I’ve been thinking a lot about gin recently. I seem to have a love-hate relationship with the spirit, and I think it’s because of its recent rise in popularity. There are plenty of great Gins that have been on the market for a long time, but it seems like I stumble across a new one every couple of days. Now SOME of the gins that have launched in the last two or three years are fantastic products that have added a new dimension to the category. The problem is though, that for every one new gin that I like, there seem to be twenty that I just don’t get. Many new Gins, just don’t taste or smell like Gin to me, in fact many of them sit in a broader category of ‘botanically infused spirits’, but not Gin. It used to be simple to think of Gin as that junipery stuff that makes Martinis taste good, it’s now so broad in taste and style that I sometimes don’t know where gin ends and herbal spirits begin.
So with my mind wandering across this brave new world of Gin, and the b&t drinks cabinet bulging at the seams under the weight of new products, I thought maybe now was as good a time as ever to look at what makes Gin so interesting. Hopefully while looking into the facts, stories and of course some of the rules and regulations that define Gin, I might just get my head around what makes some Gins great, and others, quite frankly baffling.
Last month I wrote about how difficult it can be for small brands to compete in a crowded spirit marketplace, especially when they often compete against larger companies with big budgets. Well when I bumped into Alex Stein at Imbibe Live last week, it reminded me that there’s another way for a brand to become successful, and that’s to buck the trend and put quality above cost in their list of priorities. You see Alex is the mastermind behind Monkey 47 Gin, a brand that is fast becoming a firm favourite with bartenders in the UK and across Europe. The more you learn about Monkey 47 though, the more you realise that no compromises have been made in the name of cost savings, which is pretty rare when it comes to spirits.
Having spent a couple of days in the company of Alex and his master distiller Christoph Keller, I’ve seen how they have set out to create the best gin they possibly could, regardless of cost, and the result is a high-end gin that’s worth paying for. All too often when it comes to ‘super premium’ spirits, I’ve felt that you’re paying for a fancy bottle and a lot of expensive marketing, but in the case of Monkey 47 I think you might just be getting value for money.
In my blog about the history of the Martinez cocktail, I explored the timeline of a drink that is considered a classic, but is known today by a relatively standard recipe. In searching through old recipes I found that many, including some of the oldest, called for dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth, and that over the years the recipe had undergone many changes. Since then I’ve been asked by a lot of bartenders which recipe I like the best and if there is a definitive recipe for the classic Martinez. The answer to the latter question is of course that there is no definitive recipe, but my thought is that the Martinez is more of a style of drink than a single drink with only one recipe.
If we look at other classics that developed around the same time such as the Manhattan and the Martini, we see striking similarities. They are cocktails that feature a spirit combined with vermouth and bitters, they are simple stirred drinks and of course they have stood the test of time to become classics. The one difference between our understanding of the Martinez and the others though is that both the Martini and the Manhattan appear as a family of drinks that include different styles of vermouths in different ratios. We’re all familiar with sweet or perfect Manhattans, and the same was originally true of the Martini, but for some unknown reason the Martinez has always been assumed to be a drink made only with sweet vermouth.