GORDON’S LONDON DRY GIN—Gin that tastes like gin

My Fellow Inebriates,

The house got turned upside down this morning in a search for this.

It was the umpteenth search for a teeny Chihuahua whose owner keeps stuffing it into small spaces and then freaking out when it’s AWOL for bedtime.

By the time Chihuahua was finally discovered in the car, it felt like gin-and-tonic time. And, while my mum informed me 10:30am was too early (arbitrary on her part, wouldn’t you say?) she did agree to break out the GORDON’S LONDON DRY GIN again this evening.

The $12.69 mickey in our freezer represents another infidelity to BROKER’S GIN and by extension its lovely Business Development Manager Julia Gale, a woman who once savaged her knee busting out on a dance floor to Love Shack by the B52s.

I know (I think?) I promised Julia I’d wait for her delicious gin to be reinstalled at our government booze store, but I’m not made of stone.*

It all started with BEEFEATER 24, a purportedly higher-end version of the famously juniperous BEEFEATER marketed as a tea-infused homage to the founder’s dad’s penchant for that beverage—but really a cagey gimmick to gain market share by offering options within its own brand. When I espied the new BEEFEATER variety I was briefly blinded by it and forgot that I was holding out for BROKER’S. But BEEFEATER 24, while enjoyable, is a bit of a departure from traditional gin, so it felt like a miss (in retrospect). A couple of weeks after it was finished, I told my mother we needed some normal gin so I could feel better—both about my breach of trust with Julia and about my delirium tremens—but she said no. She said we need to keep our booze spending down to a dull roar.

Luckily my mother is weak-willed; as soon as the thermometer surpassed 30° she relented and started considering gin of her own accord. But only a mickey! (For tasting purposes.)

Thus rationed, I requested GORDON’S because it struck me as a good baseline, standard-issue gin. Chances are, every other gin-based cocktail you’ve ordered at a bar has been made with Gordon’s; it has the widest reach of any gin. I really felt (Julia) that it would be quite an omission if I didn’t procure some.

GORDON’S isn’t the cheapest gin on the shelf but it’s one of only two available (in my hood) in a plastic mickey. This makes it fantastic for lurching around a parking lot with—a distinction it shares with the bottom-shelf Canadian gin GILBEY’S, which is the cheapest, and which my parents won’t let me review unless I manage to procure a free sample.

The last time my aging parents bought a mickey, they probably did so to spike a punch. That’s how weird the purchase felt, they said, although I think they were just bitching about taking “bear requests.”

Soooo…

  • GORDON’S LONDON DRY GIN—check
  • Plastic 375mL bottle—awesome
  • $12.69 price tag—almost as good as it gets
  • Limes—check
  • Superstore house brand tonic water—check
  • Expectations—low to middling

Little did we know last night how much of today would be devoted to hunting a three-inch Chihuahua. I think we should have had four ounces apiece, but we settled for two in tall tumblers with lots of ice.

Ahhhhhhhh!!!!

Not bad, not bad. Especially considering the slight weirdness of our BEEFEATER 24 experience (although not as weird as HENDRICK’S). GORDON’S serves up exactly what’s needed in a decent G&T. Good infusion, good balance—more than serviceable and thoroughly underrated by gin snobs. It is, after all, the world’s best-selling gin.

But it’s not for gin noobs! GORDON’S hits all the traditional gin notes, and it hits them hard. If you’re looking for a gin that doesn’t really taste like gin, GORDON’S is not for you. If you don’t really like the taste of gin, there’s a whole shelf of gins crafted for you, with bizarro tasting notes like “cucumber” and “nothing.” If all the bottles came to life after the liquor store went dark at night, GORDON’S would kick the shit out of those pretty gin bottles. And maybe BROKER’S would help it if it was ever reinstated in the store.

I know, I know, it’s silly to anthropomorphize the gin bottles. Next thing you know I’ll be imagining Chihuahua is a real dog.

* NEW MATERIAL ONLY. POLYESTER FIBRES. PLASTIC BEADS.

BEEFEATER 24—Because the market can bear more gin

My Fellow Inebriates,

Don’t tell Julia Gale, but I’m cheating on her with another gin.

I couldn’t help it. I’ve been waiting and waiting for BROKER’S GIN to make an appearance at my local government booze shop, but the last time I checked, it wasn’t there, and…well…the sun was shining, which means G&T time. The stars were lining up: we even had limes and tonic water ready in the fridge.

