By Nathanael TuckerAh, gin. It’s a bit of a divisive spirit: Most people have a strong opinion one way or another.
Often, the complaint is “it tastes like pine needles.” Others, amazingly, like the nonsugary, floral flavors.
Gin’s signature flavor developed centuries ago when juniper berries were added to grain alcohol for distilling as a medicine. A period of unregulated production in England during the 17th century led to both gin’s popularity in that country and seedy establishments that served sub-par liquor. To this day, phrases like “gin joint” and “bathtub gin” are used derisively. Since then, the alcohol has grown into a respectable spirit with a variety of flavors. Juniper berries are still central to its production, but botanicals such as cardamom, coriander, orange and lemon peel, rose petals and cucumber can be found in modern gins.
A great gin recipe for the uninitiated is a Tom Collins because it includes sugar and lemon juice to balance the bite of the juniper and botanicals. The drink is served on the rocks in those tall “Collins” glasses or in a tub, but the ingredients are the same. For a true Tom Collins, use any London dry gin, but for variety, try a small batch bottle that incorporates different flavors.
2 oz. dry gin.
1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice.
1 to 2 tsp. simple syrup.
Lemon wedge or zest and maraschino cherry for garnish.
Chilled Collins glass or rocks tub.
Add the gin, lemon juice and syrup to the chilled glass and stir. Fill the glass with ice and top off the mix with soda water, stirring again. Add the lemon wedge or zest to the side of the glass, plunk in a cherry and sip. Add a touch more lemon juice if you prefer it a bit more tart or sweeten with a splash of syrup.
A Gin Fizz and Gin Rickey are close cousins to the Tom Collins. The Fizz is made by shaking the first three ingredients together with ice before straining into a glass and adding soda, serving it neat (without ice). The Rickey substitutes the lemon for lime both as juice and garnish.
One final note: simple syrup is easy to make, infuse and is a must for any bar. Simply pour 1 cup of water in a saucepan on the stove, add a cup of white sugar and bring to a boil. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving. You can infuse the syrup by adding a few sprigs of rosemary, lime zest, anise seeds, raspberries or any other flavor you choose as the water boils and allowing it to steep during the cooling phase. Strain as desired. If you don’t want to take the time to make a simple syrup, add a teaspoon of sugar or two to the bottom of the glass before adding the other liquid and mix until dissolved.
Tucker is a former professional barista and bartender. He can be reached at (208) 848-2264 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.