In 2009, when Julie Reiner was preparing to open Clover Club, her populist, classic-leaning Brooklyn cocktail bar, she knew she wanted to serve a house Manhattan and a house Martini that weren’t exactly a Manhattan and a Martini. The former emerged as the Slope; the latter as the Gin Blossom. The key ingredient distinguishing both was a single flavor: apricot.
“Eric Seed [of Minnesota-based importer Haus Alpenz] had just brought me his new-to-market apricot eau de vie and apricot liqueur,” recalls Reiner. “I thought that they were both excellent, and thought that it might be interesting to use them in both of the classic riffs.”
She tinkered with the Gin Blossom at Flatiron Lounge, her now-shuttered Manhattan cocktail bar, where she ran through countless permutations of gin, vermouth and bitters for a test audience of friends and colleagues. One early guinea pig was Simon Ford, then the brand ambassador for Plymouth Gin, which Reiner eventually settled on.
“Plymouth allowed for the eau de vie and bianco to come through,” she explains, “partially because its proof is lower than most London dry gins, but also because it isn’t quite as dry and juniper-forward as many other gins.”
Ford saw in the Gin Blossom a natural continuation of mixological history. “There is a tradition of adding an ingredient or two to the classic combination of gin and vermouth,” he says. As examples, he cites the Fairbank Cocktail from Harry MacElhone’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, which adds a couple of dashes of crème de noyaux to the usual Martini mix of gin, vermouth and orange bitters; and the Ford Cocktail, which tacks on some Bénédictine in a similar manner. “Julie’s Gin Blossom is a great nod to the past, while giving us a drink that resembles a classic that we can enjoy now.”
The Gin Blossom was an immediate hit with guests. Among its early fans was one person very close to the drink’s creator: Susan Fedroff, co-owner of Clover Club and Reiner’s wife, who wasn’t expecting to be won over. “I was never much of a gin drinker; I like whiskey,” she says. “But it is legitimately one of my favorite drinks of all time.”
She wasn’t alone. During those early days, Fedroff got in the habit of checking the Clover Club sales report at the end of the day. “It was all about the Gin Blossoms and deviled eggs,” she remembers.
The drink’s arrival was fortuitous in its timing. It came along at a moment when craft cocktail fans were craving lighter renditions of the usually hard-hitting Martini, such as the Fitty-Fitty, a Pegu Club drink made of equal parts gin and vermouth. Sasha Petraske, too, was serving lighter, more aperitif-style Martinis at his groundbreaking cocktail bar Milk & Honey. The Gin Blossom—which, apricot eau de vie aside, has an even split of gin and bianco vermouth—fit the bill.
“I think it transcends seasons very well,” says bartender Tom Macy, who has been with Clover Club since the beginning. “Boozier drinks play more in fall and winter, but the Gin Blossom has a light airiness that is perfect for summer, and it’s not too strong.”
Part of the drink’s continued popularity may be that, year in and year out, the drink has kept a place on the Clover Club menu. And while the Brooklyn bar has remained home base for the Gin Blossom, the drink has, in fact, traveled. Within a year of Clover Club’s opening, it appeared 2,900 miles away, on the menu at The Slanted Door in San Francisco under bar director Erik Adkins. In Chicago, bar owner Jim Meehan created a riff on the cocktail at his short-lived Fulton Market bar Prairie School in 2017. And for a long time, when Nicole Hassoun was running the Gin Joint in Washington, D.C., she would make herself a Gin Blossom as her final drink of the night.
“It pretty much became my standard for how to showcase a new gin,” says Hassoun, “because it is simple enough to let the spirit shine, but complex in flavor profile.”
As Clover Club has turned to to-go cocktails and outdoor seating during the ongoing pandemic, the Gin Blossom has enjoyed an unforeseen resurgence in popularity. Though the menu is abbreviated, reduced to the bar’s bestsellers, the Gin Blossom, as always, has a starring role. And that focused attention has led to a renewed interest among the bar’s devoted customers and a flurry of orders for the old favorite.
“Maybe it’s a comfort thing for guests, or maybe people are just giving the drink a second look,” says Macy. “Either way, it deserves it.”