Bartenders Add Creativity (and More Liquor) to Summer Gin Drinks

by April 24, 2013 at 10:00 am 0

From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]

As the weather heats up, the season of gin is upon us. Who doesn’t enjoy a cold, refreshing gin and tonic while lounging poolside or watching a sunset on the back porch?

The herbal nature of gin is symbiotic with hot weather. All gins have juniper as a flavor base in their distillation, which is what provides the spirit’s distinctive herbal scent and flavor. Most brands also add in citrus and spice flavorings called “botanicals” — the mix of these flavorings is often closely held by each distiller as a trade secret. Because our sense of taste is connected almost exclusively to our sense of smell, and we smell botanicals more intensely in hot weather, gin is absolutely tailor-made for the warm weather months.

Gin and Hot Climates

And then you have the spirit’s historical connection to hot climes. The army of the British East India Company created the first gin and tonic when they discovered that gin was an effective masking agent for bitter flavor of quinine — the only effective anti-malaria drug they had access to as the empire expanded into tropical climates. Quinine was typically dissolved in carbonated water to create “tonic water,” which went down better with a shot of gin. Lucky for us, we get to enjoy the modern-day gin and tonic without worrying about a malarial fever.

As good as a regular old gin and tonic is, why not branch out this spring and summer into new territory? All too often, we default to ordering what is on the menu (or the list of rail drinks we became familiar with in our early drinking days) when our local bartenders — especially the talented ones we are lucky to have in Borderstan — are ready to show us their best work, if only asked.

First Stop: Masa 14


Anthony Marlowe at Masa 14. (Jane Alonso)

So one recent night, I set out in Borderstan to issue a “gin challenge” to local our bartenders. First stop: Masa 14‘s rooftop bar, where I asked bartender Anthony Marlowe to give me his most creative signature gin concoction. Marlowe, who used to be head mixologist at Againn on New York Avenue NW, enthusiastically accepted my challenge. He quickly whipped up a drink he has had in his repertoire for years called “Little Sister” — gin, St. Germain Liqueur, simple syrup, sour mix and a splash of citrus juice.

It was light and refreshing as I expected from a gin drink, but a bit more fruity (and less bitter) than a gin and tonic. The St. Germain adds a floral note that balances the herbal gin perfectly.

I enjoyed it so much I completely forgot to ask Anthony what type of gin he used (though I am sure it was top shelf)… which means I now have a good excuse to go back and ask. Ah, the sacrifices I make in the name of research for my Borderstan column…


Collie at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace with his cocktail “Last Word.” (Jane Alonso)

“Last Word” at Pearl Dive

Over at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, bartender Collie (he only goes by one name, like Madonna or Prince) mixed Plymouth gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and lime juice in a cocktail known as the “Last Word” — a prohibition-era cocktail originally developed at the Detroit Athletic Club and making a comeback in modern-day speakeasies.

What sets this drink apart is its use of the distinctive tasting Green Chartreuse, a French liqueur made by Carthusian Monks and composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbal extracts. The use of Green Chartreuse amplifies the herbal nature of the gin, creating a unique experience. The lime juice and liqueur accessorize it nicely with sweet and sour notes.

I also sampled a drink from Pearl Dive’s regular cocktail menu called the “Pearl Cup” (a play on Pimms Cup) with Plymouth gin, Pimms, Cucumber, lime juice, mint, and housemade ginger beer. The ginger beer made the drink very spicy and overwhelmed the other flavors, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Take the gin challenge with me this season!  Walk into your nearest Borderstan bar and ask your bartender to make you a creative gin cocktail. Then report back to us here at and tell us what you have found. No reason to keep these hidden neighborhood gems secret any longer…

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