All Shook Up: Craft Cocktail Imbibers Know That Gin Is In

Red_Carpet_Rosie_Punch.jpg
The Red Carpet Rosie packs quite a punch. Photo by Kelly O Photography.

If you’re participating in the craft cocktail movement—as an observer, as an imbiber, or a practitioner—you know one thing: gin is in!

Nothing solidified that fact better than the Gin Master Class, followed by a gin pairings dinner, held at Hollywood’s Eveleigh in late February, and hosted by the English Gin Company. Importers and ambassadors of Beefeater London Dry Gin, Beefeater 24 and Plymouth Gin, these folks know that selling people on their hooch is a multi-faceted problem. Those of us who love gin are easy—we know that the complex flavors of juniper, fennel, citrus, cucumber and other aromatics make it a spicy, delicious component of the classic—and modern—cocktail.

More interesting than vodka, with a different bouquet and complexity than a bourbon, whiskey or rum, gin brings its own hat to the party, and you never know just what it will be wearing. But erasing the general dismissal of a liquor often overindulged in at it’s most basic, and vomit-inducing, form is a tough sell. So I’ve been overjoyed to see mid-sized labels like Plymouth and Hendricks promoting their products and showing folks how great gin can be, straight or as a component of a crafted beverage.

I prefer the straight martini myself—good gin, a hint of vermouth and a lemon peel. But a raging case of allergies means that I’m also allergic to some of my favorite things these days, and particular gins (Tanqueray, I have my eye on you) give me a raging headache. Fortunately, I’ve used the occasion to sample outside of the well and see how my delicate cerebellum handles them. I went into the Gin Master Class night with a little trepidation, but also tons of excitement. My drink, poured in new ways by master mixologists!

The good news for me was that Beefeater 24 and Plymouth proved head-friendly. Plymouth is a smooth, mellow gin perfect for drinking with the occasional olive or cocktail onion, but it also goes nicely—and discreetly—into any cocktail. The Beefeater 24 has a little more bite and a little more growl, and tends to make itself known. I particularly appreciated this during the several cups of the lemony Red Carpet Rosie punch (see recipe below) I drank while awaiting the aged beef at the extraordinary dinner Eveleigh provided.

One of the perks of the evening was turning the tables on the press by putting us behind the bar to test our hands-on cocktail skills. In a room full of cocktail bloggers and local foodies, a lot of claims of expertise hung heavy, but most of us were far less eloquent with shaker in hand. Still, it was a lot of fun to follow the recipes crafted by the Eveleigh’s head bartender, David Kupchinsky, including a gin and tonic with housemade tonic water, the Bon Poire with Plymouth and a pear-infused Vermouth and of course The Eveleigh, which featured a Rooibos-infused Vermouth and Chinato.

PlymouthAndBonPoire.jpg
Plymouth gets new packaging, right in time to create the Bon Poire. Photo by Kelly O Photography.

Gin holds up well to other strong, natural flavors: lemon, lime, simple syrups with herbs or spices. Some of my favorite non-martini gin based drinks are the old ones - the Corpse Reviver #2 with its hints of orange and absinthe and the Aviation with real maraschino liqueur and creme de violette. But good tonic and ice as a mixer will also do wonders for you on a hot day.

To host your own Gin Pairing evening, I’d suggest cooking some of the classics: beef, potatoes, bright seasonal vegetables. For drinks, start off with a mellow punch made of something citrusy and clean (we’ll be making the Red Carpet Rosie all summer, that’s for sure), and then create a simple cocktail to pair with the appetizers—go classic: the martini, the Martinez, the gimlet or the Gibson, or add a few basic touches of citrus or flower to open up the flavors and match with meat.

And while English Gin is helping to broaden the reach of gin on our shores, don’t forget that local distilleries (meaning American) are experimenting with gin distillation in the way they tackled whiskeys and bourbons just a few years ago. See what your favorite craft bar or liquor store has to offer. Ask for a flight of gins the next time you hit Oldfields or the Roger Room and taste the rich complexity and differences. At the very least BevMo is expanding their selection, and BarKeep in Silverlake boasts a truly mouth-watering collection of gins for your juniper-loving heart. Try them and conduct your own master class!

The Red Carpet Rosie:
1.5oz Beefeater 24
.75 Campari
.75 Rosemary simple syrup
.75 Lemon Juice