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njduchess

All About Gin, Generally

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I mean, it just seems to me like there are few cocktails out there that require gin that another spirit couldn't do a better job at, simply because juniper is such a particular flavor. Try a Suffering Bastard using gin, and then try making it substituting bourbon instead. Try making a Chelsea Hotel with gin, then try switching it out for brandy and making a Sidecar instead. Make a Gin & It, then try substituting brandy for a Metropolitan or whiskey for a Manhattan instead. Make a Red Snapper with gin, then try switching it out for vodka and make a Bloody Mary instead. Generally there is a marked improvement.

I don't see what you're saying here, except that you don't care for juniper. That's fine, of course. But that makes it hard for to recommend anything. cocktailDB, a database of cocktails from the golden age, lists 1381 gin cocktails. This compares to 531 aged brandy recipes, 595 bourbon and rye recipes, 497 rum recipes and 59 tequilla recipes. This, to my mind, speaks loudly about the mixability of gin.

I do enjoy juniper, but only certain combinations really seem to succeed with a capital S as opposed to simply being drinkable. The problem is I don't understand quite what it is about those successful drinks that make them so successful. That's why I was asking for juniper advice.

As to CocktailDB, I suspect the reason there were so many golden age gin cocktails is because vodka wasn't really popularized until well after the golden age was dead and gone. Gin does an admirable job being a vodka substitute if you can cancel out the juniper flavors.


Edited by mbanu (log)

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Gin does an admirable job being a vodka substitute if you can cancel out the juniper flavors.

Hmm. I guess we'll just have to chalk this one up to a radical difference in taste, then. If I had to give up one liquor and never use it in cocktails again, I would choose vodka without hesitation. I daresay most cocktail enthusiasts would say the same.

Gin is a remarkably complex liquor. Although juniper is the key note, it varies in prominence from producer to producer. And, while certain cocktail recipes and certain cocktail ingredients allow the juniper quality to shine through more than others, I don't agree that any successful cocktail "cancels out the juniper flavors" -- or indeed any of the flavor components of gin. It is often said that a truly successful cocktail has a flavor that isn't entirely identifiable as belonging to any of the constiuents of the drink. Dave makes a similar point upthread in saying that "a proper gin Martini . . . tastes neither of gin nor of vermouth, but of Martini." Think of it as adding that tiny grinding of nutmeg to a ragu Bolognese. The end result doesn't taste of nutmeg, but a ragu Bolognese made with nutmeg does taste different from one made without. Gin can do the same thing.

So, while some gin cocktails may not feature up-front juniper flavors as a key note, this does not mean that the juniper (and other flavors of the gin) aren't making a difference in the overall impression of the cocktail. As I said earlier with respect to the Pegu Club cocktail, it is quite easy to prove this point by tasting two examples of the drink side-by-side, one with gin as the base liquor and one with vodka. Try it. See if you don't think that they taste different. If they do taste different, then this means that the flavor of the gin has not been "canceled out" -- even if you can't definitively say "I taste juniper." I absolutely prefer the version with gin, and I think most cocktail enthusiasts would be in the same camp. But if you prefer the version with vodka, there's nothing wrong with that. It just means that you don't like gin all that much. except in certain limited contexts -- which, like it or not, seems to be what you've been saying. I go in the other direction. It's hard for me to think of a vodka cocktail that I wouldn't rather have made with gin.

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...because vodka wasn't really popularized until well after the golden age was dead and gone. Gin does an admirable job being a vodka substitute if you can cancel out the juniper flavors.

My theory about vodka, and it's emergence onto the scene, is that while people knew of it prior to Prohibition, they didn't take it seriously. After all, it has no flavor, so it makes as much sense to use it as the base of a cocktail as it does using water (instead of stock) as the base of a soup. It wasn't until Prohibition sort of screwed up our perception of spirits, and the cocktails made with them, that we became less concerned with the flavor that the base spirit was bringing to the table than the alcohol. And once the marketing mavens "enlightened" us as to vodkas "no taste, with a kick", we soon took that ball and ran with it.

