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Gin has come a long way since it first appeared as genever in the mid-1500s. François De le Boë (sometimes known Franciscus Sylvius), a Dutch doctor looking to cure the tropical maladies suffered by Dutch traders, is generally credited with spreading genever’s popularity. Eventually genever morphed into gin, which is based upon the spirits’ base ingredient, juniper berries. In 1700s London, gin truly came into its own since the clear spirit was safer to drink than the city’s polluted water, and was popularised as such, creating the first gin craze.
But even before Dutch genever gained ground as a cure, nearly a millennium ago Italian monks along the Almafi Coast were experimenting with distilling the same botanicals used to make gin today.
These international traditions have led to a vast spread of this most versatile of spirits. Today there are more cocktails made with gin – including the negroni, Tom Collins, and martini – than with any other spirit. Likewise, there are more innovative gins today than ever before. Here are five of the newest and most unique.
1. Malfy Gin Originale
Coming from that little-known tradition of juniper-based spirits made in Italy is the fourth release from Italian gin producer Malfy. The new Gin Originale (US$30/~RM124) is one of our favourite recent gin releases and expresses the terroir of the mountainous Piedmont region from which it hails — from the alpine berries and herbs to the valley’s orchards. Its beautiful floral and citrus bouquet and taste beg for its use in a negroni.
2. Citadelle “No Mistake” Old Tom Gin
Inspired by a somewhat notorious 19th century style of gin known as “Old Tom," this 21st century version is – thankfully – much more sophisticated and palatable. Citadelle’s Old Tom (US$55/~RM206) is made with a caramelised Demerara-style Caribbean brown sugar that is combined with Cognac barrel-aged Citadelle Réserve gin, which is then aged for an additional 3 to 4 months. Buttery smooth, it is decidedly sweet, and makes a great ingredient for cocktails. “No Mistake" was a slightly sarcastic term some early tipplers used to describe the original Old Tom.
3. ESP Smoked Gin
ESP stands for Empire Spirits Project, a boutique New York distillery that has embraced the smoked cocktail trend. One of the nine botanicals in ESP’s Smoked Gin (US$39/~RM160) recipe is permeated with applewood smoke. Other unusual botanicals include Sichuan peppercorns and caraway. The gin “rests" for three to four weeks before being bottled. The result is a gentle, candied semi-sweet smoke that faintly lurks in the background of a wonderfully complex and multi-layered spirit. No vermouth needed.
4. D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin
You’d be tempted to buy this colourful Victorian-looking bottle just to brighten up your wet bar, but the spicy, peppermint-citrusy D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin (US$40/~RM165) inside is equally as festive. Infused with a mother lode of 12 botanicals, each is individually vapour distilled in separate baskets before undergoing micro-column distillation. Produced in the quaint Northern California town of Graton, the Meyer lemons and Buddha’s Hand fruit are locally sourced and hand zested to bring out their naturally vibrant characteristics.
5. Fluid Dynamics Dry Martini
And finally, there are times when you come home after a grueling day of slaying dragons and really want a martini, but just don’t want to take the time to make one. That’s where this pre-mixed saviour (US$20/~RM84 for 200mL, US$64/~RM263 per litre) comes to the rescue. Blended by Crispin Cain and his son Dylan in their Redwood Valley, California distillery, then aged for six months, it is composed of Russell Henry London Dry Gin and just the right amount of Vya Extra Dry vermouth. Pour over a couple of ice cubes or better yet, keep a bottle in the fridge for use as needed.