Drinking Gin: A guide to the secret art



This year marks the 10th anniversary of a thing I once wrote about whiskey, now preserved in the primitive amber of its original platform, Livejournal. It was borne of the sort of grimy, alcohol-soaked nights you only get in your mid-20s, when the rage and misery of really seeing the world in all its full, naked bastardry keep you up drinking Jack Daniels, alone and seething, until the light takes you.

The reward for survival, for emerging alive from the fire of those nights, are certain sacred truths known only to the initiated.

A decade later, times are different. It is the cursed year 2018, everyone is on the fucking Internet, and I will soon be closer to 40 than 30. As I write, a tiny golden-headed creature with his mother’s Joker smile slumbers fitfully in the next room.

In your 20s, if you live righteously and right, you drink the type of whiskey that tastes like rock n’ roll and burns like gasoline1 — and in amounts that, to paraphrase warrior poet GG Allin, make your soul as strong as possible for whatever comes next. By your 30s, however, whiskey becomes the concern of soft man-boys who drink vanishingly small amounts of offensively expensive bourbon2 and believe — despite all the evidence — that within them lies the next Hemingway, or at least the next Faulkner.

Ten years burned into ash, taken by the wind. The time for whiskey is over. With a flip of the cards, the Fool is become the Magician. That which does not kill you makes you stronger.

When you have strong enough, another spirit awaits.


“They gave me some cursed stuff they called gin — such blasphemy I never heard ... This was the unchristianest, beastliest liquor I ever tasted.” — Edward John Trelawny, “Adventures of a Younger Son”

Drinking Gin: A guide to the secret art

Part 1: When To Drink Gin

Gin is what you drink when you're a decade past the age at which they all swore you'd be dead.

But here you are, live as gunfire, and still up to the same weird shit everyone said would be death of you. The whole world has gotten a bad back and extra chins and begun slouching towards the simpering mortality of the recliner, but not you. While your erstwhile peers have grown plump and soft and slow, age has somehow only made you leaner, stronger, more dangerous — like an old prize fighter, or rock’s elder gods.3 Yours is not the dewy glow of youth, vanishing in the heat of the sun; it is the hard-edged, sinewy vitality of someone who survived, and intends to keep on doing so, possibly forever.

You have walked alone through dark streets, and become the fear against which they lock their doors at night. You have dared journey to parts of the map marked “here be monsters,” and discovered that the monster is you.

Now, my friend, is the time for gin.

This is not a specific age, not in the corporeal sense. Gin chooses you when you are ready. Snoop penned "Gin and Juice" at 22; Merle sang "Misery and Gin" at 43. But unless you are worthy, gin will turn to diesel fuel and Pinesol on your tongue.

Gin is for those inscrutable bastards who turn the wheels of the universe, who do the impossible with such ease it stirs hate in weaker hearts. When the rumors are false but all the legends are true, you are ready for gin. It is the drink of mad geniuses, OGs, bootleggers, sorcerers, secret agents, revolutionaries, and every outlaw who never, ever got caught.

Gin is life’s reward for stealing fire from the gods.

Part 2: Choosing a Gin

Most popular alcohols are defined by their primary ingredients, and the process by which they are fermented and distilled. Rum is made from sugarcane; wine is made from grapes. Scotch is made from malted barley, aged in oak barrels, and hand-distilled by a gentle man named Hamish who owns an immaculate collection of every Tiger Beat to ever feature the Bay City Rollers.

Gin rejects such absolutism. Rhetorically speaking, gin is any neutral spirit flavored with juniper and other botanicals; in practice, gin is what happens when you take a witch’s potion for immortality and mix it with white lightning.

While other liquors are made according to a strict recipe, gin is what happens when you read a grimoire and then improvise. The only real requirements for gin are that it be nominally clear, at least 80 proof, and smell pleasantly like the ancient evergreen forest where men disappear every winter, never to be found. Much foul calumny has been leveled at gin, chiefly that it tastes like a Christmas tree on fire; while this is the blasphemy of unworthy men, it contains a whisper of truth — juniper.4 It is juniper that gives gin its green, woodsy heart.

One of gin's secret charms is this: Even to the discerning palate, there are few truly bad gins. A $10 bottle can be as good or better than a $50 bottle. While many taxonomies exist to describe gin, it is best understood according to three categories5: London dry gin, fancy gin, and Ol’ Bumpy.

  • London dry gin is, as the name implies, quintessentially British in character. Refined, sophisticated, and a little boring, London Dry Gin is an attempt to impose order and pointlessly strict standards of decorum on a fundamentally chaotic enterprise. Gin got its start in the lawless back alleys of London, as a spirit so sinister and anarchic that the very word “gin” itself became a slur; 300 years later, London dry gin is the favored drink of the Queen, the Illuminati, and other high-ranking lizard people.

