One hazy morning at the bleary-eyed hour of 9 a.m., Simon Ford and Jason Kosmas gathered in the dark basement of Macao Trading Company in New York City to brainstorm ideas for a new style of gin.
At the time, the most popular gin brand on the market was probably Hendrick’s, a spirit infused with rose and cucumber. Ford and Kosmas, both renowned bartenders who had decided to co-found their own upstart liquor label, the 86 Co., were trying to guess which flavor might be the next big thing. “Is it bergamot? Is it Earl Gray? Is it quinine?” recalls Kosmas. “Simon was hungover, and he was like, ‘I know what it is! The next new thing for gin is juniper!'”
It sounds funny, this notion that the most fashion-forward gin flavor would also be the most traditional, but the partners eventually agreed that a juniper-focused gin was the way to go. They also wanted to develop a very well-rounded spirit — a “jack-of-all-trades gin,” as Ford puts it — that could work in a whole array of cocktails.
To design something so versatile, Ford next pulled out a notepad. He jotted down all the classic gin cocktails and broke them down by their flavor profiles. Then he paired these flavors with the many popular botanicals found in gin. “If you take juniper as an ingredient and look at it in a pairing book, lemon goes with juniper, right? Olive goes with juniper. It’s not a coincidence that this is the garnish on a martini,” says Ford. “We started doing that for all botanicals and looking at all the different drinks…. We were creating this flavor map.”
When we caught up with our erstwhile cocktail columnist earlier this summer during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans — an event for which the charismatic Ford dutifully served as keynote moderator and host of the industry’s annual Spirited Awards — we asked him to show us this flavor map. Ford mentioned that he had not shown it to anyone in the press, but he agreed to share it with us.
The flavor map offers a rare look into the inner workings of how a spirit gets made. Consider it the blueprint for what eventually became Ford’s Gin, first released in 2012. Even after identifying all the components, the formula was not quite complete, the partners add; they also decided to steep the botanicals for 15 hours to help extract their oils in the hopes of creating a more full-bodied spirit.
Ultimately, the partners, along with distinguished London distiller Charles Maxwell, went on to develop an aromatic 90-proof juniper-forward gin that also offered notes of citrus, sweet spices and florals for more balance and complexity.
“My two favorite gins before Ford’s were Tanqueray and Plymouth,” says Ford. “Plymouth makes such a great martini gin because of its roundedness and its inclusion of Angelica root, which gives it that kind of palette. And Tanqueray is such a great gin-and-tonic gin, and also great in fizzes, because of all of that juniper and that spiciness and the coriander…I think this is a hybrid between the two, and it kind of satisfies both needs.”
And so what started out as an exercise in developing a very contemporary style of gin that covers all the bases essentially ended up with something quite classical.
“The endpoint wasn’t innovative,” Ford admits. “It’s just a good, solid gin.”