Despite gin’s historic popularity in the United Kingdom, and surging popularity in much of Europe, the United States has long lagged behind in botanical clear spirit appreciation. That hasn’t stopped bold prognosticators from predicting an incipient “gin boom” in the U.S., but there was never much proof of a gin-loving American public — until now.
Gin has seen a spike in both sales and general consumer interest in 2020; that we know, but the question of “why” remains. Is it due largely to the gin and tonic, that summer staple that’s been even easier to make at home in the Covid-19 era? Is it because of the slew of gin-based cocktails that great bars have popularized over the past decade?
That’s what to tune in for on this week’s episode of the VinePair Podcast, when VinePair’s Adam Teeter, Erica Duecy, and Zach Geballe discuss why this time, the “gin boom” might just be the real thing — along with what’s driving it and how we’re tracking where it’s going.
Or check out our conversation here
Adam Teeter: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Erica Duecy: From Connecticut, I’m Erica Duecy.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair Podcast. And before we launch into today’s topic, a word from this week’s sponsor. This podcast is sponsored by Gosling’s Rum. The newest addition to the Seal family, Gosling’s presents the incredibly drinkable Gold Seal Rum. Take that Black Seal. An initial sweetness leads to complex caramel flavors and layers of spice and the finish is dry and smooth — that sounds really good. Aged in new American oak, the rum attains a color of rich burnished gold with a brilliant glow. A blend of continuous and double pot distilled rums, Gosling’s Gold Seal Rum is uncommonly versatile and may be enjoyed straight up, on the rocks, or as a mixture that will enhance any rum cocktail mix. Mix it with Gosling’s stormy ginger beer for a Bermuda Mule. For a limited time, use code VinePair at checkout on reservebar.com for free shipping on your Gosling’s Rum order.
Z: All I’ve got to say is, Andrew Holmes, Gosling’s brand ambassador and former guest on this podcast, where is my bottle of Gold Seal Rum?
A: Seriously, I never got a bottle, either, come on guys!
Z: I’m not going anywhere, I need some rum
A: So, how’s everybody doing? I’m going on vacation so you guys are going to do the podcast without me next week. But how are you guys doing?
E: Good. I’m ready for a rum cocktail. It has been hot, hot, hot.
A: It’s gross, right? You know it’s really funny, I had a conversation with someone today that was like, “Adam, love the podcast. Just one comment, you guys talk about the weather a lot at the beginning of the show.”
Z: That’s because we’re f***ing old. What do you guys want?
A: That’s really funny and then without telling you that happened, Erica talked about the weather.
Z: I will tell you it says it is sunny and 70 degrees in Seattle today so New York can kiss my a**.
E: It is muggy and disgusting here, just yuck.
Z: Adam, does your entire neighborhood smell like garbage? I remember that not so fondly.
A: No, because I’m in Brooklyn. Well, have you guys drank anything really delicious recently?
E: I’ve been sticking to my Ranch Waters. That’s what I’ve been drinking. That and some rosés, that’s pretty much been my landscape for the last week.
Z: I actually, I’m going to say something that close listeners of the podcast are going to be shocked by, I actually have been drinking some Pinot Noir rosé, which has been really delicious — a couple of Oregon producers. This gives me the perfect opportunity to shamelessly plug my upcoming free Pinot Noir class on Tuesday. Tuesday, Aug. 18, it’s about a 45-minute class all about Pinot Noir. You can find more information at my website disgorgedwine.com. I will now stop plugging myself and we can talk more about anything else.
A: I drank some good stuff last weekend. I had a bottle of Cos that was amazing. I love that producer so much — from Sicily. I had their Frappato and it was sick. I got it at this wine bar I love — we had them on the podcast a while ago. I wanted to go and see how they were doing. They and a few other restaurants on their street petitioned to fully shut down Vanderbilt which is the main thoroughfare of Prospect Heights, the neighborhood in Brooklyn, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It’s really cool because while I know some people that live in New York and listen to the podcast may be used to seeing the dining in one parking spot —the parking spot in front of your restaurant you’re allowed to build a little platform and put as many chairs and tables that are socially distanced acceptable on that platform in that one spot, but now on Vanderbilt, they’re allowed to spread out throughout the entire thoroughfare. It’s really awesome. You walk down the middle of the street and there’s just tons of tables and restaurants. Dave, one of the owners of Lalou, was saying it could really help save a lot of these restaurants because a lot of them, due to this, are now able to be at or even over the capacity they normally would be if they were just indoor dining. And even though it’s just three days, it’s three days of the week that people go out and spend the most money. So some restaurants are able to use this to help fuel them now that the question “what happens as it starts to get cold?” as we’ve talked about before and we’ll talk about more as the fall continues — but I thought it was super cool and I got to take this amazing bottle of wine home and drink it with Naomi. It was absolutely delicious.
