Gin Cocktails Make a Comeback in Boston
by brandy rand
Neves’ Basil Smash, made with Hendrick’s gin
It’s no secret that Boston is a drink-friendly town—with New England’s microbreweries and vineyards, and the city’s renowned bars and restaurants, Bostonians love a good cocktail. There’s even a shaker named after us. And when it comes right down to it, we’re gin folk; of the eight or so traditional cocktails with “Boston” in their name, three are made with gin (for those keeping track, it’s the Bostonian, the Boston Club, and the Boston Cocktail). With the resurgence of herbal, artfully crafted gins on the market today, we’re gladly renewing our passion for juniper.
The evergreen aroma and peppery taste infused by the juniper berry is what legally makes gin gin, though distillers use anywhere from eight to 20 ingredients—such as citrus peel, coriander seed, cubeb berries, bitter almond, anise, and angelica root—in their closely guarded recipes. Recently, however, things have been getting more creative as a new category of gins—New World, or New American—has arisen. These liquors mellow out the juniper notes to allow other botanicals to shine through. Conor Hadlington, manager at the Mandarin Oriental’s M Bar & Lounge, notes that the focus is “on other ingredients such as rose, lemon, and white peach, or spices like cardamom.”
In truth, the trend began in 1930s, and we Bostonians have the exclusive bragging rights. In 1933 the Old Mr. Boston distillery opened on Massachusetts Avenue, introducing its name brand of bourbon, rum, brandy, and—you guessed it—gin. But Mr. Boston didn’t stick to the dry stuff. Rather, it quickly launched a mint-flavored variety and even followed with an orange flavor several years later. To school unfamiliar drinkers on the proper way to consume infused spirits, the distillery published the inaugural Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide in 1935, which was updated every few years and contained recipes like the Mint Collins, made of course with Old Mr. Boston Mint Flavored Gin.
Fast-forward to today, and the first game-changer in the modern New World style was Hendrick’s, with a marketing campaign celebrating its unusual characteristics—soft notes of cucumber and rose. Leo Neves, director of cocktail development for Met Restaurant Group, makes a Basil Smash using Hendrick’s gin, muddled basil, fresh lemon, and agave nectar. He says modern-style gins complement fresh ingredients better than traditional juniper-forward gins, which often need something to balance the flavor profile.
Although gin technically dates back to the 16th century in the Netherlands, where it was invented and promoted by doctors for the purported medicinal qualities of juniper (the word “gin” even comes from the Dutch for juniper, jenever), it is perhaps most closely associated with England. The link started in 1689, when William of Orange took over the British throne. He took out his frustration with the French by imposing a tax on brandy and encouraging his own country to make gin. What resulted was known as the Gin Craze, a period wrought with crime and drunkenness across England. Only after the 1751 passing of the final Gin Act, which regulated the sale of the spirit, and a series of bad harvests that left people with less money to spend on alcohol, did the Gin Craze die down.
What emerged eventually was the London Dry style of gin, developed by Charles Tanqueray in the 1830s. Typically used for martinis and gin and tonics, London Dry gins are heady and bone-dry. They can be produced anywhere in the world, and are considered the benchmark for all gins—think Tanqueray, Gordon’s, and Bombay Sapphire.
Today even the most traditional brands are looking to capitalize on the New World trend. Promoting the additions of lemongrass and black peppercorn, Bombay Sapphire East was introduced in fall 2011. The makers of Ketel One in the Netherlands have laid claim to their jenever heritage by creating Nolet’s, which debuted last year. With the fruit-forward botanicals of Turkish rose, peach, and raspberry, Nolet’s has become popular at M Bar & Lounge. “Guests love it,” says Hadlington. “Regulars return for our cocktails and Nolet’s The Reserve, which is offered at $110 a glass.”
With several new styles of gin emerging, bartenders are able to provide a greater range of gin-based cocktails, like the M Bar & Lounge’s Stately Romance (Earl Grey-infused Nolet’s gin, rose syrup, lychee purée, and lemon juice, garnished with a rose petal dipped in vanilla sugar). Hadlington says more people are asking for gin, which he credits to the broader flavor profiles now available, heralding a tamer, more creative Gin Craze of our own.
photography by jacquelyn allen (glass)