Gin: rich in style and substance

Wednesday, August 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Louise Owens / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Once upon a time in the late 1800s, a great cocktail was born. It was called the martini and was conceived of gin and dry vermouth.

Yes, gin. Not vodka, not tequila, not rum. Why gin? Because many of the same herbs and spices used to flavor gin are used in vermouth, making them ideal companions.

The roots of modern gin go back to Holland in the 1650s. Dr. Franciscus de La Boie - nicknamed Dr. Sylvius - was searching for a means to get a good dose of juniper into his patients with kidney problems. Mixing grain alcohol with oil of juniper turned out to be a handy medical remedy and soon found a following among even the perfectly healthy. He called his new medicine "Genievre"after the French word for juniper.

The next big step for gin came in England with some fiddling with the recipe. The English added additional botanicals, including coriander, orange peel, bitter almond and cardamom, and shortened the name to gin. Using large quantities of sugar to hide shoddy distillation, cheap gins soon became the drink of choice for the lower classes, gaining it a reputation as a drink of ill-repute. As distillation methods improved, dry gin (made without sugar) emerged, and it is what we know as gin today.

Bathtub gin was a big hit during Prohibition, but as soon as we could get our hands on other spirits, gin began to fade. Vodka came along in the '50s, and gin has taken a back seat ever since.

But things are looking up for gin, at least at the upper end of the market. The opulent aromas and brisk flavor of gin add an intensity to cocktails that vodka can't match. Styles vary radically, from the delicate perfume and crispness of Tanqueray No. Ten, to the rich, knock-your-socks-off punch of 110-proof Old Raj.

Try a classic martini, using 2 ounces of gin and 1/4 ounce of dry vermouth, and you'll find it hard to go back to mild-mannered vodka. Or slake your thirst with a rejuvenating gin and tonic, and these last weeks of summer won't seem quite so torturous.

Louise Owens writes the Spirits column the third week of every month. Address mall to the Food Section, The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265. Fax to (214) 977-8321. E-mail or


All prices are for 750ml bottles unless otherwise indicated.

• Plymouth ($21.99): The gin of the Royal Navy has lots of coriander, citrus, black pepper and cedar aromas with a good dose of juniper in the base. Very mild with an easy finish of fading juniper. From England.

•Bombay Sapphire ($20.99): Delicate rose and violet aromas blend with licorice, butterscotch, juniper and lime in a highly aromatic mixture. Smooth, round and lush with a long, lingering licorice and cedar finish. From England.

•Tanqueray No. Ten ($29.99): Gorgeous, with lots of lemon, verbena, coriander, almond and licorice aromas over a base of juniper. Very smooth with lively citrus flavors and an icy clean ending. Good place to start if you're not familiar with gin. From England.

•Van Gogh ($33.99): Spicy orange, clove, coriander, licorice and juniper aromas. Thick, rich and round, with a mild lemon middle, and a delicate, cool herbal finish. From the Netherlands.

•Citadelle ($21.99; 1 liter): Cinnamon, bay leaves, dried orange peel, lemon with hints of roses, and almonds over juniper. Lush and round with a bracing, icy lemon ending. From France

•Cadenhead's Old Raj ($54.99): Heavy licorice, juniper, peppermint and cinnamon aromas with a slight hint of saffron, which gives the gin its pale yellow color. At 110 proof, the strong, peppery flavor makes it a better match with tonic than a martini. From Great Britain. Available at Po-Go's.

•Schlichte Steinhaeger ($19.99): Butterscotch, cinnamon and heavy juniper aromas. Slightly oily in the mouth with an approachable, mild flavor. From Germany. Available at Po-Go's.

•Boodles ($18.49): Juniper, mint, fresh hay, cedar and lemon combine to make a bright, graceful gin with a very dry, lemon ending. From England.