Part Two of The Previous or The Evolution of Gin as We Know It
First off, I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for the second part, slash, sequel to the dog’s breakfast I cooked you last month; so here we go. I gave this article two names because anything with two names is obviously awesome, I can only think of Dr. Strangelove but there must be other cool shit with two names somewhere. If you had to choose between ‘Dr. Strangelove’ or ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ could you really choose one? Apparently, in our current cancel culture, flora and fauna, which we all know have two names, one Latin (sciency) and one common (non-sciency), are being renamed to be more politically correct. So say goodbye to “Gypsy Ants and Gypsy Moths”, apparently that offended somebody that was studying entomology and running a three-card monte table at the same time, just guessing here, maybe their interests lied in social sciences and pickpocketing at train stations. If these or other non-politically correct species names are offensive to you, there is a website where you can actually submit potential new names for these poor depraved beings, I won’t link it in the footer. Anyway, all jokes aside let’s get to the mononymous meat of the subject: gin.
Last month was a dizzying descent into the origins of our hero and this month, we are going to keep it simple, in black and white. What are our options for gin today? Well, let’s start with our protagonist, Iron Balls. How would you classify our Balls? Technically, the category is a New Western Gin, I would have thought “Modern Gin” would have sufficed but the gin-geeks that make these decisions beat me to it. I can understand the “New” bit but “Western” makes no sense at all. If I ever find these gin-geeks that came up with this terminology we are going to have words. I’ll get to more categories in a bit but come on, seriously, Iron Balls is classified as a “New Western Gin” but it was born in the backstreets of Bangkok, not what I would call “Western”. If you Google “New Western Gin”, and I just did, you will see a common sentiment. A “New Western Gin”, we can all agree, differentiates itself on the axis of a London Dry Gin, as not made in England and adversely dominated by local botanicals with a comparatively subtle or gentle juniper finish. I don’t want to plug other iconic New Westerners, but I’ll give you a clue on a big one: cucumber and rose petals. You know who I’m talking about. Oh, and we all do love their Harry Potteresque catch phrases that always seem to have words like “oddly” and “curious”. I find that oddly curious. Teacups aside, who can tell me Iron Balls slogan? OK I’ll give it up; “You Always Have Options If You Have Balls”. I love our slogan, I didn’t come up with it though, that little piece of gold comes directly from the derelict mind of our founder Ashley Sutton. Funny bit of non-fiction though, when I was doing a guest shift in Perth, wait, maybe it was Fremantle, I was ambushed by two middle aged, can I call them karens? I could call them many things, but it would be impolite, let’s just call them middle-aged, overbearing, intimacy deprived, fake blondes with 2 inches of root, despotic females, that’s PC right? Anyway, we had our flags hung proudly in the bar and I had just finished my second guest shift of that evening. Needless to say, I was a bit exhausted and ready to enjoy my own refreshing handiwork when I was beckoned to a table. I was thinking I would get some praise or even a pat on the back, but I soon realized this was not the cause of said beckoning. Upon arriving at the table, they first had to clarify that I was, as they put it, “the Iron Balls guy”. Once I confirmed the obvious, they went on to strafe me with questions, then accusations about our motivational and life affirming slogan. I tried to explain to these bovine inquisitors that the slogan has nothing to do with gender, but rather about having courage to take risks to get what you want in life. My words, sadly fell on deaf, thick, gold hoop embellished ears. To conclude the story, before my team could rescue me, I was given the moniker “The Most Sexist Person I’ve Ever Met”. To be honest, I can be slightly incendiary at times, but I’m usually pretty nice. Since there is absolutely nothing to do in Fremantle after 11pm, I went back to my room and called the person I respect and admire the most in the world, my mom. Mom had sage advice, she said: If any woman tells you why do I need balls to have options? Tell her plainly you do have balls, they’re just called ovaries. Got to love mom!
Ok, enough about PC and cancel culture, you’re never going to fit in anywhere so just give up now and drink gin. Speaking of gin, let’s get back to classifying gins. Now that we know what a “New Western” is and we hinted at what a “London Dry” is, let’s clarify that. “London Dry” gin is the most common variant of gin in the world, as we know it. Think Bombay, Tanqueray, and Beefeater (who can tell me what a beefeater is?). Basically, London Dry gins are all the mediocre gins your parents drank. London Dry Gins can be described as inherently juniper forward (flavored vodka). I think we touched on this last time but either way, I just came across a fun little article that discusses this and this time, I will actually put the link in the footer. Promise to finish reading this before you move on to superior composition, please. I don’t want to knock London Dry gins, they’re great in a highball with Schweppes tonic and lime squeeze. Drink them neat and they taste like poison. Please take any London Dry and blind taste it neat next to Iron Balls and you will understand what I’m saying (yes, I do get paid for this but really, try it).
