In the current rage for trendy infused vodkas, people forget that gin — essentially an infused grain spirit — has been around a long time.
Gin was invented by Doctor Sylvius, a 17th-century physician at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands. Juniper berries, one of the main flavoring components in gin, are known to have a diuretic effect, thus the doc prescribed his new concoction, dubbed “genever,” as a treatment for kidney and bladder problems. Soon enough, people all over Holland were finding relief from internal ailments they never even knew they had.
English soldiers fighting on the continent brought back this “Dutch courage” when they returned home, shortening the name to “gin.” In no time, cheap gin became the ubiquitous drink of the downtrodden London masses. Rampant alcohol abuse gave gin a bad rep, which took a century or more to shake. But eventually, the popularity of the martini put gin back into the limelight as the spirit of choice for sophisticates everywhere.

Since each producer has its own secret recipe of aromatics, gin varies widely from brand to brand. In addition to juniper, some of the more common flavor components include citrus peel, orris root, angelica, coriander, anise, and fennel. What follows are three of my personal favorites, along with three appropriate cocktails.

Old Raj is one of the most unusual gins on the market. It’s made in Scotland by a company that was founded in Aberdeen by William Cadenhead in 1842. Cadenhead originally started as a Scotch bottler and wholesaler (in fact, Cadenhead still bottles Scotch from several different distilleries), but started selling gin under its own Old Raj label in the early 1970s.

The not-so-secret ingredient in Old Raj is saffron, which lends the gin a golden-yellow hue, as well as a unique, exotic spiciness on the nose and palate. This stuff is bottled at 110 proof, so consume moderately. While cocktails are nice, they’re also time-consuming; so the humorous label suggests taking your Old Raj neat, in a quick shot, if you spot a tiger in the wild. If you’ve got a bit more time, Old Raj is perfect in an Orange Blossom. Shake 1 1/2 ounces Old Raj and 1 ounce orange juice with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice.


If you like the taste of juniper (why else drink gin?), then Tanqueray is for you. The company claims to include a higher percentage of juniper than any other gin, and the heady junipery nose proves it. The current recipe used for this classy gin is the same one developed by Charles Tanqueray himself way back in 1830, and Tanqueray even produces one of its four distillations in a replica of the copper pot still that Tanqueray used, nicknamed “Old Tom.” Aside from the juniper, sourced from Tuscany, Tanqueray’s flavor profile includes German angelica root and Crimean coriander, among other aromatics.

I love Tanqueray in a classic dry martini. Shake 1 teaspoon dry vermouth and 2 ounces Tanqueray with ice in a shaker. Strain into a cold martini glass. Garnish with an olive or twist of lemon. Tanqueray also makes a stunning ultrapremium gin called No. Ten, with a more citrusy profile.


Although Damrak is new on the U.S. market and is only available in select areas at present, it’s actually made by one of the oldest spirits firms in Europe, Amsterdam’s venerable Lucas Bols, founded in 1575. The Damrak recipe, dating back to the 1700s, features a whopping 17 different aromatics, including honeysuckle, but the predominant tones are citrusy. The juniper flavor is rather subdued, giving this gin a clean, modern taste. The eye-catching bottle is a replica of the crock-style bottles Bols used in the 17th and 18th centuries, with a porcelain stopper similar to that found on Dutch beer bottles.

Damrak is lean and racy with forward citrus and spice and a dry, brisk finish. Try it in a Flying Dutchman cocktail. Muddle two lemon wedges and three mint leaves in an old-fashioned glass. Add 2 ounces of Damrak and float a 1/2 ounce of Cointreau on top. Serve up.

buyer’s guide

cadenhead’s old raj dry gin
spicy, exotic
try it in an orange blossom

tanqueray london dry gin
intense, classy
the perfect martini gin

damrak amsterdam gin
citrusy, racy
excellent in a flying dutchman