My first Gin Mare experience was in a tapas bar in Seville. I'd ordered a gin and tonic, these days Spain's obsessed-over national cocktail, and the bartender pointed at the long shelf and asked, "Which gin?"
At the end sat one bottle I'd never seen before, so in my best Bloomberg Spanish I eked out, "That one."
What followed was the best G&T of my gin-drinking career: An immediate shock of rosemary and basil followed by a rich, olive-oily, almost savory sip with some very un-G&T heft that made every bubble's pop all the more refreshing. It felt like Champagne, not a highball.
I filed my feelings away and spent a few more days eating ham. Then in the Madrid airport I spotted it again, a liter bottle for an alarming 45 Euros, but I didn't care, I had to have more. Which led to my second Gin Mare experience: ripping the bottle out of its packaging in the seat of an airport cab and knocking back a swig. It was even better than the gin and tonic, all garden herbs with a kick of juniper and even more olive twang.
Many refined boozehounds never consider drinking their gin on the rocks or neat, let alone at room temperature, but I don't bring a bottle home to join my bar unless I can enjoy it solo—neat, on the rocks, or with soda. That's a problem for gin, which is principally made for mixing, but a new generation of the spirit has been changing that. More and more distilleries are making bottles designed to stand out on their own, no vermouth or tonic required.
These so-called "new gins" downplay their juniper bite in favor of warmer botanicals with floral, berry, and green herb notes. Unfortunately most drift too far from their roots and come out sweet and heavy, more Jolly Rancher than juniper. But the best of them—such as St. George's lineup of three gins, Bluecoat's leather-, grapefruit-, and popcorn-tinged offering, and the Austrian chamomile- and almond-accented Blue Gin—are deliciously complex but smooth and easy-drinking, with none of dry gin's throat-clenching pungency.
Gin Mare, pronounced mah-ray, the Latin for "ocean," launched in Spain in 2008, and it's the most impressive gin I've had in years, "new," London dry, or otherwise. Its main botanicals are basil, thyme, rosemary, and arbequina olive, but sweet and bitter oranges as well as cardamom and coriander add floral accents, with a touch of garden-patch tomato leaf.
It's the olives that make it so special. This gin is grassy and savory, not sugary, and its creamy-oily character makes it addictive to sip. Those olives round out any alcohol heat and cut the botanicals' sweetness, making for an extraordinarily balanced gin.
I really do believe Gin Mare makes the case for at least trying your gin neat, though it does indeed make a wonderful gin and tonic. It's great for martinis, too, particularly for those who like theirs with olives. I make mine with fino sherry instead of vermouth; the Spanish wine's subtle nuttiness and saline kick are perfect with the gin. Is a garnish of Iberico ham gilding the lily? Sure, but I've tried it and it's damn good.
Unfortunately, Gin Mare's not available in U.S. stores yet. Stirrings of an American release last year never materialized, though for what it's worth, the press team has commented that they "have several surprises planned [this] April and May." Requests for more details have been coyly deferred, so make of this what you will.
Update, January 26th, 2015: A rep from Vantguard, the company behind the Gin Mare label, has just confirmed the gin will be coming to the U.S., through Blueprint Spirits, in March of this year pending final FDA approval.
In the meantime you can order Gin Mare online through Master of Malt, including in the U.S. There it's a princely $53 for 700 mL (before shipping), the upper-upper echelon of prices for any gin. But when you consider what we gladly pay for premium sipping whiskies, I'd call it a risk worth taking for a gin that can change your mind about how to drink it.