Why gin is better than vodka

Gin has fallen on hard times. I’m not cosmopolitan enough to speak for the rest of the world, but I know that here in America over the course of the last 50 years, vodka has slowly edged it out as the clear liquor of choice. Martinis are made with vodka, there are vodka Collinses, and I swear the other day I heard someone order a vodka and tonic. (Now that is just stupid, unless you really like the taste of quinine.)

The vodka row at my local liquor store is twice as large as the gin row, and I see five people indiscriminately grasp a vodka bottle for every careful connoisseur who selects from the nobler receptacles next door. There seems to be a perception in some circles that gin is old-fashioned and no longer relevant; that Dutch Courage has been eclipsed by its slickly packaged Russian cousin.

It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, the sensitive, alcoholic reader, to help reverse this unfortunate trend. Help me help you drink gin.

These days all anyone ever talks about is how smooth vodka is, how well it mixes with anything. Well, of course it does—it has no flavor! What’s it made from, neutral grain spirits? Oh, that sounds exciting. Potatoes? I’m from the Midwest; I’ve had enough potatoes to last me the rest of my life, thank you. You might as well use the fact that it’s made from water as its selling point. Wait, did I say no flavor? My bad. On the contrary, flavored vodkas are ubiquitous nowadays. I can’t walk into a liquor store without being assaulted by the sight of a pyramid of those annoying Absolut bottles. Supposedly, flavored rums are coming up next. What’s the deal? If you want to make a drink with flavor, you’re supposed to put it there yourself. Flavored vodkas are to frat boys what Zima is to cheerleaders.

One paragraph of background should be enough to make you realize that gin is much cooler than vodka. Gin was invented as a medicine by a Dutch doctor in 1650, who combined juniper berries and alcohol to create what he intended to be a highly potent diuretic (a medicine that makes you pee). It really got big in England in the 18th century, at which time it was cheaper than beer, and things began to get out of hand. In fact, the English government had to enact some laws to regulate it because gin rummies were running rampant in the streets, and women were leaving their children and husbands for the stuff. Comparisons have been made between the hardcore gin addicts of that time and crackheads today.

The most enduringly popular gin drink today, the gin and tonic, was also in a sense a medical accident. In English colonies in the 1800s, quinine was administered as a protection against malaria, then a disease of plague proportions. But quinine, even diluted in tonic water, tastes awful, so they added gin to mask the flavor. This helped keep the English colonists malaria-free and feeling no pain, and a classic cocktail was born.

You know something tastes bad when you add gin to it to improve its taste. Even a ginsoak like me must admit it doesn’t exactly go down easy. It smells like pine needles and tastes like perfume. Cheap gin is especially noxious-it’s definitely a liquor you don’t want to skimp on.

Still, I’ll take an obnoxious flavor like gin over the eerie tastelessness of vodka. When you take a sip of a gin martini (the original martini, by the way), you know you’re drinking alcohol. Ain’t no subtlety about it. All I can say is that if gin tastes like perfume, I’ve acquired a taste for drinking perfume.

In terms of ingredients and the process by which it’s made, gin is classier than its popular rival. Besides juniper, its list of botanicals can include lemon peel, coriander seeds, cassia bark, almond, Cubeb berries, licorice, Orris root, pine, angelica, Seville oranges, cucumber and rose petals. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Simply put, gin is a more tasteful (in both senses of the word) spirit than vodka, which despite its respectable medieval origins has become so over-marketed and degraded as to have lost its allure. Gin comes in prettier bottles. It’s a gentleman’s drink. (But don’t let that stop you!) It doesn’t deserve to play second fiddle to Smirnoff’s and Stoli’s. The time to act is now. Don’t be a cheerleader. Drink gin!