A Brief Lesson On Gin

A Brief Lesson On Gin

As a Columbus bartender, I have my fair share of stories, ranging from hilarious to creepy to utterly foul. Through the years, I developed my own interesting set of pet peeves as well — one of them involving one of my favorite liquors: gin.

The irritation was born out of a scenario (and subsequent similar scenarios) much like this one:

Imagine an upscale downtown bar on an extremely busy Friday or Saturday night…

Female Suburbanite in her Forties: (impatiently) Uhhh hi, yeah. I’d like a dirty martini, please.

Me: Vodka or gin?
FSF: (condescendingly) Ummm, vodka?
Me: (sweetly, struggling to smile) Vodka preference? Up or on the rocks? Garnish?

In this particular scenario, almost every time the FSF in question would order a dirty Grey Goose martini up with olives. It would have been nice if she could have just ordered it that way in the first place (especially without insinuating that I was the stupid one for asking whether or not she wanted gin or vodka).

This is amusing to us, because we all know the original, the first, and arguably the truest “martini” is made with gin, right? Of course we do.

And we know that busy bartenders don’t have time to ask silly questions. Bye bitch.

Now, back to gin:

Gin is a refreshing, light, yet flavorful spirit. Like whiskey, gin comes in several varieties that celebrate a considerable number of unique flavor profiles — for example, the sweeter, earthier qualities of Plymouth gin compare to the strong cucumber notes of Hendrick’s. One would sound silly comparing vodkas that way.

Gin owes much of its diversity of flavors to its colorful history and different distillation techniques. the unifying flavor, of course, is from the juniper berry, which is the common denominator of flavor among the types of gin. The juniper berry is actually not a berry at all, but the seed of a conifer tree; the piney flavor that most people associate with gin comes from the juniper berry. If there isn’t a significant juniper presence in a gin, then you may as well be drinking vodka.

Distillers use other botanicals to further flavor their gins, and compliment the juniper berry.

A few common gin botanicals include:

The seed from the plant we know as cilantro. It adds a citrus flavor, and is often used similarly in wheat beer.

Most commonly, orange and lemon peels, but sometimes lime is used.

From the root of the iris, orris root gives its gins a subtle violet flavor.

Used to flavor Chartreuse, Benedictine, and vermouth, angelica root is sweet and musky. It compliments the piney flavor of the juniper quite nicely.

Herbal, citrusy and spicy, cardamom brings a certain level of complexity to gin. It works with the juniper, adds forest flavors, yet tastes a bit like ginger, giving it a warm spiced profile.

Cubeb also provides warm spice notes, but like a hybrid of black pepper and allspice.

Basically, cinnamon.

Grains of paradise is used to compliment the pine and citrus flavors in the gin, in a simialr way that angelica root and cardamom are used.

Not familiar with gin? Here’s a quick briefing on the different varieties:


London or London dry gin is what most people think of when they think of gin. Despite the name, this type of gin does not need to be made in London – in fact, it rarely is. Being the most popular type of gin, it is no surprise that many of the most common common brands of gin fall into this catagory: Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, Tanqueray, etc…


Unlike London gin, Plymouth gin must be made in Plymouth, England in order to fall into this category, but is made in a similar style as London gin. Today, there is only one gin distillery left in Plymouth, Black Friars Distillery. This style of gin was once very popular, especially with the British Navy, which requested a higher proof version that became known as Navy Strength. As a style, Plymouth gin is a bit less dry than London gin, contains more root ingredients in the botanical base, which results in an earthier flavor.


Old Tom is an historic style of gin (the link between the original Dutch Genever and the later London Dry). Old Tom was almost dead until recently, when a few smaller distilleries decided to bring it back. Mildly sweet and less juniper forward than it’s successors, London and Plymouth, Old Tom was the style of gin used in the classic Tom Collins cocktail. Ransom and Hayman’s distilleries both make an Old Tom gin that’s available in the states.


A relatively new style with very little to define it as a style at all, except for the fact that the gin comes from smaller, craft distilleries. Some gins in this category have strong juniper, piney flavors, while others downplay the juniper by high-lighting fruit or floral notes. Other gins in this style deemphasize the juniper to such an extent that it might as well be marketed as flavored vodka. A local favorite, Watershed Distillery Four Peel Gin, is a prime example of this style.


Sloe gin is another historic style of gin, flavored with sloe or blackthorn drupes (a relative of the plum). It is sweet and drinks more like a cordial than a true gin. If you’ve never tried sloe gin before and you wind up at a bar where you’re confident that your bartender is adept, order a sloe gin fizz. They’re delicious.

So if you’re not a martini traditionalist (most people aren’t), but you’d like to get down with some gin, where should you start? I’d recommend dabbling with one of these recipes — or just ordering one the next time you’re at the bar.

Ingredients: 1 ounce dry gin; 1 ounce Campari; 1 ounce sweet vermouth

Directions: On the rocks: Simply pour the ingredients in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir. Twist and garnish with an orange peel.

Up: Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir for 20 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist and garnish with an orange peel.

Ingredients: 3/4 ounce gin; 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice; 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur; 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse

Directions: Combine ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, and shake briskly for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Most cocktails containing liquor are made today with gin and ingenuity. In brief, take an ample supply of the former and use your imagination.   — Irma S. Rombauer

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NID Staff

From the delectable and always amorous NID Staff, another little ditty certain to tantalize your brain while inciting a slight tinge of drool, as a bit more adrenaline is released into the bloodstream.