This week, we are featuring a crystal spirit which is enjoyed most on those languid summer afternoons and lingering evenings. It conjures up images of Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway or Marlene Dietrich.  In film, it was immortalized in the 1930s by the “Thin Man” and later in the James Bond films. I’m referring of course to Gin, that mysterious elixir that often baffles the consumer. It is the ideal mixer, whether you are having a martini, a Gimlet or my favorite of all, the heat breaking Gin & Tonic.  Served in a tall well chilled glass, the spiciness of the gin embraces the bitterness of the tonic both of which are accented by the zest of the fresh lime (or lemon can be used as well). I can’t think of any other summer cocktail that plays so well with every part of the palate.

In the US, vodka has taken the front seat for a long time but fortunately, gin has been tiptoeing out of the shadows and finding its way into our glasses once again. Many drinkers are intimidated by the complexity of gin and go for the straight forwardness of vodka. What exactly is the difference between gin and vodka?  Ah, it’s those aromatic botanicals that give the gin its own distinctive character. Classically, the main botanical was and still is the king of gin botanicals- the juniper berry. In the art of distilling gin, the botanicals are the paint, the still or pot, the brush and the distiller is the painter.  Today, small distillers are producing a wide range of gins which include an incredible flavor profile: coriander, elderflower, citrus peels, lavender, cardamon, cassia bark and orris root.  

At Palate Wines & Spirits we have a “gin bin” which offers a select but wonderfully varied range of gins.  Two are featured here. Broker’s Gin ($27) can be immediately identified by the black bowler hat that sits on top of the bottle. This fine English gin is excellent for either the martini or the G&T.  Broker’s has been made for over 200 years, outside the English city of Birmingham. Distilled in traditional copper pots, its pure spirit is derived from English wheat and makes use of ten different botanicals which come from all over the globe, though as a traditional gin, the juniper berry will predominate.  Choose a good tonic for your G&T and a fine vermouth for your martini (try our French vermouth, the Dolin dry white) but remember, there is an argument over how much vermouth should be added to the gin, and should it be stirred or shaken? Winston Churchill said the only way to make a martini was with ice cold gin and a bow in the direction of France.

Our second featured gin is distilled closer to home: Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin ($43) made from its own grain and farmed honey. This company is deeply rooted in the agriculture and beekeeping of Vermont and committed to ecological sustainability. Their unique gin is distilled from local grains, either corn, wheat or barley    , and its formula is that simple, pure grain spirit and zesty juniper berry. Then, after distillation they add local, raw honey, just before bottling.  This lends a special floral quality to the gin that will vary depending on the season and flower. You may think the honey will come on too strong but it doesn’t.  It rather serves as a perfect compliment to the juniper berry. This is a fine tuned gin.  Caledonia Spirits offers its own list of recommended cocktails but I find it marvelous on the rocks just sipping as is.

We sell other gins as well, each with its own story, so please, come in this week and we can discuss, if not gins, then our wines, one of which will be singled out next week for special attention…