…back by popular demand

Gin pentagon

We know we’ve been a little quieter around here, and there’s some good reasons for that [more on that soon!]. But for now we’ve made one major update…

Back by popular request, we’ve added the Gin Flavor Pentagon back to each and every gin review page. Our Philosophy hasn’t changed. But we added back the visualization that so many of you have told us you found helpful.


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Canadian Gin Week 2014


This past July/August, the Gin Wife and I spent 10 days in Canada. We visited Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. And along the way, naturally we tried all the flavors of the region. Lots of seafood, and of course, any gin we could find.

We visited the Canadian Maritimes. The friendly highway greeting sign heralded our arrival in Nova Scotia. Hurrah!

This photo from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Coming from New York City, I took a great deal of idyllic countryside photos. Pine trees? Lakes? No People? What is this madness? Better capture it for later.

Yours truly, standing in the cool breeze at Port George Lighthouse in Nova Scotia. No gin in this picture. But soon.

We of course tried the local cuisine wherever possible. Not pictured: scallops, lobster, mussels, lobster, and Pickle flavored Doritos.

And of course, what you’re all here for: the gins set up on my tasting table [or desk] in our Halifax Hotel.

Here’s what we have on deck for this week’s Canadian Gin extravaganza:

Monday: The Confederation Cocktail Tuesday: The Gin Wife on “where’s all the tonic water?” Wednesday: Iceberg Gin Thursday: Shiver Gin Friday: Gilbey’s Lemon Gin Collins [which is everywhere!] Saturday: Bar Review, the Drawing Room @ Halifax Previously on the Gin is In: Ungava Gin from Quebec, and Strait Gin from Myraid View on Prince Edward Island


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What is Balance in a gin?

Where juniper peaks on palate

I like to draw. Not really so much the figures and scenes sort of drawing. But when I try to explain an idea. When something is abstract and kind of unclear. After about thirty seconds of explanation my instinct is to reach for some sort of pen or marker, a napkin or a whiteboard, and try to begin illustrating what I’m thinking.

Tasting spirits is a somewhat arcane and mysterious practice. Millions of words most certainly have been spent, in equal parts, peeling away the layers of the craft and muddying the waters with technical language and obscure techniques. A lot of what we do here at the Gin is In is opinion based. Giving gin “five star ratings,” or saying these are our “top 10” of a certain type. That’s our point of view and we stand by it.

But there’s an element of objectivity at work here as well. Previously we’ve tried to add visualizations to clarify the presence of certain “key characteristics” of a gin with our Pentagon Rating Tool, now seen on every review. And then we’ve tried to map all gins on a continuous pair of spectra to see how gins are dissimilar or related.

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Is there room on the shelf for two kinds of gin?

…or perhaps even three. But I’d be getting ahead of myself.

Firstly, the premise. The hook: there’s at least two distinct kinds of gin out there.

The Bourbon/Rye Parallel: It’s not as night and day as say rum vs whiskey. Even when both are aged, you can clearly distinguish between the two. It’s more of a distinction between say Rye and Bourbon. I know, at your local dive bar, or for folks who make cocktails once a year, having a “whiskey” is sufficient. But when is the last time you’ve seen a cocktail menu of any repute simply call out a whiskey, as if to imply to the drinker, the finer points don’t quite matter here?

For example, I don’t have to have had Buffalo Trace Bourbon to ascertain whether or not it fits my tastes. I’m largely familiar with other Bourbons, so although not all Bourbons are the same, I can roughly ascertain, “this might be a sweet, a bit smoother and have less edge.” If I’m looking for something with ‘a bit more spice, something peppery, some heat,” I might opt for the Rye sour….well maybe not, but you see where I’m going with it.

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On the Deeper Meaning of ‘Gin and Tonic’

One of my favorite authors [Douglas Adams] once pondered at length on the notion of the [Gin ‘n’ Tonic] in one of my favorite books [The Restaurant at the End of the Universe]. Surely although the drinks are “not the same,” Adams calls into question the very raison d’être of one’s being and the presence of a drink that fulfills the role of the Gin and Tonic. Although surely one of the most delicious drinks there are, I think that what he’s saying is that no matter who or what we are, there is a time and a place for that underlying essential-ness which the gin and tonic represents. 

Perhaps you’re saying, “Just give me a drink already, I didn’t come here for philosophy.” And to that, I say, sure, but while you’re here, why not enjoy one of the best examples of the Gin and Tonic making itself known in modern literature. Regular reviews and cocktail-ology returns later this week.

“It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N’N-T’N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme.

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Other Thoughts

Juniper, Gin and Arthritis. The gin recommendations behind the news.

Question: I’ve heard that cheap gin doesn’t have any “actual juniper” in it, but I’m looking for a gin which will hopefully have some juniper in it so I can derive the purported benefits, which include a reduction of inflammation from arthritis and other similar afflictions. Which gin has the most juniper in it?

Answer: The last part of the question is the part that I can and will answer.

Very inexpensive compound gins [on the bottom shelf usually] add juniper “flavoring” to neutral spirit. It’s technically and “legally” “gin.” But that’s not what you’re looking for.

Your next step you have your distilled gins.

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Experiment: The Gin Flavor Map

Gin Flavor Map 2013

What we have here is a small experiment in trying to categorize the types of gin on a chart which shows their relationship to one another. The top/bottom axis is the classic/contemporary distinction. The left and right tries to distill the ideas of “complexity” and “perceived spiciness” into a continuum.

It’s still a bit of a work in progress, but I welcome your feedback.

I think the relationships are pretty good. I tried to stick to a few classic points of reference that everyone knows, and then use gins that I’ve reviewed in the last two years: so gins which are still somewhat fresh in my mind, and gins for which I have extensive tasting notes as to accurately place them.

Click on the graphic to see the full-size version. 

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A little more on Philosophy

I mentioned previously that I was very close with doing away with number ratings for gins. I know that ratings are subjective and there are some people whose opinions on ratings range from “they’re useless” to “they’re stupid,” and all the way to “I don’t read them” and everywhere in between. Maybe its you. Maybe it’s not you. But perhaps I can offer an explanation to you, loyal reader: why bother to rate gin? 

One> Readers, a lot of you seem to be looking for it. Again, as many of you know, I’m not a marketer. I don’t sell gin. I don’t work for any liquor companies and I don’t intend on selling anything. But I do look at my stats, and I know that the most popular link on my homepage (over 40%!) is the 5 star bottles of gin. Many people come from search engines searching for highly rated gins.  Too much of a circular argument? Let’s keep reading. 

Two> Its what I bring to the table. As a writer who is interested in gin and writes this blog as a labor of love, I’m always looking for “what can I do that’s different?” The first and most obvious thing that I bring is my palette and love of gin.

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A New Way to Review Gin

I’ve struggled with the idea of how to review gin over the years. There’s a lot of subjectivity when it comes down to “what you like” and “what I like.” Though I’ve given numerical rating to every gin as a way of keeping track of what I like, I do my best to explain the flavors in a way that you can make a decision on your own. After all, I like to see the purpose of The GIN is IN as way of trying to help you find a gin that you’re going to love.

So that’s why I’ve developed this new method for reviewing gin based on my over two years of writing about gin and even more years of enthusiastically drinking gin. While this system will not replace my 1-5 star rating system, these new pentagonal “flavor” diagrams will appear prominently on every review page.

Explaining the system just a little bit: This differs a bit from nosing/tasting diagrams. You’ve probably seen these before. Ones like this one are exceptionally popular in the wine community.  But the purpose of the “gin flavor” profile isn’t to detect every flavor in there.

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