The Thing About Gin: Lessons Learned From the First Round

Everyone has that one alcohol, that one drink that they detest. Usually the result of an unfortunate binge, this detestation shapes the way one thinks. From “Oh God, Tequila is vile!” to “I can never touch Cosmopolitans again”, the drinker puts aside the drink for a lifetime, never again to attempt to consume the drink.

Gin was this drink for me. After fifteen rounds with a truly awful brand of gin, I was the loser, the one down for the count. And I vowed never again.

Then, about a year ago, I wanted to find out about Martini’s, but could only muster a passing like for Dirty Martini’s, where the olive brine covers up the subtleties of the gin like an electric guitar at a pan flute concert.  When I decided to dedicate myself to the Classic Martini, I knew I had to address my revulsion head on. Eight taste tests and sixteen gins later, I realize that I have missed out on quite a lot, gin-wise.

Every gin is different, and honestly, quite difficult to compare two well made gins against one another. It’s akin to comparing Earl Grey Tea up against Pu erh.  Yes, they all share the fundamentals, but beyond that, it comes down to flavor preferences.

That being said, there three flaws that I’ve come across, that one should look out for in tasting gin.

The first is obvious to anyone reading these comparisons over the past two months – a higher alcohol percentage works against the gin, not with it. Alcohol numbs the palate, and the more of it in the drink, the less likely one will be able to taste the subtleties of the botanicals. The Sweet Spot, ABV-wise, is between 40-45%.

The Second issue is poorly run distillation, which leads to a higher-than-average chemical-like taste in the alcohol. This is typically found in cheaper alcohols, where quality control is less of a concern, but it does pop up time to time in mid-level brands.

The final regular flaw I’ve come across is out of balance flavors. If you’ve ever had a gin that boasted eighteen botanicals, but you can only taste juniper and citrus, then something is clearly off.

So what do I think makes for a good gin?

  1. Good aromatics that are balanced.
  2. A smooth mouth-feel where the alcohol does not excessively dry-out or numb the palate.
  3. A distinct flavor profile that is also well balanced.
  4. A pleasant finish.

Somewhere in my final eight, there is a good representative of the above. The fun part is looking for it.




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