New bars and local makers laud the classic spirit.
Gin’s piney-vegetal funk, from juniper and other botanicals, has long made it an acquired taste. Yet soon enough, watering holes dedicated to the spirit will bring it back to the mainstream. “Gin is tremendously versatile and has had a fantastic rise lately,” according to Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove and of soon-to-open Whitechapel, which will focus exclusively on gin. “It can really bounce back and forth between serious and playful.”
Although London Dry–style gin has been the traditional standard, more interesting recent iterations, from light and clean to dark and spiced, are changing the playing field. Dutch-style Genever gin, for example, is malty; small-batch gins make creative use of botanicals, such as Douglas fir and fresh citrus peel; and aged gins, such as the recently released Barrel Gin from Sebastopol’s Spirit Works Distillery, have a smooth mouth feel and subtle, whiskey-like spice. The bar at Chris Cosentino’s new restaurant, Cockscomb (SoMa), specializes in the stuff: “Gin has a unique flavor, but it’s surprisingly food-friendly,” says the chef, who views it as a perfect match for his menu.
Whitechapel, meanwhile, is lining its shelves with locally produced gins from St. George Spirits, Old World Spirits, Anchor Distilling, and Spirit Works—and Distillery No. 209 has created a custom batch just for the bar. But building a library of bottles isn’t just for show: “A perfectly great recipe can soar or fail, depending on the balance of the botanicals in any chosen gin,” Cate says. “Having a lot to choose from just means we can fine-tune cocktails to perfection.”