Serious Reads: 'The Bartender's Gin Compendium' by Gaz Regan

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Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

"As the category expands, it's becoming more challenging to navigate the world of gin."


Gin gimlet. Photograph from Martin Kimeldorf's Pixel Playground on Flickr

20090812-ginbook.jpgIn case you haven't noticed from the gradually expanding selection in the liquor store, gin is on an upswing. Dozens of brands and variations have been introduced in the past decade, and start-up distillers are adding novel gins to their liquor portfolios as the divisions between styles of gin become increasingly blurred.

At a time when this gin market growth and a renewed interest in gin-based cocktails have the potential to confuse even the most ardent of enthusiasts, a new book on the spirit has been released by Gaz Regan, one of the most entertaining chroniclers of the beverage world: The Bartender's Gin Compendium.

It's an appropriate time to publish a gin book. Complex and assertive where vodka is simple and quiet, gin has always had a rough history.

Born in the Netherlands but finding its spiritual home in England, gin developed a reputation early on as "Mother's Ruin," a sort of prototypical crack cocaine for the British working classes. Even after climbing to the top of the cocktail heap in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gin had a reputation that was easily damaged.

During Prohibition, "bathtub gin" became synonymous with substandard and even poisonous hooch being poured into glasses on the sly, and after Prohibition and the World War Two, drinkers began turning away from the venerable spirit and toward the lighter, simpler, quieter character of vodka. Only in recent years has gin begun to take back this lost ground, and as the category expands it's becoming more challenging to navigate the world of gin.

Despite its name, The Bartender's Gin Compendium is designed to be approachable by anyone with a yen for gin. This new, self-published book by Regan--a drinks columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and author of The Joy of Mixology--explores the history of the different styles of gin, the backgrounds behind a few prominent brands, and an array of classic and contemporary gin cocktails. One of Regan's previous books, The Book of Bourbon, provided a thorough exploration of the history and the modern world of bourbon that's been invaluable to bourbon fanciers.

Similar to what this earlier work did for bourbon, The Bartender's Gin Compendium is likely to be the defining work on gin for years to come.