A few years ago (and with a much more limited scope of gin experience!) I took a first shot at trying to figure out which gins worked best in a series of classic gin cocktails. Since that initial attempt, I have tried more gins than I can even attempt to count, and I’ve been waiting for the chance to revise my initial list and offer a more nuanced take on how gin works in each of these gin cocktails.
These gin cocktails have become my “canon” for reviewing a gin. They’re the old-standbys, the familiar friends whose ingredients I always have in stock. They’re the cocktails that you can go into any bar worth its salt and order (perhaps the lone exception in my cabinet may be the “Last Word” but I digress). The cocktails in the Gin Cocktail Canon are: The Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins, Gimlet, Negroni, Aviation, Martini and The Last Word. All are fine gin cocktails (and yes, Gin and Tonic is classed as a cocktail!) But with so many new contemporary gins out there and bold experiments on the classic London Dry out there, it is no longer safe to assume that all gins are created equal. And so for each cocktail, I’ll talk briefly about the considerations for choosing a gin that compliments the cocktail, and then offer two suggestions: one gin which is accessible and commonly available that you should be able to find with relative ease. I’ll then offer a second suggestion which is more often than not, a more obscure gin which compliments the cocktail well, but may be difficult to find or only regionally available. Without further ado, lets get into the cocktails:
The Gin and Tonic
For many Gin and Tonic is the gold standard. The bar to which all other gin drinks are compared to. If it doesn’t work in a gin and tonic, then where does it work?
Ideally you’re going to be using a nice fresh squeeze of lime here. Most tonic waters have a hint of sweetness to them, so in general we’re looking for something which brings a strong gin point of view to the table.
Easy-to-find Recommendation: Beefeater. Go straight and easy here. Sure a lot of gins bring the juniper, but few do it in such a classic way. The 94 Proof version packs enough punch to make your gin and tonic sing, but the flavor is classic and hard to go wrong with.
A little bit harder-to-find: Cold River Gin (like Beefeater, 94 proof and copper pot distilled) brings a similar brisk juniper flavor to the drink, but mixed with nice tonic the balanced citrus nuance and some herbal notes shine come through.
The Tom Collins
This is a deceptively simple drink: lemon juice, sugar, gin and soda water. And yet it is one that surprisingly many good gins fail to stand up to. Again, you can’t go wrong with a good juniper forward gin, but the recent contemporary gin explosion has left is with a wealth of fine gins which show their citrus side first. I find that a gin which errs strongly on the orange side of the citrus compliments the lemon best in this cocktail.
Easy-to-find Recommendation: Perhaps not easy everywhere yet, this American craft gin has found its way on to shelves in the US, Italy, Germany but not the UK (yet). Surely soon. This gin emphasizes the orange, but without overpowering the characteristic juniper and earthy spice. Paired with lemon, its a match made in drink heaven. The orange and the lemon merge wonderfully.
A little bit harder-to-find: Pinckney Bend Gin also brings the orange to the foreground, but with a slight bit more heat than Bluecoat. Tastes a bit more complex than Bluecoat, with the flavor evolving more as the gin moves across the palette. An excellent gin that seems designed to illuminate all the best notes in a Tom Collins.
I’ve always had a hard time putting my finger on what will make this cocktail sing. You have a strong acidic flavor from the Rose’s Lime Juice to contend with. And then you have the gin. Because you’re drinking straight gin diluted with only a hint of something else, I suggest going much the same direction you would for a martini: smooth and drinkable gins that pack a good amount of flavor.
Easy to Find Recommendation: Tanqueray’s top shelf product, Tanqueray 10 is smooth enough to be drank neat or in a martini, but it has some strong citrus notes- grapefruit and bold lime- which work in concert with the the acidic notes of the lime cordial.
A little bit harder-to-find: I’m hard pressed to come up with another gin which might pull of this drink better than Tanqueray 10.