Is gin back in? With an array of super-premium brands, each boasting its own exotic-sounding botanicals and history, gin may be the next “in” spirit

Is gin back in? With an array of super-premium brands, each boasting its own exotic-sounding botanicals and history, gin may be the next “in” spirit

Cheryl Ursin

Who says gin isn’t versatile?

When managers of Tru, in Chicago, decided to create a cocktail that was the exact same color as a sculpture on display in its bar, the restaurant, surprisingly, did not turn to vodka, the “blank canvas” of spirits.

No, the spirit used in the restaurant’s Tru Blu Martini is a gin: Bombay Sapphire.

Of course, gin being, like vodka, a white spirit, getting the color right wasn’t the issue. (Incidentally, the Tru Blu Martini is a precise shade of blue called International Klein Blue, named after the artist who created Tru’s sculpture, Yves Klein.)

What is surprising is that Tru’s bartenders – already constrained in what ingredients they could use by the need for the blue color – did not turn to vodka, which, with its neutral taste, is commonly considered the most mixable of spirits. Many assume it is far more mixable than gin, with all of its botanicals and complexities of flavor.

Adam Seger Tru’s general manager, says they had good reason to work with gin, however. “First of all, real Martinis are made with gin,” he points out, an important consideration in a restaurant called Tru. “Second, we’ve seen a trend of people ordering more gin. They are looking for more flavor.”

And most importantly, the Tru Blu Martini, made with blue curacao, fresh lime, grenadine and tonic (see recipe sidebar), is, like many made with gin, a great-tasting cocktail.


Indeed, bar and beverage managers across the country are rediscovering gin and are using it to create some of the most cutting-edge cocktails around.

“Personally, given the choice between vodka and gin, 98% of the time, I’ll work with gin, even in the mildest cocktails,” declares Audrey Saunders, beverage director at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. “I work with gin the way most bartenders work with vodka, and I enjoy it precisely because of its botanicals. Gin has much more character and adds a brightness to cocktails that vodka lacks.”

Dale DeGroff, the bartending authority and author of “The Graft of the Cocktail,” (Clarkson N. Potter, $35.00), declares that gin is a great mixer. “Gin is not hard to work with. It brings a lot to the party,” he says. “With vodka, you are stuck with what you add to it – and you diminish the flavor by adding it to the vodka. But what about creating a new, interesting, bold, big flavor?”

Gin remains far smaller than vodka: in 2001, 11.1 million cases of gin were sold in the US, compared to 37.8 million cases of vodka. And, overall, the growth rate of the category has been nothing to write home about. According to the latest figures from Adams Beverage Group, the entire gin category has just managed to stay flat the last couple of years, after nearly a decade of shrinkage.

However, judging by the stirrings of the marketplace – product launches, advertising campaigns, marketing programs — suppliers see potential for real growth in the gin market.

“Gin as a category, as a whole, has been clown by one to two percent, sometimes even three percent,” says Hayes Tauber, manager of international brands for the Absolut Spirit Company, which, in 2002, reintroduced Plymouth Dry Gin into the United States. “But the domestic gins are why total volume is going down. If you look at imported gins alone, it is a whole different story. They are doing really, really well. Imported, premium gins have a ton of potential.”


Bombay Sapphire, arguably the first super-premium gin in the US market, launched in 1990, is the fastest growing of the super-premium gins, according to Sumindi Peiris, senior marketing manager at Bombay Spirits Company. Bombay Sapphire and Bombay together reported a 15.4% increase in case depletions for 2000-2001.

And now, the Bombays, Tanquerays and Beefeaters of the gin world have more company. “Two years ago, there was no ultra-premium gin market, but there is now,” says James Bruton, spokesperson for Hendrick’s Gin from William Grant & Sons. “There is Tanqueray No. Ten, Bafferts, all these esoteric gins in the same price range as the super-premium vodkas.”

Cascade Mountain Gin, a microdistillery product from Bendistillery in Oregon, sees the surge of interest in its own sampling room. “We’ll serve 400 Martinis in a weekend,” reports Jim Bendis, president and CEO.

Meanwhile, companies are backing ad campaigns, such as the “Distinctive” campaign for Tanqueray, launched last April, and on-premise promotions, such as the “Gourmet Gimlet” program Beefeater is running in connection with Mott’s, the maker of Rose’s Lime Juice.

“Imported gin is where the growth is,” says Phil West, Beefeater’s brand manager at Allied Domecq. “And the amount of activity — promotions, media, new products — is at an all-time high.”


