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Musical theater fans may recall “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” from Gypsy, a number in which a trio of burlesque performers urge the title character to “do something special, anything that’s special” to distinguish her act.
The latest crop of gins seems to take a page from that libretto. There’s no shortage of great gins out there, and in order to be remembered, gin producers are leaning harder than ever into finding that “something special” to pull away from the pack.
That might mean flavoring the gin with fresh instead of dried juniper (Procera) or experimenting with resting the gin in small barrels made from juniper wood (Citadelle Juniper Decadence—no easy task, by the way: “Since the juniper is a modestly sized tree, its wood is not suitable for making long, curved staves, as it is too hard to bend,” the company explains. Instead, “special small casks were built with straight sides.”)
Others emphasize regional flavorings (see: kelp and other coastal botanicals for sea-inspired Hendrick’s Neptunia, or Irish honey in Ireland’s Silks) or the provenance of the raw ingredients used to distill the base gin (Northern California grapes, Mississippi Delta rice). And novelty gins come in an ever-expanding array of hues: pink, purple, blue. One newcomer, Scapegrace Black, uses butterfly pea to transform from murky gray to vibrant pink when tonic water or citrus is added, a fun party trick in a glass.
Has gin become too gimmicky? To be sure, it’s hard to stand out in a crowded marketplace. We can’t fault gin-makers for wanting to entertain us with a backstory or a bit of novelty. But it’s worth remember that since most gin is consumed in cocktails—not straight up—versatility may be the strongest selling point a gin can offer. A great Martini doesn’t require a gimmick: it just requires a great gin.
Diplôme Dry Gin; $32, 90 Points. Look for a mild, lightly citrusy aroma and a brisk, drying palate. Most of the flavor is on the exhale: lemon pith, juniper, pine, black pepper. The base spirit is made from sugar beet. The producer says this gin is a 1945 recipe perfected during WWII in Dijon, France, where it “became the official gin for the American army stationed in Europe.” Best Buy. —K.N.
Navigator London Dry Gin; $30; 90 Points. Star anise aromas lead the nose. The first sips open gently with spearmint and a faint chocolaty note, leading into a bracing finish framed by grapefruit and lemon peel, plus white pepper sparks. Lengthen into G&Ts. Best Buy. —K.N.
Wonderbird Spirits Gin No. 61; $48, 90 Points. Made with a base of Mississippi Delta rice, this gin offers a bold licorice twang on nose and palate. The finish is subtly sweet, with star anise warmed by black pepper and clove heat. —K.N.