3 Gin Drinks That Put Your Boring Old Gin And Tonic To Shame

When someone tells me they don’t like gin — and by default, gin drinks and recipes — I’m always surprised. The first “real” drink I ever had was a gin and tonic, and I loved it. Ever since then, gin has been my go-to. But my informal survey tells me that I’m in the minority; other people think it tastes “like cleaning supplies,” or “like I ate a pine tree.”

If that’s what it tastes like, you’re drinking gin wrong. Or, more likely, you’re drinking the wrong gin. Gin is going to have a herbal, pine-y taste. There’s no getting around that, as its main flavoring component is juniper. Depending on the brand, though, it can have notes of anything from lemongrass to cucumber to citrus.

To learn to like gin, you have to start with good gin. My personal favorite is Death’s Door, but that isn’t widely available outside of the Midwest. If you can get it, though, it’s the smoothest gin I’ve ever tried; there’s virtually no harsh aftertaste. Hendrick’s, which has notes of rose and cucumber, is another very popular choice, especially for light, refreshing drinks like gimlets. If you’re not looking to make a big investment, New Amsterdam is my favorite grocery store gin. It blends nicely into drinks, and isn’t expensive.

So let’s start building your appreciation for gin! Here are three gin cocktails that will win you over to this flavorful spirit once and for all.

1. Thyme Bee's Knees

For our “beginners” drink, I made a twist on a Bee’s Knees, which is a Prohibition-era cocktail. At the time, the lemon and honey were intended to cover up the not-so-great taste of bathtub gin. Now, though, they’re just there to be delicious. I added thyme to the equation, and the result is sweet, tart, and gently herbal: perfect for introducing you to the wide world of gin.

What You'll Need:

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. thyme-honey syrup (recipe below)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a thyme sprig or lemon twist.

For the thyme-honey syrup

What You'll Need:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme

Heat honey and thyme in a small saucepan over a pot of boiling water until the consistency is liquid. For a lighter thyme flavor, strain the honey into a jar. For a stronger taste, pour honey and thyme into a jar and allow to sit overnight.

To make the syrup, combine equal parts thyme-honey and warm water.

Note: This recipe makes far more than you need for your cocktail.

2. The Aviation

Now we can move on to our intermediate cocktail, which is a bit more gin-forward: the Aviation. A classic from the time of the Depression, there are several versions of this drink, including one with crème de violette. This recipe is for the more streamlined recipe: you just need gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon.

What You'll Need:

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry or lemon twist.

3. Dirty Martini

If you've tried out the Bee's Knees and the Aviation and you're still with me, it's time to try out our advanced gin cocktail: the martini. There are infinite variations of this drink, from the garnishes to the amount of vermouth used, but my favorite is the dirty martini. Savory and salty, it's the evening drink for people who love Bloody Marys.

What You'll Need:

  • 2 1/2 oz. gin*
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. olive brine

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and stir. (Don't listen to anyone who tells you to shake a martini — shake drinks with juice; stir drinks with liquor.) Once cold, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with an olive.

*For a dirty martini, you want a more traditional gin than something like Hendrick's, where the botanicals would just be overwhelmed by the olive brine.

And that's gin! Go forth and enjoy.

Image: Didriks, Ross Bennetts/Flickr; Leigh Kunkel