I don't view gin as a vodka substitute, but instead see vodka as the "universal" substitute (or at least that is what the vodka manufacturers would love you to believe :-)

Of course, I have a bias against vodka. For me, it's purpose in a cocktail is as a flavor diluter/equalizer, which can often be handy. It is a blank canvas, a white wall, an empty glass. What you put into it provides all of the features and characters. I feel that all of the attention that vodka gets amongst the masses is more a reflection of how little connection the modern drinker has with a well turned drink. Most vodka drinkers I encounter out in the wild will have an amazingly strong brand loyalty to a particular vodka... and yet when confronted with a blind tasting, rarely pick it as their top choice.

Gin, essentially a fraternal twins of Vodka, is very much a different beast. Amongst the common spirits, I feel that it has the most radical of flavors, with Tequila taking a close second. It's flavor profile does not present the same non-descript surface as vodka, instead it is full of hills and valleys and robust texture that interacts with the other ingredients, often in rather amazing ways. From a culinary standpoint I might compare it to black pepper. By itself it can be seen as rough and aggressive, and when added to a dish it will often present a perceptable flavor, and yet at the same time it works amazingly well with all sorts of things. You can use black pepper on a steak, on vegetables, on stawberries, and on ice cream, pretty wild.

I think the Jasmine cocktail presents a great example of how gin plays in a cocktail. You really don't think you are tasting the gin in this drink, instead it tastes like grapefruit juice... but try any other spirit and that flavor profile goes away. The gin makes the drink.

The Pegu is another great gin based drink that really showcases this spirit well. And there are countless others.

It's not that you are canceling out the juniper flavors, but instead that you are celebrating them.

-Robert

[Edited to correct a couple, but perhaps not all, embarrassing spelling mistakes :-]


Edited by DrinkBoy (log)

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If I had to give up one liquor and never use it in cocktails again, I would choose vodka without hesitation.  I daresay most cocktail enthusiasts would say the same.

I'd go further than that, personally. If I could only use one base liquor for cocktails, it would be gin.

One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that gins, unlike vodkas, really do vary quite a lot in their flavor profiles. If you can find a good supply of 50-ml bottles, it's worth buying a selection to compare. They don't all taste like a juniper forest.

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I'll chime in as well, and agree with Sam and Janet and Robert. I don't see gin as having an inherently obnoxious flavor that must be hidden, but rather having a nice complexity that marries well with lots of other cocktail ingredients. That said, there are many different formulations that all get a gin label stuck on them. The differences between Bombay Sapphire (light and inoffensive) and Beefeater (strongly herbal) and Tanqueray Malacca (slightly sweet and herbal) are greater than the differences between bourbon, scotch and canadian, I'd argue.

I love gin, and find vodka extremely uninteresting. It takes something like Audrey's Smoking Martini (vodka flavored with laphroaig and such) to make a vodka drink at all appealing to me.

Vodka + fruit juice has no appeal. All vodkas have a certain inherent bittersweetness that just clashes with fruit flavors on my palate. Vodka on the rocks with a twist is about as close as I'd like fruit to my vodka.

Vodka does have its place... at the Russian dinner table, frozen. Goes remarkably well with all the savory and oily foods that get served. But beyond that, vodka is not a go-to spirit for any drink I'd make.

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I love gin, and find vodka extremely uninteresting.  It takes something like Audrey's Smoking Martini (vodka flavored with laphroaig and such) to make a vodka drink at all appealing to me.

That's more or less my feeling as well. Vodka doesn't bring any flavor to the game, so I don't like to use it except in certain drinks where one can take advantage of its usefulness as a dilutant. Audrey's Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini is a good example of this, as is Paul Harrington's "Drink Without a Name," which dilutes 1/4 ounce of Cointreau and 1/8 ounce of Green Chartreuse with 1.5 ounces of vodka. In both drinks the vodka is used to "spread out" otherwise intensely flavored indredients (Laphroaig 10 and Green Chartreuse, respectively), and in so doing to expose flavors that might otherwise have been obscured either by combination with other strong flavors or the inherrently concentrated flavors of the products themselves. Most of the time, though, vodka only brings alcohol to the game. To my mind, if I am drinking something that tastes like orange juice mixed with lime juice and cranberry juice, I feel no need to add any alcohol. In that case, you're only making a "cocktail" for the effect of the alcohol -- and that's not the reason I drink cocktails.

