I should start off by mentioning that I'm a total gin snob. Sure, vodka has its place -- in the back of my liquor cabinet, gathering dust. Why drink something that's not supposed to taste like anything? If you just want to get drunk and don't want your palate challenged, a swig from a bottle of Everclear or Bacardi 151 will do the trick faster.
Besides, what is gin if not the original flavored vodka? Like vodka, it's a neutral spirit, only it's been infused with ... well, a lot of stuff. Each brand of gin has its own unique recipe of various roots and spices and fruits and (coriander, cardamom, licorice, citrus and caraway, to name just a few) to distinguish it from the rest.
The common denominator is juniper berries, from whence gin gets its distinctive flavor. In fact, to be called gin, it's required by law that the elixir, and I quote, "shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries." Until very recently, all brands of gin were dry as a bone and dominated to greater (Tanqueray) or lesser (Plymouth) extents by juniper.
In recent years, however, gin manufacturers started wondering why, in the Great Martini Wars, their asses were getting kicked year in and year out by vodka. "Maybe," they thought, "it's because people don't like the taste!" So a lot of trailblazers started experimenting with ways to make gin taste less like, well, gin.
The latest entry in the "gin for people who don't like gin" sweepstakes is New Amsterdam, described in the press release as "a modern new gin option with a taste so smooth you can drink it straight."
Being an opinionated loudmouth about spirits occasionally has its advantages. Along with the press release, I was sent a bottle of the stuff, along with instructions to try it straight before I sampled it in cocktails. I'm a guy who likes to follow instructions, so I immediately poured a small glass of New Amsterdam and went to work.
Unlike most gins, which can come off as harsh and medicinal when consumed neat, New Amsterdam has a very lush mouth feel, along with a floral, fruity and spicy taste that I found dominated by the flavor of candied orange peel. In a word, delicious.
But wait! Where was the juniper that is required by law to be the primary flavor? I mean, it was in there somewhere, but ... isn't that against the rules? I decided to have another glass while debating whether to call the gin police. And once I'd finished, I was feeling quite magnanimous and decided to let the issue slide. If the folks at New Amsterdam (based, strangely enough, in California) want to call it gin, who am I to tell them they can't?
I then proceeded to try New Amsterdam in a martini. There, the softer, sweeter aspects of the gin worked against it. However, in one of my favorite classic cocktails, the Aviation, the citrus elements worked harmoniously with the other ingredients (you can find the recipe here). In fact, my friends are now beating down my door at all hours asking me to make them Aviations. Back, I say. All of you get back.
But my attempts at amateur mixology paled in comparison to the real thing. For a demonstration of all the cool things you can do with New Amsterdam, I bellied up to the bar (a table, actually) at which master mixologist Alex Ott (of Sushi Samba and Buddha Bar fame, to name but two) was doing his thing. He proceeded to wow my palate with what I would normally call "girl drinks." You know, vivid colors, lots of fruit juices, you can drink them very quickly and not realize you're drunk until you try to stand up. But these cocktails had a complexity and freshness that we mere mortals could only imagine creating in our wildest dreams.
It was those sweet libations (one of which was actually a dessert cocktail, complete with heavy cream on top), which made me fall in love with New Amsterdam. While its citrus flavors dominate in drier cocktails, the fruit juices exposed and heightened the herbaceousness that's lying just under the surface when it's consumed straight. A complex little gin, this New Amsterdam.
If you're one of the folks who think gin is icky, you should give New Amsterdam a try -- and follow it up by sampling G'vine, Aviation, Tanqueray Rangpur and the many other gins that don't "taste like gin." And if you're a gin purist who thinks that if it ain't classic London Dry, it ain't gin, lighten up! The rules are, there ain't no rules (as long as you don't tell that to the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Trade & Taxation Bureau). Cheers!