BUZZ: Hey, Marnie, I saw something weird at the state store yesterday - brown gin! What's that about?
Marnie: I'd bet that was a barrel-aged gin, Buzz.
Buzz: Why would someone put gin in a barrel? Beer, bourbon, wine, sure. But gin? You put gin in a tonic.
Marnie: Well, gin and tonic is certainly refreshing, especially at this time of year. But, gin is far more versatile than most people realize.
Marnie: Nowadays we think of vodka as the ultimate base for mixed drinks, but 100 years ago gin was king of the cocktail kingdom. Almost any drink you can make with vodka, rum or tequila can be made more complex by using gin instead. Today, bartenders are rediscovering old recipes and creating new spins on those classics. Factor in the recent fascination with American whiskeys and it was inevitable that someone would make a gin/whiskey mash-up.
Buzz: But gin is clear and whiskey is brown. Really different flavors. It doesn't seem like a natural combo to me.
Marnie: But it is, when you think about how they're made. Gin and whiskey are both grain spirits, as are most vodkas. They all start out as crude fermented beers, whose alcohol content is extracted in the distillation process. Vodka is filtered and bottled as is, but both gin and whiskey are flavored grain spirits - they just get their taste in different ways. Whiskeys are matured in barrels and acquire both color and flavor from aging in toasted oak. Gin is either distilled with or infused with a range of aromatic botanicals, most famously juniper berries, but also things like coriander, anise seed and lemon peel.
Buzz: Ha! Whoever decided booze should taste like trees probably had one too many.
Marnie: It may sound strange to flavor spirits with wood, but the results are pretty tasty. Why not double down by combining the leafy aromatics of gin with the caramelized spice tones of barrel aging? I know that if I were a distiller, I would.
Buzz: Hey, Columbus took a chance. I'll give it a try.
Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting Course, is an illustrated crash course for the wine curious. Marnie also advises clients in the beverage and restaurant trades. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.