“I exercise strong self-control — I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.” – W.C. Fields
While gin isn’t recommended as part of a balanced breakfast, W.C. Fields may have been on to something. The juniper-distilled alcohol has been in existence for centuries, and though it’s had its share of ups and downs, it’s currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Gin revenue in the United States is currently expected to grow by 9.3% annually through 2025, par for the course for this polarizing spirit. Since gin has become an “it” alcoholic beverage again, it’s the perfect time to learn more about this spirit and why it’s historically been so divisive.
To know gin is to love gin, so what exactly is it? Gin expert, Keli Rivers is the perfect guide to explain everything, from how the drink is produced to its checkered past. Rivers is a gin educator, author, and the brand ambassador for Sipsmith gin in the U.S. She was named Brand Ambassador of the Year in the Icons of Gin Awards 2021 for her work with Sipsmith and has appeared on Good Day New York and the Modern Bar Cart podcast. Rivers breaks down the gin-making process in layman’s terms with, “Four important steps.”
“First, you need to source the right botanicals, including juniper, as it is the only ingredient that needs to be there,” she shares. “Juniper is not a berry, despite its common name, but a pinecone that has seeds on the inside which makes it impossible to farm and you have to ‘harvest’ wild.” If juniper isn’t present in the distillation process, the bottle can’t be labeled London Dry. The creation process continues as, “The botanicals are added to the base spirit — at Sipsmith we use English Winter Wheat,” she clarifies.
The next step is distillation, which Rivers explains. “The stills heat, turning the liquid into vapor and leaving the water behind. This happens many times interacting with our lovely copper before the ‘gin’ vapors reach our swan neck and turn back into a liquid. The resulting liquid has three distinct parts: the heads, the hearts, and the tails. We take only the very best — the heart cut — which is then brought to bottling strength with the addition of pure water and is finally ready to be bottled and sipped.” Voila, gin!
According to Rivers, the root of gin’s “bad reputation” can be traced back to London in the mid 1700s. “Gin was very popular, and many people ‘brewed’ their own gin anywhere they could, leading to overconsumption especially in some poorer neighborhoods,” she shares. “The government ultimately put the blame for much of London’s societal woes on this ‘craze’ for gin, installing eight different Gin Acts putting strict regulations against gin distilling. These acts provoked the demise of many gin distilleries in London and only a few very resourceful ones remained.”
Rivers refers to the public perception of gin as a “roller coaster ride,” noting highs and lows of the spirit’s history. “Gin rises to prominence during the cocktail boom in the late 1800s with the softer, brighter style of London Dry Gin allowing for a balanced cocktail experience, then a low with World War and US depression slowing the export of quality spirits and shifting the collective gaze of gin to a drink of lower classes. Prohibition actually helped gin more than any other spirits and the explosion of gin cocktails opened the door to experimentation and both genders enjoying the libation.”
She credits some of the gin boom in the last 20 years to, “The craft spirit and beer revolution in the United States of the late 90s,” but attributes the alcohol’s most recent boost in popularity to two major factors.
“In the US it is easier than ever to obtain craft distilling licenses to help stimulate the economy of cities while celebrating local products,” she says. The second factor is, “Consumers' desire for the flavored vodkas took a giant hit with the run-away popularity of craft American whiskies. A lot of these distillers needed to create a product that they didn’t have to sit on for aging and sell to keep the lights on. This last piece is probably the driving force of craft gin in the U.S. over the last 20 years.”
Gin Cocktails: Rules Of Thumb
Rivers encourages people to experiment and create their own craft gin cocktails. She’s quick to assure, “There’s no wrong way to create beautiful gin drinks,” but she does have some tips. “When I think of traditional gin flavor pairings, I instantly think of the gin and carbonation. Carbonation is important for gin as it lifts the softer botanicals like citrus, floral, and herbals and allows for them to be the star of the cocktail,” she shares. “Be it the classic G&T, Gin Rickey or the modern classic the South Side Fizz which is basically a gin mojito spritz. It could be a citrus-driven summer sipper or even a fall-inspired Negroni Sbagliato, this pair was made for every season.”
If you or one of your cocktail-loving friends happen to be a reluctant gin drinker, Rivers has an easy solution. “Add fruits and florals to your cocktail,” she recommends. “[They] Have become a great way to introduce the botanically beautiful,” which is what Sipsmith has done with its new Strawberry Smash drink (recipe below).
Regardless of the cocktail, Rivers insists, “High-quality ingredients, like good ice, fresh citrus and vermouth, that either complement or contrast the high-quality gin that you’re using,” yield the best results.
So how does a novice gin drinker or at-home mixologist choose the right bottle of gin when so many options are available? Rivers offers, “When looking for a quality bottle of gin for your home bar, I believe it’s best to go with a London Dry style as most classic cocktails were created with this style in mind,” she suggests. “London Dry is a style of gin like bourbon is a style of whiskey but still a whiskey.”
But like everything in life, finding the right gin for you might come down to trial and error. “It is very difficult to pick up a bottle of gin and know what it is going to taste like,” Rivers adds. “Which is why I suggest making friends with your local bartender to sample new and exciting gins. If you’re unsure about gin or are newer to the spirit, Rivers has some sage advice. “I suggest you take a cocktail you like that isn’t gin and put gin in it!”
There’s plenty of room for creativity and nuance when creating gin cocktails but there is one thing gin expert, Rivers, is adamant about, “If you don’t think you like gin, you just haven't found the gin for you yet!”
“The Negroni has been a personal favorite cocktail of mine since I started bartending, so much so I have the recipe tattooed on my body, sorry Mom,” Rivers says. “This cocktail of just three ingredients showcases why gin is the perfect spirit for all cocktails as it marries, carries and elevates the drink.”
- 1 part Sipsmith® London Dry Gin
- 1 part sweet vermouth
- 1 part Campari® Liqueur
- Lemon twist (to garnish)
Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add all the ingredients to the mixing glass and stir 20 to 25 times. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Lemon Drizzle 75
“This is a great drink for holiday hosting because you can batch the cocktail ahead of time,” Rivers says. “Mix the gin, the lemon juice, and simple syrup together and store it all together in a bottle in your fridge up to four or five days ahead of your guests’ arrival. Then, when it’s ready to serve, top off each glass with your choice of sparkling wine.”
- 2 parts Sipsmith® Lemon Drizzle Gin
- 1 1/2 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 part simple syrup
- Champagne or Prosecco, to top
- Lemon Twist (to garnish)
Combine the gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake well then strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with chilled Champagne or Prosecco and garnish with a lemon twist.
Strawberry Smash Spritz
Rivers offers up simplicity with this cocktail. “There are times when all you want is something that is delicious and easy. The Sipsmith Strawberry Smash Spritz reminds me of summer in all the best possible ways, sitting on a porch with a good book and nowhere else I need to be.”
- 2 parts Sipsmith Strawberry Smash
- 1 part fresh lemon juice
- 2 parts soda water
- Champagne, to top
- Freshly sliced strawberry, to garnish
- Sprig of mint, to garnish
For this summertime tipple, add the gin, fresh lemon juice, and soda water to a large wine glass filled with ice. Top with chilled Champagne and garnish with a freshly sliced strawberry and a sprig of fresh mint.