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After all, it has no flavor, so it makes as much sense to use it as the base of a cocktail as it does using water (instead of stock) as the base of a soup.

Hold on a minute... I like your reasoning overall, but I don't like that anology. There is a very long tradition of making soups with water and vegetables in several cultures (I'm think French, Italian and Spain). It's Americans (and maybe English) that think you can't make soup without stock and if you do skip the stock put in lots of cream. Not so.

Don't compare vodka to water, water has more going for it. Something left out of the discussion is that all spirits have a significant component of ethanol in them. This reacts with nearly everything in your mouth and nose and digestive tract, and most people don't find it that pleasant especially before they're conditioned to like it. But almost all like the effect of ethanol on the nervous system. I think vodka tries really hard to erase that ethanol reaction in your mouth when consumed, where gin plays with your senses, distracting and teasing your tongue and nose with other flavors, bitter, sweet, spicy that can complement the reaction of your mouth to what is a pretty noxious substance all on its own (the ethanol).

regards,

trillium

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Gin - Yes! :biggrin: Vodka - Aw, do I have to!!! :sad:

Since discovering gin I can't find a reason to drink vodka. I used to enjoy the Lemon Drop. No more! Vodka lacks the flavors I've learned to appreciate in gin. Maybe it's an acquired taste for some people, like Campari. It is strong and assertive when compared to vodka. I love it! I think of vodka as a spirit for beginners or those who just want a kick from their fruit juice.

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Just a couple points to add to this already erudite discussion.

Making cocktails is not easy, no matter what spirit they are based on. It seems to me it requires an attention to detail greater than most everyday cooking, and closer in fact to baking. Getting the proportions wrong or forgetting an ingredient in an Aviation or Corpse Reviver can nearly ruin a drink. Even seemingly trivial things like ice and the brand of spirit can make a huge difference.

Vodka, to a certain extent, makes this easier, as it has next to no flavor. You can overpour it a bit and it won't ruin the balance of a drink. The only thing you really have to worry about is the other flavors you are combining.

I've been drinking a lot of gin lately, and am endlessly fascinated by how it combines its complex flavors with other ingredients. It is also interesting how different brands and styles work differently in various cocktail recipes. A Negroni with Tanquerey gin is a very different cocktail than a Negroni with Plymouth gin.

I will also note that any of my friends who are serious about vodka do not use their nice vodkas in cocktails. They drink it straight. They would weep bitter tears if they saw you pouring their precious Cord or Belvedere into a Cosmo.

Erik

fixed typo


Edited by eje (log)

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I'll chime in as well, and agree with Sam and Janet and Robert.  I don't see gin as having an inherently obnoxious flavor that must be hidden, but rather having a nice complexity that marries well with lots of other cocktail ingredients.

Wasn't meaning to imply that gin was simply a vodka substitute, merely that the reason that it was so popular had to do with the fact that it could be used in the same manner as vodka (to dilute existing flavors without adding many strong flavors of its own) with moderate success. Just scrolling down the list I found 1,2,3,4,5.

Granted as far as the Pegu club goes, I'm going to have to order up some orange bitters and see for myself, but something one might want to try as well is taking a recipe that calls for "gin + orange bitters" and substituting orange vodka instead. :)

Looking at the cocktailDB again, I noticed a few things as well. For instance, many of the recipes are simply slight variations of the martini or some other popular and tasty gin drink created to give people their own special drinks. (ie a clever form of marketing and branding). The dash of kummel here or the dash of curacao or grenadine there doesn't really do much to effect the flavor profile of the drink; they were just created because they provide a sense of personalization and customization that people enjoy when they go to a bar. It's much more satisfying to go to a bar and order "my" drink instead of "a" drink.


