How can you pass up a class with that title? We couldn’t.

After Paul Pacult’s spirits tasting seminar earlier that day (which we went over yesterday), in which I tasted (and did not spit out) six fabulous single malt Scots whiskies, we had about a half-hour break before the next one. Problem was, it was on the top floor of the hotel, with the limited elevators being packed with people every time we tried to get up, and it took us over a half an hour just to get up there. If I wasn’t such a wimpy non-athlete I would have considered the stairs, but 17 flights is rather daunting for anyone, I’d expect. (This was one of the big flaws with the Tales setup at the Monteleone, frankly — it often takes a ridiculous amount of time to get up to the Riverview and Vieux Carré Rooms.) By the time we got there we had to sit way in the back, and consequently didn’t get one of the great Plymouth Gin swag items — a shoulder bag full of bar tools. Sigh.

Ten GinsWhat we did get was a tasting mat before us, lined up with ten gins! (If there was a spit bucket, and I honestly don’t remember if there was or not, I ignored it. Sigh.)

Ryan Magarian and Philip DuffRyan Magarian, Portland-based mixologist and co-creator of Aviation Gin, moderated the session along with Philip Duff, brand ambassador for Bols, Simon Ford, brand ambassador for Plymouth as well as Desmond Payne, Beefeater Gin’s Master Distiller (wow).

We started out with a selection of genevers, also called Dutch gin or “Holland gin” in Jerry Thomas’ time. It’s the original gin, predating the London dry style that we’ve come to know as gin, and has a very different history, character and distilling process. It starts out as a multigrain mash with lots of rye, wheat and corn, although not too much barley. We got to taste the two main types of genever — jonge and oude — plus korenwijn (“corn wine,” the aforementioned multigrain spirit). The base spirit is produced in copper pot stills and comes out at about 120 proof, and to make genever it’s blended with the botanicals and redistilled. Juniper is part of the mix of botanicals, as with London dry gin, but it’s further in the background and not nearly so dominant. Korenwijn, incidentally, is a wonderful spirit on its own, though, and very popular in the Netherlands although sadly unavailable in the U.S. so far. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

“Jonge” and “oude” don’t refer to age in genevers, but to style and distilling techniques. “Oude,” the older style, is a heartier, maltier spirit, made from barley not unlike Scots whisky, and “jonge” a newer, clear, more neutrally-flavored style. There’s less of a korenwijn base in the jonge style, which is lighter and apparently very popular in the Netherlands these days; young people apparently mix it with Coke. (Gah, such a waste.)

Oude genever, or even better, true korenwijn, makes a perfect Improved Holland Gin Cocktail, one of four cocktails we were served during this seminar.

Improved Holland Gin Cocktail

2 ounces oude genever (or korenwijn if you can get it).
1 teaspoon Maraschino liqueur (or Grand Marnier).
1 teaspoon rich simple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters.

Stir with ice and serve on the rocks, or strain and serve up. Garnish with a lemon peel.

This is an amazingly good drink. Truly. The most readily available genevers in the States is by Boomsma, although the Maytag folks have recently debuted an American-made genever called Genevieve. We picked up a bottle recently but haven’t tried it yet (hmm, maybe tonight).

The three genever-style spirits we tasted, thanks to Philip (who was wearing a t-shirt that said “I’d Rather Be Drinking Genever”), were:

An unaged, uncut “malt wine”, the base for genever.

Korenwijn, a very old genever at 38% abv, which we were very lucky to get!

Bols Jonge Genever, lighter but very lovely stuff, and you do get a bouquet of botanicals in the nose and on the tongue. Seems such a waste to mix this stuff with Coke! Philip says this is the #1 bestselling spirit in the Netherlands.

Next to taste was an Old Tom Gin. This is a legendary spirit, predating the appearance of London dry gin in this country by decades, and was a sweetened gin. Back in the Days of Yore sugar was added to gin to help mask nasty flavors brought about by the presence of impurities and bad-tasting congeners resulting from poor distilling techniques. As distilling improved the style’s popularity continued, and Old Tom gin was the basis for almost all historical cocktails pre-1890s or so which called for gin that wasn’t specifically Holland gin. It was extremely popular up until Prohibition, but never really recovered afterwards, and by the 1960s it was no longer made.

Old Tom is back, though, and I hope it won’t be too much longer before we see it in shops. I can’t wait to taste this in a Ramos Gin Fizz; that’s the gin that was used in the original recipe. Old Tom It was surprisingly sweet, more so than I expected, which helped ameliorate the bite of the juniper (which was definitely there) although there was more flavor from the alcohol than from the botanicals. This could be a great “gateway gin” for gin-fearers. Vodka-drinker-converters of the world, unite!

Brands of Old Tom Gin and the more currently well-known and popular London dry gin began to become established in the 1840s, although Old Tom made it over here first. We didn’t start seeing London dry appearing in cocktail recipes until about the 1890s, even the turn of the century. Before long it was established as the premiere gin of choice in the States, and I can’t imagine a Martini without it.

