Gin Shoot-Out the Third—more random than ever, but a clear winner

My Fellow Inebriates,

You don’t want to know where I’ve been, so let’s get to it. Our three contenders:

  • BROKER’S GIN. Our pet gin (or gin of pet bears at least) entered the competition the frontrunner. How would it fare, my fellow inebriates?
  • TANQUERAY. Strangely enough, we hadn’t pitted TANQUERAY against other gins before. Always a household favorite, we were sure it would stand and be counted. But against BROKER’S…?
  • PINK 47. New to LBHQ and relatively new to the booze world, PINK 47 hit the market in 2007 to reported critical accolades. The flashiest bottle of our three entrants, it came in swinging with 47 percent alcohol. Would it bitchslap BROKER’S and TANQ with their modest 40 percent? Read on, MFI.

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But first let’s flash-forward to 3:00 a.m. Many G&Ts have been consumed, in addition to a Viognier, a Torrontes, and a Cab with—unaccountably—a pot of tea somewhere in between. My dad is receiving a back massage from another man. A dozen guests and almost that many children have long gone home to bed, the adults having politely sampled a thimbleful of each gin before opting out of the remaining shenanigans. All except my parents and our good friend R, who arrived before dinner with a giant insect, under which I woke up to witness the aforementioned provocative tableau.

The brilliant thing about gin is the lucid high it confers. It’s a shiny kind of drunkenness, but it inspires all kinds of nuttiness. The last time Dad and R got ripped out of their heads I had to watch them play Guitar Hero, and this scenario promised to be almost as bad. Let’s leave it alone for a moment and talk gin.

 

PINK 47

pink47_diamond_front

First up: PINK 47 LONDON DRY GIN ($34.99 for 700 mL). Quadruple-distilled and grandstanding with 12 botanicals, PINK 47 wowed our guests with its diamond-inspired bottle and vivid label. As for me, it had me at 47 percent. This seemed an unassailable and possibly unfair advantage from the bear perspective, but how would the human taste buds find it?

Straight up

DSCN3852We passed out tiny samples to reluctant guests who said things like, “Wait a sec. Is gin supposed to be consumed straight?” PINK 47 was aromatic and appealing, but perhaps not the best gin to begin the tasting with. As the most alcoholic of the three, it was a shock. The guests were dutiful, though, and drank it down. PINK 47 was aggressive but charming, with the competence of a seasoned hooker or porn star.

The Gin & Tonic

Despite its marketplace youth, PINK 47 has won a bunch of trophies, and the G&T is probably why. With its heady but clean botanicals and high potency, it cuts through mixer assertively. It makes a ravishing G&T that will land you on your ass if you happen to be a small bear. Comments included:

“knifey”

“tastes like hitting someone.”

TANQUERAY

Tanqueray

Next up: TANQUERAY ($26.99 for 750 mL). We’ve always preferred TANQUERAY to its snooty sibling TANQ 10. It has a nice balance of classic botanicals with a citrusy profile and uber-smoothness. Its price tag is reasonable and it comports itself just as well in a martini as in a highball.

Straight up

DSCN3856Our guests were wary of gin after sampling straight PINK 47. Of the tray we circulated, only two-thirds of the TANQUERAY thimblefuls were downed, and commentary was muted. Perhaps, after being handled so forcefully by PINK 47, our tasters felt underwhelmed. Perhaps they were afraid (I doubt any of them ever woke up under a giant praying mantis). The consensus was…subdued. It was dry and refined, and didn’t draw undue attention to itself. Very English. I could picture it queuing up politely to vote.

The Gin & Tonic

DSCN3878By this time only the stalwarts were willing to try a second G&T mixed by my mother. True, most of them had ankle biters tearing around our yard, but all lived within staggering distance. I’m thinking not everyone is as obsessed with gin as we are at LBHQ. Still, those who tasted TANQUERAY in a G&T said it was civilized and smooth. TANQUERAY is much better at hiding in a G&T than PINK 47, which makes it more of a creeper and therefore more dangerous. All good.

 

BROKER’S GIN

DSCN3886Lastly: BROKER’S GIN ($27.99 for 750 mL). BROKER’S is the darling of LBHQ and the winner of all our previous Gin Shoot-Outs. Business Development Manager Julia Gale and I are practically best friends, my fellow inebriates, bonded in the quest to return BROKER’S to its rightful place on my local booze shop shelves after a long and inexplicable absence. Not only is BROKER’S reasonably priced; it strikes a perfect balance between old-school tradition and playful piquancy, delivered with impeccable smoothness. We like its no-nonsense price and the fact that every time we buy it we get a little bowler hat, which Miss V usually absconds with and places on the head of her Chihuahua. Yes, BROKER’s entered the shoot-out our incumbent. Would TANQ come from behind with its subtle smoothness? Or would PINK 47 whip the bejesus out of it with its 47 percent alcohol? The shoot-out was BROKER’S to lose.

Straight up

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Third time around even more of our thimblefuls got ignored. Only the die-hards were really committed to doing this thing, which was all right, because data from a dozen tasters would have been really confusing to compile. There was concurrence, though: BROKER’S is dry and refined, hitting all the traditional notes without clouting you over the head. Compared to TANQUERAY, BROKER’S comes off a little cheeky; it has more personality. If it were animate, it would be the cleverest of the three, with TANQ chuffing in a belated and overcompensatory way at its witticisms, and PINK 47 laughing raunchily as the jokes sailed over its head. But of course gin is not animated (how foolish to think of an inanimate object as animate), so we’ll just say BROKER’S brings more to the table botanically than TANQ, and doesn’t show its underwear like PINK 47.

The Gin & Tonic

DSCN3876Only the most committed gin tasters enjoyed a G&T featuring each of the contenders. However, those three people (and one bear) more than made up for the reticence of our well-behaved guests. Usually I’d chart the results, but my head hurts too much, and a lot of the data has slipped away, parceled as it was with other data I deliberately flushed. Truth be told, we extended this Shoot-Out for many days after the official event, returning to the fridge like Scarybear when there’s a cake in it, cycling through all three brands repeatedly until we realized that BROKER’S was it. Classically traditional, a perfect booze-mixer balance, and an orchestra of superbly modulated botanical chords.

And the winner is…

Broker’s.

Sorry if that’s an anticlimax. But for those of you who persevered to the end of this post to see what my dad was up to… The praying mantis said I imagined the whole thing. Then it reminded me there was still gin in the fridge.

"Hey, wake up. I heard there's gin left over."

“Hey, wake up. I heard there’s gin left over.”

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