Take another look at gin
This basic liquor may be overlooked recently, but it has its devoted fans, and many tasty cocktails.
By Barney Gimbel, FORTUNE writer-reporter

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Vodka martinis. Vodka and tonic. Vodka gimlets. These days it's vodka vodka vodka. It's hip. It's clear. It mixes with everything - and it's fashionably expensive. But what happened to gin - one of the alcohols that cocktails were originally created to dilute?

Well it's certainly no vodka. Gin sales have been largely flat over the past five years while vodka has increased almost 10 percent. But it is slowly improving its image as distillers start introducing new super premium brands and bartenders get better at creating gin cocktails.

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To be sure, gin has always had an image problem. It first became popular in the U.S. during Prohibition. That's because gin didn't require aging and was relatively easy to make by mixing raw alcohol with juniper berry extract and other flavorings and spices in a large container like a bathtub (hence the origin of "bathtub gin"). It was often so nasty that cocktails with mixers to disguise the flavor became popular.

"Gin is the bad boy of the spirits world," wrote Henry McNulty, Vogue's legendary wine and spirits columnist. "Most drinks have a past of distinction - sherry and the brandies of Spain, whiskey and Scottish lairds in their kilts. But gin became a sort of 18th-century tranquilizer, cheap, plentiful and potent; able to take people's minds off the miserable conditions in which most of them lived."

It's odd then that vodka escaped its stereotype - think Bolsheviks in freezing snow - especially considering gin is really just flavored vodka: neutral grain spirits infused with various "botanicals" including juniper berries. (Juniper is jenever in Dutch.) How much juniper and what other flavorings are used make up a gin's identity. Popular other ingredients include coriander seed, angelica, orris root, lemon, cassia bark, cardamom, fennel, anise, caraway, orange peel, nutmeg and cinnamon. Usually there's no more than six mixed in an average gin.

Click here to see some great gin cocktails

So here's something to think about the next time you order a Grey Goose Cosmo: you're not paying for taste, you're paying for the lack of it. That's right, with all the hundreds of new brands of vodka lining the counter behind your neighborhood bar, what they're selling is the mixer with a clear substance in it that gets you, well, more social.

But unlike most vodkas, each brand of gin has a distinctive flavor. Some can be said to be more "ginny" - that is more juniper and potent, and others to be more "vodka-like" that is smooth and inoffensive. But what we found out after our own gin tasting is that each brand works best with different mixers.

By now you're now probably saying, "I hate gin." That's not your fault. Blame your bartender: most don't know how mix it with anything but vermouth or tonic.

"Nine out of 10 people who tell me they hate gin really just hate tonic," says gin expert Julie Reiner, an owner of Manhattan's swanky Flatiron Lounge. "Few can even remember the last time they actually tasted it. And when they taste it mixed well they often like it better than vodka."

So with the help of the expert mixologists at New York's Flatiron Lounge for the recipes, and with many thanks to Kathleen (manager) and Mickey (bartender) at the Coliseum Bar and Grill for the mixing, here are some great cocktails tailored to the individual bottles.

Click here to see the gallery of cocktail recipes Top of page

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