Edited by mbanu (log)

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Looking at the cocktailDB again, I noticed a few things as well. For instance, many of the recipes are simply slight variations of the martini or some other popular and tasty gin drink created to give people their own special drinks. (ie a clever form of marketing and branding). The dash of kummel here or the dash of curacao or grenadine there doesn't really do much to effect the flavor profile of the drink; they were just created because they provide a sense of personalization and customization that people enjoy when they go to a bar. It's much more satisfying to go to a bar and order "my" drink instead of "a" drink.

:blink::blink::blink::blink: A well balanced cocktail does indeed reflect the "dash" of whatever. What about the Sazerac? Where would it be without the teasing flavor of a bit of absinthe? If the drink is balanced, even the subtlest amount of a special ingredient provides much more than a sense of personalization. IMHO. :smile:

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Wasn't meaning to imply that gin was simply a vodka substitute, merely that the reason that it was so popular had to do with the fact that it could be used in the same manner as vodka (to dilute existing flavors without adding many strong flavors of its own) with moderate success. Just scrolling down the list I found 1,2,3,4,5.

Uh, actually, according to just about everyone (no, absolutely everyone) else who's posted in this thread, gin is emphatically not used in the the same way as vodka. Vodka is a diluting agent that adds alcohol. Rarely can it be said to stand on its own for much of anything other than an inoffensive kick (well, inoffensive is in the mouth of the beholder, I suppose). Gin is a flavor base all its own, and a widely varied one at that, brand to brand, a flavor base that marries well with any number of ingredients. "Marries well with," not "is obscured by."

Do you submit that the list of recipes you linked to above can have vodka swapped in place of gin and give similar results? I'd be highly surprised by that. Really.

Likewise, substituting orange-flavored vodka for gin and orange bitters is miles off target. You may get pleasant results in such a cocktail, but it will decidedly not be the same thing, or even in the same neighborhood. Where's the bitter backbone of the orange bitters? Where's the herbal character of the gin? Different animal altogether.

Finally, small changes in ingredients can and certainly do make huge differences, particularly with such ingredients as bitters (Angostura vs. Peychaud's vs. Orange vs. Peach, etc), kummel, even grenadine if it's real grenadine. Differences may appear small on paper, but on the palate, not so.

My two cents.

Christopher

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Wasn't meaning to imply that gin was simply a vodka substitute, merely that the reason that it was so popular had to do with the fact that it could be used in the same manner as vodka (to dilute existing flavors without adding many strong flavors of its own) with moderate success. Just scrolling down the list I found 1,2,3,4,5.

Interesting. To my eye, those drinks do not appear to be using gin as a diluting agent. They are gin cocktails (1, 3 and 5) and cocktails where gin is being used as a flavoring agent (2). The most unusual cocktail is #4, the Bunny Hug cocktail, with equal parts gin, pastis and bourbon. A case could be made that part of the function of the gin is to dilute the flavor of the pastis. But, at the same time, it still brings the unique gin flavor to the drink. In fact, I have to disagree with the assertion that gin can "dilute existing flavors without adding many strong flavors of its own." One of the reasons you and others may have difficulty with gin is precisely because it most often does contribute strong and distinctive flavors when it is used in a cocktail. Is Tanqueray or Gordon's less assertive than, say, Old Overholt rye or Bacardi silver rum? I wouldn't say so.

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Looking at the cocktailDB again, I noticed a few things as well. For instance, many of the recipes are simply slight variations of the martini or some other popular and tasty gin drink created to give people their own special drinks. (ie a clever form of marketing and branding). The dash of kummel here or the dash of curacao or grenadine there doesn't really do much to effect the flavor profile of the drink; they were just created because they provide a sense of personalization and customization that people enjoy when they go to a bar. It's much more satisfying to go to a bar and order "my" drink instead of "a" drink.

