For most of the past 500 years, gin—which has just recently become the go-to insider order of the cocktail cognoscenti—has been perceived as a product of either England or Holland. The Dutch popularized the stuff (it was originally genever, a more whiskey-like juniper-flavored spirit), and then the British cornered the market with London dry gin—a clean, crisp, juniper-heavy style that was the base of the lunchtime martinis of the Mad Men era. But thanks to the growing craft-distillery movement, great gins that break the rules and incorporate new flavors, unfamiliar styles and unique ingredients are now being made across the globe. Creative bartenders are discovering new ways to use these innovative gins. With that in mind, here are five rules to help you explore the new world of global gin—no English or Dutch required. All the international bottles mentioned below are (or will soon be) available in the States, and they’re a welcome change from tradition.
1. THINK BEYOND THE MARTINI
London dry gin makes a smashing martini, but its intensity can overpower the ingredients in other cocktails. (If you dislike gin because it tastes like Christmas trees, you’ve only ever had London dry.) But less common gins can work in all sorts of drinks. Take Gin Mare, a Spanish bottling distilled with olives and Mediterranean herbs for a beautiful savory flavor; it’s perfect in a bloody mary. Or try the Italian Malfy, which is flavored with Amalfi and Sicily coast lemons and mixes wonderfully in brunch cocktails.
2. GO LOCAL
Some of the most compelling gins from around the world use ingredients from their homelands that can’t be found anywhere else. Four Pillars, an excellent gin from Australia that recently arrived in the U.S., incorporates the herbal warmth of Tasmanian pepperberry leaves and lemon myrtle, both native to Oz. For a supremely floral gin, check out G’Vine Floraison, which uses grapevine flowers from Charente in southern France that bloom just a few days each year.
3. MAKE A SPANISH-STYLE G&T
In Spain the humble gin and tonic is elevated to an art form with artisanal gins paired with artisanal tonics and garnished with fresh fruits and herbs chosen to match each spirit’s unique flavors. There are dozens of Spanish-made gins, and a few are finally making it stateside, including Xoriguer Mahón, which has been produced on the island of Menorca since the early 1900s. For a true Iberian-style gin and tonic with Mahón, serve it in a large wineglass filled with ice, use Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water and garnish with lavender or fresh lemon.
4. SIP IT STRAIGHT
No, you won’t see frat boys doing shots of gin anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean the spirit always has to be consumed in a cocktail. Case in point: Monkey 47. This German spirit is flavored with 47 different plant ingredients, from familiar classics such as juniper and sage to more exotic ones like musk mallow and acacia flowers. Pouring it neat or on the rocks is the best way to experience its complexity (and with its high price tag—$40 for a 375-milliliter bottle—it’s almost too precious to mix). Bourbon loyalists, prepare to be converted.
5. LOOK TO SCOTLAND
The modern gin revolution began in 1999 in Scotland with the launch of cucumber-and-rose-flavored Hendrick’s. That brand is now a household name, but Scotland also produces many other great gins. Sure, the country is better known for whiskey, but it’s a veritable hotbed of weird gin, including the Botanist, made from 22 herbs, berries and other ingredients foraged on the island of Islay, and Caorunn, which uses Highland botanicals. Scotland is also home to a thriving group of small craft distilleries making gins that are just now coming to the U.S., including Edinburgh, Rock Rose and Eden Mill.