Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | August 29, 2010

New Amsterdam Gin

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.

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Responses

  1. I have to disagree with your assessment, and not coming from the perspective of a “staunch traditionalist” who wants to taste little besides juniper. I love “New” gin, as well as Genever, Old-Tom, Plymouth, and London Dry.

    This stuff just does not taste like gin. The botanicals have been dialed down so much as to make it a half-gin. It does not hold up AT ALL in any recipe I have used it for. You might say that this is more “approachable”, but I think just about any bottling should be approachable when put into the hands of a capable bartender. This is approachable because there is nothing to it. This is gin for vodka drinkers. Bleh.

    • Thanks for the response Ian – I think you’re basically right in terms of how much this is dialed down. My first reaction on tasting it was that it wasn’t actually gin. You’re right – when I say approachable I mean appetizing for people who are used to drinking vodka, which is to say, the majority of American spirit consumers. The only way we can get to a place where more Americans are enjoying spirits like gin, rye, and rum is if there are adequate ways to transition them into the wider world of cocktails. Gin is, for most of the people I know who aren’t really into cocktails, a spirit they will almost always refuse to touch in the absence of tonic water. The reason I think New Amsterdam may still work as a transitionary gin is that it plays a similar role to something like Aperol. I used to not be able to handle the bitter flavor of Campari but found that I enjoyed Aperol a great deal. So I started to substitute Aperol for Campari where I could, while adapting to the bitter orange flavor at a slower pace. Before long, the jump to Campari was easy.

      Don’t get me wrong: gin is a favorite of mine and I want more people to enjoy drinking it. But everyone’s palates are different and not everyone – especially people who aren’t used to drinking it – is going to be able to pick up a bottle of Beefeater and embrace it warmly their first time out. That doesn’t make them bad drinkers, but they do deserve to have some spirits that help bring them along. A bottling like New Amsterdam, in my view, is a means to an end. It’s not going to be a standard of mine and it certainly doesn’t seem to be something you enjoy Ian, but I don’t doubt that there is a space for it in the market of people who are aspiring to like gin, but can’t find something that’s easy to start with.

  2. What was interesting was their cocktail competition at Tales. They had no vermouth what-so-ever and no other spirits besides the gin. They focused on fruits, juices, herbs, spices, and sweeteners. Pretty much everything was to mask the juniper “gin” flavor.

    The most amusing assessment of the spirit I read was “tastes like juniper and orange Pez”.

    • Frederic – That’s interesting and not too surprising, given the cocktails they promote on their site and in their materials. There are obviously plenty of traditional gin cocktails that feature citrus, fruits and sweeteners (Tom Collins, Gin Rickey, Gin Smash, Gin Gin Mule, Bloody Mary). But it’s hard to think of gin in the absence of the Martini, Negroni, and Martinez…

  3. I enjoy your blog a lot, so please know I mean no disrespect for the following, but this product simply does not deserve the positive press it has gotten, mainly through the distribution of free samples.

    OK, look, everybody got the free booze with the press release, that doesn’t mean you have to do the free glowing advert.

    The fact is this is the worst gin inflicted upon man. It is not even gin, it is rot-gut vodka with heavy-handed creamsicle flavoring to try and hide the fact.

    This is a bad bad product of low quality and at an insanely high price point for what it is.

    It is fine if you like candy flavored vodka, but call a spade a spade, you cannot make a decent drinkable cocktail from this swill.

    Again, this is not a poke at you, but your review diminishes your credentials as an authority on the subject for the sake of a freebie.

    -Erskine Farquharson

    • Erskine – I hear you but as I keep saying, spirits play different roles for people. I will not be using this in a cocktail. But lots of people, at least a significant number of American drinkers, do not like gin because they are intimidated by the heavy juniper flavor profile. This is an entryway to traditional gins, in the same way Aperol is an entryway to Campari (not saying Aperol and New Amsterdam are similar, just that they play a similar role). If you don’t like this stuff, don’t drink it and don’t serve it to others. But I think it’s possible to see a spirit for what it can be, not what it is.

      And to the point of them giving out free samples for good press, I had tried this before receiving a sample, as I mention in the post.

  4. New Amsterdam is produced by Gallo in Modesto, CA. Its label does mention that the spirit is distilled. One can only conclude that the flavors are stirred in, like bathtub gins during Prohibition.

  5. I really enjoyed reading the blog and the comments thereafter. I would probably qualify myself as a knowledgeable gin consumer, but short of a snob. I had only heard of New Amsterdam as a vodka, so when I saw the gin being served at a SF Giants game, I had to try. What I have noticed, and what you alluded to in the blog, is that this gin is only good for traditional vodka uses such as mixed with fruit juices or possibly even straight. If you drink it as a gin, though, by mixing with tonic or in a martini, it’s borderline awful. I hadn’t read anything about it before trying it, and initially thought my taste buds were off. I tried it different ways, but always got that same artificial aftertaste that dredged up memories of triaminic syrup. I even changed up the tonics, and it still stunk. It probably doesn’t help that I still have lovely vivid memories of my last bottle of the The Botanist!


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