:blink::blink::blink::blink: A well balanced cocktail does indeed reflect the "dash" of whatever. What about the Sazerac? Where would it be without the teasing flavor of a bit of absinthe? If the drink is balanced, even the subtlest amount of a special ingredient provides much more than a sense of personalization. IMHO. :smile:

Strongly flavored spirits such as bitters, pastis, or single malt scotch do indeed add flavor. But for every drink you find using a dash of something strong, you find one using a dash of something relatively mild, usually just for color adjustment, like curacao or grenadine.

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Juniper and orange don't seem to quite see eye to eye with eachother.

I guess it's in the eye of the beholder (tongue of the taster?). My family has been making goose braised in orange juice and gin longer than I've been alive. To my taste, gin and orange go together like... well, gin and orange. I think a more perfect match is hard to find. There are about a zillion classic cocktails that include gin and either tciple sec or orange curacao. If I'm not mistaken, orange peel is a fairly standard botanical used in gin formulae.

Fair enough, I will admit that juniper tends to play better with orange peel than orange juice. I didn't bring up the subject trying to get people up in arms, I'd honestly thought juniper was a challenging flavor to mix with, and was looking for advice. I hadn't realized how dear a spirit gin was in the hearts of this board's members. If I am in fact mistaken, and gin is indeed the most easily mixed of spirits, and the reason why me and my friends enjoy gin and lillet more than, say, gin and cream is simply because of personal preference and not because gin's characteristics make it more suitable for mixing with one by itself than the other, then so be it, I apologize. Perhaps this is in fact a matter of me not being quite sophisticated enough to enjoy gin's "subtle flavors" in more than a limited number of circumstances. But I appreciate the feedback.


Edited by mbanu (log)

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. . . for every drink you find using a dash of something strong, you find one using a dash of something relatively mild, usually just for color adjustment, like curacao or grenadine.

The effect of a dash of something like curacao, maraschino or grenadine depends greatly on the other ingredients and how the dash is deployed (dashes on the top of a finished drink have a different effect, for example, being more noticable in the nose). And, of course, on the hand of the person who is doing the dashing. In a drink formula like the Savoy's Aviation, we have 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of lemon juice and two (presumably fairly heavy compared to a dash of, say, Angostura bitters) dashes of maraschino. I wouldn't say that the maraschino in this drink is being used "just for color adjustment" (not least because maraschino is colorless). But, of course, a single dash of maraschino is unlikely to make a difference in the taste of, say, a Negroni.

Some liquors are, of course, used in dash quantities for coloration purposes (the odious blue curacao comes to mind), but I'm not sure it's fair to suggest that this is typical of all or even most such uses. On the contrary, I would suggest that a dash or two of kummel or curacao or maraschino or strega (etc.) could absolutely cause a different and unique impression depending on the context. Whether the addition of a dash of X or two dashes of Y makes for a new drink is a subject that's up for debate. It is absolutely the case that, back in the old days, there were differently named drinks that had the exact same ingredients for all intents and purposes. Sometimes the name of the drink might change simply based on the brand of liquor. But, then again, it's also the case that some drinks with radically different formulations shared the same name.

Fair enough, I will admit that juniper tends to play better with orange peel than orange juice. I didn't bring up the subject trying to get people up in arms, I'd honestly thought juniper was a challenging flavor to mix with, and was looking for advice. I hadn't realized how dear a spirit gin was in the hearts of this board's members. If I am in fact mistaken, and gin is indeed the most easily mixed of spirits, and the reason why me and my friends enjoy gin and lillet more than, say, gin and cream is simply because of personal preference and not because gin's characteristics make it more suitable for mixing with one by itself than the other, then so be it, I apologize. Perhaps this is in fact a matter of me not being quite sophisticated enough to enjoy gin's "subtle flavors" in more than a limited number of circumstances. But I appreciate the feedback.

No need for any apology. I think it's just the case that some people find gin more challenging than others, and some people only like the flavor in certain contexts. Hey, some people don't like foie gras. I happen to hate everything in the squash family, but a lot of people love squash. And don't even get me started on the discussions I've had with people here about okra. :smile:

PS. For a gin and cream drink, try a Ramos Fizz (shake it hard for at least a minute).

