Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Gordon's London Dry Gin


A lot of people are afraid of gin, and with good reason. Most three-letter nouns are bad news. Bug, dog, bus, gun, tea, pus, cop, nun, rug—all yield nothing but heartache and bad Scrabble. But despite its coincidental appearance at every British crime scene between the years 1700 and 1950, gin is harmless in responsible hands and also in my hands.

A friend of mine says there's a fight in every bottle of gin, but he also says to stay away from the Gin Mill in Palmer, Massachusetts, and that place has the best $1 PBR draft and pickled kielbasa a man can get on the way from Amherst to the turnpike.

I have to confess that, for all my sincere gin promotion, I rarely drink the stuff. Dunno why. I'll go on one or two Negroni benders a year, but for the most part I don't order gin in bars, and in the past nine months, I've bought just three bottles for the house.

The first was Hendrick's, which served me well on last summer's Saturday afternoon walks around town; a rinsed-out Starbucks grande iced tea cup will hold your gin, your crushed fresh berries, and your soda water in a fine and inconspicuous fashion all the way to brunch.

The second bottle was some Western Massachusetts organic stuff that wasn't good enough to remember but was perfectly good enough to make me forget. It believe it was called something and tasted like juniper and something.

"I'd never done the liverwork necessary to figure out which cheap bottle was my cheap bottle."

But I've gathered you all here today to talk about the third bottle. The grad student and I are a couple months away from the sort of semi-solvency required to feel good about stocking up on Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire or what have you; part of my excuse for not having more gin around the house is that I'd never done the liverwork necessary to figure out which cheap bottle was my cheap bottle. I'm all for rolling the dice, but gin's tough that way. It's like tequila: I can't afford the deluxe versions, and the rest of it can be brutally bad.

Gin is neutral grain alcohol distilled with juniper berries and whatever other herbs, spices, and mysteries the producer sees fit to include. It's not typically barrel-aged, so there's no easy way to smooth out whatever rough edges tumbled out of the distillation tank. I love Old Crow, but only after it's had a three-year oak-barrel timeout to think about its mistakes. Straight from the still, I imagine Old Crow would taste like hell. Bad gin tastes like piney hell; it reminds me of unsavory experiences with drunken mall Santas.

So the other day I undertook an exhaustive search for a decent affordable gin. That's right, I went to two liquor stores, which convinced me that there are exactly three options for widely distributed, bargain-priced gin: Burnett's, Gilbey's, and Gordon's (Note: Seagram's costs a couple bucks more than these three, at least in my neighborhood).

I passed on the Burnett's for the obvious reason that A.J. Burnett is my least favorite baseball player (to be fair to A.J., he does not hold this distinction alone. He's tied with the other 24 Yankees). I like the Gilbey's bottle and I've read some encouraging reports, and maybe someday Will Gilbey will tell you all about it.

I paid $11 for 750ml of the Gordon's London Dry and I'm a richer man for it.

Gordon's smells like it's supposed to, which is to say nine parts juniper, one part lemon, and a half-measure of coriander. I swear I smelled anise somewhere in there too, but I've been vigilant to the point of paranoia about that lately—please, enough with the Herbsaint!—so don't take my nose's word on that.

"Gordon's is a classic, straightforward London dry gin."

When it comes down to the drinking, Gordon's is a classic, straightforward London dry gin. It tastes like juniper. Cool, I like juniper. But what really impresses me about Gordon's is that it defies conventional bottom shelf wisdom, which holds that the most successful bargain boozes are humble and inoffensive renditions of their betters. Not in this case; Gordon's London Dry gin is aggressive, even at a lowly 80 proof (the good stuff runs around 95).

You probably don't drink gin neat, because you're probably not an axe murderer, but if you are, Gordon's will do—it's not as complex as some higher-end gins, but it's honest. The non-homicidal among you will find that it's plenty assertive enough to show your tonic water what's what.