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Juniper Is Better Than Pumpkin Spice
These gin cocktails are perfect for our purgatory of shorts-and-sweatshirt weather.
Despite all the usual talk of pumpkin spice, sweater weather, and root vegetables, it’s not exactly resembling autumn around here. Though it’s already October, I don’t believe we’ve moved beyond the confusing shorts-and-sweatshirt temperatures that once upon a time were a tween-season, transitional blip. Now it seems shorts-and-sweatshirt weather drags on until almost Thanksgiving (when you can debate climate change with your anti-vaxxer relatives!).
Perhaps a better way to the mark the change of seasons is with cocktails. For many drinkers, October marks the annual migration from white to brown spirits. From gin-and-tonics and daiquiris to bourbon and Cognac and whatnot. Negroni Week in September seems to set off a sort of unofficial signal to the booze publicists to start sending me emails about their aged spirits for my “forthcoming holiday gift guide” (which is perpetually forthcoming because I never publish one).
In any case, since we’re literally and figuratively still in shorts and hoodies, I propose mirroring this with a longer-than-usual Gin Season. I’ve been enjoying a bevy of new and new-to-me gins, and I’m not ready to give them up just yet. So today I’m presenting several gin cocktails to take us into colder (or cooler) weather, should it ever arrive.
So, what exactly is a “cold-weather gin cocktail”? This is a good question. It’s rather subjective. I’m guessing many bartenders would suggest simply adding Chartreuse. Chartreuse may be hard to find these days, but this is not a bad idea. To that end, I am including recipes for the Alaska and Bijou cocktails below.
If there’s one common thread to the cocktails I’ve been enjoying lately, it’s Cynar—the Italian amaro made from artichoke (along with a dozen other herbs and botanicals). To be honest, I’ve been riding pretty hard for Team Cynar over the years, including my preference for the Cyn-Cin over the Negroni (equal parts Cynar, dry vermouth, and gin; stirred, straight up, orange peel twist).
But before we get to the cocktails, let’s talk about the gins. I usually keep a few gins on hand for various usages. For my standard martini or Negroni, I might go with a classic like Beefeater or Tanqueray.
But my gin collection grows all the time, and I’ve been very happy with a half-dozen gins I’ve been fooling around with in recent years. They’re all great in G+Ts and Negronis and martinis, but I’ve really fallen in love with them in fall cocktails.
Amazing small-batch gin that appeared during the pandemic. Made in a barn in the Catskills, Isolation Proof is both classic and totally fresh at the same time. A spicy, floral, heady mix of juniper, coriander, cassia bark, angelica root, licorice root, and orange peel, it adds in the wildcard of cubeb, an Indonesian spice in the pepper family. I absolutely love this gin and it has become a staple in my house.
This Vietnamese distillery was among my favorite discoveries at Bar Convent Brooklyn back in June. I loved Sông Cái’s super unique gins made from local botanicals from Vietnam’s Northern Highlands. Robust, earthy, spicy, with notes or rose, lychee, and peppercorn along with the juniper. I also like their more aromatic Floral Gin, and I am still thinking about I also loved Sông Cái’s incredible dry natural rice wine (that we will hopefully soon see distributed more widely.)
Bimini Gin, from Round Turn Distilling in Maine, was introduced in 2021, and I really like its sophisticated, energetic, and bracing style. This is a new generation of American gin, with bright and zest grapefruit peel, coriander, chamomile, pepper, and even a hoppy edge. Bimini promotes itself as having a “softer” juniper profile, but don’t let that fool you. At 94 proof, there’s a bold undercurrent of juniper to satisfy serious gin aficionados.
What surprised even more was Bimini Coconut. As readers likely know, I do not go in for fake flavors, especially tropical fruit flavors. For instance, I loathe Malibu coconut rum. This is not that. At all. Bimini Coconut is outrageously good, and shockingly adaptable in a wide range of cocktails. The coconut flavor isn’t shouting, “I’m want to be a piña colada!” Instead, it brings a fascinating and attractive hint of tropical awesomeness to the existing gin botanicals.
Hailing from Bristol, England, and introduced to the US market in late 2020, 6 O’Clock Gin is a fresh take on a London Dry. It’s meant to be a classic G+T gin, and with its slightly lower 86 proof, it works well in long drinks. But I think it stands up in a cocktail like the Breakfast Martini below.
At 100 proof, with bold, spicy notes of cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, and Indonesian cubeb pepper (am I sensing a trend?), this is the more muscular sibling of the original 6 O’Clock London Dry. Perfect for a full-throated martini and any of the cold-weather cocktails below. I love this one in a Cyn-Cin.
Linden Leaf touts itself as an “organic molecular spirit” created by three Cambridge University scientists and engineers. Regardless, it makes a great gin-and-tonic, and it’s great in one of the Chartreuse cocktails like the Bijou or Alaska.
The original recipe, created by Isolation Proof’s Jake Sherry, calls for the Italian amaro Braulio, and that works just fine. But after some experimentation, Cynar gives this the vibe we’re looking for.
4 fresh sage leaves
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce Cynar
1/4 ounce egg white
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Lightly muddle the sage in a cocktail shaker. Add all ingredients except ice to shaker and dry shake for 15 seconds. Add ice and shake again until well-chilled. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a sage leaf.
Coconut Hanky Panky
The original recipe here calls for Fernet Branca, but I found the Fernet flavor profile take over the drink (as it so often does). So I substituted…Cynar! “Splitting the sweet vermouth with dry creates a little breathing room for the more delicate notes of Bimini’s signature botanical blend,” say the folks at Bimini. I concur.
2 ounces Bimini Coconut
1/2 ounce Cynar
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel, expressing the oil over the drink.
To be clear, this is not the classic recipe for a Breakfast Martini, which normally calls for triple sec (or more specifically Cointreau) and lemon juice. This version calls for Benedictine and lime juice, for a tarter, more herbal rendition. Any of the gins listed work well in this cocktail.
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Benedictine
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1-2 bar spoons orange marmalade
2-3 dashes grapefruit bitters
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel, expressing the oil over the drink.
Sometimes a martini variation eschews the vermouth altogether, such as this bold, botanical drink that appears in numerous 20th-century cocktail guides. Why it is named after the 49th state? Who knows? Be sure to use yellow Chartreuse, which is lower in proof and more honeyed than green Chartreuse.
2 ounces London dry gin
¾ ounce yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon peel twist
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously, then strain into a cocktail glass. Express lemon peel over the top, then add as garnish.
1 ounce green Chartreuse
1 ounce gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Twist of lemon peel, for garnish
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with cherry and lemon peel, expressing the oil over the drink and letting the cherry sink to the bottom, like a jewel.