I don't know about you, but I'm ready for spring. If you've dealt with anything like this past DC winter, you're probably sick of the weekly blizzards and ready to bust out those hot pants (or whatever it is the kids are wearing these days). More importantly, it's time to start thinking about making drinks that will complement warmer weather.
Gin is one of my favorite spirits, especially when it begins to warm up and things start blooming. While you can't go wrong with classics like the Last Word, Aviation, or a Negroni any time of year, I've put together a list of five of my favorite gin drinks to help you get in the spring spirit.
Employees Only Martinez
This is easily one of my all-time favorite cocktails, and it's just perfect for ringing in a little more sunshine. It's served at Employees Only in NYC, and lightens up the classic Martinez with Dolin Blanc in place of traditional sweet vermouth. The ratios are also retooled, making gin the dominant ingredient. The guys also make a pretty cool absinthe bitters to go in this drink—don't worry, it's super easy to make.
Flavorwise, this cocktail fits somewhere between a traditional gin Martini and its sweeter and richer predecessor, the Martinez. As Jason Komas and Dushan Zaric put it, this drink provides the "missing link" between these two classic cocktails.
The citrusy botanical scent is awesome and the drink feels silky-smooth and refreshing going down. A little anise and mint flavor sneaks in from the background of this balanced drink. It's an all around delicious cocktail that you absolutely need to try.
Very popular in speakeasy-style bars, this cocktail comes from Michael McIlroy and Richard Boccato of New York's Milk & Honey. It's one of the most refreshing stirred drinks I've ever tried.
While a simple mix of muddled cucumber, gin, and Aperol might sound unexciting, I assure you that the combination is much tastier than the sum of its parts. The bittersweet Aperol adds brightness with rhubarb and bitter orange flavors, while the cucumber gives the drink an airy and refreshing side. The flavors might remind you of a juicy watermelon (or booze-spiked spa water.)
My favorite thing about Archangel? It somehow manages to be dry and a touch bitter, yet fruity and refreshing. Put it on your must-make list.
Brown Gin is my bittered up take on the classic Pink Gin. The original dates back to the British Navy in the 1800s, when sailors treated their sea sickness and other ailments with Angostura bitters. Since straight bitters was a little too gruff for many, they would mix Plymouth gin with a dash or two of Angostura, to help it go down smoother. Plymouth lightened up the bitter flavor and the combination became a classic.
My citrus-and clove-scented version is like Pink Gin on steroids, using 15 dashes of Angostura. I also swapped out the Plymouth for the London dry variety, because in a larger dose the sugar in the Angostura will actually sweeten up the gin. The result is bitter and delicious. I even threw in a lemon twist to help prevent scurvy.
I first had this cocktail a few years back at great DC restaurant called Proof. Their cocktail guru, Adam Bernbach, also runs the drink programs at a number of other bars in the area. This popular drink is supremely delicious—and simple to make.
What makes it great? Glad you asked. Bernbach pairs delicate Plymouth gin with Peychaud's bitters and Cocchi Barolo Chinato (say it together: key-knot-o). I know it's a mouthful, but this fortified Barolo wine from the makers of Cocchi Americano is seriously delicious. Think of it as a complex and flavorful sweet vermouth, every bit as tasty on its own as it is in cocktails. Just a warning: Barolo Chinato is not cheap, but if you like it half as much as I do, you'll wonder how you lived so long without it.
The Darkside cocktail is smooth and light, with a hint of anise from Peychaud's bitters and an intriguing botanical scent. While you can garnish the drink with a brandied cherry, I love the way it was presented in The Washington Post a few years back, using a lime twist and a whole star anise.
Airy and fresh, the Dillionaire just smells like spring. I love the combination of dill and cucumber with Hendrick's gin and lime: this effervescent drink will serve you well deep into the hot days of summer. Cocchi Americano and Bittermens Boston Bittahs (which are flavored with citrus and chamomile) balance out the sweetness of rich maraschino and tonic syrup.
I also love how easy it is to tinker with the flavor of this drink. Don't have Boston Bittahs? No problem. Try another type of citrus or lime bitters or even skip the bitters all together. Got a ton of bitters? Try lacing a few drops of The Bitter End's awesome Thai Bitters around the inside of the glass to add hints of lemongrass and basil. Not a fan of dill? Replace it with mint for something more Mojitoesque.
About the author: Nick Caruana is the author of The Straight Up, where he shares his love of classic and modern cocktails, including a slight obsession with whiskey, bitters and amari. Stalk him on Twitter @The_Straight_Up, Facebook, and other social media outlets.