Since the middle ages, gin — or gin’s predecessor, genever — has been one the most transformative distilled spirit products globally. From the gin craze of the 18th century to 1920s Prohibition to the craft spirits boom in the mid-2000s, gin has profoundly influenced the world, both culturally and economically.
It’s a booming segment of the industry, too. A recent report from SevenFifty Daily shows the global gin market is expected to grow by 4.6% over the next five years. Gin’s use in premium cocktails is thought to be among the leading factors increasing its demand. To celebrate the popular spirit let’s look at the cocktails that have made gin so beloved.
The Classic Gin and Tonic
Arguably one of the most approachable and popular cocktails in history, the gin and tonic has been a staple order since tonic’s patented invention in 1858. Tonic’s main ingredient is Quinine, which is a natural antimalarial, is extracted from the bark of the Andean fever tree (Cinchona spp.), and has been cultivated for centuries. The tree's curative properties were discovered as early as the 17th century as a fever remedy in South America. In the middle to late 1800s, tonic was advertised as a digestive aid as well as a fever reducer throughout British colonies. The primary suggestion was to aid European travelers in adapting to the tropical heat. The earliest documented mention of a tonic water cocktail dates back to 1863 in Hong Kong when it was combined with ginger brandy.
However, how it came to be mixed with gin is up for debate. Quinine was most often administered as medicine mixed in a solution of alcohol, commonly gin, rum or local spirits such as arrack. But the first known written record of the ‘gin and tonic’ comes from an 1868 edition of the Oriental Sporting Magazine. Since then, the association with gin and tonic has bloomed into global fandom. The cocktail is typically served with ice in a rocks glass or a highball glass and garnished with citrus, most often a lime or lemon. The simplicity of the recipe, matched by the complexity of flavor, makes it a prime cocktail for bartenders to riff on. Whether it’s homemade tonic or exotic infusions, the cocktail has experienced a renaissance in recent years, taking it to new heights.
The Martini: Gin's Iconic Sipper
We recently covered the history of the Martini and its connection with gin. The Martini owes its popularity to gin just as much as gin owes its popularity to the Martini. Arguably one of the most iconic cocktails of the 20th century, the Martini shaped much of the culture of the roaring 20s and helped broker lunchroom deals through the Mad Men era of the 50s and 60s. While always a staple on cocktail menus worldwide, the Martini has undergone a resurgence in popularity today. The simple recipe makes it very versatile and riffable for bartenders. With its many variations, it’s a cocktail that is more about personal preference than anything else. And because of this, new and bizarre offshoots of it have graced cocktail bar menus. While some may prefer the classic recipe for its simple elegance, variations like Jazzton Rodriguez’s Chicken Soup Martini are playful riffs that redefine what a Martini — and cocktails in general — can be.
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The Negroni: A Bittersweet Classic
Imagine yourself on an outdoor patio, gazing upon a lively square in Milano during a balmy summer evening. On the table before you are some delectable yet uncomplicated bar snacks. In your hand, you hold a vibrant red cocktail, an orange slice nestled amid perfectly clear ice. In this delightful moment, you savor the invigorating sophistication of a Negroni. But why are you in Italy? Italy is not just the homeland of the Negroni; it's also the birthplace of one of its key components: Campari.
The fruity, bitter aperitivo is prized for its digestive properties and its ability to stir up an appetite before dinner. It’s well documented that the Negroni was invented at Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy. Legend has it that local imbiber, Count Camillo Negroni, asked his friend, Forsco Scarselli, who was a bartender at Caffe Casoni, to enhance his Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water). In place of soda water, Scarselli used gin and garnished it with an orange slice. The rest is history. The cocktail is now ordered worldwide, making it one of the most popular drinks of the moment. Because of its build, it’s also one of the most riffable ones, too.
The Gin Fizz: A Refreshing Classic
The “fizz” is a family of cocktails that’s most notably made using gin. One of the preeminent cocktails of the early to mid-20th century, the Gin Fizz looms large over the classic cocktail canon. Made from a combination of gin, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water, the Gin Fizz is typically served over ice in a highball glass and garnished with a lemon slice or twist. The cocktail is none as the hometown hero of New Orleans where it was widely popularized among barrooms and clubs from the 1900s to 1940s before spreading worldwide with its inclusion in the French cookbook, “L'Art Culinaire Francais.” Its simplicity offers ample room for variations such as the:
- Silver Fizz: the addition of egg white
- Golden Fizz: the addition of egg yolk
- Royal Fizz: the addition of whole egg
- Green Fizz: the addition of a dash of green crème de menthe
- Ramos Gin Fizz: the addition of egg white, cream and orange blossom water
It’s closely related to the timeless Tom Collins, which utilizes Old Tom Gin, which is slightly sweeter than the often-used London Dry style of gin.
The Last Word: A Herbaceous Prohibition-Era Hit
To round out this list, we’re including the now-famous Last Word. Between the Aviation, Southside and Corpse Reviver No. 2, the Last Word stands out because of its herbal and not-so-silent supporting ingredient: green Chartreuse. While gin acts as the main driver in this Prohibition-era cocktail, green Chartreuse is the important modifier that makes this sage-colored cocktail truly unique.
Made from a secret recipe of 130 herbs, roots and spices by Carthusian Monks in the French Alps, Chartreuse is a spirit that gravitates more on the side of medicinal than any other. The cocktail was invented at Detroit Athletic Club's bar in the early 1920s. Its popularity spread by vaudeville performer Frank Fogarty, also known as the ‘Dublin Minstrel.’ While the cocktail faded from view in the decades to follow, the craft cocktail boom of the 2000s brought it back to life thanks in part to its inclusion on the menu at Zig Zag Café in Seattle where it was an instant hit. Its popularity spread to New York City, where it was featured on the menu at the iconic Pegu Club and is now ubiquitous across the world.