Z: And it seems like the kind of thing where once we’ve started doing it societally you go like, “Wow, this is a lot nicer than just cars going by.”
A: it is.
Z: It’s a lot better for the quality of life in the neighborhood.
A: He was saying a lot of people in the neighborhood who have cars were really pissed because they’re like, “It’s so much harder to get my car to my street.” But wouldn’t you rather have a place where the entire neighborhood can congregate and be outside? There were kids in the street playing together and throwing the football as their parents all sat around drinking great cocktails because Weather Up is also an amazing cocktail bar that is on that block. It was just super cool to watch and there’s not really other places that this can happen because once you’ve decided that you’re sitting at this restaurant in this parking space that’s where you are. And this felt much more like a community coming together to support the businesses on this thoroughfare and really have a place that everyone could be whether you are eating or drinking at the spot or not. Obviously, kids were not drinking cocktails. It was super cool. So let’s get into today’s topic which I think is really interesting and that is something we’ve talked about a little bit on the show before. I have some theories, I’m sure you guys do as well, and that is there ever going to be or are we already beginning to see a gin boom in the U.S.? People have been predicting this gin boom for years and that is based on the fact that there’s been a massive gin boom in Europe. Apart from Spain that’s been in love with gin for well over a decade, you’re now seeing gin being wholly embraced in France, Italy, Greece, you’re also seeing gin continuing to be this massive spirit in Great Britain, where it’s always been very popular. But it never had as massive a following in the U.S. as I think a lot of people thought it could be. I’m going to start our conversation with a very bold statement and that is, I think it’s more likely now than ever and I think the reason for that is thanks to Covid-19. And what I mean by that is I think a lot of the reason that a lot of people really never truly embraced gin is because they never understood how delicious a truly well-made gin and tonic could be. And that’s because so many people around the country have been drinking gin and tonics in which the tonic water has been coming off the gun at a bar. And most of that tonic water is usually pretty garbage. Now that people are home and they’re buying their own tonic water and they’re making gin and tonics they’re realizing how delicious that drink is and that’s making them explore lots of other gins and lots of other gin cocktails. that’s my take. What do you guys think?
E: Nice. I think that that is a good assertion. It’s also an easy cocktail to make, so as you are thinking of what you’re going to be sipping, it’s so easy. This winter I was drinking a lot of Martinis, I was exploring different Martini recipes, and playing with variations and then that just spilled over into the gin and tonics of summer. I’ve tried all sorts of different tonic waters, all sorts of different gins. Some of them are savory, some of the tonic waters have a Mediterranean influence, I think there’s so much variety. But I think that we as journalists have been saying for years, gin is a thing, gin is happening, it’ s finally happening, nope this year it’s happening, nope next year it’s happening. But I think, finally, we actually are starting to see that traction. If you look at Nielsen data over a couple-year period you do see this upward trajectory just in the last 12 weeks the sales have been up 37 percent. To put that in context that’s a little bit lower than tequila, which has been on a massive tear, but it’s higher than bourbon or Irish whiskey, or rum or vodka. So in gin I think we’re finally starting to see that it really is moving up in people’s mind and that people are probably using them most often in a gin and tonic. I’m glad to see that it seems like it’s actually happening.
