left a wide swath of mayhem and destruction in his wake but I digress). Now this particular chap didn't care what brand of gin he put into these chaos inducing cocktails, but I began to appreciate it more and more (Note: A proper G&T should have no more than a finger of tonic for every four fingers of ice and gin. And that finger should be a pinky). Without further ado, a top 5 gins list with a special thanks to PL for his insightful descriptions...

5. Tanqueray

The old standby - as good as in a martini as it is in a tumbler of fruit juice. They call it a "dry" mix, but it's actually packed with flavor, and near sugary in its finish. A perfect drink for company get-togethers as few know the stuff packs a 94 proof wallop. Order it liberally, with minimal tonic. Throw a lime on top, to show you're the kind of person who needs one. The average upper middle management sorts will appreciate that. Nobody wants a 28 year old gin martini drinker on his payroll. It's a little much on the pretentious scale for some, a little much on the libertine scale for others.

4. Tanqueray Rangpur

I bought this hesitantly, thinking at 83 proof it'd be the gin equivalent of one of those weak fruit-flavored vodkas, infused with obvious artificial sweeteners. I was wrong. The stuff's flat out delicious, and what it lacks in punch is more than compensated for by the fact that a glass of it with a bit of tonic might as well be soda.* The best damned soda you've ever had. The lime's a bit overpowering for a purist, but on a humid, ninety degree Saturday afternoon, you understand why the British colonists allegedly drank a variant of this liquor in the heat of summer in India.

3. Bombay Sapphire

I almost hate to rate this number three, as it really ought to share the number two slot. But I don't like splitting ranks, and this is a zero sum game. It must, however, be noted - this gin is barely a shade below the number two brand, which is a tremendous compliment to that gin, as Sapphire is flat out spectacular. And lethal. The flavors in Sapphire are subtle, the closest of those here to the old school "rubbing alcohol" character of classic neutral, dry gin. But if you drink this stuff on the rocks, which you can easily do and should, as mixing it almost seems wrong, you catch a wide range of citrusy tastes mixed up with the traditional juniper. And a bonus with Sapphire is how smoothly it goes down and how sneaky the buzz can be. You can easily rip through a half a bottle of it and suddenly, surely, at 94 proof, it'll hit you at once like a train. I wouldn't swill this one in business company or even among none-too-close friends. This is one to enjoy in martini form, and keep in your own special corner of the liquor cabinet. The bottle you want to open after that truly miserable day at work, when you need a drink that's flavor is only eclipsed by its surgical grade anesthetic effect.

2. Bluecoat

There's nothing much good about Philadelphia. Bluecoat Gin's one of the few remaining exceptions. Yes, they make it in North Philly, and yes, I'm not kidding. This isn't just one of the finest gins I've ever had, it's one of the finest liquors I've ever had. Bluecoat's not for everyone. It's a ballsy, strong gin, loaded with citrus (so much so that adding a lime to a G&T with the stuff seems ludicrous overkill). It doesn't go down like Sapphire, and where the citrus hints in Rangpur cut the edge of the alcohol, the citrus in Bluecoat adds to the liquor's bite. But at five times distilled, it's as clean and sharp as the finest ultra-premium vodkas, and each of its flavors is distinct, like they're supposed to be there, exactly the way you're experiencing them. Of the bunch, this is the best gin and tonic gin. It never gets lost in the mix.

1. Hendrick's

It smells like poupourri, has a sugary finish and where most have the usual juniper, Hendrick's has hints of cucumber. And yet, despite all these seemingly strong reasons to dislike it, to not even consider it the type of liquor it claims to be, Hendrick's is the best gin I've ever had. By a good distance, too. Where the rest of the gins on this list are close to one another in flavor, Hendrick's is a total break. It's as easy as Sapphire to drink, as flavorful as Bluecoat, but where both of those stick within the parameters of traditional gin, Hendrick's lets in a whole layer of flavor none of the others even comes close to achieving. But I offer this praise with a caution. As the label of the bottle cautions, Hendrick's is not for everyone. If the scent of roses in your drink creeps you out, you probably won't like this stuff. And if you're married to the use of lime in your gin and tonic, the mash-up of competing flavors on your palate probably won't be pleasing. But if you're willing to try a truly unique gin, more wet than dry, more sweet than neutral, but at the same time every bit as defined in its meticulously crafted infusions as the best of the traditional premium brands, Hendrick's will not let you down. The only thing bad I can say about this gin is you'll want to keep tasting it, because it's nothing like anything you've had, in any type of liquor. And that leads to a rough next day.

Enjoy irresponsibly. It's not like you have any serious work to do tomorrow. Or this afternoon.

1 comment:

  1. You have a good start. Although I like, "Sloane Yankee" better. It sings. Keep it up, man.