Gin renaissance in D.C.
By Roshan Thomas
If you’ve been out to any bars within the past year, there is a good chance that either you or someone you were with ordered a cocktail with gin. Previously thought of as a traditional, gentleman’s drink, gin has experienced a rise in popularity during recent years and can now be found in diverse recipes at bars around the country. Specifically, this spirit has blossomed locally, with the DMV region being home now to over five gin distilleries. Below, we explore some of the factors behind gin’s recent upswing.
Ease of craft
Although you may not guess from its complex taste, gin is quite easy to produce. Instead of waiting months or years to mature, as with other fine spirits, gin can be produced from start to finish in 24-48 hours. According to master distiller, Brian Prewitt, of A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, VA, gin’s quick production time makes it a favorite of new distillers who find that they can churn out cases much faster than other spirits.
Gin’s unique production process allows for infinite flavor combinations. Prior to distillation, flavor combinations of “botanicals” are created and can include notable local ingredients as a homage to the town of distillation. Popular botanicals in some popular gins include:
- Bombay Dry Gin: lemon peel, angelica and orris root, cassia bark, licorice, and almonds
- Baltimore Shot Tower Gin: bitter orange peel, jasmine flower, green tea, angelica root, gentian root, and cinnamon
- Green Hat Distillery Summer Cup: citrus, rosehips, cucumber, black tea, verbena, and lavender
Most botanical combinations include citrus, herbs, and a special ingredient (tea, flowers, nuts, etc.). The quantity of each addition is a closely guarded secret and depends on the desired flavor profile of the end product.
Taste of the past
As dynamic as the world of spirits is, there are some bold flavors like gin that are just timeless. Jessica Weinstein of Hank’s Cocktail Bar in D.C. believes that we are currently in the midst of a movement to return to the classic spirits. The resurgence of gin, as Weinstein puts it, is a “fun nod to earlier times.”
Bars all across the area are experimenting with gin in both traditional and nontraditional ways. Marcel’s in the heart of D.C. boasts an arugula martini, with agave nectar, fresh lime juice, St-Germain, and Hendrix gin. District Commons debuted a twist on the famous Gin Rickey, dubbed the “Plum Rickey,” which gets its name from a healthy splash of Damson plum gin, lemon and lime juice, and lavender bitters.
The increase in gin’s prevalence isn’t just a fad that is taking place at local haunts. Rather, it is a trend that is backed by national data. Eric Schmidt of Beverage Marketing Corporation, a global beverage data supplier, has noticed that gin has experienced a resurgence in major metropolitan markets, such as D.C, New York, and Los Angeles.
Higher-end brands have done very well in past years, with Hendrix showing a 20 percent per year growth over the past five years, Plymouth growing five percent per year, and Bombay rising at 3.5 percent per year. Eric notes that gin has not exploded in every market—there are still bartenders across Middle America that would not know what you meant if you ordered a negroni—and still isn’t selling at the level other spirits are.
In 2016, over 70 million cases of vodka were produced in the U.S. while just over 10 million cases of gin were produced. Nevertheless, craft distilling has helped to boost gin’s popularity in various regional pockets, and 2017 looks to show an overall increase in gin production and consumption nationally.
Photo courtesy: Simoneink- It’s a Membe of the Jelly of the Month Club, Hank’s Cocktail Bar