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The effect of a dash of something like curacao, maraschino or grenadine depends greatly on the other ingredients and how the dash is deployed (dashes on the top of a finished drink have a different effect, for example, being more noticable in the nose).

I hadn't thought of adding the dashes afterwards to enhance the smell, I usually would add the dash in before shaking or stirring. Interesting.

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Actually, when using bitters on the finished drink, one is usually adding a drop or two rather than a dash or two. A classic example is the Pisco Sour, where pisco is shaken up with sugar, lemon juice and raw egg white, strained in to a cocktail glass and then garnished with several drops of Angostura bitters. Looks cool and produces an entirely different effect than adding it to the shaker would.

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[...]If I am in fact mistaken, and gin is indeed the most easily mixed of spirits, and the reason why me and my friends enjoy gin and lillet more than, say, gin and cream is simply because of personal preference and not because gin's characteristics make it more suitable for mixing with one by itself than the other, [...]

A ha! You're looking to make sweet drinks with gin. You should have said so. Your references to the curacao and grenadine and cream have let us know what sort of drinks you're trying to mix.

Gin and sweet don't really play well together, I don't think. Gin works very well with sour, and with herbal. Sweetness is always a sidenote, not a main theme in good gin drinks.

Not everybody thinks so, however, as you will see Alexander recipes with gin. I've never tried one.

So for the purpose of mixing sweet drinks, I'd say you're right on. Gin is hard to do sweet.


Edited by cdh (log)

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PS.  For a gin and cream drink, try a Ramos Fizz (shake it hard for at least a minute).

It certainly isn't dairy but 'gin and coconut water' mixes a sort of creamy mouthfeel and a bit of sweetness with gin. Dead simple and a wonderful drink for hot weather.

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I was curious if anyone could recommend an active forum that specializes in gin. I found myself with some questions regarding certain specific gin brands in comparison to eachother and found that I hadn't any forums in my collection that seemed entirely appropriate. Can anyone recommend one?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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ask 'em here and see what kind of answers you get...


Edited by cdh (log)

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ask 'em here and see what kindof answers you get...

Fair enough. I've been trying a lot of gins "off the beaten path" lately. Most recently has been Barton gin, which really seems rather unusual. The aroma is difficult to place, and the flavor is very light on the juniper. I was wondering if anyone had any information on it? Tasting notes? Botanicals involved? Knew whether it was a gin head, compound, or maceration gin?

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Fair enough. I've been trying a lot of gins "off the beaten path" lately. Most recently has been Barton gin, which really seems rather unusual. The aroma is difficult to place, and the flavor is very light on the juniper. I was wondering if anyone had any information on it? Tasting notes? Botanicals involved? Knew whether it was a gin head, compound, or maceration gin?

Barton gin is a rock bottom "value priced" gin, made by the same American company that makes Fleischmann's. Barton is even less expensive than Fleischmann's, if you can believe that, coming in at around nine bucks a liter. This means that it is almost certainly a compound gin. And if it has a light juniper taste and "unusual" flavor profile, this is undoubtedly more a result of corner cutting and less-than-premium ingredients and techniques than anything else.

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Barton gin is a rock bottom "value priced" gin, made by the same American company that makes Fleischmann's.  Barton is even less expensive than Fleischmann's, if you can believe that, coming in at around nine bucks a liter.  This means that it is almost certainly a compound gin.  And if it has a light juniper taste and "unusual" flavor profile, this is undoubtedly more a result of corner cutting and less-than-premium ingredients and techniques than anything else.

Could be. Barton's been very accomidating when I've asked questions about their bourbons, hopefully they'll be just as helpful if I ask them about their gin.

I've found that image can affect gin's flavor almost as much as vodka. I do my best to reserve judgement on "value priced" brands until I know something about their manufacturing process and have had them against "premium" brands in a blind tasting.


Edited by mbanu (log)

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