Gin is a clear, neutral tasting alcohol. It's only after aromatic botanicals are added that the liquor becomes fully itself: a distinctive pine-scented, spicy, citrus and floral concoction. All gins get an infusion of flavor from juniper berries, coriander seeds and citrus peel, but the better varieties likely contain other ingredients too, like the roots or seeds of the herb angelica, ground almonds, cardamom pods, cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, root licorice, nutmeg seeds or orris root, which is the bulb of an iris plant.
Order a Gin Neat
If you're new to gin, get to know the liquor by trying types that say "distilled" on the label. As opposed to compound gins that infuse juniper and other ingredients into the gin, distilled gins use the herbs and seeds in the actual distillation process, giving the spirit more flavor. Gins come in different styles, too. You might like the earthy taste of Plymouth gin, the mild sweetness of Old Tom or gins that feature one botanical over another.
Experiment With Air and Temperature
David T. Smith, author of The Craft of Gin, suggests tasting gin after you've let the bottle sit in the freezer for a day, to enjoy a thicker texture at first and then to taste the flavor come out as the liquor warms up. Keli Rivers, a gin connoisseur from the Whitechapel gin bar in San Francisco, recommends aerating gin and sipping it slowly to note changes in flavor every 10 minutes.
Have a Classic Cocktail
Who doesn't love a cocktail? Begin with the classics and spread your wings from there. Traditional martinis contain both gin and vermouth, topped with a green olive or lemon twist, but modern versions may be flavored with cucumbers, sweet melons or pomegranates. The Negroni features gin, vermouth and Campari, a bright red, sweet and herb-flavored bitter. And a Gimlet mixes gin with either sweet lime cordial or fresh lime juice.
Go With an Easy Mixer
You can't go wrong with a refreshing and classic gin and tonic, a mix of 2 ounces of gin and 3 or 4 ounces of ice-cold tonic water. Different tonic waters have different flavor profiles, so experiment with brands until you find one you like. And, if sweetness is your thing, try pairing gin with cola or with any fruit soda.
Follow an Expert's Tips
The brand ambassador for Bombay Sapphire, Sam Carter, advocates buying gin at whatever price point it takes for you to indulge, but buying the best tonic you can, such as Fever-Tree. He argues that supermarket brands of compound gins may not be the most flavorful, but that they work perfectly well. Carter also recommends that if the bitterness of tonic puts you off, try ginger ale as a mixer instead. And, he cautions against buying a large bottle of tonic water that will go flat before you have a chance to use it all.