Fred McKibbin, owner of Grace restaurant and lounge in Manhattan, ticks off the names of the brands he carries. “The big five are Tanqueray, Tanqueray No. Ten, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater,” he says. But he also canies Boodles, Hendrick’s, Plymouth, Old Raj – “110 proof, Scottish and lethally smooth,” he says – as well as Dutch gins, which are traditionally fruitier than the London dry or Plymouth styles.

McKibbin feels that what is happening with gins is an echo of what has been happening in beverages in general. “I have a 40-foot-long bar,” he says, “and 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to fill it with liquor. Now, I carry 15 gins, 25 vodkas, 15 to 20 tequilas, 20 single malts, 28 rums – and the stuff moves.” Gin, by the way, is usually the second or third best-selling spirit type for McKibbin, after vodka.

And there is a real range of flavor in the gin brands being offered. “There is a dramatic difference in brands and so many different ‘levels’ of flavors, starting with incredibly soft gins with the mildest of botanicals leading right up to really big, bold London drys,” says the Carlyle’s Saunders. “The spirit actually has a personality of its own, thank God.”

These differences in gin brands give customers and cocktail creators with a connoisseur-type bent something to sink their teeth into, so to speak. “True believers are usually Martini drinkers, and they get this glint in their eyes when they talk about which brand is their favorite,” says Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam Brewing & Distilling. Anchor Steam’s microdistillery makes Junipero Gin, currently available in about a dozen states.

Alexandre Gabriel of Gabriel & Andreu, makers of the French gin Citadelle, calls this phenomena “connoisseur consumerism” and points out that this trend is persuading consumers to “eat the finest foods smoke the best cigars and drink the most classic of cocktails.”

Indeed, Absolut Spirit Company was surprised to find that Plymouth Gin showed strong sales off- as well as on-premise. But the brand, which was long ago the number-one gin brand in the US, has almost always been available, though hard to get. “Connoisseurs and aficionados know Plymouth and we find them buying it off-premise,” says brand manager Tauber.


These dedicated gin drinkers are different from some other consumers, notably those drinking highly flavored Martinis made with vodka. Gin lovers, say bartenders, want to taste their gin.

“Gin drinkers tend not to bastardize it,” says Steve Sabol, general manager of Devil’s Martini in Scottsdale, Arizona and a gin drinker himself. Even in his club, where the vast majority of Martinis are made with vodka, and even in his state – “definitely a vodka state” – Sabol finds that gin has its own following.

In New York, Michael Greenlee, beverage director at Gotham, sees a difference in gin drinkers, too. “If someone is a gin drinker, they are a gin drinker,” he says. “People who drink gins have their favorites and, at the same time, want to try new ones.”

Yet, both bar operators and gin suppliers say there is another, potentially much bigger gin audience on the horizon. ‘The baby boomers are maturing,” explains Dale DeGroff. “That huge population is becoming more sophisticated. They are moving toward lye, toward aim, toward gin.”

DeGroff believes that many of the newest gins on the market, are lighter on the juniper – “the Christmas-tree-style flavor” – of gin in order to appeal to consumers who are trying gin for the first time. Tanqueray No. Ten, he points out, “has its citrus flavor on top, with the juniper buried in the background,” while Hendrick’s, whose other botanicals include rose petals, coriander and cucumber, “has very reduced levels of juniper,” according to its brand manager, James Bruton, “to allow its more subtle flavors to come forth. It is a very, very soft, floral gin.”

And many bartenders say it is not difficult to come up with cocktails using gin that people new to gin will like. Indeed, the trick seems to be overcoming their reluctance to try a spirit they’ve heard they might not like. “A lot of my drinks are gin-based, and yet most of my guests are not able to make that distinction,” says the Carlyle’s Saunders.

And Melissa Frank, senior brand manager for the Tanqueray brands, remembers how she “confounded” a bartender by serving him an Apple Martini made with Tanqueray.


The operations most successful with gin are places that have a reputation for well-made cocktails. For example, Absinthe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco specializes in cocktails based on drinks popular during the “absinthe era,” the 1910s and 1920s. “They didn’t even have vodka back then, so a lot of our cocktails are gin-based,” says Rob Schwartz, bar manager.

Absinthe’s best-selling cocktail is the Ginger Rogers, made with Bombay Sapphire. (See recipe sidebar.) The restaurant has served it since opening five years ago. “It’s what we’re known for,” says Schwartz, who estimates that the restaurant sells about 5,000 Ginger Rogers cocktails every year.

“Once people get into gin, they realize what a great mixer it is,” he says.

Grace’s McKibbin agrees. “If people have the opportunity to try something, they will,” he says. “They just need a little direction.”

