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Is Gin the Best Replacement for Vodka in Cocktails?

I don't like vodka, but there are a few vodka cocktail recipes that sound good to me otherwise, and I'd like to try them using a different liquor. In general, do you think a gentler-tasting gin like Hendrick's (rather than one that's heavier on the juniper) is a good vodka replacement, or would it depend solely on the other ingredients?

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  1. What sort of cocktails sound appealing? Personally, I find that the fruit drinks usually made with vodka (Cape Cod, Madras, Bay Breeze, Sea Breeze, etc.) taste great with a decent tequila.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mojoeater

      Thanks, mojo. Since cranberry is common to all the drinks you mention, do you think that's what goes so well with the tequila? Because I'm not keen on cranberry myself. The two vodka-based drinks I'm most eager to try are fruity, though, as their names indicate: a Pear Tree (vodka, pear juice, cointreau and lemon juice) and a Red Apple (vodka, apple juice, lemon juice and granadine). I love tequila. Do you think these would work well with it?

      1. re: pollystyrene

        don't underestimate the effect a simple grappa in some cocktails that are balanced by a little sweetness and acid. however, i think a dry gin such as plymouth works better with the fruits as you aren't clashing with aromatics of a hendricks or a millers gin

        1. re: pollystyrene

          Tequila would probably overpower the pear juice, which has a very mellow flavor. All citrus seems to hold its own with tequila, though. I'd try the Red Apple with tequila any time.

          1. re: pollystyrene

            For fruity drinks like these, I'd reccommend using a white rum, or even a light golden rum, like 10 cane or Mt. Gay.

            1. re: pollystyrene

              I enjoy the combination of apple juice and bourbon (with maybe a splash of seltzer). I've also had a pear juice cocktail with bourbon.
              I think it would be worth a try in the drinks you mention. You may not need the cointreau/grenadine though, because bourbon brings its own sweetness to a drink.

          2. I think the answer is: it depends, though I'd say as a rule, gin is one of the more challenging replacement liquors for vodka you might choose in cocktails. The juniper-forward profile of most London Dry style gins can be tough to shoehorn into drinks that need the essential absence of flavor that vodka offers.

            A super-premium gin like Hendrick's, with its rose and cucumber notes and dialed-down juniper, is interesting but presents its own challenges. I like to use Plymouth gin, a non-London Dry style English gin that is quite mild, when I'm trying to fool my gin-averse friends -- who usually don't like juniper -- into liking gin. An Aviation cocktail made with Plymouth has eased a couple of my friends toward reconsidering their dislike of gin.

            For the two specific drinks you mention, my concern is the combination of apple or pear flavors with gin. The other flavors (tart lemon, sweet orange, sweet pomegranate) are pretty commonly combined with gin. Given those unusual fruit flavors, I might try a few things first besides gin: perhaps brandy, a light or amber rum, maybe a mild, light blended whiskey like Canadian rye. If you wanted more oomph, you might try them with bourbon or applejack.

            But experimentation is the surest (and most fun) way. When concocting new cocktails, I rarely use tequila or grappa, but there are plenty of cocktails I like whose recipes I considered unlikely: "I never would have thought of putting those things together." Let us know what you come up with!

            7 Replies
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Well, I can cross grappa off the list because I never acquired a taste for it; other than that, it looks like this conundrum calls for a whole lotta drinking! I love brandy, and since I use Labiette Castille armagnac in some of my favorite cocktails, I think I'll try that in the Pear Tree--that sounds like a winner to me.

              I'll be more experimental with the Red Apple, maybe doing a taste test with tequila, an amber rum and a Canadian Whiskey.

              Two questions for you:

              1) What would you recommend for an amber rum? Right now my bar only has dark (Myers's).

              2) I'm going to be trying another recipe that calls for Canadian Mist Whiskey. When I looked it up, it claims to be a corn and barley, not rye whiskey. I thought all Canadians were rye. Do you think the Canadian Mist would work well in the Red Apple?

              Thanks everyone for all your ideas. I'll let you know how I progress.

              1. re: pollystyrene

                Most Canadian rye wouldn't meet the US standard for rye whiskey (straight, i.e., unblended, and at least 51% rye in the mash bill); it can be made from any old grain, often contains very little rye, and in general has a very mellow, light character. Canadian Mist is a typical example: corn and malted barley, no rye grain, quite mild in flavor, nice in a highball with ginger ale or mixed iwth lemonade. It's exactly the kind of mixable whiskey I was suggesting for your Red Apple.

                (A few small Canadian producers are making rye that more closely resembles the Yankee stuff, which tends to have much more character and the distinctly sour note that rye lends).

                Among amber rums, I really like Appleton's Estate (Jamaica), Rhum Barbancourt (Haiti), and Mt. Gay Eclipse (Barbados), use them in lots of cocktails. They're pretty good values for quality rums, not so fancy you'd only want to sip them.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Perfect. I seem to have a rum consensus on the Red Apple. I appreciate the input on brands. I'll probably go with the Mt. Gay Eclipse since I recently saw it in my neighborhood store.

                  Of course, I'll do a side-by-side test with the Canadian Mist just as an excuse for another round. (I guess I got my facts reversed in thinking the distinction of Canadian whiskeys is that they're primarily made of rye. Wrong-o.)

                  Again, thanks, and I'll weigh in with results in a week or two. (I'll be busy with the Pear Tree and a blueberry one, the Spoilt Bison--which has the decency to call for gin, not vodka--this weekend.)

                  1. re: pollystyrene

                    on the apple front, calvados makes a great fall apple cocktail. makes sense don't it

                    1. re: bowmore36

                      On that theme, I conccted a drink that I call a "normanhattan" that is 2 oz. bourbon, 1 oz calvados, 1 oz. apple liquer, a dash of orange bitters, all combined, shaken over ice and served up in a cocktail glass with a thin wedge of granny smith apple notched to hang on the rim. It is delicious and very apple-y without being cloyingly sweet like the appletinis I've had the misfortune to taste. It's not actually sweet at all

                      1. re: chazzerking

                        Sounds lovely! What was the brand/type of apple liqueur you used?

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Liqueur de Pomme Du Pere Michel that wwe picked up in Normandy the year before last. It has an amazingly intense apple flavor.

            2. I used armagnac in the Pear Tree, which is like a Sidecar (different proportions) plus all natural pear juice. It was delicious. The pear juice adds just enough sweetness that no sugar rim is required. I don't feel it needs improvement, but the next time I'll test the armagnac version side-by-side with a rum version just for kicks.

              It sure is true that the type of gin you use makes a big difference in the taste of cocktails. Before this thread, I'd often been told that brand doesn't matter much in mixed drinks. Not true! I made what I call a Blue Bison (gin, unsweetened blueberry juice, chambord, lemon juice and sage), which is a variation on a Spoilt Bison. I made one with Hendrick's, the other with Plymouth. The Plymouth was an excellent choice, Slim. The Hendrick's was a bit cloying, but the one with the Plymouth was light and clean, especially for a berry drink. It's my new favorite cocktail, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes berries.

              I'm putting the Red Apple on hold to experiment with some cocktails with cherry liqueur first, but come fall, I'll be getting my apple on, and will let you know how it turns out.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pollystyrene

                The Cherry Sessions are over, and I finally had a chance to experiment with the Red Apple recipe. First I tried Plymouth gin to replace the vodka, which overpowered the apple juice. Then I tried Apple Jack, which was too heavy for it. Then I tried Mt. Gay amber rum, which was just right. Goldilocks thanks you for all the help.