There’s no denying the popularity of gin today. With the rise of craft gins and bars dedicated to offering the very best of the juniper-infused spirit, it’s safe to say that gin has come a long way since being used as an anti-inflammatory in the 17th century.
Like whisky, rum, and tequila, the gin market has burgeoned into its own beast, creating a wondrous world for fans both old and new to dive into. Now, we’re all for variety, but as with many other spirits, gin can be confusing for those who’re new to the scene. For one, there is more than one way of distilling gin, and a plethora of flavour possibilities with the use of botanicals.
Then we have variations such as London Gin and Dry Gin (amongst many others), so you can only imagine how confusing it can be for a beginner who wants to expand his horizon beyond the basic G&T.
To sort this out once and for all, we’ve enlisted the help of Gin Brands Ambassador to Pernod Ricard Singapore, Brendon Khoo, for a crash course on the spirit. The passionate gin enthusiast began his love affair with bartending through an inter-college/university cocktail competition in Malaysia, before moving across the Causeway for stints at Capella Singapore, 28 HongKong Street, the now-defunct Crackerjack, and Operation Dagger.
Here, his complete guide to gin will take us through the differences between styles, how botanicals play a big role in elevating the spirit, and where to go in Singapore for a good gin cocktail. If you’re feeling adventurous, he’s even let us on two of his favourite gin cocktail recipes, so you too can shake up a good time at home — just like the pros.
Hi Brendon! Tell us about the different styles of gin and what their key differences are.
We could spend the whole day talking about the different styles of gin and their definitions! However in the interest of time, and to not bore everyone with a lecture, we’ll stick with 4 types of gin. One key thing to remember about gins, is that no matter how many botanicals and flavours there are, the main flavour component must be Juniper!
London Dry Gin; Everyone’s seen it before on a gin bottle, not everyone knows what it means exactly. It’s a category of gin defined by its production process, where no flavourings, essences or sugar can be added to the spirit after distillation. With the advent of the ‘Coffey’ or the continuous still, the distillation strength is able to rectify the spirit, allowing it to be sold unsweetened, or dry. A gin also doesn’t need to be made in London to have the name.
Old Tom Gin; Often described as a sweeter style of gin, a little sugar was added to the spirit for its pungency as a result of the limited purification of the spirit possible with copper pot stills. This style of gin was popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries, before the introduction of the Coffey/continuous still.
Genever; You’ve probably heard many terms used for gin, one of which being ‘Dutch Courage’, and Genever lies at the heart of that! Legend has it that British soldiers during the Anglo-Dutch Wars noticed the calming effects of the spirit before battle, and it’s supposed ability to fend off the cold. Genever is the precursor, or granddaddy to gin, uses more rye, barley or maize as the base spirit, and their flavours come through with the spirit.
Modern Gin; Gin is in! That is a fact and we’ve seen a boom of gins from every corner in the world, with no exact classification, with a wide variety of botanicals and flavours, with as many or more than 47 botanicals, to some gins which only have one botanical; Juniper alone! We’ve seen so many great gins emerge over the past few years alone, and I’m sure there’s more to come!
What are your top three tips when choosing gin?
1. Know what you like
Right now in the market, we are blessed with a plethora of gins to choose from, and sometimes it can be intimidating. But after all the marketing, all the buzz and fanfare, the most important thing is you must like the spirit. To start building your preferences of flavours, taste, taste and taste again! The next time you go to one of Singapore’s many amazing bars, speak to your friendly bartender for a recommendation of gin either on its own or in a cocktail and you’ll be off on your own juniper-filled odyssey!
2. What are you using the gin for?
There are some gins which are very versatile, but there are others which recommend specific ways to enjoy them. For example, Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin is just begging to be put into a G&T with fresh grapefruit peel, but it also shines in cocktails such as Negronis and Gimlets, whereas Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin with more delicate flavours, asks that you slow down to sip and savour it, maybe on the rocks, or as a martini. There is a gin for every occasion!
3. Share the Juniper love!
Gin is best enjoyed with friends and family, creating convivial moments! My last tip would be that when you choose your next bottle of gin, be it at a bar or at the shop, think of the occasion you’d like to enjoy it in, or the loved ones you’d like to share it with.
What’s a good gin for newcomers of the spirit to try?
If you’ve never enjoyed gin before (hopefully we can remedy that), I highly recommend Beefeater London Dry Gin to start. It is the benchmark for London Dry Gins, and it’s stood the test of time, having been around since 1863. It also just happens to be the world’s most awarded gin! I’d say start off with that, and you can work your way through slowly experimenting with others.
How can you tell the difference between good and average gin?
This can be quite subjective, but I believe the difference between a good and average gin, is not to be able to taste every single botanical, but how they make you feel as its sum, and for you to enjoy it. We could spend all day waxing lyrical on a gin’s bouquet, palate and finish, texture etc, but I strongly believe you need to like the liquid, and how it makes you feel when you consume it. And when you truly enjoy a gin, that’s what transforms it from average to good!
What botanicals and garnishes do you recommend when serving gin?
The best point of reference are the botanicals that go into making the gin! With Beefeater, I always recommend an orange or lemon slice, Monkey 47 with a grapefruit peel, and Ki No Bi with a lemon peel, or if you’re feeling adventurous, sansho peppers! Using the botanicals that are a part of a gin’s recipe help to highlight their flavours, be it in a G&T or a cocktail.
What are some classic cocktails that contain gin?
Where do I begin? The ones that are known to everyone would be cocktails like a Negroni, a Martini, and the French 75, but you can also try some delicious lesser known drinks such as a Last Word, Southside and the Clover Club. Don’t just take my word for it, next time you head to a bar, order one to try!
What are some of your favourite bars in Singapore that make a fantastic gin cocktail?
There are so many awesome bars in Singapore who make amazing gin cocktails, but the one I can’t stop recommending to friends and family right now is from Republic Bar (formerly Chihuly Lounge) at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore! The Valentino Red – made with Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, lychee oolong, watermelon Riesling, topped off with a peach and jasmine soda from London Essence Co. – is definitely a head turner when the drink comes to your table and is absolutely delicious!
How can people elevate the simple G&T at home?
A few simple touches can level up your G&T! Using premium tonics will make a world of difference and the garnishes added also highlight the botanicals of the gin. This last one might sound bougie, but make sure your tonic is chilled, and you have ice that’s fresh out of the freezer. It’ll definitely make a difference!
Could you share two of your personal favourite cocktail recipes with us?
45ml Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin
25ml Fresh Lemon Juice
10ml Sugar Syrup
5ml Crème de Mûre (if this is not available, you can substitute it with crème de cassis)
Blackberries (to garnish)
Lemon peel (to garnish)
- Pour the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup into a shaker.
- Fill with ice and shake for 10 seconds.
- Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass or tumbler and drizzle the Crème de Mure to get a bleeding effect into the cocktail!
- Garnish with blackberries and a lemon peel and enjoy!
60ml Ki No Tea Kyoto Dry Gin
10ml Lillet Blanc
Olive or pickled plum, to garnish Preparation
- Pour both ingredients into a mixing glass or tin.
- Add ice, and stir for 8-10 seconds until well chilled.
- Strain into a chilled coupe martini glass.
- Garnish with an olive, or a pickled plum for a sweeter finish (you can also zest a lemon over the drink) and enjoy
(Hero and featured image credits: Malfy Gin and Monkey 47)