A dubious reputation has long clung to gin. Mention the “g” word, and some people wince at the memory of a bad night or a long cry.
Fresh gin memories are constantly being manufactured, though, and gin’s changing fortunes are on the rise again, in tandem with a growing army of high-quality craft gins. Google “bathtub gin” and, instead of the blindness-inducing spirit of the 1920s, most results will point to a New York City bar. During a recent visit to London, it was almost impossible to turn a corner without running into a sign advertising a “gin menu” or, inside even the most unfussy of public houses, a cart stocked with a dozen or more gins.
Despite its legion of bad nicknames — “mother’s ruin” among them — gin is a clear spirit not much different from vodka; it’s the dozens of botanicals steeped into it, such as juniper and citrus peel, that lend gin its distinct character. Much of what we drink is in the London dry style — a floral, crisp gin with a juniper spine — but sweeter Old Tom gin and even sweeter genever (gin’s predecessor) dwell in the same category.
On Long Island, a small but growing crop of gins are trickling from East End stills: Wölffer Estate makes a “Pink” Gin, flavored with its own juniper berries and mint, among other things. At the soon-to-open Matchbook Distilling Co. in Greenport, founder Leslie Merinoff is building a “gin apothecary,” stocked with 400-plus botanical distillates that bar and restaurant owners can choose from to create customized, short-run gins.
At Long Island Spirits in Baiting Hollow, the Deepwells Botanical Dry Gin begins as a potato-based spirit that’s triple-distilled and infused with 28 botanicals, from pansy flowers to merlot leaf. Some of that is then aged in old whiskey barrels for four months to become Pine Barrens Barrel Reserve Botanical Dry Gin, a butterscotch-hued spirit that gains roundness and caramel notes from its time in a barrel, and can elevate a Negroni (equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth) or gimlet (two parts gin, one part each simple syrup and lime juice) to another level.