Photograph by Nigel Cox
Gin is rediscovering its roots, and it's about time. Three forgotten species—sloe gin, genever, and Old Tom—have returned to compete with those tricked-out boutique inventions, not to mention your standard Beefeater and Tanqueray. Are these old-timers worth getting to know? If you've ever downed a Tom Collins or martini, consider yourself indebted: Those classics are the grandchildren of this long-lost stuff. Just promise never to mix a sloe-gin martini. Rob Willey
PLYMOUTH SLOE GIN ($35)
What It Is: Long coveted by bartenders in the know, this sweet, gin-based English liqueur—unchanged since 1883—gets its intense color from sloe berries, which taste like tart plums. Unlike those cloying American impostors, Plymouth's version (available in the United States for the first time) is the real deal.
Where to Drink It: Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts, uses it in a soothing concoction called the Saloon Man's Sour (along with spiced rum, maple syrup, lime juice, and bitters). (853 Main Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 617-497-5511)
What to Make Yourself: A sloe gin fizz (1), which tastes like a cherry snow cone
*2 oz Plymouth sloe gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 tsp superfine sugar
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the sloe gin, lemon juice, and sugar. Shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled small highball glass and top with seltzer. For a less-sweet version, cut the sloe gin in half and add an ounce of London dry gin.
HAYMAN'S OLD TOM GIN ($25)
What It Is: An intensely aromatic, lightly sweetened liquor with minimal bite, this onetime bar staple was essential to many great drinks in the late 19th century, including the Ramos gin fizz.
Where to Drink It: Hold out for a seat at the bar at Death & Co. in Manhattan, then marvel as the bartender mixes you a European Union, an improbable blend of gin, Calvados, sweet vermouth, Strega (an herbal liqueur), and cinnamon-spiked bitters. (433 East 6th Street, New York, 212-388-0882)
What to Make Yourself: A Martinez (2), a spicy blend of gin, sweet vermouth, bitters, and Maraschino liqueur
*1½ oz Hayman's Old Tom gin
1½ oz sweet vermouth
¼ oz Maraschino liqueur (preferably Luxardo)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Fill a pint glass with ice. Add the gin, vermouth, Maraschino, and bitters, and stir briskly until chilled. Strain into a cold cocktail glass, then squeeze the lemon twist over the glass and place it on top.
BOLS GENEVER ($39)
What It Is: This malty spirit from Holland was popular in America before London dry gin muscled in. It tastes like a hybrid of gin and whiskey. There are other options, but Bols is the one you've been waiting for.
Where to Drink It: Of the four genever cocktails at nopa in San Francisco, start with the Blond Disguise, a riff on a John Collins made with limoncello, orange bitters, and Cava. (560 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, 415-864-8643)
What to Make Yourself: A Hollands old-fashioned (3), a spin on the whiskey classic
*1 sugar cube (preferably raw)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
¼ oz Grand Marnier
2 oz Bols genever
Muddle the sugar cube, bitters, and Grand Marnier in a rocks glass until the sugar dissolves. Add the genever and two or three large ice cubes, squeeze the lemon twist over the glass, drop it in, and stir well. Let the cocktail sit a minute before drinking.