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Gin, to many young imbibers, is like a coiled rattlesnake. As soon as they see or hear it, they stop dead and back away slowly. They’d rather hug a cactus than taste a juniper berry.
And this is a great shame. Gin is a wonderful, complex, infinitely mixable and misunderstood spirit. More people should be trying it. More bartenders should be creating with it. It is our duty, standing behind our broad pulpit at the church of holy spirits, to get the people out of their ruts, banish their misconceptions and help them try something new.
So next time you hear someone express fear and loathing of gin, be ready to twist open their mind like a stubborn jar of pickled onions.
So what are you going to say?
“It’s the original flavored vodka.”
Ferment any organic material and distil that mash. Bang. You’ve got vodka. Redistil that with a mixture of botanicals including juniper. Boom. Gin.
Gin is neutral grain spirits with natural added flavors. Flavored vodka.
Now bubble gum or glazed donut vodka is as close to gin as sugar is to cloves, but gin draws its flavors from a time when the world’s sweet teeth were not so decayed. Along with the piney juniper berry you’ll often find coriander seeds, angelica root, citrus peel and many more. None of which are particularly sweet, but it was never intended for the Kool-Aid generation.
If your guest is the “flavored vodka type”, then offer a cocktail that appeals to their sweeter side. Any gin sour with a bit more sweetener will help ease their transition away from cupcake vodka.
“Every day is Christmas when you’re sipping gin.”
The boldest aroma and most prominent flavor of classic gin is that of a pine tree. Juniper is a conifer and the berries are not actually berries at all. They’re cones with merged and fleshy scales.
Fruits don’t grow on evergreen trees. (No, pineapples don’t count.)
Pines and firs are great at Christmas and turpentine is fine for cleaning paint brushes, but most people don’t like drinking Pine-Sol.
Yet the strong piney aroma may trigger a distant memory from a first experience with cheap gin at a party. But when a gin cocktail is mixed right, the juniper is balanced with other tastes and the result is delicious.
And modern distillers are getting very creative with the gin concept, responding to a modern dislike of a Douglas Fir bough upside the head with subtler, more nuanced flavors. If the last time your customer tried gin was a college party and the gin came in a plastic bottle, then you as a bartender have a great opportunity to impress!
Offer a cocktail that evokes the best of Christmas – playing up the spices and aromas of the holidays. Or go the other direction entirely and make them a cocktail with a new American style of gin that’s less aggressive with the juniper flavor.
“But have you tried…”
Insert your favorite craft distillery here. Nowadays there are hundreds of gins on the market, so it’s nearly certain your guest will find something they like. The days of chomping on Christmas trees are gone (unless you’re into that sort of thing!)
Dry Fly from Spokane, Washington, uses less juniper and more local botanicals including hops, dried apples and lavender. The juniper berries come from Oregon and the base spirit is all Washington wheat. The brand calls itself “farm to bottle.”
Oakland Spirits Company from California brings flavors from the sea, including foraged nori, to its Automatic Sea Gin. It’s kind of the Islay Scotch of gins.
The Nordic Food Lab has captured the pheromones and folic acids created by wood ants, which are quite reactive to alcohol, to create stupendous aromas and flavors in its Anty Gin. Yup, gin made from ants.
To sum it up, gin can be made from spirits infused in a great number of ways. Open your mind, try some new stuff and be ready to change how your guests define gin.
“But what about gin and juice?”
If gin makes you think of a stuffy executive martini sipper, rectify that. Rappers love gin. Snoop drinks it with juice with his money on his mind.
DJ Quik likes his with Super Socco, a sweet fruity sports drink.
I’ve had people order Gin and Juice while having no idea what juice they expected. Urban Dictionary claims it to be made from grape juice concentrate and water to taste, but I think pineapple or grapefruit juice are best with gin.
Kid Rock likes his gin with cocaine. I wouldn’t suggest that pairing.
Balance the bite of gin with the sweetness of fruit however you like best. Gin doesn’t have to be sipped while wearing a business suit.
You can make gin into a sorbet, so it has to be fun.
“It’s the original Health Food Drink”
What’s the deadliest creature on earth? Bears, sharks, hippos or tigers? Nope. Mosquitoes.
19th century British colonists were dying in piles after catching malaria from skeeter bites. The Crown responded with rations of quinine powder, which was too bitter to consume alone. Colonists mixed it with sugar and water to make it palatable. But what made it even tastier?
Yeah, the gin and tonic is a health drink. You should be drinking more of them.
The quinine in tonic fluoresces in ultraviolet light, so if you have some funky bulbs in your club it will glow purplish-blue. No glow? You’re out of post mix. You just poured a gin and soda.
Worried about scurvy too? Add some lime, which was given in large amounts to British sailors and is how they earned the name “Limeys.”
“Have a Gin and Saint G”
If all else fails, this cocktail is sure to please – it’s a favorite of mine. Pair the herby and complex bite of gin with the herby yet sweet complexity of Saint Germain Elderflower Liqueur. (Your mother was a shrew and your father smelt of elderberries.)
Muddle some grapefruit, if you have it, or lemon and orange if you don’t. Add grapefruit juice or sour. Shake it and add soda, tonic or lemon lime soda, depending on the sweet tooth of your guest.
Name it whatever you want and take full credit.
Just don’t forget about gin. Be an ambassador for a historically great spirit. Help some creative local distillers that are breathing fresh life into a classic and you might just be helping a guest take their first step away from sickly sweet nightclub drinks and toward a lifetime gin lover!
Eighty Six, also known as David Klenda, has worked the front of the house since George Bush’s dad was president and OJ was famous for being a football player. He’s been writing poetry and fiction longer than that. He’ll write freelance about anything for a buck, but is so glad to be writing about something he knows and loves. Currently he is making a Spokane neighborhood dive a little more crafty.