A devotion to quality ingredients and creative mixology, combined with an unusual dash of eccentricity, makes Jim Ryan the perfect embodiment of Hendrick’s Gin. He won the 2012 Spirited Award® for Best American Brand Ambassador as part of the 10th Annual Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award®, and has been a Hendrick’s Gin Brand Ambassador since 2008.
How did you get into cocktails and what do you enjoy most about your job?
I moved to NYC with aspirations of making it in show business. I needed to supplement my acting career somehow and worked my way through the ranks of random catering jobs, Columbia University hot spots – even a weekend at a shady Chinatown watering hole where things didn’t get busy until after 4am. It wasn’t until 5 years after I’d been in the industry I decided to step up my game and took a job with star chef Jean Georges Vongerichten who was opening a new fine dining restaurant with high prices, and even higher expectations. There I began to take bar tending seriously, gaining a firm understanding of service, wine, spirits and cocktails. With a long commute and the addition of a lunch service, I accepted a position at a restaurant called Dressler opening in my neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There, I took everything I’d learned and ran with it. Soon I was the head of the beverage program for three restaurants in the company. In order to keep up with the changing menu, I found myself selecting seasonal cocktails, incorporating local ingredients, and building an extensive beer and wine list. Combined with my creative background these elements were the perfect primer for me becoming a Hendrick’s Gin Ambassador and, looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
What I love most about my job is the opportunity to interact with individuals across the country. In one day I could end up in a city I’ve never been to before, (yes, there are still a few), present to a group of bartenders, speak to a journalist about the current state of affairs regarding the gin category, and introduce Hendrick’s to some curious consumers who may not presently be interested in gin at all. The world of Hendrick’s Gin was something I understood quite quickly, so my learning curve wasn’t very steep. That said, I’ve been blessed over the years in my time spent with this beautiful gin. One of the more exciting opportunities I currently enjoy is building, nurturing and leading a team of Ambassadors and Associates around the country – I’ve gone from a single Brand Ambassador to eight compelling individuals across the US.
What adventures has your role as a Hendrick’s Gin Ambassador taken you on?
Hendrick’s has taken me on adventures all across the world! My role is currently taking me on a parallel expedition, canvassing the country for curious cucumber findings just in time for National Cucumber Day on June 14. From cucumber breeders in Portland, to mixologists in Denver creating cucumber cocktails that only reveal their unique flavour at a mile-high, to the country’s largest cucumber plant in Florida, I’m going to tackle it all! You can follow my National Cucumber Day Cross Country Crusade, at cucumberday.com.
Care to share a fun fact about Hendrick’s?
Did you know that… the Hendrick’s Flying Cucumber Airship will be making its triumphant cross-country return? The Airship will begin its 2016 journey on May 2 in San Diego, California and travel cross-country to New York City just in time for National Cucumber Day on June 14.
What is the cocktail you are most known for?
You only get one shot to name a drink after yourself, and there’s a drink I put together a couple of years ago that I’m proud of. There was an idea to make a Pimm’s cup without using Pimms at all. I dissected what was in a Pimm’s cup, and there are a lot of ingredients and flavors. I created a drink and had a name for it that was too long and too thought out. I presented it in Kansas City. David Wondrich was there and when I presented and he said, “You should just call it the Jim’s Cup.” I didn’t name that drink after me, he did. The Jim’s Cup includes lots of different citrus, Hendrick’s Gin, ginger, strawberry, Angostura Bitters and is finally topped with an aromatic cucumber foam, served long.
Why is cucumber the preferred Hendrick’s garnish?
Hendrick’s Gin is crafted with rose and cucumber in a botanical blend, making the cucumber garnish a perfect fit for MANY Hendrick’s cocktails! We garnish our signature Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic with a cucumber and NEVER a lime.
Gin seems to be enjoying a renaissance lately, why do you think it has fallen back into favor?
Gin is absolutely enjoying something of a renaissance. There are many different factors that play into the resurgence of the category. First, we’ve had the boom in classic cocktails, where bartenders have picked up old recipe books while taking notes that many of the drinks in them are made with gin. Similarly, bartenders are also using fresh ingredients to make their cocktails with. When you are dealing with a botanical spirit like gin – whose flavors literally come from flowers, fruits, seeds and roots – it makes complete sense for some growth in the category. Trust me, there isn’t a more exciting time to work in the gin industry than now; we see the sudden attention to gin as helping us more than hurting us.. Hendrick’s is known for being at the forefront of the craft gin category and we are proud to maintain its position as the leader. This is a gin that was built with the bartending community and we are grateful bartenders continue to create inspirational Hendrick’s cocktails for their guests.
How do you feel about infused or flavored gins?
Well, technically, every gin is infused and flavored. That’s the point of gin. To capture the essential oils of the master distiller’s botanical selection, and create a symphony of flavors working in harmony. Luckily at Hendrick’s we use two very distinct and wildly different types of gin stills that produce shockingly dissimilar gin spirits. We combine those two distillates, then we add essences of cucumber and rose after the distillation process. The reason being is those botanicals are far too delicate to be distilled in a traditional method. The subtle and fresh notes of bright green cucumber as well as the deliciously floral rose stand out in our flavor profile and have helped build the overall character of Hendrick’s.
Perfect/surprising gin-based cocktail and food pairing?
The delicious complexity of Hendrick’s allows it to pair perfectly with lots of different dishes, from light summer salads to bright ceviche, crudo, carpacchio and sushi offerings. My favorite unexpected food pairing is a fresh, creamy, cucumber-y West Coast oyster served with a cold shot of Hendrick’s Gin.
When it comes to naming cocktails, what is your general approach?
There’s no one way to go about naming a cocktail you’ve created. Sometimes the name comes first and I’ll work from there, but generally the cocktail comes first and then the name searching begins. Often a feeling the cocktail evokes or some reference (albeit an obscure one) ends up in the name of the cocktail.
How would you sum up a well-made drink in one sentence?
A well-made drink starts with balance of presentation, aroma and flavor.
And finally, your favorite classic gin cocktail from the history books?
My favorite classic gin cocktail from the history books is a dry martini, as described in Bernard DeVoto’s “The Hour”.