Herb Silverman, an octogenarian beverage expert who lives and drinks in Dobbs Ferry, has seen cocktail trends come and go like so many tides. When I asked him which way gin was headed these days, Silverman quipped, “Oh, you mean the original flavored vodka?” Indeed, gin is essentially a neutral spirit infused with flavor. But while typical flavored vodkas lean toward enticing fruits and essences (citrus, berries, vanilla), gin gets its mojo from botanicals we normally don’t consider drinking, namely juniper berries. In fact, Silverman noted, gin is riding a new wave of creativity, led by ultra-premium imports.
At Dodd’s Liquor City (Rte 100 and 133, Millwood 914-762-5511; doddswineshop.com), gin is still third fiddle behind vodka and rum among clear spirits, but high-end Hendrick’s, Plymouth, and Tanqueray No. 10 have become hot sellers within the genre. Part of their appeal, according to spirits specialist Mark Buglione, is higher potency (as much as 47 percent alcohol by volume, compared to generic gin at 40 percent), which adds intensity to the more complex array of herbs/spices/fruits used to infuse the gin.
Kevin Nailor, who mans the bar at Harvest on Hudson (1 River St, Hastings-on-Hudson 914-478-2800; harvest2000.com), points out that aficionados normally will order an ultra-premium gin straight up, on the rocks, or as a martini, keeping that savory complexity front and center. When mixing cocktails, Nailor prefers to use gin “as a seasoning more than a flavor.” For a Flaming Negroni, Nailor combines gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, then creates a flaming spritz from an orange peel and tosses that in. “It’s a bitter, Mediterranean drink,” he explains, “the very opposite of sweetish, girlie-style Cosmopolitans.” For the Juniper Drop, Nailor starts with muddled fresh strawberries, lychee purée, lavender syrup, and fresh lime juice, then adds Bombay Sapphire, club soda, and white cranberry juice and serves it on the rocks. “It’s gin like you’ve never had it,” Nailor asserts.