Lord Nelson at Mina Test Kitchen’s Company (image: Kevin McCullough)
We love gin and we love classic gin cocktails. But it’s refreshing (literally) to drink cocktails that take gin down a different route, whether playing directly off a classic drink or employing classic elements in surprising ways. These eight cocktails around the country do just that.
In Philadelphia’s Old City,The Olde Bar is rife with history going back to its days as seafood restaurant Old Original Bookbinder’s, with Frank Sinatra’s regular booth in the corner. The historic space oozes old-school charm, and helmed by Matt Polzin, the cocktail menu does right by a range of spirits. The Ophelia Winthorpe is a cheeky take on the flavors found in a classic Bramble, but the gin is yogurt-washed for a tart creaminess, ideally paired with crème de mûre blackberry liqueur, served up and contrasted by ginger and lime.
Gin with cranberry juice goes back to the late 1920s in the original Sea Breeze, a cocktail that eventually evolved to a vodka drink over the decades. While gin and cranberry initially sounds like turnoff to a cocktail geek, Boston’s relaxed backbar elevates Beefeater gin and cranberry in the Peppermill Bog, with a smoky whisper from mezcal, balance from lemon and black pepper, and froth from egg white.
Casual New Orleans–centric restaurantThe Bywater opened in January from 3-Michelin-starred Manresa chef/owner David Kinch, featuring a vibrant cocktail program by Chad Arnholt and Claire Sprouse (Tin Roof Drinking Community). In proper Nola style, gin gets reenvisioned a few times, whether in the Clarified Ramos Gin Fizz or Nitro Pimm’s Cup. But it’s hard to top the Bywater Gibson, going Southern with a pickled okra garnish instead of onion, while a touch of fino sherry adds structure to gin and dry vermouth.
4. Ramos’ Cereal Milk (Belcampo, Santa Monica, Calif.)
image: Virginia Miller
The Santa Monica location ofBelcampo stands out thanks to its vibrant destination-worthy cocktail program from the Soigne Group’s Josh Goldman. The Snapping Turtle plays all green and bright off a Bloody Mary, instead using gin infused with even more herbs and mixed with clarified tomato juice, Chareau liqueur, horseradish oil and lemon over a celery ice cube. But then there’s the Ramos’ Cereal Milk, a twist on a classic Ramos Gin Fizz featuring Fords gin, lemon, lime, egg white, soda water, orange zest and—wait for it—Fruity Pebbles cream (think cereal milk after it soaks up colors and flavor).
The exciting Middle Eastern dishes at bustling, spaciousSarma in Somerville, across the Charles River from Boston, is matched by cocktails that play with the lively flavors of the food. The Anointed Sour recalls the best of a classic Dunhill cocktail, which goes back to Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them, combining Gin Mare (a Mediterranean gin including arbequina olives as a botanical), lemon, Manzanilla sherry and a lush olive oil syrup.
At first glance, Indaco seems best fit to pair amaro with its quality Italian food. But bar manager Jared Chafin does right by everything from whiskey to rum. That includes gin, where Chafin employs classic aesthetics in tight, balanced spirit combinations. The Hell Broth stands out with its harmonious mix of Charleston local Hat Trick gin, velvet falernum, lime, Strega and lime bitters. Chafin also shows off St. George’s Dry Rye gin in the Nicotine + Caffeine – Protein cocktail, contrasted by bitter in the form of High Wire Southern amaro, Suze and Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aéro d’Or, with subtle surprises from smoked lemon and pimento bitters.
At the chic-yet-quirky Charlie Was a Sinner, J. Christine Lamb’s classy cocktails pair with vegan small plates by candlelight. A number of gin cocktail gems with classic aesthetics can be found on the current and upcoming menus. The Women in Love nods to D.H. Lawrence and England with local Bluecoat gin amplified by celery, lime, basil, cucumber and black pepper, feeling like a garden tea party with the addition of a house-made jasmine simple syrup.
Mina Test Kitchen changes its restaurant theme and menu every quarter, serving as a testing ground for potential upcoming projects by famed chef and restaurateur Michael Mina. Cocktails are also a highlight, and during the current Indian theme running through the end of May, The Company, all drinks feature the newCalyx gin. From rose to cardamom, the bar team features classic Indian flavors and ingredients rather than classic recipes, as with the creamy, fantastic Lord Nelson, in which the gin is butter-washed, then seasoned with fennel, garam masala spices and lemon and cooled with a peppermint tea steeped in coconut milk.