Why Gin (Not Vodka) for Classic Cocktails
We set the record straight on this age-old spirited debate.
“Would you like that made with gin or vodka?”
This seemingly innocent little question has caused more confusion than you might at first imagine. What’s wrong with offering people variety? Isn’t choice a good thing?
And we say yes, yes, it is. We are not interested in curbing choice, just offering choice in the right way.
Now, to be clear, this is not a case of hating on vodka, it was the right spirit at the right time and was vital in the rebirth of the cocktail industry. What we can do however, is just rebalance the scales.
To start that process, we must address this “Vodka or Gin” question, because it is simply a question that is a relic from a different time. A time when gin had become as popular as being cornered by that family member you only see at Christmas.
While vodka was like unwrapping the very latest games console—all shiny and new!
The 1960s, in particular, was an era of change, and that generation was all about turning away from the old establishment. Gin, and even cocktail culture, was very much part of the old establishment. Vodka was new and different, not weighed down with cocktail history or etiquette. It was mysterious with a long, but very different history to that of gin.
This was the situation when the new, modern cocktail era we are currently in was born.
In those early days, we needed to tread very carefully with our new-found consumer, so as not to scare them away back to the safety of their glasses of wine, whiskey and Cokes, or beers. We had to use exotic fruits and often outrageous garnishes to show where their hard-earned cash was going, while using spirits they felt comfortable with. The Negroni really wasn’t going to do the trick at the time!
So, what did we do? Well, apart from creating some unique, some forgettable and many more abhorrent cocktails with vulgar names, we also took good old gin classics and simply replaced the gin with vodka. No harm, no foul. It made sense to use a spirit that was on trend.
The only problem is, this moment has left a legacy where a bartender today, too young to have been mixing cocktails in those early days, feels the need to ask if a guest would like their Martini, Gimlet and the rest, made with gin or vodka.
To the uninitiated guest in a bar, having a professional ask this question only serves to compound the problem. Raising the status of the modern vodka variant to the same level as the gin classic. Now, however, the cocktail scene has come again to maturity. Vodka has its own recipes, and we grew up to realize that the awkward family member we used to try and avoid every Christmas isn’t weird at all, he’s actually a real life secret agent full of amazing stories!
So, what is the solution? Well, it just comes down to semantics. If, as a bartender, you are asked for a Martini or a Gimlet, let’s not pre-judge the guest. Let’s perhaps for a moment imagine that they are well informed, and that they know that these are both gin classics.
Then instead, ask if they have any preference of gin to be used. This way we still give the guest the opportunity to ask for a variant on the classic that doesn’t use gin, while not confusing the issue. With this small amend we can be part of the solution and not part of the problem!