One of my favourite warm weather sippers is a gin and tonic with lots of ice and fresh lime. This aromatic, citric cocktail really refreshes when the temperature rises. Gin is a very popular spirit and is consumed the world over.
Gin was created in the 16th century by Dutch chemist Dr. Franciscus Sylvus, to cleanse the blood of folks suffering from kidney disorders. He named the concoction “genièvre,” French for juniper. Mass production in England followed.
This spirit is light-bodied and created through distillation, often several times, from a mash of cereal grain (most often corn, rye, barley and wheat). The best are produced in continuous column stills. The main flavour and aroma character comes from the use of juniper berries. Other botanicals like coriander, lemon, orange peel, fennel, cassia, anise, almond and angelica are often utilized as well. It ranges in alcoholic strength between 40 and 47 per cent by volume.
Styles vary. London Dry is considered the best as botanicals are added during second and third distillation, producing flowery, aromatic characteristics. The vapours of these flavouring agents mesh with the alcohol as they pass through the still via an attachment called a gin head. These gins are the best for making martinis.
Plymouth Gin originates in the port of Plymouth on the English Channel. It is clear, slightly fruity, full-bodied and very aromatic. Only one distillery (Plymouth, Coates & Co.) today has the right to produce this style.
Old Tom Gin is an interesting variation. A sweeter version of London Dry, simple syrup distinguishes it. This was the gin of choice in the 19th century and the style originally used to make a Tom Collins. It is rarely available today, but can still be found in England.
Genever Gin, or Schiedam, is the Dutch version. This style of gin, often distilled in a pot still, is produced with a method similar to whiskey, from malted grain mash. The resulting spirit is lower in alcohol (usually 35 to 40 per cent by volume) and generally more flavourful. It is also sometimes aged in oak casks for one to three years resulting in two styles. Oude (old) is the original style, straw-coloured, relatively sweet and aromatic, while Jonge (young) is drier and lighter.
Just after the turn of the new millennium, a number of new gins started to appear on the scene. These modern versions really stretch the boundaries of what gin is all about. Veering away from the dominant flavour of juniper, this “New American Gin,” as it was coined, sports flavours such as cucumber and grape, somewhat similar to flavoured vodka. Not entirely embraced by true gin lovers, it certainly brought a whole new generation of gin consumers into the fold and gave bartenders and mixologists something new to aid in their creative endeavors.
Here are my top 10 gin cocktails: Gin and Tonic (best with London Dry), Martini (with vermouth, the cocktail that says sophistication), Gimlet (gin and lime juice or the Gin Rickey variation with some club soda), Tom Collins (gin, club soda and sour mix, or Tom Collins mix, finished with sugar on the rim and fruit garnish), Long Island Iced Tea (a potent concoction with equal parts gin, vodka, tequila, triple sec and sweet and sour, with a splash of cola), Champagne Fizz (something different, mixing gin, lemon juice, sugar and champagne), Hair of the Dog (a mix of gin, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce and chili pepper), Singapore Sling (a refreshing, not too strong, not too sweet mix of gin, cherry brandy, lemon juice and club soda), Sloe Gin Fizz (a gin-based plum liqueur that combines gin, sloe gin, lemon juice, soda and simple syrup), and Alabama Slammer (a potent blend of equal parts sloe gin, Southern Comfort, Triple Sec and Galliano to six parts orange juice).
Edward Finstein a.k.a. The Wine Doctor, wine writer, educator, judge & consultant
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