Spirited away

Yesterday I had the local liquor store — a florescent-splashed airplane hangar thronged with miles and miles of bottles — deliver some goodies to the house. One, because I’m lazy. And two, because I’m lazy. 

But really, the Amazonian efficiency of having port dropped on your porch or Stella on your steps is unbeatable. I’m all in my sweats and sockies and here’s Delivery Don, waving as he heads back to his van, leaving me a box of hooch that will make these polar evenings that much toastier. 

This was a Christmas score, because I was lucky enough to receive a $100 gift card for said booze emporium. So I splurged, spent the whole thing in one big gulp, all on gin. As a gin dilettante, I generally sip the low-shelf stuff at home and order a suave tipple like Hendrick’s, The Botanist or the mighty Monkey 47 at cocktail bars. 

With the gift card, I was going to kick it up a bit. I wanted to get three gins that I’d never tried before. Obviously they couldn’t be too pricey — I would have loved to get some Monkey 47, but a small bottle runs $75 — yet they could still be good, even exotic.

I poked around the web doing due research and soon found a trio of intriguing options. The first to hook me was the hot new Sông Cái, a dry Vietnamese gin “crafted from wild, hand-foraged mountain botanicals” that boasts a pleasant herbal burn and a strong cinnamon finish. For a gin and tonic, my go-to, the distillery suggests adding a pinch of salt. I did and it was deliciously alien and inarguably apt. A winner. (Check out Sông Cái.)

Second was on the gimmicky side, the Dorothy Parker New York Gin, distilled in Brooklyn and, yes, a tribute to the legendary wag, wit, writer and imbiber, who I happen to adore. You’d expect bite, pungency — Parker was the epitome of acid-tongued — but the drink exerts an old-fashioned smoothness. Botanicals are juniper, orange, lemon, grapefruit, cardamom, cinnamon, elderberry and dried hibiscus petals. It’s gently complex, richly satisfying. (And just under $30.)

Then there’s the elegant French gin Citadelle — Jardin d’Été, a strong, zesty bracer infused with melon, lemon, yuzu and orange, like a fruit garden, hence the name. Fancied as a fair-weather drink, it works anytime of the year, like now, in the shivery gloom, because it’s so refreshing yet muscular, especially if you add your own fruit garnishes. It rattles the icicles right off. 

While I’m a wine and whiskey guy, gin’s my main sin. I don’t know when I became so partial to the 500-year-old spirit (while watching too many “Thin Man” movies?), but I find it sophisticated, beguilingly herbal and neatly versatile. Though no martini fan, I will drink the more fragrant, flavorful gins sans mixer, on the rocks. Monkey 47 is good like that. So is the underrated Brockmans, an affordable dram singing with lively grape notes. 

It’s nice to splurge now and then on a top-shelf gin, say, Kinobi, or Monkey 47. But really, 30 bucks should get you an excellent bottle, and the selection in that range is huge. Shop around, do some homework. Better liquor stores have informative websites, with write-ups, reviews and trusty staff picks. One of my favorites is Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan. Take your time. Ask questions. Purchase. Pour. Go nuts.