08/31/2012 11:44 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

It's Time to Give Gin Another Chance

Stuart Mullenberg

One of my worst drinking memories dates back to my Freshman year of college. It was one of the last days of school and the campus was mostly deserted. There were no parties or roaming caravans of students in search of a buzz that we'd relied on all year. So myself and two friends were forced to turn to the final half of a plastic handle of vodka that had taken refuge in the bottom of my closet at some point over the semester. With no ice -- or cups for that matter -- we turned to a vending machine in search of some dilution. Our choice?

Fruitopia, obviously.

Our method was to top off the bottle of juice with vodka every time we drank from it, so as the night wore on the ratio grew more and more potent, or less and less fruity. As I'm writing this I'm wondering why we didn't just pour the juice into the half empty bottle of vodka, hindsight is 20/20 I guess. Long story short, I never drank vodka again.

You can probably fill in the blanks because everyone has a story similar to this one. When we start drinking alcohol -- whatever inappropriate age it may be -- we drink whatever we can tolerate, and not for the taste. At some point we inevitably overindulge, crossing a line we didn't know was there and suffering the unpleasant consequences, thus creating our own personal cautionary tale. Some of us acknowledge that warning, others choose to ignore it. Whatever the case may be with "practice" by our late 20s we are more or less educated as to our alcoholic preferences.

But as many can attest, experiences like my Fruitopia adventure can leave a scar that lasts longer than the typical recovery period -- an experience during our formative drinking period so traumatic that we associate it with whatever spirit we were drinking, because it couldn't possibly be the amount we consumed.

One of the most common examples I encounter of this phenomenon occurs with gin. Time and time again when I suggest a gin cocktail to someone looking for something light and refreshing they respond "Oh I can't drink gin", and sometimes qualify it with something like "I get angry when I drink gin."

I used to respect such assertions but over time I've grown skeptical. I can't help thinking, are you sure the reason you can't drink gin is because you have some specific compound in your blood that reacts oddly with gin and manifests in your emotions? Or are you still just still scarred from the time you had too many gin and sprites while hiding behind the plant at your little brother's Bar Mitzvah?

People who don't drink gin, especially those whose usual spirit of choice is vodka, are seriously missing out. Now when people declare their intolerance for juniper I ask them to trust me and let me make them a gin cocktail with the understanding that I'll replace it free of charge if they don't like it. The drink is almost never sent back. That has less to do with my skill and more to do with the fact that gin, when mixed properly, is amazing!

So if gin burned your before it's time to face your demons and give good old dutch courage another shot (so to speak). While you're at it why not cozy up to some good tequila, rum or scotch? Don't limit your options. As a good my good friend and fellow bartender Brad Farran likes to say, "if I stopped drinking something every time I had a bad experience with it, I'd be sober."

I'm still not touching vodka though.