Ok, back on topic. A close cousin to London Dry is the enigmatic Plymouth Gin. It’s apparently a style of gin that no one really cares to talk about and has only one producer. Can you guess the name? Yup, Plymouth.
Ok, that was the shortest most boring paragraph ever. Let’s talk about something cool: Navy Strength Gins. Just the mention of Navy Strength Gins makes me smile. Here’s why. Did you know that in Europe the minimum degree of a GIN is 37.5% abv? First, you may have noticed that most gins come in a bit above the 40 degree mark. Iron Balls is labeled at 40% and if anyone asks, we never secretly sneak batches in above that, never ever so don’t even look. Anyway, gin is one of those animals that actually tastes better with a bit more proof. I’ve made Navy strength Iron Balls and it’s fantastic, not saying it’s in the pipeline but don’t rule it out. Let’s talk about the term “Navy Strength”. This term is in some ways synonymous with the word “proof”. Proof was a term that described a spirit that would catch fire when ignited. Combustion was basically “proof” of its validity; an interesting and very un-Martha Stewartly factoid. Navy Strength Gins were kept with the gunpowder for the cannons on British ships and had to be over-proof in case they leaked into the compartment and mixed with the black powder. If your chocolate mixes with your peanut butter and its 60% alcohol your cannons still fire. Good times! Navy strength gins are typically really cool, and I definitely recommend you pick them up when you see them. My personal favorite at the moment is coming from the guys at Four Pillars. It’s bright and citrusy with a good dash of juniper and a bit of heat at nearly 59% ABV.
Navy Strength gins are obviously super cool, now where do we go from here? I guess a natural segue would be Old Tom gins, but I’m not going to talk too much about the latter, the link I shared will give you the gist. What I will say is Old Tom gins are really fascinating. Their history is also surreal. There are stories of a black cat icon on walls in London, and those in the know could walk up to them and say “Here kitty kitty”, and if the person on the other side of the wall made a meowing noise, you could put coins in a slot and gin would flow out of the tail of the cat and into the recipients cup. This is an awesome bar idea and it’s mine so don’t steal it. Historically, Old Tom gins were very small-batches and often not exactly safe to drink. They were typically sweetened and infused with licorice to cover the foul bite of methanol. Thankfully, we live in an era where the only danger of drinking Old Tom gin is you might get labeled a tragic hipster. I personally love Old Tom gins; no, I’ve never tried to make a Balls variant but it’s tempting. My favorite happens to be the same one listed in the link below, Ransom. If you have an opportunity to buy this, grab it, then invite me over, I’ll bring the tonic, hell I’ll make tonic from scratch for that.
OK, what’s another option for gin variants? I’m sure you guys are tired of hearing about genever after last month, but this rare bird shares a few common feathers, barrel aging. If you haven’t tried a barrel aged gin, put it on your bucket list. Barrel aged gins are silky smooth with a pale wheat color due to the white oak they are aged in. You can drink them on ice or with a splash of tonic and you don’t need to fuss with garnishes much. I don’t want to plug the Aussies too much but for barrel aged, I really love Four Pillars as well. I do remember trying some South African Barrel Aged gins that were nothing to scoff at as well. On that note, South Africa makes some wicked and quirky gins, definitely worth looking into. The botanicals growing in South Africa are like nothing else.
It seems we hit the major points on gin variants, so let’s talk about a few side notes. I didn’t really talk about sloe gin because it’s basically a liqueur and doesn’t really warrant talking about. I promise you might, maybe or not see some Iron Balls berry infused gin in the near future, and if you do it will be amazing (because the guy who’s making it is super talented and incredibly handsome). Jokes aside, I’ve been trying to find a spot for one last crazy gin variant that one of my best guests brought back for me from Mexico, and is now actually fairly available. It’s an odd bird but I just couldn’t leave it out. It comes from a Mezcal distillery called Pierde Almas in Oaxaca. These crazy cats are taking their Mezcal (why does Word autocorrect Mezcal to mescal?) and doing a second distillation with gin botanicals, it’s fucking awesome. You can just smell it and be transported to another dimension. These are the same guys that hang whole cured rabbits in the still and let the gasses suck in all those salty bunny fats. It’s called the Conejo and for about 100 bucks per bottle it’s money well spent, plus it has cute little bunnies all around the neck label, so you know who died to make it so tasty. Something about non-vegan Mezcal always makes me smile just a bit. I’ve found recently some batches of the Mezcal gin get a bit heavy in anise and I’m not crazy about that. If you come across this Mexican gin labeled simply as “9” in a shop, reach back for the dustiest, oldest bottle you can find (older batches are magic-magic). I’m happy I got to talk about an agave spirit on my gin blog and on that note, well you know what to do.
Carson Quinn, Iron Balls Global Brand Ambassador