The gin martini. The king of cocktails. Stirred, never shaken, preferably by a handsome Frenchman wearing a necktie. Two olives.
A relic from a bygone era? Not anymore.
Gin, the somewhat forgotten staple of prohibition-era speakeasies, the taste of the Roaring Twenties, is coming back — and coming back big.
“The premium gin end of the American market is doing very, very well. I think it’s up in double digits,” said Sam Galsworthy of London’s Sipsmith distillery.
And it’s global. Last year, consumption amongst young urban Brits rose by 60 percent.
“We’re serving more gin martinis than I’ve ever seen. Ever,” said Tony Conigliaro, a famed mixologist and owner of the 69 Colebrooke Row in London. “People are demanding a higher level and a more refined style of drink.”
That discerning thirst is quenched and encouraged by a new breed of professional bartenders.
“This is a craft, this is not just something we do weekends or because we’re filling in time as an actor,” Conigliaro said. “It’s this is a craft, we are professionally, therefore we use gin.”
Because gin is complex, sophisticated and there’s also tradition to think about.
“A lot of classics are based on gin,” Conigliaro said. “Vodka didn’t really come into the equation until the 1950s.”
Vodka became the bartender’s staple and by the ’80s, we had hit a cocktail nadir: all fruity sweetness and psychedelia inspired by cheap Caribbean vacations. Well, these days our cocktails are less Brian Flanagan, and more James Bond.
The Dutch invented gin, but the English got addicted to it. Back in the 1700s there was a gin still hidden inside one in four London homes, spreading addiction, booze-fueled madness and death. The government stamped all that out hundreds of years ago with a tax on gin.
At the Sipsmith distillery, Galsworthy shows off Prudence, that’s her name, is the first copper still built in London for 176 years. She blends juniper with liquorice, coriander, citrus zest, Angelica root and a whole lot more to produce small batch, high-quality Sipsmith gin.
“We’re really trying to bring back to London what was once here, but in a better quality,” Galsworthy said.
And Galsworthy still drinks it like he makes it: Old style.
“Straight up with a twist is my drink,” he said. “You know, a tiny bit of vermouth and let the gin do the talking.”