Cheap Buzz: Gin drinking's easy in the summertime

Posted: July 05, 2012

BUZZ: It's summertime again, so everybody's drinking gin-and-tonics. Ugh. Why anybody would drink something that smells like Pine-Sol is beyond me. Makes me queasy just thinking about it.

Marnie: Believe it or not, Buzz, modern gin traces its roots to a 17th-century Dutch remedy for upset stomachs, among other ailments. Alcoholic tinctures of botanical ingredients were common medicines. Juniper berries were thought to help kidney problems, gallstones and the gout, too.

Buzz: So how come people still drink it?

Marnie: Well, juniper's healthful properties didn't prove miraculous, but it did a great job of masking the dire quality of primitive distilled spirits. Soon, "genever" was a popular relaxing drink in the Netherlands, but it didn't really take off until British sailors discovered the appeal of what they called "Dutch Courage." The craze for gin they brought home was so frenzied that juniper became scarce in London; cheap, "common gin" at its height was flavored with turpentine.

Buzz: Worse than Pine-Sol. They must have been at sea too long.

Marnie: Well, gin wouldn't still be around today if there weren't plenty of people who liked the piney taste of juniper berries. Besides, most gins feature other aromatic flavorings too, like lemon peel and coriander.

Buzz: Someone told me there's a gin made from cucumbers. And what about cotton gin? Who thinks this stuff up?

Marnie: Cucumbers, yes. Cotton, no. Each distiller uses its own secret recipe, so no two gin brands taste quite the same, and most won't tell you every ingredient. From angelica root and grains of paradise to frankincense and rose petals, today's gins feature remarkably balanced flavors of herbs, fruits and spices. Gin and tonic may be refreshing on a hot, muggy day, but it was once the backbone of cocktail culture. Almost any drink you can make with vodka will taste more complex and interesting made with gin instead. Like cooking with wine instead of water.

Buzz: You make a good case, Marnie, but I'd still rather play gin than drink it.

Marnie Old is Philadelphia's highest-profile sommelier. She has designed wine lists for restaurants like Parc and Bar Ferdinand. Her latest book, Wine Secrets, is a collection of wine advice shared by top wine professionals. Marnie consults for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and is an adviser to the beverage trade. Check out her blog at Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph.

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