It wasn’t intentional. My dad had bought the tonic for his sore stomach and my mum had earmarked the limes for some sort of peanut-lime chicken abomination. They had no plans to buy gin, but…well, the stars lined up.

Faced with a paralyzing selection of beer and an even more overwhelming array of wine, my mum hit the gin aisle, where she would have to cope with only 14 brands.

Those 14 brands divide into 34 gin variations, however, posing less confusion than the wine and beer sections, but certainly enough for my addlepated mother. Whereas weirdo gin producers such as Hendrick’s sport only one style and size, brands such as TANQUERAY and BEEFEATER not only come in multiple sizes; they also boast premium versions that cost an arm and a leg. Tanqueray 10 is particularly pricey ($42.99 per 750mL versus $24.99 for the original). And if gin goes the way of vodka, the liquor store will have to build a new shelf for a host of new dipshit flavors.

What’s the history behind this? I suspect it goes like this: Charles Tanqueray creates a perfect London gin in 1830, predating Beefeater but not Plymouth and besting both, and these “establishment” brands then elbow out all the cheap gin joints in England, alleviating the social problems you’d expect from turpentine-flavored moonshine. But the market is quickly crowded by other gin manufacturers offering both mainstream gin flavorings and bizarre variants such as cucumber essence, and next thing you know my easily puzzled parent is staring at a massive selection and wondering if early Alzheimer’s is kicking in.

The marketing intelligence goes like this. The main decent contenders with any history are Tanqueray and Beefeater. Put Tanqueray on the shelf beside Beefeater and you’ve got a shoot-out. With Tanqueray costing only a dollar more than Beefeater, the choice comes down to how subtle you like your gin—flirting at you with juniper or belting you with it. If you haven’t tried either product, the odds are probably 50/50 you’ll pick either one.

Now put Tanq 10 beside Tanqueray and Beefeater. Sixty percent higher in price, this exorbitant sibling tastes cleaner, lighter, and arguably more refined. If anything it argues for diminishing returns—how good does gin really get, and do you have to refine the character right out of it to hit this price point?

But it doesn’t matter how Tanq 10 tastes. Its very presence on the shelf has accomplished a marketing coup—it’s redirected the dilemma. Instead of considering the merits of two almost equally priced gins, the consumer now sees the choice as between Tanqueray and Tanqueray 10, with Beefeater characterizing the bottom shelf—whether or not it deserves to be relegated to that position. Whereas ordinary Tanqueray, at $1 above Beefeater, didn’t seem like a deal before, now it seems like a steal. Now you can get a steal without being cheap.

Even though Tanqueray figured this out first, Beefeater eventually got into the game with BEEFEATER 24. Launched in 2008, this tea-infused variant, which would probably make founder James Burrough roll over in his grave, dials back the juniper in favor of a more balanced, 12-botanical recipe intended to channel the sensibilities of Burrough’s tea-merchant father. At $6 more than original BEEFEATER for 750mL, BEEFEATER 24 is invoking the same strategy as Tanqueray—creating choice within the brand, thereby satisfying the shopper’s urge to experiment without deserting the brand. Without cheating, that is.

Ahhhh, I never told Julia I wouldn’t cheat, but by now you must realize I’ve gone and made a gin & tonic with BEEFEATER 24. But what’s done is done, so let’s talk taste.

Like Tanq 10, BEEFEATER 24 is a cleaner version of the original, lacking the characteristic juniper burst of its big sibling and infused with specialty teas and grapefruit peel. The scent is heady and inviting—definitely flirtier than the original and admittedly more sophisticated. The tea infusion contributes a noticeable parching tannic quality, slightly distracting in a gin & tonic, especially if it’s a GIN & tonic like mine. As I sip it, I can’t help thinking fondly of the classic juniper clouting you get with the original, and I almost feel robbed of $6.

Which isn’t to say BEEFEATER 24 is bad. Not at all! It’s quite wonderful. It’s just a departure from Beefeater. I bet the founder, who was pretty worked up about achieving the perfect recipe, probably wouldn’t appreciate it. Chances are Beefeater headquarters are experiencing all sorts of bumps in the night from an angry James Burrough lurching around half-cut on celestial Beefeater and knocking people’s teacups off counters. Still better than having a possessed bear in your house, but not by much.

But once again it doesn’t matter what BEEFEATER 24 actually tastes like. It’s made an intelligent marketing maneuver that will keep customers loyal to its brand and probably grab some market share from competitors.

If only Beefeater HQ would learn how to make web pages that don’t take 45 seconds* to load.

*no exaggeration