Birds are singing, days are lengthening and that pile of slush outside your door is finally beginning to retreat. It’s spring, and every young man’s fancy should turn to thoughts of…gin.
After a long winter drinking fortifying Hot Toddies and rich Manhattans, a gin cocktail is like a breath of fresh air. In the spring, gin is like a ray of sunshine in a glass, even when its raining or chilly out.
The nice thing about gin is that it represents such a wide range of flavor possibilities. Besides the fact that it must contain juniper, gin can be made from any kind of spirit base and be flavored with any fruit, spice, herb or anything else Mother Nature can produce.
I’ve already told you about the big 3 classic gin brands; this spring, why not try something a little different? Here are six delicious small-production gins that will bring some unique flavors to your cocktails.
MARTIN MILLER’S GIN ($29)
It’s perhaps the best idea ever conceived during a night at the pub: Gin-loving British hotelier and bon vivant Martin Miller decided with two buddies in a Notting Hill watering hole to create their perfect juniper spirit. That the brand is still going strong nearly 20 years later is testament to their genius. Martin Miller’s is a relatively traditional London dry-style spirit, heavy on the juniper with supporting notes of citrus and a bit of licorice. It’s great in a bubbly Gin & Tonic.
BARR HILL GIN ($36)
Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits is all about honey. Founder Todd Hardie has been a beekeeper for almost half a century, since he was nine years old, and the distillery makes its Barr Hill Vodka by fermenting pure honey. This gin is flavored with only juniper and raw honey, giving it an elemental simplicity. If you love honey, you’ll want to sip it neat; it’s nice and sweet by itself. In a cocktail, mix with tart ingredients to help balance out the sugar.
PIERDE ALMAS +9 ($99)
Like a little agave with your gin? This bottling is one of the odder spirits on the market, but somehow, it works: Unaged mezcal from Oaxaca is infused with nine classic gin botanicals, including juniper, coriander and fennel, then distilled again. The result is clearly and distinctively mezcal but with all the herbaceous notes of a gin. Put it in a Margarita to blow your mind a little bit.
FEW AMERICAN GIN ($40)
In this gin distilled just outside Chicago, juniper takes something of a backseat to more uncommon botanicals, including whole vanilla beans and Cascade hops that the master distiller grows in his own backyard. It’s also made from a bourbon mash distilled to low proof, so there are some grainy, genever-like notes as well. The balance of earthy and herbal is best in fruity or bubbly cocktails, like a Tom Collins or Gimlet.
MONKEY 47 SCHWARZWALD DRY GIN ($45 FOR 375 ML)
Gin lovers aren’t quite as obsessive as whiskey geeks, but if there’s anything as sought-after in gin as Pappy Van Winkle is in bourbon, this is it. The stuff ain’t cheap, but it’s worth checking out. It’s made with 47 different flavor ingredients, sourced mostly from the Black Forest region of Germany. All those botanicals yield an incredibly complex gin—peppery, floral, sweet and fruity all at once. The best way to appreciate it is in a very dry Martini.
RANSOM OLD TOM GIN ($37)
Back in the mid-1800s when cocktails really started to get popular, a slightly sweet gin style called old Tom was popular. Though the London dry behemoth took the gin crown after the turn of the century, a few distillers today are recreating the old-timey spirit. This one, from Oregon distillery Ransom Spirits, is among the best of the bunch. It’s aged for a few months in French-oak wine barrels, which mellows out the botanicals and adds a raisin-and-caramel roundness. Try it in a Negroni for a beautiful aperitif.