Traditionally, there were four major types of gin: London Dry, Plymouth, Old Tom and genever (which is really a stretch as a sub-category of gin in my view, but what the hell). London Dry is what most Americans have experienced – brands like Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay lead the market. Plymouth gin must, by law, be made in Plymouth, England and is softer, less dry, and made with more earthy, root ingredients. Old Tom gin is somewhat sweeter than London Dry or Plymouth gins and is also stronger. Amidst this already diverse field of gins comes the new class: New Gin (or New American gin). New gins tend to downplay the role of juniper in their flavor profile while accenting other traditional ingredients or bringing in relatively new ones.
New Amsterdam Gin is really what it sounds like – a new American gin. New Amsterdam, though named after New York City, is produced in Modesto, California. It’s nose is heavy on lemon peel, light on juniper and has a slight French vermouth quality to it. While these flavors stand out in the nose, there is also an alcohol backbone to the scent. The spirit is crystal clear and has very thin legs on a glass which take a long time to recede. At first sip, it is very sweet and not dominated by juniper. There is more of a lemon and orange peel taste on the tip of the tongue, while there is a lightly peppered spice on the back of the tongue. The remnants of juniper linger in the aftertaste, but so does a composite flavor of a gin mixed with a small amount of French vermouth.
New Amsterdam’s tagline is “So smooth you can drink it straight.” I’ve never enjoyed drinking gin straight, but recently tried New Amsterdam on the rocks at a party and really enjoyed it. I was able to enjoy it because, frankly, on its own it had a lot of the characteristics I look for in a Dry Martini – smooth, crisp, with nice citrus notes. While I’ve never embraced the common American formula of a Martini being a cold glass of gin, for New Amsterdam, I could probably enjoy it. Of course, when I want a Martini, I want a Martini, with a hefty pour of French vermouth. New Amsterdam really doesn’t stand up to my preferred 50:50 recipe. On the one hand, that’s a knock in my book. On the other, being a capable bartender means knowing how you adjust a recipe to work with different bottlings’ unique characteristics.
Interestingly, all but one of the cocktails on New Amsterdam’s website do not contain vermouth. They are all fruit and liqueur dominated – seeming to show a greater similarity for their consumers to a vodka than a gin to be used in classic cocktail recipes. This is certainly a product of new gins – they just don’t all work as well when placed in recipes that intend London Dry or Plymouth gins to be used. One of the challenges with New American gins is that they are redefining a very classic spirit with each new formulation. Does that mean that something like New Amsterdam isn’t actually a gin? Of course not. But our definitions of what constitutes gin are expanded with bottlings like New Amsterdam or, say, Hendricks. So while traditionalists may not embrace a gin like New Amsterdam because of its aggressive reformulation of the gin flavor profile, people who may not like the idea of drinking gin might find it very accessible. I would say I fall somewhere in between. This isn’t what I think of when I think of gin. But it’s not about my preconceived notions. I think it tastes pretty danged good and I’m undoubtedly going to drink it on the rocks, perhaps with a twist of lemon or a dash of citrus bitters, in the near future and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.
Disclosure: This post was made possible because I received a free bottle of New Amsterdam Gin for the purposes of sample and review.