Z: I think that one of the interesting pieces of this is that pre-Covid in the landscape where gin was maybe on the come but no one really knew who that was going to happen, the problem was there was a real divergence between the gin cocktail as a gin and tonic, or even a Martini, where the gin in and of itself is really the centerpiece and where the thing that could hold it back as a drink is crappy tonic water, sh*tty vermouth, someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. That is on one side of the gin equation. The other side is a whole host of really delicious, interesting cocktails: Negronis, Last Words, all this stuff that rely on gin but not really designed to showcase gin as much as integrate it into a much more complex whole. And in that area, gin has made great strides in cocktail programs around the world and the United States and other places. But weirdly, in both my professional experience and experience as a consumer, the gin that’s used in a lot of these drinks, as long as it’s of decent quality, it’s almost better the less intrusive it is. So you had this weird split where you had a cocktail in form — a gin and tonic or the Martini — where an expressive, distinctive, interesting gin really shines but one that maybe was not being enjoyed by a lot of people, and then you have this other format where an unintrusive less distinctive gin is more appreciated so that the vermouth and liqueur can shine through. And I think, despite what we’ve talked about before on this podcast, you’re seeing a lot more people making gin and tonics than making Negronis at home. So I think, yes, it’s given an opportunity for gin, as the spirit itself really takes the center stage here. And I think that is really exciting and I don’t expect that to walk backward, but what I wonder is, are you going to see those other gin-based cocktails kick up in popularity for home bartenders as people just get more comfortable working with gin as a spirit?
A: That’s what I’m curious about. And I’m deferring to Erica here, our cocktail book author. What other cocktails are out there that you think that if you’ve now embraced the gin and tonic, could be the next big gin cocktail that really does showcase how delicious gin is? I think Zach is right that people will probably make more Negronis and things like that, and maybe now with better gin, but what are some of the other really classic gin cocktails that should be on people’s radars?
E: There are so many ways to use gin. One that’s my favorite is the bee’s knees, a gin sour that uses lemon and honey and that is kind of a back-to-classics. It was made classically around Prohibition, and the lemon and honey were used to mask the hard smell of bathtub gin. That’s kind of a fun version. There’s a variety of different ways to use it. The Last Word I would say is one of my favorites that hasn’t gotten enough traction. That’s equal parts of gin, chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime. That one was actually a cocktail out of Detroit during Prohibition, and it has lineage back to the Detroit Athletic Club where all these well-heeled imbibers who were the titans of the car industry in Detroit would be at their gala events … and they’d slip outside to this speakeasy out back where the Last Word was being made. That’s one of my favorite variations and one of my favorite cocktails that I think is super underutilized. You can also play with various different Gimlets with some mint, cucumber, and blackberries, these summery Highball cocktails. There are so many ways to use gin, it’s really versatile and I would say that that’s one of the things that I think is driving interest in gin right now. For a long time, you had these traditional London dry gins that have that profile of coriander and angelica root and citrus and licorice and the juniper, of course, but then you moved into a phase where there is so much innovation happening in the spirits space but with gin in particular. The botanicals that people are using, the regions that are producing it, the different consumers that are being targeted, it’s really dynamic. You’ve got pink gin, you’ve got savory gin, you’ve got gin spiced with all these different botanicals. And this New Western style of gin, that we’ve written about a lot at VinePair, I think has really taken off. What that means is that the New Western style of gin is less focused on juniper and more focused on other things. For example, I know that there’s a gin out of Texas that is focused on lavender, grapefruit, and even has pecans in it. There’s one out of Japan, Suntory’s Roku, that is a yuzu-driven gin. It has flowers and herbs and botanicals, even tea in it, and a little bit of Sancho pepper that is a really incredible flavor expression that you would have never found with gin before. With this explosion of innovation, that’s one of the key things that’s driving this category forward.
Z: I want to add a couple of cocktails to Erica’s recommendations.
A: Please. I’m sure you’re adding the Aviation.
Z: No, I’m actually not, although that is another cocktail that I actually do love. I was going to offer a couple that I think are maybe easier stepping stones for people who are moving away from a gin and tonic. I think one great option for people is the French 75 — that’s a gin-based cocktail that also usually includes lemon juice and sparkling wine of some sort, some people will also add a sweetener like simple syrup. But again that, to me, is a nice option for someone who wants the lightness and brightness of a gin and tonic, the summery freshness, but is going to get more of a citrus note. Depending on how much lime you add to your gin and tonic, that could be equivalent. And then a Gin Fizz, another really classic cocktail — it is traditionally made with an egg white, but you can skip out if your don’t want it or if that’s too daunting for you — but again, a cocktail that marries gin and citrus but showcases the flavors of the gin you’re working with quite nicely. And then, to Erica’s point of these Western-style gins, I want to mention St. George Spirits in California, because to me they were one of the first producers that I came across that was really focused on, “we’re going to make a gin that is really reflective of where we are,” and their Terroir Gin is based on only local botanicals in the North Bay Area, and it’s really cool. It’s an awesome example of what gin can be, which is this platform to showcase a lot of different flavors, as Erica mentioned.
