Beyond the G&T
A gin and tonic is the very essence of summer. But in the past few years, several distilleries have been producing top-notch, small-batch gins that deserve a lot more than a splash of tonic.
Lavender, Angelica root: shutterstock
Today’s gin makers like to toy with exotic ingredients such as Indian sarsaparilla, angelica root, Elettaria cardamom, and Florentine iris
A gin and tonic is the very essence of summer. But in the past few years, several distilleries have been producing top-notch, small-batch gins that deserve a lot more than a splash of tonic. Botanical tinkering among creative distillers has yielded a depth and complexity that warrants a steep asking price ($40 to $60 per liter). Unlike top-shelf vodka, where stripping off flavor is the key to success, gin makers vie to amp everything up. They like to layer in flowers and herbs, and toy with exotic ingredients such as Indian sarsaparilla, angelica root, Elettaria cardamom, and Florentine iris. The resulting nuances have inspired cocktail creators to move way beyond G&Ts.
Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin, produced in the Netherlands for nearly three centuries, has been on the U.S. market for a couple of years. This incredibly fragrant gin has high notes of Turkish rose and undertones of raspberry and peach. Nolet, made in small copper pot stills at Holland’s oldest distillery, packs a serious punch at 95 proof.
Oxley Dry Gin from Britain is just as potent as Nolet (94 proof) and as beguiling in its own way, with a distinct citrus taste. Its almond aroma comes from an infusion of meadowsweet, a wild herb that grows along U.K. riverbanks. Among the 14 botanicals, though, it’s grapefruit that lingers most on the tongue. Oxley, relatively new to the market, is cold-distilled at subzero temperatures, which allows fresh ingredients, like citrus peels, to go into the mix without them getting “cooked” in the process. It’s produced in very small batches—just 240 bottles a day.
Another splendid addition to the gin lover’s repertoire is named for its founder, British tycoon and bon vivant Martin Miller, who owns a collection of country manor hotels. Though it’s been around for more than a decade, the brand—made in the London dry style—has only recently been gaining traction here, after garnering numerous spirit awards. It’s twice distilled, in the traditional pot still method, with an offbeat host of botanicals, including cassia bark, coriander seed, licorice, cucumber, and lime. The silky distillate, blended with Icelandic spring water, is best enjoyed in a straight-up martini.
Along with the original Martin Miller release, which clocks in at a moderate 80 proof, there’s a second, more potent 90-proof expression. This Westbourne Strength Gin stands up well to gutsy mixers like Campari and sweet vermouth—the optimal triumvirate for a top-notch Negroni.
Oxley Royal Air Force
1½ oz. Oxley Dry Gin
¾ oz. lavender syrup
(Monin or Atkins & Potts)
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. Luxardo Maraschino
2 dashes lavender bitters (optional)
Lavender sprig for garnish
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake and double strain into a coupe or a martini glass. Garnish with lavender sprig.
■ Oxley barman Jamie Evans designed this version of the classic Aviation cocktail, which accents Oxley’s citrus notes. The lavender syrup merges well with the gin’s floral botanicals.