They also need a well-made cocktail. “A Gimlet, like a Martini, if well-made and balanced, is the best drink in the world,” McKibbin says. “But if you miss with it, it’s the worst drink in the world.”

The Carlyle’s Saunders also stresses the importance of balance when using gin — or any spirit — in a cocktail. “The one common element that is paramount to a good cocktail is balance. Whether [you’re working with] gin, bourbon or any other spirit, if you understand the flavors you are working with, and how they interact with each other, you are on your way to achieving balance.”

DeGroff feels certain gin is making a comeback. “We were once a gin-drinking country,” he says, “but we fell out of love with big flavors in the ’50s, when it was ‘canned this’ and ‘processed that.”‘

Gin is finally feeling the effects of the “dining and drinking renaissance” that began in the ’80s, DeGroff believes.

“It’s slow growth, but steady,” he says. “It’ll take time, but it’ll happen.”

Tru Blu Martini

Served at Tru in Chicago

In a Boston Shaker:

2 1/2 ounces Bombay Sapphire

1/2 ounce blue curacao

3 drops grenadine

splash of tonic

squeeze of lime

Shake/strain into chilled Martini glass. Garnish with 3 skewered

blueberries. Top with a splash of Champagne.

Ginger Rogers

Served at Absinthe in San Francisco

1/2 ounces Bombay Sapphire

1/2 ounce Ginger Syrup

(simple syrup made with fresh ginger, sugar and


1/2 ounce equal parts fresh lemon and lime juices

six mint leaves

splash of ginger ale

Cover mint leaves with ginger syrup. Muddle. Add ice, gin and juice. Top

with ginger ale. Pour into pilsner glass and garnish with lime wedge.

The Bikini Martini

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Sapphire

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice

1/2 ounce blue curacao

1 ounce peach schnapps

1/4 ounce simple syrup

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into chilled Martini glass.

Garnish with a peach wedge.

Cascade Mountain Gin Sour Apple Martini

Created by the Bendistillery Sampling Room in Bend, Oregon

2 ounces Cascade Mountain

2 ounces apple juice

Splash lime juice

Mix ingredients over ice in cocktail shaker. Shake and strain. Serve in

Martini glass, garnished with a thin slice of green apple floating

on surface.

Strawbery Cosmopolitan

Created by the Bend Distillery

Sampling Room in Bend Oregon

2 ounces Cascade Mountain

1 ounce cranberry juice

1 ounce strawberry puree

Splash fresh lime juice

Mix ingredients over ice in cocktail shaker. Shake and strain. Serve in

a martini glass garnished with lime or orange.

Grass Skirt

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray

1 ounce triple sec

1 ounce pineapple juice

1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Shake in a shaker half-filled with ice. Serve in an Old-Fashioned glass,

garnished with pineapple slice.

Ten Fresh

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray Ten

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1 ounce simple syrup

1 teaspoon sugar

Mix over ice; shake well to blend syrup. Serve in a chilled Martini

glass, garnished with a slice of lime.

Ten Orchid Martini

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray Ten

1/2 ounce Chambord

1 ounce sour mix

ginger ale

Mix Ten Chambord and sour mix gently over ice and strain. Top with

ginger ale. Garnish with a floating orchid.

Cucumber Gimlet

created by Dale DeGroff

2 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s

3/4 ounces Falernum

2 lime wedges

2 cucumber slices

Muddle the Falernum, lime wedges, and cucumber in a mixing glass Add the

gin and the ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Garnish with lime wedge and a cucumber slice.

Apricot Cocktail

Created by Dale DeGroff

3/4 ounce Bombay Sapphire

3/4 ounce apricot brandy

3/4 ounce fresh orange juice

1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice

3 wedges of fresh apricot

Muddle lemon juice apricot brandy, and fresh apricots in the bottom of a

mixing glass. Add orange juice and ice and shake well. Strain into a

chilled martini glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.


Created by Dale DeGroff originally for the Rainbow Room

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray Ten

1 ounce simple syrup

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a rock glass. Garnish

with a lemon piece


Served at Grace

2 1/2 ounces Bombay

1/4 ounce strawberry liqueur

or creme de cassis

4 slices of strawberry

1/4 ounce lime juice


Shaken with ice Served straight up.

Purple Haze

Served at Grace

2 sprigs mint

2 cucumber slices

2 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s

1/2 ounce creme de cassis

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup

Muddle the mint and cucumber Shake hard with ice and strain over fresh

ice Garnish with mint

English Patient

1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray

Cinnamon and sugar on lime

Serve cold in a shot glass.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Bev-AL Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group