A: Do you both think then that part of gin’s appeal — besides the fact that the gin and tonic is so easy to make and now that people are finally making it with good tonic they’re realizing it’s delicious — is this local aspect of it that it really can reflect where it’s made in a way that a lot of other products can’t and that’s what makes it so interesting to so many people?
E: From my perspective, it’s really these small distillers who have been significant in the growth of gin. The smartest thing they’ve done is really focus on providence, they’ve focused on these authentic brand stories. There are of course the big Tanquerays and so forth out there, but when I think about the gin category, and even when you walk into a store, there are so many craft producers — and they all are telling a different story they’re trying to reach different types of consumers, they’re leveraging those different flavor profiles. So, I think that this trend is really timed perfectly with consumers’ growing interest in authentic brand stories, and in experimentation in a pretty simple and easy way. And to add to what we were saying about simple cocktail variations, with all of these new ones like the Japanese yuzu-driven gins and these other ones that feel very terroir-oriented, I think one thing to note is that you don’t necessarily want to be [using] it in a Negroni because that’s not a London Dry gin, that’s not what that cocktail was created for. The place to showcase all of these different flavors and different expressions of gin is in something simple: either in a gin and tonic, or I like the idea of a French 75; I also really like the idea of a Collins. A Collins is super simple, it’s just gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, and then you can add an additional flavoring. If you want a little bit of berry, add a little bit of elderflower cordial —which needs to make a comeback — and then just top it off with soda. It’s a long drink, it’s a highball. But these simpler expressions are going to be the best place to highlight those very diverse gins.
A: It sounds like you both think a gin boom is going to come.
Z: I might be marginally more skeptical.
Z: Here are the two reasons. One, is that maybe the gin boom as defined in like “the gin-and-tonic boom” I can buy in. I’m still a little skeptical that the average consumer is going to move too far away from that. Again, as we started this conversation, it’s such a simple drink yet yields such great results if you use good gin and good tonic that I think a lot of people are happy to stay there. And that’s fine. And for a lot of these gins that we’re talking about, that’s great. As Erica said, that’s a great way to showcase these more terroir or pronounced driven gins, it’s frankly delicious — gin and tonic is one of my absolute favorite cocktails — and that’s totally fine. When I think of the gin boom I think of the idea that the average person who is reasonably serious about drinking at home has four, five, six, seven different gins on hand. And I kind of think that gin is still going to largely exist in the space that vodka has existed in that, for most people who consume at home, they have a brand that they turn to or at least one bottle at home at a time than when they drink that they go buy another. Not like how they might look at whiskey or tequila or something like that where they are like, I have to have a few different bottles on hand because I want different versions of this. Now I would be happy to be wrong. Gin is delicious and I would love for there to be more money going into the gin producer direction and less in some other spirits. But I think that I’m skeptical that people are going to see the need for three, four, five, six different gins on their bar shelf at home, even in this world where that is the only place you’re getting a cocktail for most people.
E: If you do want some gins that are more versatile, we have a massive resource of what the best gins are. It’s called “The 30 Best Gins for Every Budget 2020,” we update this every year. We tasted through over 100 different gins this year. I helped, it was on my Instagram and it was so much gin, it was shocking. But we have “the best gins under $25,” the best gins under $45, etc. That is a great place to go and read the reviews, they all have the tasting notes, and figure out what is the best gin for you. Because I do think it is a great idea to have maybe one or two bottles. Right now, I’ve got two bottles in my house and that’s enough. One is more savory, one has more of a floral botanical profile, and that’s enough for any type of cocktails that I want to make.
