LIQUOR WRITERS ANNOUNCE a “gin renaissance,” oh, about every other month. But here in the Northwest, we’re way ahead of them. Not only do have some of the best gin bars—both classic and iconoclastic—anywhere in the country, but we’ve pioneered a new small-batch movement: sophisticated, original blends that are a far cry from the rotgut our ancestors cooked up in Pioneer Square bathtubs. In other words, Seattle, put down that Grey Goose on the rocks. It’s time to reconsider gin.
Like vodka, gin starts life as a clear alcohol, but is then distilled again with a blend of botanicals. These always include juniper berries and coriander, and often include clove, lemon, cardamom, and cassia bark. Hendrick’s, for example, uses cucumber and rose hips, while Spokane’s Dry Fly adds hops. Every brand has its own proprietary blend, but London dry gins—Beefeaters, Bombay, Tanqueray—are what the world pours into martinis.
Northwest distilleries want to change that by redefining the genre with a host of original ingredients like ginger and raw almonds. Sun Liquor, a kitschy-cool cocktail bar on Capitol Hill, is the place to try the new booze. “We have some of the best alcohol in the world in the Northwest,” says food and beverage director Erik Chapman. His favorite is Aviation, from Portland (there are currently five craft distilleries in Oregon), which he pours into many of the mixers on the bar’s menu. Junipero, a small-batch gin from San Francisco, is his choice for the bar’s Negroni, an Italian aperitif. Currently, Dry Fly is the only Washington gin currently for sale, but Voyager, a new blend from Woodinville’s Pacific Distillery, will hit the market this fall.
Locaboozers love that the new gins are made nearby, but everyone enjoys the occasional old-school martini, and Oliver’s, that swanky throwback in the Mayflower Park Hotel, makes the best one in town. Steve Johannson, the man behind the bar’s “Classic” martini—eight-time first-place winner in the annual Martini Classic Challenge—uses Bombay Sapphire, but says the aromatic aftertaste comes from Oliver’s olives, which are soaked for a week in vermouth before serving.
Chapman, meanwhile, encourages gin drinkers to keep mixing it up. “If you want a traditional martini, get a dry London gin with an olive,” he says. “But if you want to be different, get a Junipero martini with a lemon twist. And if you want to be awesome, get gin in a cocktail.”