With the weather warming up and summer on the horizon, there is no better time to take a moment to learn about gin. The spirit is used in frothy gin fizzes, brambles muddled with fresh seasonal fruit like blackberries, refreshing and cool gimlets, and prohibition-style drinks like the Bee’s Knees, a delightful concoction of gin, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and honey. To learn more about why gin is the preferred spirit of many bartenders, we tapped Luke Ford, the brand ambassador of Plymouth and Beefeater gins. A bar veteran of more than ten years, Ford started working in the hospitality industry at the tender age of 13 as a bus boy at a restaurant in his hometown of Detroit. While working at a whiskey bar in downtown Los Angeles, Ford developed an appreciation for gin. Many types of whiskeys are not intended to be used in cocktails, but rather are best enjoyed neat or with a few drops of water. He realized that whiskey didn’t allow him to channel his creative energy into crafting libations, but gin, on the other hand, did. “What’s beautiful about gin is that it’s not intended to be consumed right from the bottle,” Ford explains. “Bartenders have been using it as a vehicle for making cocktails for hundreds of years. Working with gin can be so innovative, fun, and playful in so many different ways. It works in sweet, savory, unctuous preparations and also works with food pairings.”
According to Ford and as evident by many a cocktail bars’s menus, gin is under going a huge resurgence. “The cocktail movement in San Francisco has encouraged the consumer to become more educated about spirits. Gin is such a classy spirit and it’s used in a vast majority of cocktails, so it’s becoming much more accessible.” Ford also cites Europe’s love affair with the gin and tonic for being one of the reasons gin is currently surging in popularity. “Spain is the number one gin market in the world and Barcelona has all these amazing gin bars where the bartenders are doing crazy things with gin and tonics.” The rise of artisanal tonic has helped gin’s mass market appeal, too. What people don’t realize about many gin and tonics is that the gin is not the harsh flavor — it’s the tonic. “Walk into any bar anywhere and get the tonic that comes off of a gun and it can be really off-putting,” says Ford. “It’s high in sugar, but not necessarily sweet with a bitter funk to it. I can see why many people think they don’t like gin, but it’s really the bad tonic that they are tasting.” Ford recommends seeking out a higher quality tonic such as Q or Small Hand Foods. Of course, if you go to a proper beverage establishment, you’ll rest assured that the tonic is of the utmost quality. Ford’s favorite spots in San Francisco include Tosca, 15 Romolo, Wingtip, Bloodhound, ABV, and Comstock Saloon. “I always must stop by Comstock when I’m in San Francisco,” he says. “It feels like home. I specifically book my hotel close to Comstock, so I can walk over there.”
When asked about gin haters, those people who perhaps had a horrible experience with gin at a young age, Ford says that it’s his responsibility as a bartender to help them try and enjoy the spirit. “For the consumer that is convinced they don’t like gin, I’ll hold they’re hand for a second,” Ford admits. “Then I will make them a simple drink called an Eastside. 10 times out of 10 they love the drink. I help them push past the ‘I can’t drink gin’ stereotype.” He also encourages die-hard vodka lovers to experiment with gin as it has more depth of flavor. If you want to try making gin cocktails at home, Ford suggests you make gimlets. “The gimlet is a fun drink for a home bartender to get creative with,” he says. “There are so many different variations you can use Rose’s lime cordial or just gin, sugar, and lime juice. Play around and find the most delicious combination.” Cucumber is a great flavor to pair with gin — and so are berries, like blackberries and strawberries, and herbs such as mint and basil. Juice should always be fresh-squeezed.
To help make you a gin convert, Ford shared two of his favorite cocktail recipes. The Royal Collins is his current libation of choice and the Eastside is the drink that he serves to fresh gin converts.
1.75 oz of Beefeater 24
.5 oz of fresh lemon juice
.25 oz of fresh grapefruit juice
.75 oz of simple syrup
Champagne, for floating
Shake all ingredients in an ice filled tin and strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top up with champagne and garnish with a large grapefruit twist!
2 oz of Beefeater
.75 oz of fresh lime juice
.75 oz of simple syrup
In a tin, muddle two thin slices of cucumber, add about 5-8 mint leaves that you have slapped in your hands to wake them up. Pour in ingredients, add ice, and shake. Fine strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a cucumber wheel, that has a mint sprig stuck through the center, balanced on the rim.