Gin Cocktails: Timeless Classic

As gin continues its relentless seduction of the cocktail cognoscenti, Holly Motion ponders its enduring appeal

Gin can probably thank the G&T boom and category diversification for its good fortune in recent years, but the cocktail renaissance – though less mainstream – has played more than its part. 

It started with the rebirth of classic cocktails from speakeasies and now, nearly 10 years on, the classics and twists on classics are ubiquitous in cocktail bars. According to the people who make them, classics and their derivatives are not going anywhere. 

“All the classic gin cocktails are doing well in our bars. Martinis, White Ladies, Perfect Ladies and, of course, Tom Collins, which is a big drink for Portobello Road gin,” chief gin instructor at Portobello Road gin Ginstitute Jake Burger says. 

“The revival of the Negroni, of course, continues – a remarkable reversal of fortunes if ever I saw one. I remember putting one on the first drinks menu I wrote back in 1992 – I think we sold two in a year and they both came back untouched.”

Philip Duff of Liquid Solutions says: “The advent of true super-premium gins, locally-made gins and ultra-niche gins has recruited a whole new swathe of drinkers to the category, already bolstered by the resurgence of the G&T and the Negroni,” “These new drinkers, like all new spirits drinkers when it’s a grown-up spirit like gin, start with the classics first: Martinis, Red Snappers, Southsides and the like, moving on to Brambles and Gin-Gin Mules before getting to grips with boundary-breaking new cocktails such as Artesian’s Camouflage, with carrot, kombucha and sandalwood.

Burger adds: “Many people are carving their own niches in the industry, such as Ryan Chetiyawardana with his incredible innovations and the boys from Jason Atherton’s venues and Artesian driving the boundaries of customers’ expectations in both presentation and taste.”

At Atherton’s Blind Pig @ The Social Eating House, group bar manager Gareth Evans says its own creation Dill Or No Dill has always been the best seller. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to take that off the menu. Essentially it’s a gin sour, but with cucumber, dill and elderflower. A lot of trendy bartender buzzwords in there.” 

When asked if the desire for gin will wane, Evans says: “Gin is simple, classic and representative of our history. It is something for British people to be proud of – even though we nicked it from
the Dutch.” 

To succeed in the crowded market gin brands need to have something standout about them and be priced at a level that bars can experiment and ultimately work with. 

Evans says he gets sent about two new samples of gin a week. “Not a bad position to be in, sure, but it does mean we are a lot more picky about what we put on our back bar. I think they have oversaturated it to some extent.” 

Whether it is dragon eye, baobab, bergamot or seaweed, botanicals give gin its distinctive personality and appeal. The flavour hook and background are undeniably important, but as John Hughes, bar manager at Bramble, Edinburgh (DI’s The World’s 50 Best Bar #32), points out: “If you have a unique botanical, talk about it for sure, but don’t make it the be-all and end-all of your story. Don’t create a bullshit back-story because bartenders will see straight through it. The biggest thing, of course, is quality of product.”