A friend and I had just settled in to the bar at Simone on Sunset, a new wine and cocktail bar in Rice Village, when she commenced her preaching on the subject of gin.
"I consider myself a gin missionary," she said.
"A ginvangelist?" I punned back.
"Yes," she declared. "A ginvangelist!" She continued: "And I've tried nearly every gin in the world, but nothing compares to Ransom."
I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but I shortly received an education from my friend -- as well as from Simone's genial owner, Kristen Powell -- on the topic of barrel-aged gin. Ransom Old Tom is such a gin, out of Oregon, that more closely approximates what a gin would have tasted like in the 19th century. Appropriate for this whole classic cocktail movement, no?
My friend ordered a cocktail with the Ransom in it, as well as two small glasses to try for a side-by-side comparison: one with Hendrick's, which is a classic example of London dry gin, and one with Ransom. The barrel-aged Ransom is an example of Old Tom gin, gin that's brown in color and slightly sweet instead of decidedly juniper-forward, but it's the London dry that's more popular these days.
One sip of the Hendrick's, which has never appealed to me (I'm a Tanqueray fan), tasted like lightly juniper-flavored vodka. Which is to say, not good. But one sip of the Ransom and it was a rush of different flavors that culminated in me sputtering: "It tastes like whiskey-gin!" Which is to say, very good.
The Ransom had a slight oakiness to it that manifested more as smoke and vanilla than anything else, subtly enhancing the fresh taste of the base spirit with a very soft, mature undertone. And as if vanilla wasn't enough, the bold warmth of cardamom came charging through as well. It was like slipping into a pair of beautiful, very expensive calf's leather shoes.
In the cocktail, a Horse's Neck (also known as a Kentucky Gentleman), the Ransom was combined with a bright twist of lemon that teased out the citrus undertones in the gin -- yes, they're certainly there -- and ginger ale that gave it a slight bite. The drink made all memories of gin and tonics past seem like the schmaltzy Amaretto Sunrises I blithely enjoyed in college.
Simone is one of the few bars in town to stock Ransom if you'd like to perform your own taste test at your leisure. You can also find it at other classic cocktail-oriented places such as Anvil Bar & Refuge, Haven and Grand Prize Bar. And, of course, you can grab your own bottle at Spec's for just a hair under $35.
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