Amateur Hour

The Gin Renaissance

I used to not love gin. So much of what I tried was too juniper-forward, or had too much heat, or alcohol-taste, and the smell reminded me of my alcoholic grandfather. The thing is, bartenders love to use gin as their base spirit because it offers a strong foundation, allowing other ingredients to build on its flavor profile. And since gin has become so diverse, evolving from that juniper-heavy London Dry style, the diversity of flavor profiles makes some gins perfect for certain cocktails, and other gins perfect for other cocktails.

My introduction to gin that didn’t taste like a pine forest drenched in gasoline was, interestingly, Hendrick’s, an herbal and floral gin with juniper and citrus flavors that came through in a way I considered pretty balanced. Hendrick’s was introduced in 1999, before gin was the diverse and thriving spirit it is today, and it had a big impact on the gin market. I guess I owe Hendrick’s for my love of gin. When I went to Bow Street Beverage to restock the gin section of my bar, I picked up the brand’s Midsummer Solstice Gin, a small-batch, limited-edition variety. It has a floral-forward taste that complements summertime and makes a perfect spritz.

Midsummer Spritz

  • 5 oz Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice
  • 1 oz Elderflower Liqueur
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Combine gin, liqueur, and lemon juice in a cocktail glass over ice. Gently stir and top with soda water. Garnish with a cucumber slice.

Back River Gin, from Maine’s Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery, was next on my shopping list. They use blueberry and juniper in this gin, sourcing as locally as possible. Back River has a slightly spicy profile, but it’s still a versatile gin and I’ve had good results using it in a variety of cocktails. This time around, I’m sticking with a straightforward classic to show off its no-nonsense taste.

Classic Martini

  • 3 oz Back River Gin
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • Stir with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with three olives on a pick or a lemon twist.
photo/Jessie Lacey

Barr Hill’s Tom Cat gin, distilled by Caledonia Spirits in Vermont and barreled in oak casks, uses honey and juniper for its botanicals, the result of a partnership between beekeeper Todd Hardie and distiller Ryan Christiansen. The strong, classic juniper profile lends itself to traditional gin cocktails, like a Tom Collins.

Tom Collins

  • 2 oz Barr Hill Gin
  • .75 oz Lemon juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup
  • Shake with ice and strain into a chilled collins glass filled with ice. Top with 2 oz club soda and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Before the renaissance of craft distilling in Portland, I tried one of the first locally distilled gins. It tasted like pineapple and pinecones. I hated it, and there was nothing I could mix it with to mask that flavor. I was hesitant to try local gin again until a couple years ago, when I got my hands on some Hardshore Gin, distilled and bottled in Portland by Hardshore Distilling Company, on Washington Avenue. This is my absolute favorite gin. It’s an herbal-forward contemporary gin that uses five botanicals: coriander, juniper, mint, orris root (iris), and rosemary. The taste is floral and fresh, and the mint pops through a little bit toward the finish, making this a great gin for martinis, gin-and-tonics, or a bramble, but it really shines through in a negroni.

Negroni

  • 1.25 oz Hardshore Gin
  • 1.25 oz Campari
  • 1.25 oz Sweet vermouth
  • Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or strain over ice into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Lastly, I wanted to get a gin that was a bit unusual and unexpected. I’d been hearing and reading great things about Roku Gin, distilled by the House of Suntory, in Japan. Its name means “six” in Japanese, and it has six quintessentially Japanese botanicals: cherry blossom, cherry leaves, sencha tea, gyokuro tea, yuzu (a variety of lemon), and shansho pepper. Its flavor profile is, overall, very herbal-forward. When I tried it neat, I could smell and taste the citrus and cherry blossoms as it opened into a traditional, earthy finish. It’s a complicated gin that I believe is more suited to drink neat or on the rocks, or in a dry martini. I sipped mine on the rocks and highly recommend enjoying it that way to start.

OK, now I just need to finish the five cocktails I made…

Jessie lives in the heart of downtown Portland with her border collie, Josie, making cocktails and trouble. For more, go to amateurhourcocktails.comor amateurhourcocktails on Instagram.