Few things in the alcohol world capture the imagination of fanatics like a fine, rare bottle of whiskey. They command high prices, quick sellouts and even turn hardcore whiskey lovers into campers as, on occasion, they pitch tents and sleep outside waiting for a new release. And that’s all well and good, but whiskey has stomped around the liquor store like it owns the place for too long. So here, we’d like to sing the praises of gin—unquestionably one of the most versatile bottles in your liquor cabinet. Yet, preconceived notions about its piney taste mean there are people out there who may never taste it anywhere besides in a glass that is mostly full of tonic water. We don’t want to get into the business of saying one type of spirit is “better” than another—that would be like picking a favorite child. But we do want to say gin is a more interesting spirit than whiskey. Here’s why:
The spectrum of gin flavors is much broader than the spectrum of whiskey flavors
The legal definition of gin says it “shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries,” but if you’ve tried enough of them, you know that gins’ flavors vary wildly. The whole flavor wheel is represented. There are very juniper heavy bottles like Tanqueray, floral ones like Hendrick’s, and bright, citrusy ones like Malfy. Because there is virtually no limit to what you can infuse in gin, there is virtually no limit to the flavor combinations you can find in it.
For whiskey, the thing that makes it great is also the thing that boxes it in: the barrel. Whiskey makers have been playing with different sorts of barrels for years—various preparations of new oak, sherry, port—but whatever they use imparts a woody taste of one kind or another.
And yes, we know there is whiskey that doesn’t go in barrels, but if you’re holding up unaged moonshine as one of the great achievements of the whiskey world, you have already lost the argument.
Trying to add flavors into whiskey is rarely a recipe for success
Cinnamon whiskey might have made a massive splash in shot glasses all over the world and honey whiskey is holding its own, but people are not exactly beating down the door for a taste of chocolate whiskey. And if you so much as mention bacon whiskey to us, we swear to god…
Unlike gin, which is made to take on different flavors, flavored whiskey comes off feeling like a gimmick because it doesn’t match with what that whiskey is supposed to taste like.
Gin can do anything whiskey can do
You want barrel aged gin? You can have that. You want sweet, honeyed gin? You can have that. You want peaty gin? You’re probably a little bit weird, but you can have that too. Gins can go in Old Fashioneds, in Sours, in Toddys—whatever you’re doing with whiskey there are probably people doing it with gin.
Gin is a year-round drink
We met a lovely man with a Scottish brogue who declared a particular bottle to be “my summer whisky.” But with a few exceptions (hey, Mint Julep), the brown stuff is better suited for days when there is a chill in the air. Whether you’re sipping it straight or enjoying it in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, whiskey is most often better suited for the latter half of the year. Gin, on the other hand, can be a seasonal chameleon. Obviously a Pimm’s Cup or Gin and Tonic are classic spring and summer drinks, but a Negroni’s bitter bite is perfect for fall and a Martinez, made with sweeter Old Tom gin, is a good antidote for a cold winter day. It even makes an excellent match for hot tea.
It’s easier to experiment with gin
Whiskey experimentations take a long time. Want to try out a new kind of barrel? You’ll need to wait, likely for years, to really get a complete picture of what’s inside. Gin, on the other hand, offers almost immediate results, allowing for more rapid trial and error and, therefore, more and more delicious new bottlings popping up on the shelf all the time.