Gin up! 

Mandarin Hide takes tipplers on a tour of gin’s past and present.

At the sold-out gin master class at downtown St. Petersburg’s Mandarin Hide Tuesday evening, gin lovers and mixology thrill-seekers trickle in through an over-sized wooden door, turning the quiet, self-proclaimed mixology lodge into a noisy social sanctuary.

Mandarin Hide’s Jon Harrell, the evening’s host, fixes his black tie and begins shuffling through bottles of gin. Guests sip their French 75, a punch created from gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and champagne.

Jumping head first into history, Harrell explains that alcohol and juniper were first distilled in 1650 by Holland’s Franciscus De La Boe as an inexpensive form of medicine.

Not much has changed.

Guests listen wide-eyed, awaiting the first gin: Bol’s Genever, established in 1820 in Holland. Considered the spirit of choice by early 20th-century American bartenders, the drink has a malty aroma and a rich, smooth taste. Chase that with a shot of beer, and you have what they call a Kopstoot.

Next up is Nolet’s. Established in 1995 in the Netherlands, it’s the most expensive of the bunch at about $43 a bottle. A modern-style gin infused with Turkish rose, peach and raspberry, Nolet’s is full-bodied and sweet. A key ingredient in the “Original Martini” and a perfect segue into Harrell’s “A martini is like a woman’s breasts…” joke, Nolet’s proves to be the favorite of the night among the master-class gin-heads.

Rep and Simone DeLoach, residents of St. Petersburg for 12 years, take out a piece of paper and place it on the bar. On it are all the gins they have in their bar at home, separated by age, type, flavor and distilling process.

“This is a gin family tree,” says Simone, sliding the paper across the bar. “We have a bar at home, and don’t seem to have Nolet’s. That will have to change.”

Time for the two Tanquerays. The original Tanqueray, established in 1830, and the Tangueray No. 10, established in 2000, have equal amounts of backbone, with varying palate-pleasing flavors. The crisp and clean taste of Tanqueray is a shot of juniper to the face, while the No. 10 offers a strong balance of citrus peel and juices.

Mixologist Jason Fackler, Mandarin Hide’s general manager, tries a bit of crowd control in between mixing drinks, as the gin sinks in and the drunken chatter escalates.

“Hey, everyone! Do you mind keeping it down just a little?” says Fackler apologetically. “It’s getting hard to hear Jon.”

Hendrick’s gets pulled from the shelf. Established in 1999, it’s a blend of juniper, coriander, citrus peel, Bulgarian rose, and cucumber, and is the main ingredient in the evening’s best drink: the Cucumber Gimlet. Hendrick’s gin, lime juice, simple syrup, and three slices of cucumber make for the most taste bud-pleasing of summertime drinks, even three days after the beginning of autumn.

It’s the last lap, and Brambles are being mixed. The main ingredient, Plymouth, established in 1793, is the oldest gin of the evening, and remains the gin of choice for the Royal Navy.

With Bramble in hand, Roger Bauer reflects on his master class experience.

“The flavor, the warmth, that’s what is so appealing about gin,” says Bauer, a retired federal judge and long-time friend of Mandarin Hide’s owner. “The same can be said about Mandarin Hide. You walk in, you have a chair with your name on it, and you know you can have a classic drink in a classic bar. Some things really can withstand the test of time.”

Mandarin Hide’s gin master class cost $50 a person, which included the tastings, an appetizer, a take-home brass mug and a free post-tasting drink. Look for a tequila class later this month. Mandarin Hide, 231 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-231-4007, mandarinhide.com.

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