JAMES BOND GOT IT WRONG. The suave king of international espionage may have preferred his martini with vodka (shaken, of course), but real cocktail connoisseurs know a true martini is made with gin. That’s because gin—and we mean good gin—is distilled with a variety of botanicals (not just juniper) to give it a complex flavor perfectly suited to a cocktail that’s essentially straight booze.
“Before Prohibition, gin was the number one spirit,” says Christian Krogstad of House Spirits, which began producing Aviation gin about three and a half years ago. Sending spirits underground inevitably led to the noxious “bathtub” gin, a spirit that sullied the liquor’s reputation and sent the sipping masses scrambling for vodka—which may not have tasted like anything, but at least didn’t taste bad. “Now you read the spirits blogs and no one is really talking about vodka,” Krogstad says. “Gin is part of the culinary revival; it’s about craft and about [having] flavor rather than the absence of flavor.”
He lines up nine different glasses of gin on the backroom bar of his Southeast Portland distillery—from Tanqueray to his own Aviation to an obscure brand from Australia. My liver quivers at the sight. “Just smell them,” he says, allaying my fear of rapid-onset cirrhosis.
I lower my nose and breathe in hints not only of juniper, but also of lavender, anise, even ginger. I lift my head, and Krogstad raises his eyebrows knowingly.
I do. And, so, it seems, does Portland. The city is home to five licensed gin microdistilleries, among them House,
Integrity Spirits, Indio, and beer giants McMenamins and Rogue, which produce their own house-made gins. And while vodka still outsells gin five to one in Oregon liquor stores, 2,500 more cases of gin were sold in 2008 than in 2007.
Integrity Spirits cofounder Rich Phillips attributes the comeback of gin to the revival of classic pre-Prohibition cocktails. So, bye-bye Red Bull and vodka; hello Aviation, gimlet, and Tom Collins. We’ll certainly drink to that.—KC