If you're like me, and your friends and family know your love of all things food and drink, you'll end up with a few extra bottles of booze for Christmas. Hopefully these will be high quality and interesting, rather than novelty or last minute from the local corner store, but you'll often be faced with a host of different bottles - which is of course no bad thing. But the question is what to do with this variety and it makes you wonder if there's anything beyond the fancy bottles they come in.
It's a question I'm often asked about when suggesting a certain brand for a cocktail. On a whole, when people are getting into making a few cocktails at home, I'll recommend a few 'benchmark' and very rounded marques that work across many different styles of cocktail.
With this in mind, many friends have asked whether there is actually any difference between the brands; Is there any reason for them, or a bar for that matter, to have a huge selection of each spirit. Surely one of each variety would do?
There are several categories where the defining category hems very little help - Whisky for example. Sure, every bottle tastes like 'whisky', but there is such a huge range of flavours within it that there is little ability to pick one that covers all. It's also the reason I tend to challenge when someone professes to discount the category as a whole.
But this variety exists in pretty much every category. It's why I explain that recipes are guidelines. A recipe is a great way of getting a decent balance, and to understand the 'structure' of a drink or a dish. Once you are happy with this, I always recommend people adapt them to their own preferences, and crucially, to the ingredients they have available.
To reiterate, it's crucial to put good quality in, to get good quality out, but it's also very important to pay attention to the idiosyncrasies of your ingredients. Natural ingredients will vary - one week your lemon might be aromatic and fresh, the next it might be tart and bitter - but also your spirits will have their own nuances that will become even more apparent when you start to mix with them.
This is one of the things I've always loved about cocktails; their ability to open up hitherto unseen aspects of a spirit. But this is a reason to use the spirit that works well for your recipe to get exactly what you want out from it. It's a frustration I have with professional bars even, where spirits are used generically without attention to what the spirit is doing in each instance.
As a result, here is a list of five gins it might be worth having, giving reason and usage for each. Sure, no one needs five gins at home, but if you're buying one, trying one, or simply trying to ascertain where your tastes lie, it's worth bearing in mind that each one is different and has its own character. I've included five easy to find gins. There is a wealth of new products out there, but the following are often over looked as they're the ones that are on your doorstep. They each have their own style, and demonstrate a different facet of the category. With this in mind, it's easy to justify their position on a back bar, or in your home liquor cabinet - even with a variety of other gins alongside.
Wonderfully soft, and its own geographically recognised style. When mixed in long drinks, the creamy, citrussy spice shines through, but it's in elegant classics such as a Clover Club that this gin really shows off. Simply shake up with some lemon juice, an egg white and either some raspberry syrup or some fresh raspberries accompanied by a touch of sugar syrup.
The blue one! It's not blue though. A much lighter style, but one that suits many an occasion and many different palates - particularly those who state that the bigger piney style of gin reminds them of toilet cleaner. It's zippy and fresh, so lends a lightness to bigger serves such as a Negroni, but also a youthfulness to serves such as a Fitzgerald. Shake up with some fresh lemon juice, a touch of sugar syrup and a dash of bitters.
The aforementioned bigger, piney style, this is classic and bold. Beautifully balanced, but not one to shy into the background. This is great to play up to though - serve it big. Either in a Martini served wet or dry to your tastes (stir over ice with a dash, or a splash of dry vermouth and serve with a twist of lemon peel, or an olive depending upon your preference or mood), or in a Negroni with a shot each of Tanqueray, Campari and Cocchi Torino vermouth.
Although very much a classic style, there's a lovely citrus lead that I love to this gin. A great all-rounder, with a distinct style nonetheless. This zestiness lends a unique take on all the previously mentioned classics, but playing like with like is a great way to take this gin. Mix up a classic Aviation with the juice of a lemon, a splash of sugar syrup and a teaspoon of maraschino liqueur for a crisp and elegant serve.
Although I'm slightly biased as I designed this one, I think it forms an interesting contrast to the above styles. The use of cream (it's distilled out so it's crystal clear) gives a soft balance to the citrus peels and the bite from the juniper. It gives a very different play on the botanicals, and works wonderfully served long when the creaminess draws out the flavours. Serve in a simple Collins with some lemon, sugar and soda water.