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Gin: Boldness from Berries
Every alcohol has its own unique character and story. Gin up some discussion of a classic spirit with Groupon’s exploration of gin.
The 1823 edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language defined gin as “the spirit drawn from juniper.” That’s not quite right—like most other popular spirits, gin is distilled from grain—but it’s an understandable mistake. The juniper berry (really a tiny cone) is responsible for both gin’s potent pine flavor and for its name, a truncation of the Dutch word jenever. To make most gin varieties, distilleries steep juniper and an often-secret blend of other botanicals such as coriander, citrus peel, cardamom, and angelica root in clear, neutral alcohol for as little as 24 hours. It’s then ready to be bottled; unlike brandy and whiskey, gin does not age.
From there, gin becomes the base for some of the world’s best-loved cocktails. The gin and tonic originated as a palatable delivery system for the bitter quinine that sailors and other equatorial travelers took to prevent malaria. There’s also the classic martini—gin, dry vermouth, an olive—and the summery tom collins, made with a little sugar and half an ounce of lemon juice.
These easy-to-mix drinks are all simple enough to let the spirit’s fragrant, herbal qualities shine through, but in past centuries that may not have been desirable. Eighteenth-century English distillers notoriously reached for competitive advantages by infusing their gin with inexpensive clarifying agents such as turpentine, alum, and sulfuric acid.