Among American gin-lovers, Gin Mare is the stuff of urban legend.
The Spanish gin, made with arbequina olives, thyme, rosemary and basil, was a bracing, savory sip that lucky travelers might have encountered on a trip to Europe. Maybe (like me) you were in Madrid, enjoying it in a gin-tonic, noticing how the faint salinity paired so well with paper-thin slices of jamon. Compared to London dry gins, which play up brisk, pine-y juniper, this was more like a briny ocean breeze.
Yet unlike most tall, tapered gin bottles, the Gin Mare bottle is pyramid-shaped and weighty, not exactly ideal for packing. So maybe (like me) you thought, “I’ll just pick up a bottle when I get home”—only to find that it wasn’t available in the U.S. For years on end, it was “coming soon!” but soon never quite seemed to arrive.
“Soon” has arrived. Gin Mare (pronounced MAH-ray) quietly arrived in New York area stores about six months ago and continues to expand stateside. Bartenders are particularly delighted. Many claim that this is the only gin worth sipping neat.
“I can’t think of any other gin in history that I would want to drink straight-up,” declared Soraya Odishoo, head bartender at New York’s Nix, which carries exactly two gins: Beefeater and Gin Mare. “It’s a very botanical gin. It has thyme, basil and olive, which really bring out the medicinal qualities of gin in a way that I’d never tasted in any other gin.” At home, Odishoo keeps her bottle in the fridge (“It’s a spirit that needs to be cold”), then stirs the gin with ice and strains it into a chilled glass with a lemon twist.
“Classically, that’s a gin martini, no vermouth, served up with a lemon twist,” she admitted. At the restaurant, Gin Mare is more likely to be served in cocktail format, as in the Albion (Gin Mare, lemon juice, Averna amaro, housemade blackberry-juniper soda).
Meanwhile, at Whitechapel, a San Francisco bar with 400-plus gin bottlings, Ginoisseur (yes, that’s really her title) Keli Rivers also favors Gin Mare for sipping neat “because of the mouth-coating quality of the arbequina olives.”
Rivers was first introduced to Gin Mare two years ago at New Orleans cocktail conference Tales of the Cocktail, where London bar Nightjar hosted a pop-up bar that included bottles flown in just for the event.
“I was blown away by the amount of viscosity, body and savory notes—that it didn’t overwhelm all the other botanicals and citrus,” she recalled. Back in the Bay area, Rivers relied on contacts in Europe and Mexico to bring in the occasional bottle for the bar, or she would break out her own stash to pour. As she introduced patrons to the gin, predictably they would want more of the olive-spiked elixir.
“It was probably the most asked-for bottle that we didn’t have access to,” Rivers noted. Because it was so challenging to obtain, Whitechapel was forced to charge a premium $22 a pour. “Even with the heavy price hike, people still wanted it.”
She likens the appeal and demand to that for Hendrick’s Gin, circa 2008, when the gin with a then-novel cucumber and rose petal flavor profile began to take off in the U.S. The mouthwateringly savory style of Gin Mare is similarly distinctive and different from traditional London dry gins, Rivers theorizes.
It’s also helping to pave the way for a growing wave of gins with savory or umami notes, whether those come from olives, bell peppers, or even seaweed.
Rivers, too, prefers hers neat, although she’ll also recommend Gin Mare in a martini, whether that means 3 parts gin to 1 part Noilly Prat vermouth, or a more dramatic 5:1 ratio using Dolin Dry. It’s also the gin she breaks out at the very end of a tasting session.
“Are you ready for something out there?” is how she prefaces that final pour. “This will completely blow your mind.”
Savory Gins Bottle Buying Guide
Gin Mare (Spain, $40): Try this mouthwatering olive-infused sip in a minimalist Martini, adorned with little more than a plump Manzanilla olive. ginmare.com
Oakland Spirits Sea Gin (USA, $30): A briny gin made with foraged nori, bay sage, and lemongrass. oakland.ventures $30
Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin (Germany, $50): Made with a stunningly long list of botanicals—47, hence the name—the flavor profile is predictably complex, including a mushroom-like savory character. No, mushrooms are not part of the gin. monkey47.com
Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin (USA, $39): Made with black pepper, red bell pepper and pimento, this racy gin bridges spicy and savory notes.