Chatting With Gary Regan About ‘The Gin Compendium’, the Lady in the Glass & His Next Book


“Gin’s a spirit unto herself. She’s a loner. Gin can gnaw on the back of your neck till she nigh-on draws blood, and she can just as easily kiss you softly behind each ear, stroke the back of your shivering hand, and make you know that everything’s going to be okay. And it will, you know. It really will.” — Gaz Regan

You might know Gary Regan from his San Francisco Chronicle column on spirits and cocktails. Or you might know him as the thoughtful bearded face that stares out from a bottle of Regan’s Orange Bitters. And, if you are truly serious about drinking good drinks, you probably know him from his books The Joy of Mixology, The Bourbon Companion, and The Bartender’s Bible.

Regan’s latest book is the self-published The Bartender’s Gin Compendium, a comprehensive guide to everything one needs to know about the spirit once known as “mother’s ruin.” He tells how he came to write about lady gin, what kind of lady she is exactly, and just where he stands when it comes to the new labeling debate sweeping the gin world.

So, why gin?

I was going through my computer files a few years ago and noticed that I had a tremendous amount of information on gin. Gin was starting to become hot about three years ago with some of the new bottlings, like Hendricks and Aviation. And I love gin. So, I thought I’d better put together a book with all the information I had. Of course, that’s not what happened. It turned into a two-year research project on all the different types of gin.

How many different types of gin are there, anyway?

There are four types of gin. There’s London Dry, Plymouth, and now genever and Old Tom gin are back on the playing field.

What’s all this talk about a new gin category?

With all these new styles of gin (like Aviation and Martin Miller’s), the debate is “are they gin?” because some of them are nowhere near as juniper-forward as others. I don’t think it really matters. I’m very liberal about these things.

Take genever, for example. Dave Wondrich, in his book Imbibe!, pointed out how most gin cocktails of the early 19th century were actually made with genever. And then there’s Ransom gin from Oregon, made in the Old Tom style. It’s sweet… and is actually aged.

What are some of the new gin trends to look out for?

The way to move forward for today’s bartenders is to keep forging ahead with new methodologies. Like Eben Freeman, for example. He’s doing fat washing, which is the process used to make bacon vodka.

Don’t you think some of these mixologist types are going too far?

I have never seen anything that goes too far. I’ve seen things that don’t work, but in order to push the envelope, you have to keep forging ahead with new techniques. But, yes, sometimes, it’s just for the sake of trying it… like a [gimmick]. If it adds no flavor, then I’m not interested.

What else do you have coming up?

I’m working on a new book called The Bartenders’ Cocktail Compendium, which will be all about new methodologies being used. And I’m going on a book tour sponsored by Beefeater and Plymouth gins. We’ll be in New York, L.A., San Francisco, and Seattle.

What are some of your favorite bars in the city?

All the usual suspects. I like Pegu, Death & Company, Mayahuel, PDT, Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club. But I also love neighborhood Irish bars, like Mustang Sally on Seventh Avenue.

You often describe gin as a lady. What kind of girl is she?

She’s independent. She knows what she wants. Don’t mess with her. She’s tough, arrogant, and sexy.

If you could have one last gin cocktail for the rest of your life, what would it be?

An East Ender. Here, let me give you the recipe.

East Ender (adapted by Gary Regan)

3 oz dry gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
5 dashes Angostura bitters
1 flamed (optional) orange twist, as garnish

Combine the ingredients in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir briefly, and garnish.