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A mentor once told Olympia’s Cynara Restaurant & Lounge owner Christian Skilling that one drank gin in the summer and scotch in the winter. With well over 60 gins on hand, Cynara brims with possibilities for summer cocktails. A crisp, classic gin tonic might come to mind. Cynara has a featured one that’s topped with an atomized spray of gin. You could consider expanding your horizons. There’s an ocean of gins just waiting for you to dip your toes, but you might want to jump in tongue first.

Freeland Spirits and Gray Whale Gin bottles at Cynara's in Olympia
Cynara has a collection of modern and contemporary gins that add flavors to the classic juniper base. Freeland Spirits and Gray Whale Gin are west coast distillers. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

Skillings has been learning about and tasting more gins, increasing the restaurant’s supplies, and experimenting enthusiastically. Did you know that gin originated as a medicinal liquor made by monks and alchemists in Europe? Gin rose in popularity when wars in the early 17th century led to restrictions on French brandy. It’s no longer about medicine. Contemporary gins have an array of eclectic botanical additions that add flavors, colors and tastes. They are great for sipping and cocktails. Cynara takes pleasure in finding new twists on classic drinks and inventing a few of its own.

Basically, gin must contain juniper. Dry London Gin has a predominant flavor of juniper, though it does not have to be from London.  There are no artificial ingredients and no added color or flavor after distillation. All gins must be at least 37.5% alcohol by volume. There are many brands of Dry London Gin. The strong citrus notes compliment a lemon twist, a garnish that enhances a drink’s smell, taste and look.

Contemporary gins include more flavors. Cynara likes regional choices such as Freeland Spirits, a woman-owned and run distillery in Portland. The small batch gin uses a selected blend with essences from rosemary, mint and crisp cucumber offering a complex yet layered spice balance. You can recognize it by its shapely blue bottle. Gray Whale Gin from California originated from husband-wife team Marsh Mokhtari and Jan Livingston. The gin integrates six locally derived botanicals including juniper from Big Sur, limes from Baja California, Sonoma fir trees sprouts, kombu sea kelp from Mendocino and Santa Clara mint. The intriguing ingredients are solely for your drinking delights.

Sample Gins at Olympia Restaurant Cynara

The Aviation drink with bottles of gin behind it at Cynara's in Olympia
The sky’s the limit for crafting cocktails at Cynara Restaurant & Lounge in downtown Olympia. The Aviation brings to mind the glory of flight with its sky-like tones. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

For great fun, order a vesper. There’s a lot going on from the moment you take a whiff to when it passes over your lips and then explodes on your tongue. It’s tangy and smooth and lingers in the mouth. James Bond used to order a vesper martini, so named by Ian Fleming’s fictional double agent Vesper Lynd. You do not have to be spy for maximum enjoyment.

The aviation is another cocktail with a history and continues to be delightful on a hot summer day. The cocktail supposedly gives a nod to the glamorous luxury of early aeronautics with its pale, sky-blue violet color. The crème de violette sets the color and maraschino liquor balances the sour notes.

A Corpse Reviver No. 2 in pre-prohibition times was meant to rouse a drinker, cure hangovers, increase vigor and totally improve one’s morning. None of these circumstances are required to order these days. The drink has absinthe, gin, orange liqueur and aperitif wine. “My go-to favorite cocktail gin is Uncle Val’s Botanical,” says Skillings, who is totally willing to taste all gins.

Cynara bartenders will make you whatever cocktail you order, but you can be pleasantly surprised by having it made with an alternate gin or alternate whiskey, depending on your drink. There are so many choices you can practically do tastings via a trip around the globe. Fortunately, you won’t have to leave the restaurant. Select from spirits that originate in the US, Canada, Mexico, Africa and Europe.

Gin bottles and a cocktail drink at Cynara's in Olympia
Do your own tasting for a dashing cocktail like a vesper or sip a classic gin and tonic with a gin that’s new to you. Cynara has suggestions for you to consider. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

“I read about and research gin and am always on the lookout,” says Skillings. There are many ways to interpret cocktails. Have you ever had a Tuxedo? Gin can be so complex and varied that using different brands really shifts the taste of the martini cocktail. Cynara has a wall of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, and a trained staff, all for your enjoyment.

Cynara is located in downtown Olympia across the street from the boardwalk. You’ll find it an easy place to unwind in the causal atmosphere. The digital lounge menu allows you to see the lists of spirits, wines, and beers, which is interesting to read. Specialty cocktails are also on the menu. Bring your family and meet your friends. Share an appetizer or two and then stay for dinner. Cynara works to exceed your expectations. Cheers.

Cynara Restaurant & Lounge
500 Columbia St NW, Olympia
360.764.7326

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