Straight from the Barrel: A Gentleman's Gin

If you're in a bar and you see a rather British-looking gent wearing a bowler hat, say hello. You might get a drink -- and a laugh -- out of it.

Andy Dawson, director of Broker's Gin Ltd. in England, has been visiting the United States monthly of late to promote his new premium gin, a product he says that is meant to "attract the attention of people abroad who have an affinity for gin and things English." To that end, not only does the label depict a British gentleman in a business suit with umbrella, financial newspaper and a bowler, but the bottle sports a miniature plastic version of the same hat on its cap.

So it was appropriate then, despite the heat, that Mr. Dawson recently showed up at our offices topped by a real bowler. Once we were convinced he wasn't Alex from A Clockwork Orange, we were pleased to share a taste of his new spirit.

Developed in 2000, Broker's Gin is the brainchild of Dawson and his brother Martin, who identified a spirits market void and decided to fill it with premium gin that doesn't take itself too seriously. "We want to build lightness and fun into what had been a rather staid, old-fashioned spirit," says Andy Dawson.

And they have. Promotions include a postcard of an airport waiting-room scene in which a man wearing nothing but a bowler and a strategically placed magazine sits among other oblivious travelers. The tagline, of course, is "Don't forget your hat." The same words are printed on a handout that appears to be a matchbook, but contains a condom and a recipe for "the Lubricator" (1 part Broker's Gin, 1 part espresso, 8 parts steamed milk, 1 part chocolate syrup and a topping of whipped cream). The slogan is also the name of drink the company has concocted, involving its gin and trace elements of pineapple, orange and lemon juice, as well as bitters.

The brothers apparently felt that dry gin could use a little dry humor to shore up a spirit that has been a bit parched in the alcohol world of late. Andy Dawson says they took a look in liquor stores and bars and saw that "whiskeys took up this much room on the shelf." He holds his hands a few feet apart. "And that vodka was like this." He stretches his arms out completely. "But that gin was like this." He brings his hands to within a few inches of each other. "There was room for another gin, and I'd say ours is reflecting that."

If the promotions are whimsical and blithe, the gin isn't. It's serious stuff made from a recipe that contains juniper, coriander, orris, nutmeg, cassia bark, cinnamon, orange, lemon peel and angelica root. As with all premium style gins, it is made with the botanicals themselves, not essences. The orange is more pronounced than in most gins, the juniper less. The effect is a bright, somewhat fruity, but still dry choice in the gin spectrum. The recipe comes from Alcohols Ltd., the distiller that the brothers approached to create their gin. Andy Dawson says that the maker had a number of recipes that weren't being used on file from its more than 100 years in the business. They tested them all and chose the one they liked best.

The aim has been to position the gin with other premium market leaders that Dawson calls the "Big Three," that is Tanqueray, Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire. The price has been set at a dollar below that competition (about $19) in whatever market it is sold.

Andy Dawson had no experience in liquor previous to the endeavor (he worked in the oil, real estate and film distribution industries on the financial end previously). Brother Martin, however, had previously worked in spirits as a marketer on such brands as Canadian Club and Tia Maria. Andy is the finance director and Martin the marketing director.

The gin is available in America on a limited basis. The Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah) is where it first gained a foothold. It is also sold in Texas, Arizona, Connecticut and the Carolinas. Dawson is hoping to breech the large East Coast markets of New York, Boston and Washington, as well as California. He welcomes offers from serious parties.