Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
The Los Angeles area is full of whiskey bars, but the phrase "gin joint" might sound archaic. "Gin is having a renaissance right now," says Brady Caverly, owner of The Flintridge Proper, which recently opened in La Cañada Flintridge, just north of Pasadena. The bar offers over two hundred different gins—a selection they claim is the largest in the world.
The bar program's influences are both new and old. "This was envisioned, first and foremost, as a classic cocktail bar," says Caverly. "During Prohibition, gin was one of the only spirits that you could still get, so a lot of the great classic cocktails that survive from that period are gin-based."
"Also," he adds, "there are so many New World Gins out there." At the Proper, you'll find both gin flights and a selection of 'improved' gin and tonics, muddled with various complementary ingredients. (There's also a full cocktail menu, including a list of barrel aged selections.)
Crowding the shelves, antique liquor bottles sit next to miniature brass statues of horses in mid-stride, while a row of vintage beer steins (sourced by co-owner Mary Elizabeth Caverly) sport the names and brands of mid-century British gins instead of the old German brewhouses you'd expect.
As two hundred gins can give some folks selection anxiety, we asked bartenders John Peet and Angel Meza to pick five of their favorites to recommend. Here's what they chose.
Uncle Val's Botanical Gin: Peet suggests this New World gin from 35 Maple Street in Sonoma as a great choice for martinis. It has a distinctly grassy aroma and super-lemony flavor.
Tanqueray Malacca Gin: Meza suggests this fruit-forward gin as "a gin for people who don't like gin". It can be sipped on its own, but Meza says it makes one of the best gin and tonics ever. This citrusy limited edition gin (which we reviewed here) was discontinued in 2001, and Tanqueray says they won't make it again.
Berry's Good Ordinary London Dry Gin: Meza recommended this organic gin for martinis as well as other cocktails. It's very viscous, with heavy juniper notes.
Ford's Gin: Peet says that this mixable gin was "developed for bartenders by bartenders." As proof, he points to the inventory marks on the side of the bottle, and the specialized grooves and pivot points in the bottle that assist in pouring. The almost geekishly detail-oriented makers of this London Dry-style gin list every botanical used in its creation on the bottle--a practice unheard of in the gin world, where "secret recipes" have much in common with Coca-Cola and the Colonel.
The Botanist Islay Dry Gin: This is this most popular gin among the Flintridge Proper's staff, and it served as an inspiration for their house gin. It has the peculiar distinction of coming from the Scottish island of Islay—normally synonymous with peated Scotches—but instead of using Islay's prodigious wetland peat, The Botanist incorporates native botanicals like bog myrtle, mugwort, and wild Islay juniper.
If you want to try a gin you cannot get anywhere else, the Proper offers a house-made gin, Flintridge, flavored with locally foraged ingredients. How local? For example: the star jasmine was picked across the street from the bar. Local citrus, cedar, pears, and rosemary are part of the recipe for this cold-infused gin. (The process also means that no still is involved, and its golden color is left in intentionally to pay homage to historic bathtub gins.)
One of the only non-local ingredients is juniper. Roughly 20% of the included juniper is roasted before being added to the batch. They're on their sixth version of the recipe, which changes as local botanicals come in and out of season.
How do all these gins work their way into the Flintridge Proper's cocktail menu? Check out the slideshow for a peek »
About the Author: Elana Lepkowski is a Los Angeles based home-schooled mixologist who photographs and shares her cocktail recipes at StirAndStrain.com. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @elanabean where she sometimes forgets she needs a filter.