I am captivated by gin. My lifelong love of old movies suggested the notion that a gin martini was sophistication in a glass. I love the shape of the vessel, the flakes of ice, the unmistakable smell and taste of juniper mixing with other botanical’s only guessed at. Gin is trending again, craft gins flooding the market and threatening the availability of my standbys (and favorites): Boodles, Plymouth, and Beefeater. The shelves in liquor stores are suddenly filled with gin–and why not? Gin is simply flavored vodka–but the results are far from simple and offer seemingly endless variation.


One of the best martini movies, The Thin Man, 1934

N& N

Nick & Nora Charles in The Thin Man

Despite it’s reputation in the 1930’s-40’s, gin has not always been associated with the witty and glamorous. The 30 year gin craze in England in the 1700’s overwhelmed London’s poor– leading to rampant depravity and ultimately the Gin Act in 1791. Gin was cheap, strong and readily available in gin palaces that popped up throughout the city. William Hogarth’s propaganda piece Gin Lane was mass reproduced and posted widely. Already a success for A Rake’s Progress (housed at the Soane Museum in London) Hogarth is an early example of visual storyteller, defining how we remember London and the “gin craze” even today.

Gin Lane, most reproductions would not be in color


Gin Lane next to another Hogarth: Beer Street showing his preference

“In Gin Lane,” Hogarth said, “every circumstance of [gin’s] horrid effects is brought to view…Idleness, poverty, misery, and distress — which drives even to madness and death — are the only objects that are to be seen, and not a house in tolerable condition, but the pawnbroker’s and gin-shop.” The Gin Palaces were also known for utilizing gas light. Vulgar and popular, Charles Dickens described them as “perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left…”.

Men, women, and children–& a barrel of “old Tom”


Victorian gin palace


Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught, Makes human Race a Prey. It enters by a deadly Draught And steals our Life away. –Rev James Townley, 1751

Reform helped gin, refining the taste and production methods and starting it’s gradual social assent into high society. “Gin palaces” became a name synonymous with ornate Victorian pubs of a certain style–particularity in the Holborn area of London. One Fabulous example is the Princess Louise.


A view of the bar


Hallway and the floor in the bathroom


Mosaic floor from

Gin was originally produced as a medicine and sold in chemist shops to treat various minor aliments. To make it more palatable, it started being flavored with medicinal juniper, what then became an essential botanical. Each herbal flavoring seems to blossom when it meets the blank canvas that is neutral spirits, and after some research I decided I wanted to try my hand making some of my own.

Two fun books

I wanted to keep a traditional flavors of gin but also wanted it to feel local and unique–touched by the flavors of where I live. There a staggering number of choices and combinations I went through before I settled on these 13. The nods to the hill country come by way of Lavender & Chilis.

Citrus, Saffron, Curry Leaf, Grains of Paradise, Nutmeg, Lavender, Cardamon, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Chile Pepper, Fennel, & Juniper Berry…

I know that distillation is the preferred method of producing gin, but I decided that I might blow up my kitchen–it requires an attention to detail that I am pretty sure I lack. I decided to go for the easiest method–compounding–which is just an infused neutral spirit.


The color was in large part due to the saffron


Taking notes and waiting…


Fermented okra pickles with custom botanical’s to compliment the gin


My custom compound gin

It is hard for me to know definitively if it really was as good as those of us who sampled it that first tasting night thought it was–after all gin is a spirit that softens the edges of memory–but it seemed special. Something about being engaged with the process made the drinking ritual that much more rewarding. I have made several batches since that first, and even though I followed my notes everyone says that first batch was the best. Whatever guise the Gin spirit meets me with, I stay intrigued and hope I will for many years to come–even after this new “gin craze” dies down as things do.