Chow Town

July 6, 2013

American’s interest in gin could lie with new brands

I think this could be described as one of my crazier days.

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

I think this could be described as one of my crazier days.

I’m in western Colorado getting ready to film some scenes from a new PBS wine show. But this morning and afternoon I ran a spirits competition at the American Restaurant. It’s called the Washington Cup, in its second year and its judges seek out American made spirits of excellence.

I can’t divulge the results; that’s for another post. Instead, I’ll note that the judges, half from the Kansas City area and the other half from the nation’s larger metropolitan markets, were champions of whiskey.

No great surprise there. A rye and a bourbon scored at the highest levels, earning Washington Cups. But three other products did too: a rum, a liqueur and a gin.

It’s the gin that draws our attention here. American gin is an unruly child — it’s flavors are unpredictable and rarely balanced.

Gin is the most difficult of white spirits, I think. All those botanicals can meld in unexpected ways. For a distiller, it must seem like one plus one can never equal two.

But as much as I adore the classic brands of gin (I think there is a portion of my brain devoted to Tanqueray), and as much as modern mixologists trumpet gin’s greatness, the market isn’t that impressed.

Those who love gin, love it. The rest, the far greater majority, say, “Meh.” I wish it weren’t true, but despite that there are 10 times as many gin brands on the market today as there were 10 years ago, the market hasn’t moved.

So why not champion these new gins, though they can barely compete with the great traditional brands? Why not a lavender-heavy, angelica-dominated, ponderous American gin?

I’m not saying that’s what the judges chose as their favorite gin, but that’s what America seems so often to be producing under the heading of gin. Perhaps it will resurrect America’s interest in gin, not that many decades ago the most important spirit category of all.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.

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