A: Yeah, I agree. Zach, I do agree with you that I think it’s going to be connected to the gin and tonic, but hey, I think that’s all it needs. The tequila boom is really being fueled by the Margarita. If you look at the explosion of the Margarita as a cocktail it’s very aligned with the explosion of tequila in general. That’s mostly how people are consuming tequila. Now some people are branching off and having Ranch Water like Erica or Palomas but it’s pretty much the Margarita. If it’s the gin and tonic that continues to fuel the boom, that’s great. I think the thing that’s really crazy about the gin and tonic that we’ll definitely see within the next few months is probably a lot of canned gin and tonics. There’s got to be some of these gin brands that already have them in development. There’s no way that gin and tonics aren’t coming out in cans very soon. Again, because of how delicious the cocktail is, to most people how simple it is, and how easy that probably is to put a high-quality tonic in a can with good gin.
E: I know that Greenhook Ginsmiths has one. We do have an article about some of the best canned gin and tonics, I know Cutwater has one. They’re coming out more and more. And I think whereas they weren’t so good in years past, they’ve really started to nail what we like to call “the citrus problem.” That’s the biggest problem with these canned products, is nailing the citrus notes. It’s so difficult and we’ve done multiple articles looking at how you fix flavorings, how you get these natural flavorings, how you incorporate them, how they’re shelf-stabilized, all of the technology that goes into creating a really good lime experience in a canned cocktail is significant. When we did our tasting we said that Greenhook Ginsmith’s gin and tonic was the best one on the market, and this was last fall. So if people have other gin and tonics that they are excited about, let us know.
Z: I can drink both of them at the same time, let’s be clear. I have a question for you two about gin and the gin and tonic: Am I weird for sometimes preferring just a gin and soda?
E: No. That’s partway to a Collins, add a little bit of lemon juice and simple syrup. No, I think gin and soda is nice.
E: You think that’s weird?
A: I do.
Z: Yeah, Adam clearly does. That’s fair. What I would say is, I’m not really sure what I’m going for in that cocktail other than just a longer drink. I love Martinis, although I can’t drink them in the summer, weirdly, despite it being a gin-based drink, it’s too intense for me.
A: I agree.
E: Yeah [me too].
Z: I want my Martinis in the fall and winter. But I do like just gin sometimes. Sometimes I’ll just do gin on the rocks but I like to lighten it just a touch. I don’t do that with other spirits too much but with gin, I think just a little bit of soda water or tonic certainly, but sometimes the sweetness in tonic is a little much for me, especially with these more delicate, aromatic floral styles of gin, I want them to be dry. A gin and soda is maybe a borderline “do-I-have-a-problem? drink” because it’s very pleasurable, there’s not a lot of things that generally get us excited about drinking [in it]. But on the other hand, I really enjoy it.
A: Hey man, you have to do you.
E: I think it’s the perfect way to showcase a gin if you really want to appreciate a gin, and all the botanicals it’s bringing to the table. For the yuzu gin from Suntory, that’s the perfect way. You want to showcase all the different things that are in it, the tea and florals, and a little bit of pepper, and anything else is probably going to cover it up a little bit, so I would go soda.
A: See, Zach, Erica came to your rescue. You’re not a weirdo.
Z: I’m not sure the person who wrote a cocktail book, she’s the authority, but she was inclined to be on my side, anyhow.
A: Guys, it’s been a really interesting conversation as always. I hope you have a really fun one next week without me. It probably won’t be as good. But I know you’ll get through it. What are you guys going to talk about? Seattle?
E: No idea. Probably Seattle.
Z: We’ll just talk about the weather in Seattle.
A: Tune in next week when Erica and Zach dissect the weather in Seattle.
E: It’s going to be riveting.
Z: We’re going two hours, folks.
A: For everyone else, they’ll see you back here next week, I will see everyone in two weeks.
Z: Have a nice vacation.
E: Take care.
A: Before we go, a word from our sponsor, Goslings Rum. The newest addition to the Seal family, Goslings presents the incredibly drinkable Gold Seal Rum. An initial sweetness leads to complex caramel flavors and layers of spice and the finish is dry and smooth. Aged in new American oak, the rum attains the color of rich burnished gold with a brilliant glow. A blend of continuous and double pot distilled rums, Goslings Gold Seal rum is uncommonly versatile and may be enjoyed straight up, on the rocks, or as a mixture that will enhance any rum cocktail mix. Mix it with Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer for a Bermuda Mule. For a limited time use code “VinePair” at checkout on reservebar.com for free shipping on all of your Goslings Rum purchases.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now, for the credits: VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.