Gin has a point of view. And that's totally the point of it.
Gin is the Joy Behar of the bar because it can be as opinionated as the feisty cohost of TV's The View. It has flavor, it has aroma, it has personality.
Unlike vodka, which is officially supposed to be odorless, tasteless and colorless, gin bursts with "attitude." Each brand has its own flavor story, which fits in neatly with today's growing thirst for drinks made with top-notch products - even items from the produce counter.
"The cocktail world is 25 years behind the culinary world," said mixologist Toby Maloney of Alchemy Consulting in New York City. "Think of the culinary world in the mid-1970s. It was rather dismal. Then Alice Waters came along and started caring about ingredients. The cocktail world is now doing the same thing."
Depth of flavor is what counts now, he said, and that's why gin is becoming popular again.
"There are so many different kinds and flavor profiles," Maloney said. "Each brings something new to a cocktail. Compare the Aviation made with Tanqueray to the Aviation made with Plymouth. They are almost different drinks."
Gin is a spirit distilled from grain, like vodka, but it is then redistilled with flavor agents like herbs, spices, and, most famously, juniper berries. That juniper flavor is dominant in the world's most popular style of gin, known as London dry gin. But there are other types of gin out there, gins that are lighter and more floral in tone.
These new gins can offer tastes that range from roses to cucumbers, pears to vanilla to cloves, writes Mittie Hellmich in her Ultimate Bar Book. There are even gins flavored with bitter almond, apple, black currant, and bitter orange, she notes.
Maloney describes the lighter-flavored styles as "gin with training wheels." Yet there's an important place for them at the bar, he said, especially for those turned off by an emphatically juniper profile.
"Their idea of gin is like eating a Christmas tree sort of thing," he said. "Lighter gins can be the gateway to bigger gin flavor. As Americans become used to a more sophisticated palate in cocktails, the gins will become bolder."
That's totally fine with him.
"I would have a hard time saying the new style of gin will ever take over from gins that taste unabashedly of gin," Maloney explained. "That tang is so quintessentially what gin is. It's in your face with juniper. It's standing up and being counted."
Maloney suggests a new twist on a classic cocktail: Southside. For this drink, he recommends Tanqueray gin for "gin lovers" and the fuller-bodied Plymouth gin for "soon-to-be gin lovers."
Makes 1 cocktail
3 mint sprigs
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce each: fresh lime juice, simple syrup
1 small dash Angostura bitters, optional
1. Bruise two sprigs of the mint gently in a cocktail shaker. Add ingredients. Add ice. Shake.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with remaining mint leaf.
Note: To make simple syrup, mix together equal parts sugar and water. Bring water to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Let cool.