Whenever someone tells me they don’t like gin, my response is always: “You just haven’t tried the right gin yet.” It tends to be true. It was true for me! The roadblock to enjoying gin tends to be that feeling of “drinking a tree.” What you’re tasting there is juniper, which is the unifying ingredient required for a spirit to be considered a gin. However, there are different varieties of juniper, different amounts of juniper, and different distillation processes that greatly affect just how much that “tree” hits you over the head.
The OG gateway gin! Believe it or not, there was a time that even I thought I hated gin. This was the gin that convinced me otherwise and I passed the revelation on to quite a few gin-averse friends. Their signature cucumber and rose profile with softer juniper is a real crowd pleaser. My palate can take on the bigger juniper gins now but I owe Hendrick’s a debt of gratitude for getting me to open the door.
San Diego distiller Laura Johnson designed her flagship Sunday Gin with the intention of asking non-gin drinkers to reconsider the category. Bright citrus balances with floral and herbaceous notes. The juniper is there, gin lovers won’t be totally turned off, but it is subdued.
A lot of gateway gins are citrus forward, but Malfy takes this to the extreme. You can tell the juniper took a backseat to the lemon the moment you open the bottle. I find the aroma to be transportive, instantly taking you to a sunny day on the Amalfi Coast. The juniper is there but so soft you could almost mistake it for a citrus vodka.
Another trip to Southern Italy! I know what you’re thinking, what the heck is a vodka doing on a gin list? This vodka is finished with juniper essence (as well as coriander and ginger) so while it’s not a distilled gin, it is relatively close. I served this spirit with citrus, juniper, and floral notes to my friend who refuses to drink gin, and surprise, she enjoyed it just fine.
Genever is the traditional Dutch and Belgian juniper flavored spirit from which the Dry Gin we know today evolved, but it starts out rather whiskey-like. Bols is made from corn, wheat, and rye. Its malty richness balances the juniper, which is not as soft as the previous mentioned gins, nicely.
When St. George Spirits came out with their core trio of gins the Dry Rye, with its 100% rye base, jumped out at me as a whiskey drinker’s gin but the juniper is very bold. Then the barrel-aged version came along and really sealed the deal. The wine barrel finishing balances the peppery juniper with sweet spice and fruit.
Plymouth Gin is technically a geographically protected style of gin but there is currently only one producer: Plymouth Gin. It is close to London Dry but a touch sweeter and earthier, which makes it a friendly but classic introduction to the taste of gin.
Brave enough to jump in feet first, but don’t want to get burned? Sipsmith is a newer distillery at just under 10 years old, but they’re doing things the small, craft way with a huge nod to the past and keeping their recipe rather classic. What makes this one approachable is its careful balance of all the elements, coming together for a smooth, clean, crisp gin.