There is one boozy pronouncement, however, that I will always remember. It was uttered by the critic F. Paul Pacult, publisher of the Spirits Journal, at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans a couple of years ago. It should be included in the next edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. “Gin,” he said, “is such a lovely invention. There is the wheel, and then there’s gin.”
I love gin — so much that it always comes as a shock to find out how many people in this world are unaware of its pleasures. I completely shut down when people tell me they don’t like gin. Often, these gin-haters are young and know only vodka. The juniper is too much for them bear: “It’s like getting smacked in the face by a Christmas tree!”
But others don’t have such an excuse. On a recent weekend in my local liquor store, I encountered a older gentleman standing before the gin shelf, completely befuddled.
“What’s a good gin?” he asked the clerk.
“Why don’t you ask this guy,” the clerk said, pointing at me.
“What do you even do with gin?” the gentleman asked us.
“How about a martini?” I said.
“What’s in a martini?”
Frankly, for a moment, I thought he was putting us on. The guy was probably in his mid-60s, dressed in that preppy variety of green pants and a belt decorated with sailing flags. He’d never had a gin and tonic at the yacht club?
In any case, it gave me further evidence that his baby boomer generation is the one that messed up everything, at least when it comes to cocktails.
But I was exceedingly polite. I pointed him toward balanced, subtle, versatile Plymouth gin. I told him to stir together four parts of that and one part dry vermouth, with plenty of ice, and then strain the liquid into a cocktail glass. (I even referred to it as a “martini” glass, just to make sure he would understand.) I hope it all worked out.
What do you do with gin? The beauty part is that you don’t have to do too much. There’s a reason martinis and gin and tonics are among the simplest and most ubiquitous mixed drinks. Good gin is an already-complex infusion of botanicals. Juniper, of course, is what makes gin “gin,” but there is usually also citrus peel, orris root, angelica, coriander, licorice or any number of other herbs and spices in the mix.
For years, the gin shelf was owned mostly by behemoth brands such as Beefeater and Gordon’s and Tanqueray, almost all of it made in the London dry style. But over the past five years, we’ve seen a bunch of smaller brands, as microdistillers in the United States and previously unavailable European brands enter the market. I’ve written excitedly before, for instance, about long-lost styles such as Old Tom and Dutch genever.