Many college students stick to vodka and spiced rum for their mixed drinks, which unfortunately prevents them from experiencing a huge variety of different cocktails and the flavors that make them interesting. One of the liquors that many overlook is gin, although their reticence is understandable. Gin is clear liquor that is flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. This lends gin a distinctive pine flavor, leading some to describe this liquor as “Christmas in a bottle.” The pine flavor results in many people avoiding this drink, and it is not typically consumed neat. But when mixed, gin can produce a delicate, sophisticated cocktail.
The liquor that I am reviewing this week is Bluecoat Gin. This liquor is distilled right here in Philadelphia by Philadelphia Distilling LLC. This new craft distillery utilizes a hand-hammered copper pot still, requiring true batch production. The ingredients used in this gin are all American sourced, organically grown and include juniper berries, orange peel and lemon peel (plus a secret third citrus peel). These ingredients, coupled with the batch process overseen by the master distiller, results in an American dry gin that focuses on a much more citrus and floral aroma than the traditional London dry gin.
When tasted neat, Bluecoat is much more palatable than most gins. The juniper is balanced by the citrus notes, providing a much more complex floral aroma than a gin like Tanqueray. This gin is still quite dry, however, and does not rise to its full potential until it is mixed. The first cocktail I tried, and the true baptism of fire for any gin, is the martini. Now I’m not talking about the watered-down mixed drinks that are commonly sold as martinis in college bars. The rules for a proper martini are quite strict. A traditional martini consists of two ounces of gin stirred on ice with half an ounce of dry vermouth. This mixture is then strained into a cocktail glass with an olive as a garnish. The amount of vermouth has varied historically, with Winston Churchill famously declaring that a martini was ice-cold gin with a bow in the direction of France. One of the few historic variations is the perfect martini, substituting half the dry vermouth with sweet vermouth. A related drink is the Gibson, which substitutes a cocktail onion for the olive. My personal favorite drink of this family is the Perfect Gibson, but for the purposes of the review I restrained myself to the classic recipe. This particular drink was drier and more floral than I had expected, with the citrus taking the front seat, backed up by both the pine from the juniper and the wine character from the vermouth. One of the characteristics that really set this drink off, though, was the slight salt tang from the olive, which accentuated the other flavors.
The other two drinks I tried were the gin and tonic and the Tom Collins. The gin and tonic is a mixture of two ounces of gin topped with four ounces of tonic water over ice and a lime wedge or two. I actually mixed mine using lemon instead, at the suggestion of the master distiller, and I found this to work quite well. The tonic water provides a bitter counterpoint to the sweetness of the lemon, and the gin adds much complexity to the drink. A word of caution is due, however: Too much citrus ruins this drink. I actually added too much lemon juice (half an ounce plus another wedge), and the cocktail did not shine until it was diluted with more gin and tonic water. This drink is a classic English summer drink, dating back to the consumption of quinine (the bitter component in tonic water) by British officers in India as a way to ward off malaria.
The Tom Collins consists of two ounces of gin, one ounce of lemon juice, a quarter ounce of sugar and three ounces of club soda over ice, a lemon wedge and a maraschino cherry. I actually found this cocktail to be rather boring. It is very smooth and enjoyable but lacked the bitterness of the tonic water or sufficient gin to make it really stand out. I still liked the drink, but this is a bit fruity for my tastes.
Overall, Bluecoat Gin is an excellent liquor, adding more citrus to classic gin drinks. I highly recommend giving this a shot, as it’s more approachable than many other gins and supports the local economy.