The next gin we tried was old tried and true, Beefeater from London. It was great to have Desmond Payne there to speak, and although I sat in rapt attention while he was speaking I didn’t take any notes, and on that day I beat the living crap out of my already-crappy memory … sigh. Gabriel should have a Juniperlooza post up before long, and here’s hoping he remembers Desmond’s comments better than I do.

This was actually the first time I had tasted Beefeater neat and at room temperature, something I should really be doing for all spirits, according to what we learned from Paul Pacult. That said, gin tends to be the only spirit I never drink by itself; hardly anyone does, really. It’s a spirit that’s made for cocktails, and its botanicals blend so beautifully with other ingredients that you can’t help but to mix it. One taste of Beefeater cried out … JUNIPERRRRRRR! Like, *whap* in the snoot with a juniper branch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We also got lots of citrus — bitter orange and lemon peel.

We got a yummy cocktail made from the stash of Beefeater, one of my favorites and a sort of medium-level cocktail for converting former vodka drinkers. It’s tangy and grapefruity and very refreshing, and has been referred to as a “modern classic.” It was invented by Paul Harrington in the 1990s, but tastes like one of those drinks that’s been around for decades.


1-1/2 ounces London dry gin (we used Beefeater, of course).
1 ounce Cointreau (but we used Grand Marnier at the session).
3/4 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Then we tasted Plymouth Gin, perhaps my favorite all-around gin. It’s not a London dry, it’s its own style, appelation and category, of which it is the sole occupant. Very unique! The Plymouth Gin company was founded in 1793, in an area that had been making spirits since the 15th Century. It’s full-flavored but less assertive than London dry. It’s a FANTASTIC Martini gin, and very well-balanced. It’s also the base spirit of my own signature cocktail, The Hoskins.

The next gin we didn’t get to taste, because we were too far in the back and they ran out. (D’oh. Get enough product for the seminars!) It’s a gin from Menorca (!) called Xoriguer de Mahon, and I know nothing about it; let’s read the information sheet!

Then … aaah, the sheer joy of Plymouth Sloe Gin! If you’ve ever tasted any sloe gin available in America, you’ve probably nearly spat it out as a syrupy, cough-mediciney swill that’s artificially flavored and colored and that you wouldn’t want in your drink. Plymouth Sloe Gin is actually made from gin and sloe berries (small blackthorne plums), made in the old artisanal style. It’s fantastic stuff, bittersweet and tart and beautifully balanced. The original recipe was lost, but it was reintroduced in the UK 11 years ago and has been unavailable in the U.S., until this year. I have yet to see it on the shelves, but when you see it, GRAB IT! Learn the joys of a true Sloe Gin Fizz.

Finally we moved to what’s being called the “New Western Dry Gins,” still with juniper in the botanical bouquet but it’s not so upfront, not the dominant flavor. These new gins tend to be in two general categories: either citrusy or a savory, floral-spicy style. Tanqueray No. 10 is one of these, with fresh citrus peel in its botanicals. It’s a “softer” gin but lovely stuff, and a good gateway gin. Hendrick’s from Scotland is one of my favorites in this style, with cucumber and rose petal in the finish. G’Vine from France features forward notes of cardamom. Try some gin sours with these sometime.

I’ve been hearing a lot about Martin Miller’s; I’d had some in a cocktail before, and finally got a taste of it on its own. It’s sweet on the palate but not sweetened, with flavors of cucumber, lavender and violets. A good suggestion was to try this in a Collins with some Aperol. (Hmm!)

Cucumber Cantaloupe Sour

1-1/2 ounces Martin Miller’s Reformed Dry Gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 ounces fresh extracted cantaloupe juice.
1/2 ounce housemade clover honey syrup (1:1 with water).

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with sliced or shaved cucumber.

Last but not least, Aviation Gin, Ryan’s own concoction. I’ve been a fan of this gin since first tasting it, but it’s the kind of gin I want to try in drinks other than a Martini. It’s quite floral and spicy — lavender and cardamom immediately come to mind. The suggestion made in class — try this versus Martin Miller’s in a Blue Moon showdown, especially when Crème Yvette comes back next year!

Pepper Delicious

2 ounces Aviation Gin.
10 mint leaves.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounce rich simple syrup.
2 thin slices red bell pepper.

Muddle pepper slices and mint leaves in a mixing glass. Fill with ice, add remaining ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with another thin pepper slice.

I was already exited about gins, and this got me even more excited. Old Tom! Plymouth Sloe! It’s going to be so much fun playing with all this.

Now, let’s recap the score. We began Thursday from 10:30 to noon with six Scotches which I did not spit out. We continued from 12:30 to 2:00 with nine gins which I did not spit out, and four 2-ounce cocktails which I happily finished. Next session at 2:30 — Cognacs and Armagnacs!