Beginners Guide to Gin

Guide to Gin

One of the best cocktail spirits around is gin; a clear alcoholic spirit distilled from grain or malt, flavoured thereafter by infusing a variety of botanicals (this process is known as compounding), including juniper. Its diverse flavour profile makes this un-aged spirit perfect for cocktails. We speak to some of the industry experts to give you a crash course on gin (and save you from the embarrassment of mistaking vodka for the former).

Home to one of Singapore’s largest collection of gin, The Spiffy Dapper boasts a stunning collection of 75 types of gin, including a number of house-infused gins and rare gins like The Duke (which has since ceased production) and Uncle Vals (only bottle available in Asia). Here, owner-bartender Abhishek Cherian George (known for crazy boundary-pushing concoctions) shares his knowledge on the topic.

First things first. What exactly is gin?

Gin is effectively vodka flavoured with botanicals. Vodka has no taste and no smell, while gin will smell and taste of the botanicals is used to flavour the gins.

Most gins are clear and look identical in nature. How do you tell one gin apart from another?

Most gins have different botanicals—even the traditional London drys. Once you start tasting different gins, you will be able to differentiate them based on the botanicals you smell and taste. Some differences are nuanced while others are more evident.

How do you judge the quality of gin?

We base it on the mouthfeel, quality of base spirit and the type of botanicals used. When it comes to picking personal favourites, adventure and imagination is key. An example would be New Deal Gin 33. Only juniper berries is used in this gin, but the complexity of its taste shows otherwise—the balance the distiller has gotten out of this gin is phenomenal.

Co-owner and founder of Liberty Spirits Asia (distributer of American craft spirits) and tasting room The Secret Mermaid Howard Lo, is a staunch believer of artisanal gin. We check in with him to find out the difference between British and American gin.

Gin originated form Britain. Why the preference of American gin over British gin?

With American gins, the distilleries are open to deviating from the popular London Dry style of gin. This gives you more variety with different botanicals leading the taste. Currently, there are many distilleries making gin in what is called an “American Dry” style, although there is no true style or characteristic of American gin aside from innovativeness. One of my favourite American gins is Greenhook Ginsmith’s Greenhook American Dry Gin that uses a unique distillation process (mercury vacuum still)—a complex gin that includes botanicals such as orris root, Thai galangal and elderberries. It has a heavier mouthfeel and provides a sensation that you’re working your way through more botanicals.

What are the qualities you look out for when selecting a gin?

In general, looking for the balance of juniper with other botanicals, before focusing on which flavours said botanicals bring out.

What is the best way to “taste” a gin to fully savour its flavour profile?

To taste the gin, add a drop or two of water to help bring out the scent and nose the gin to take in the aromas. As you sip it, let the gin slowly roll around each part of your tongue.

A finalist in the G’Vine Gin Connoisseur Program Global Finals in 2012, head bartender at Manhattan Bar, Ricky Paiva, has a discerning palate for artisanal spirits. He backs up Lo’s take on American spirits.

What gin would you highly recommend?

St. George Terrior Gin. It’s very eccentric. Master distiller Lance Winters wanted to make a gin from his home, so he chopped down a tree and put it in his still. This gin has an evergreen nose that’s a bit dry from fennel, but is smooth and incredibly aromatic. The Rusty Gin is another custom-sourced bottle. Made in a local distillery outside San Francisco, Rusty Gin is aged in wine barrels for 4 months, resulting in an earthy, maple caramelised flavour the colour of rust—hence its name.

About the writer: 
Mandy Lynn is a former I-S Magazine writer and current columnist at Nookmag; her dining and nightlife features are published in Appetite Asia, Food & Travel, and Singapore Tatler Dining. For bite-sized food recommendations, follow her on Instagram and Facebook, or join her Gourmet Adventures to keep up with the latest openings in the dining scene.