Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: French Gin
What with all the talk about gin these past few months—there was American gin, Holland gin (aka genever), and even a foray into sloe gin, if you'll recall—there's another diversion from the standard London Dry category that should be mentioned: French gin.
"French gin" is an interesting concept. Making it entails taking a spirit that is heavily identified with the UK (while the Dutch invented gin, most of their native spirit is consumed close to home), and putting a unique local spin on it. American distillers have done much the same thing, utilizing ingredients such as lavender and apples to make their gins distinctive; for the French, regionalizing gin seems to come down to flowers.
Brands of French Gin
Citadelle is an example of a French gin that has carved out its own share of the market, and it owes much of its distinctive aroma and flavor to the violets and irises its distillers have added to the selection of botanicals.
Another, more recent example is G'Vine, a French gin that utilizes green-grape flowers in a base of grape neutral spirit (instead of the more typical neutral grain spirit found in other gins), along with other, more traditional botanicals such as juniper berries, cassia and licorice. The grape-spirit base gives the gin a smoother mouthfeel, but the unique mix of botanicals, topped by the fragrant vine flowers, marks G'Vine as a vastly different type of gin from the more familiar London Dry style.
Simply substituting Citadelle or G'Vine in a cocktail recipe for a standard London Dry can have surprising effects—and that's not entirely positive. With a flavor that's headier and more floral, and without an assertive juniper or citrus note, these gins taste lovely on their own, but this distinctive flavor shifts into the peculiar range when the gin is mixed with certain juices, fortified wines, and liqueurs. Considering that gin is typically served mixed—the "wave the vermouth over the mixing glass" practice be damned—this would seem to limit the versatility of these gins.
But don't take my word for it—try it out on your own tastebuds. Have you tried G'Vine or other French gins? How was your experience?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.