  • Fancy gin embraces gin’s ungovernable spirit, but at a price. These gins range from high-proof Navy Strength and the charmingly old-fashioned Old Tom, to styles that incorporate fresh, eclectic flavors like cucumber and rose. These gins are largely delicious and best enjoyed looted, or after the revolution comes; at present, most of them are god-awful fucking expensive.

  • Ol’ Bumpy, classic spirit of old gangsters and friend of the working man. If you like gin, drink like you mean business, and aren’t a high-ranking lizard, Seagrams Extra Dry is probably your go-to hooch. It is cheap, eminently drinkable, comes in homewreckers, and the bottle can be identified by feel.

Gin: A taxonomy.

Gin: A taxonomy.


Part 3: How to Drink Gin

Drunks get drunk. They consume alcohol for the ultimate purpose of inebriation. This is a perfectly respectable pastime with a rich heritage and history, and has produced many fine poets and unwanted children.

Gin is not for drunks, however. Gin is for drinkers, a vital distinction. Drinkers do not rush headlong into the sweet, boozy embrace of oblivion; rather, theirs is the pursuit of enlightenment through discipline. Drinkers understand that the world is best mastered at a steady 0.12% BAC, and the mantra through which transcendence is achieved is gin.

If you’re not a cutesy asshole or an amateur, the phrase “day drinking” is a tautology. The reason gin drinks are immortalized as the “Breakfast of Champions” and a legendary three-course lunch is that history is famously written by the type of people who enjoy gin.

Gin rewards those who seek after knowledge — most crucially, how to mix a drink. The alchemical process whereby gin becomes enlightenment is the cocktail.

All good gin cocktails, no matter how elegant in their simplicity, have real names.6 The martini, the gimlet, the rickey — honorifics that evoke the patina of history. Lesser liquor is for lesser drinks, mere lists of ingredients. Anyone can make a rum and coke. Most competent barkeeps know how to mix a whiskey sour. But only a real drinker possesses the knowledge and skill to construct a Corpse Reviver No. 2.

The very best gin drinks, however, have no names at all, and the precise ingredients are closely-guarded secrets known only to their creators. Full initiation into gin’s mystery cult requires that you successfully mix a delicious drink of your own invention from whatever ingredients — be they vegetable, animal or mineral — are available on the fly. You are a being of mystery and danger; you don’t need a liquor cabinet or even a roof to make a drink, you need a bottle of Beefeater’s, a handful of snow, and a few wild purple berries which may or may not kill you.

COMING SOON — Part 4: Writing your manifesto, staring down your chickenshit boss, dark magic to bring about the apocalypse, and other ideal activities for drinking gin


1. Please note that this does not include any type of cinnamon whiskey, a libation for people who believe Canadian whiskey is too dignified.

2. Never trust anyone who calls whiskey “bourbon.” These are people who drive trucks with clean tires and call the cops about loud barbecues.

3. “A gin fizz ... that was all I really wanted.” — Iggy Pop

4. Like Wu-Tang, juniper is for the children. If you drink enough gin, the scent of fresh-cut Christmas trees will forever evoke for your child the warm glow of parental love and the taste of mother’s milk.

5. There is also sloe gin, a cautionary tale for our cursed age. Once upon a time, sloe gin was for old Southern belles and the sort of drinks best categorized as “double entendres.” Unfortunately, ever since Jack White convinced Loretta Lynn to sing “Portland, Oregon,” the sloe gin fizz has become the official drink of noxious hipsters of the Nashville persuasion, the type who wear $100 button-downs and play the mandolin.

6. The obvious exception to this rule is the ever-popular G&T, second only to the martini on the list of cocktails ordered by unfit souls who have heard about gin but don’t know how to drink it, and by seasoned gin drinkers who don’t trust their bartender to make anything better. If you’re mixing yourself a cocktail, you can and should do better than this. Tonic water is basically Faygo for curing malaria. Put that shit away.


I’m tickled and more than a little shocked to see that so many folks have already read this ridiculous thing, which I wrote over the course of a few late, drunken nights and the published to this as-of-yet mostly-unused website as a way to celebrate my own birthday. So, hello, and thanks for reading? I have no goddamn idea how you got here.

My birthday resolution is to write more real things, instead of wasting my exquisite genius sculpting mean little non sequiturs on social media. So, theoretically, you can find more of my sexy garbage on SwampKingdom.com in the future.

If you’re not into routinely visiting an erratically-updated website in hope that they have published new shit, you can find out about new content from Swamp Kingdom on Facebook.

Sage MerrittComment