If you just look at store shelves, you'd think that the U.S. has an unslakable thirst for gin. From Death's Door to CapRock to Berkshire Mountain, the list goes on and on of companies vying to share glass space with your favorite tonic or vermouth.
The ironic thing is that gin isn't gaining in popularity. Diageo lamented in its 2010 annual report that "Tanqueray net sales declined 3% as the gin category continued to decline." So, if the category's declining, what's with all these new brands? I wrote about this phenomenon a few years ago, suggesting that the "proliferation of new gins is not a response to a market demand, but instead seems angled to create one."
Now, four years later, not much has changed. Gin is searching for itself. Like a micro-organism living in a hostile environment, it's going through a rapid-fire burst of evolution, trying to find a form or quality that will allow it to survive or even prosper. Here are three of the most interesting of gin's latest mutations.
Nolet's Silver: From the Netherlands-based creators of Ketel One, Nolet's Silver has an aroma of rose so intense that it's hardly recognizable as gin. In fact, it was hard to pick out gin's most dominant trait: juniper. CHOW.com's Supertaster columnist called it "gin that's actually probably vodka."
In the hands of the right bartender, I could see Nolet's performing compelling feats, but when it tries to cover the gin standards, it falls down. Nolet's absolutely destroyed my beloved Fever-Tree tonic water. And the dry martini I made with it was a little like sipping perfume. I recommend pairing it with strong, fresh lime juice and going light on the simple syrup to make a gimlet or a gin rickey. I'm nicknaming this gin the Turkish Rose (after one of its main ingredients).
No.3: If Nolet's is perfume, No.3 is aftershave. Its creator, the famous wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, has been around since 1698. The obelisk-shaped, antique-looking bottle and label recall black-suited, bowler-hat-wearing London bankers: firm, manly, and direct. The gin contains what the label says are but six botanicals, the essential three being: juniper, citrus peel (orange and grapefruit), and angelica root.
On the nose, I'm struck by the simplicity. The juniper is forward, but it's well-integrated and beautifully balanced by the earthy angelica and the high-toned citrus. In the mouth, it's dry but finishes with an attractive persistence and warmth. Unsurprisingly, No.3 makes an outstanding martini and an addictive G&T. If your needs for a gin are like your needs for a bank—solid, dependable, unglamorous—this is the bottle for you.
Bloom: This is the girlfriend of gins. As a PR agent wrote me, Bloom is "the first premium gin distilled, blended and balanced specifically for the female palate, using botanical essences inspired by her English garden -- lavender, honeysuckle, and chamomile." The tall, clear bottle is engraved with climbing vines and blossoms, like a faux henna tattoo.
Juniper is prominent, though it's a wispy, mellow version: Its aromas don't leap out of the glass to assault your nostrils, but rather gently invite you in. I found myself reaching to smell my glass again and again. Silly, gender-based marketing aside, the taste is subtle, soft, complex.
Bloom makes a quite subdued, but fine, martini. I recommend a restrained vermouth like Dolin Dry with a twist, rather than an olive. If mixing with tonic, Fever-Tree is a bit overpowering. The more earthy Q Tonic makes for a nice soil in which to plant the more floral Bloom.
Will any of these gins be around as long as Hendrick's, the cucumber- and rose-scented gin that has become a classic? Clearly that is what they're going for. We'll see how the strident, demanding Turkish Rose fares. Or the companionable Girlfriend. The British Banker, well, I expect him to be around for a long time.