No, we’re not playing cards and, even if we were, I’d never be the one saying that because I SUCK – Holy Jesus, Help me, SUCK down to my chromosomes – at card games. Nope, this is a little post about literalism..
GIN. I used to hate Gin. Hated it, refused to drink it for a very, very long time. And for many, many years, I didn’t understand that I hated it really only because most of it has ONE flavor: Juniper. And while I don’t hate juniper, I’m not lookin’ to go steady, either.
This is a peculiarly American – with some British – thing, this insistence that Gin must be Juniper and so Sayeth the Lord, unto the end of time, Amen. Actually, it didn’t start out with much juniper at all. Gin was invented by the Dutch and was called Genever, a style of Old School Gin which is still very much with us and is even enjoying a modest resurgence. American distilleries are making it, now, after maybe 500 years of Genever having been spoken of in conjunction with, basically, ONE name: Bols.
Bols Genever is the product of Lucas Bols Distillery in the Netherlands, which bills itself as the world’s oldest distillery. (And, as they were founded in 1575(!), who’s gonna argue with ’em?) Bols has been synonymous with Genever, much the way people call all tissues Kleenex and all aluminum foil Reynolds Wrap, and all the rest of the permutations of what we call Gin traces back to what many experts call “the Whiskey drinkers’ Gin” because Genever, as opposed to most other styles of the spirit, always starts with grains. Other styles of it can be distilled from (literally) anything, such as juniper, coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon, almond or licorice, with neutral grain alcohol. Genever is usually not aged in barrels but when it is, in the case of certain Reserve Genever, the Whiskey comparison is driven home firmly, as Genever has a bit more body and glycerine silkiness than your Tanquerays and your Beefeaters.
Got this so far? Right. Me, neither.
The British are largely responsible for our assumption that Gin = Juniper, and two of the predominant marketplace fave styles are named after their Brit origins: London Dry and Plymouth. London Dry is mostly the reason we have Juniper Overdose, as the low sugar level and generous doses of juniper berries lead to a sinus-clearing, somewhat astringent quality that many people LOVE for its undeniable appeal in Gin-based cocktails. The forerunner of today’s Moscow Mule was invented in England and is still called the Gin Buck, a drink which had mostly disappeared before the Mule Invasion. It’s the same exact drink, subtract Vodka/add Gin, and London Dry is really great for making it, as the less aggressive Genever almost disappears under the intensity of a good Ginger Beer. Along with the London Dry there is Plymouth, which is a style slightly sweeter and a tad less juniper-y and is mostly made by ONE distillery in Plymouth, UK, and has nothing to do with cars.
There are several other stylistic offshoots, most of which are rarely seen without embarking on a Quest that would exhaust Don Quixote. Cold Compounded is flavored Gin and, of course, there are no shortage of these. Gin de Mahon is made only in the capital city of the island Menorca and only by one distillery, Xoriguer, is very spicy and a bit peppery and complex and perfumy and you’ll probably never see it, so don’t worry about it.
Old Tom Gin is a style that is often described as a “cordial Gin” as it evolved from a time when the production of spirits was often messy and unsanitary and the finished product frequently showed fuh-ugly flavors. Many producers – instead of cleaning up their pig sty factories – simply dumped in stuff that would mask their faults. Old Tom is becoming very popular again, in the current US craft spirits culture, mainly because it’s flavorful and fun to drink (and is no longer a scuzzy mess) and it has far looser stylistic parameters than the other Gins. It’s usually a medium amber in the glass and has quite the backstory, one version being that the original producer, Boords of London, had a cat fall into a tank of finished gin, had a meeting on it, and finally said, “Screw it. Sell it, anyway“. It became a roaring success, having what those tasting it described as “an unusual savor.” (I’ll just bet.) That story may well be apocryphal but it’s remarkably persistent and…wouldn’t it be GREAT if it was true?
There is also an obscure offshoot style called Vilnius Gin, made in the Lithuanian city of that name, by one factory, the Vilnius Degtinė, and I’ve never even seen a bottle and you probably never will, either, unless you have a Lithuanian grandfather, so, to quote the Boords ancestors, “Screw it.”
As stated earlier, I started off despising those Juniper Bomb Gins and mostly still do. I’ve consumed something south of 12 ounces of Tanqueray/Bulldog/Bombay, etc., in my adult life and I see no reason to start now. But I do like a BIT of juniper, as long as the finished product is not some abrasively aromatic, one-note thing good only for cocktails. I love drinking straight Gin and that came about only eleven years ago, when a company in Colorado called Spring 44 sent me their hybrid London Dry/Botanical Gin for review. It was GORGEOUS and I frequently whine about the fact that I can’t buy it in Seattle.
So, when this beautiful cobalt-blue Brit called 6 O’Clock Gin showed up at my door, I braced up for another rote London Dry mediocrity, another juniper extravaganza (because the Brits are doin’ okay with the juniper adoration, so why stop now, just because some crank in Seattle bitches about it?) and instead got…the bottle accompanying this paragraph, a lithe, lively, masterful, thoughtful, delicious little mini-symphony of inspired booze-making that offers up a nice, refined hit of juniper but then balances it deftly with, as their website says, “…a soft and citrusy flavour, led by juniper, carefully balanced with coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, winter savory, elderflower and orange peel.”
Yep. I am here to testify, brethren, All That and a bag o’ chips. I would also heap some other steamy praise upon its warmly aromatic, subtle aromas – a pure pleasure to sit and sniff – and a definite hit of white licorice mingled with green tea and mint as it finishes. It is so relentlessly clean and pure that I suspect some very hard-hearted winnowing of those rough edges in the early and finishing runs off the stills at Bristol, England’s Bramley & Gage, Ltd., the makers of this brilliant stuff. I wasn’t able to find who the actual master distiller of 6 O’Clock might be (or even if they employ such a person) but I did find this on their website…
“Nearly 30 years ago, Edward and Penny Kain owned a fruit farm. As a sideline, they started making delicious fruity liqueurs and sold them with some considerable success. The first incarnation of the family’s gin recipe was created as a base for their delightfully piquant Sloe Gin.
Some years later, Michael and Felicity took over their parents’ now prosperous distillery. Guided by the family expertise in liqueurs, they set about perfecting the gin recipe. The wonderful flavour of 6 O’clock Gin emerged through experimentation: carefully selected botanicals, precisely balanced for a refreshingly clean taste.”
6 O’Clock is, with zero exaggeration and maybe even a bit of understatement, the best London Dry I have ever tasted. To me and my under-nourished Gin sensibilities, it is just barely a London Dry at all and mostly is because it does show prominent juniper and IS dry. If the Kains had decided to just call it a botanical Gin, I would have gone along with that, too, because of the near-perfect balance of its components. It’s further enhanced, in terms of my level of interest, by the fact that it’ll run ya about $34 to $49, bought online (which seems to be the only way that we churlish Americans can get it, right now.) While that is not cheap, it also ain’t expensive and even my stuck-in-1958 sense of thrift is not insulted by the idea of laying out $40-ish for something that offers as much pleasure as this does.
I don’t know exactly how the Kain family wandered off into Gin Neverland from running a fruit farm but their tangent is our windfall. This showed up to my door almost unannounced: one query email exchange – “Wanna try this?”, “Sure, why not?” – and this little marvel is sitting on my Tacoma dining room table, all the way from Bristol, UK, and the Thornbury neighborhood, distinguished by two of my favorite business names on the planet: Screwfix and IntoHeat.
This is a pretty great job, sometimes…