If you see watermelon Smirnoff at the liquor store and smile, remembering its pivotal role in ruining your adult relationship with booze—the taste of vomit creeps up in the back of your throat like a suggested Facebook friend from your shameful past—then you’re going to love flavored gin.
Okay, it’s “infused,” or “distilled with” flavors, fruits, and exotic ingredients that sound as delicious as their packaging promises. “Malaysian limes?” Haven’t had that flavor of Sour Patch but I will eagerly drink it with some tonic and ice. And instead of those chemically-enhanced liquid regrets, these are often made by obsessive craft distillers whose only goal in life is to remind you, over and over, that they’re using the real stuff. So keep an eye out of these gins, which are changing the gin and tonic game one Malaysian lime at a time.
Russell Henry Malaysian Lime and Hawaiian Ginger gins
Photo: Courtesy of Craft Distillers
The Malaysian lime is what stuffy “drinks” writers in bifocals would call “hella limey.” Do you love gin and tonics so much you refer to them as “G&T”s? This gin is for you, my friend. But I made an incredible gimlet instead, because I’m 97 years old.
I’m not sure my tongue could detect the difference between Hawaiian ginger versus Kroger ginger, though I really appreciate the naming on these things. It’s like a postcard to somewhere I don’t have enough miles to visit yet, but would really like to go! Unlike the lime, the ginger is much more subtle, and excellent with anything in the lemon spectrum. Put on some flats and try Tory Burch’s South Side recipe to really LIVE LARGE. I’m partial to a simple gin and club soda with squeeze of lemon. And we know opera singers swear by ginger for sore throats, so this combo is practically medicine.
Letherbee 2016 Vernal Gin
Photo: Colin Beckett.
The dudes in Chicago who make this gin in small batches, meaning 230 cases (2,760 bottles!), every season sell out of it quickly. This year’s batch has a lemon-chamomile-honey thing going on, like tea, really, and it’s insanely flavorful and great with soda on ice. I’m too lazy after work to make simple syrup or muddle things, so I love how little effort it requires to taste so damn good. It would almost be a waste to add much more to it. At Chicago’s The Violet Hour, they make a cocktail with it called “Sterile Animal” (okayy), a “curry-esque mule variation” that I have more questions about than answers. Smoked rhubarb root is involved, and I’ll leave it at that.
Barr Hill Gin
Photo: Courtesy of Caledonia Spirits
If you have a batch of iced tea in your fridge at all times, this gin belongs in it. The raw honey that’s added before bottling is very present but not syrupy or artificial, meaning you don’t need to mess with adding sugars in anything you make with it. I’d opt out of a martini with it, but nearly everything else is fair game. Like this blackberry-gin fizz.
Norseman Strawberry Rhubarb Gin
Photo: Courtesy of Norseman
Another one that’s super small batch and hard to find, but damn is it special. Made in Minneapolis with local rhubarb root, there’s definitely sweetness to this gin from the strawberries. I’m more than okay with that! If you think this is like strawberry vodka, which tastes like Smuckers mixed with nail polish remover, you’re very, very wrong. It’s for humans who like pie, and that is all of them. But because it’s so unique, I’d feel guilty masking it with too much fluff, so I tossed in some mint, put it on ice with a splash of soda and hit my deck hard with the latest issue of Us Weekly. Life is for living.
Malfy Con Limone Gin
Photo: Courtesy of Malfy
The branding on this gin screams “I wear a speedo to the beach,” which is a very good thing. When you add lemon to it, it’s very, very lemony. But not in an artificial-Pine Sol kind of way. Again, you can dress it up and make a French 75 or something fancy, or dress it down with whatever’s in the fridge and have a super crisp summer bev in less than 45 seconds. Then close your eyes and imagine you’re in an Italian perfume ad and not on your couch watching Seinfeld reruns in your tighty whiteys.
Bombay Sapphire East
Gotta love a good euphemism. The branding of this reminds me of the “ethnic” aisle in my grocery store. There are spices there!! Bombay Sapphire is my typical go-to for gin and tonics, but this “East” business makes a nice Negroni. The lemongrass and peppercorn infusions are super low-key, you barely taste them, to be honest, it just leaves a little spice and peppery tingle in your throat like you like it. Wink!
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