Gin City


As I mentioned last week, I don’t have a cocktail of choice, but there is one type of liquor that I’ve always loved: gin. Frankly, it’s pretty amazing that I’ve always liked this herbal spirit, but to understand that, I must tell a story, a story that many of you will regret you ever read (and one I hope my children never see).

I first drank gin when I was 15, hanging out with a 17 year old who had the most bitchin’ Olds Cutlass (this was in 1979, remember). Boy, I must have had half a bottle of rotgut gin mixed with Mountain Dew. I somehow made it to my bed without my parents noticing and promptly passed out. When I woke up several hours later, I felt I was sleeping in a bowl of old oatmeal. What was that nasty stuff in my bed? Yeah, you guessed it, I hurled while I was asleep. I guess it was a good thing that I was not a rock-and-roll star, as if I were, I would have choked on my own vomit like Jimi Hendrix, Bon Scott and John Bonham. Remarkably, even after getting wickedly sick on gin as a teenager, I still managed to love gin.

I interrupt this blog to provide a public service announcement: I do not condone underage drinking, riding in cars with others who are drinking, or vomiting in your sleep. Please wait until you’re 21 before you drink and are permitted to get sick legally. Always check with your parents to see if your activities are in compliance with your household rules.

Anyhow, gin is still my favorite liquor, and over the past couple of years, I’ve been excited by the boom in the “artisanal” gin industry. I’m no gin scholar, but gin is really just another flavored vodka, but it’s that flavoring that makes it distinctive. The primary botanical flavor in gin is juniper, and if you don’t love the smell of a fresh-cut Christmas tree, then you may not be a gin drinker. Many of these new gins have minimized the flavor of gin and added others tastes: cucumber, cardamom, rangpur lime, or vanilla. Hell, some of the flavor combinations are even tropical, so much so that even a Jimmy Buffet fan could drink them. Fortunately, most of the new gins still have a sense of place and tradition, keeping that essential juniper flavor. That’s important to me when making a martini. A bit less so with a gin and tonic or a gimlet.

I’m starting to collect the new gins, even though what’s available to us is limited by the idiotic state-controlled liquor distribution system. Actually, some of these have been around for ages, but they’re new to me! I’ve had Junipero, Citadelle, Hendrick’s, Plymouth, and Tanqueray No. 10. Of course, I still have regular Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire and even some Fleischman’s and Gordon’s (which is owned by Tanqueray).

Funny thing is, I like them all, but it just depends on how I’m drinking the gin. For a classic martini (and don’t even start with the notion that I have to call it a “gin martini,” as that is utterly redundant). The French Citadelle is a manly gin that really has a strong juniper flavor. Junipero from San Francisco also is great, with just a hint of citrus. My favorite right now is Plymouth English gin, which to me has a very sophisticated and complex flavor profile, but still completely clean. The juniper flavors are bold, but not overpowering. It makes a great martini, particularly if you use a simple lemon twist as a garnish rather than the traditional olive.

For those of you who claim you can’t stand gin, well, you’re just not very hip (that’s a joke), and you need to give gin another try. Audrey Saunders, mixologist extraordinaire of New York’s Pegu Club, recently said that we’re a “generation lobotomized by vodka.” So try a martini again, but make sure that it’s made properly. Martinis should be made with 4 parts gin to 1 part dry white vermouth. A drink without vermouth or just a “wave of the bottle of vermouth” is not a martini — it’s straight gin. I use Noilly Prat Original French Dry Vermouth. And despite James Bond’s influence, a martini should be stirred using whole ice cubes, not shaken — for about 20 seconds, long enough to thoroughly chill the drink without excess dilution. Pour the drink into a chilled martini glass (chilled either by putting it in the freezer or by filling it with ice for a few minutes). Feel free to add a garnish of olive, but rinse the excess brine off first. As I stated above, I sometimes use a lemon twist instead.

So give gin a try again, whether it’s in a martini or a gin & tonic. You’re too grown up to be drinking Appletinis. 😉


24 Responses to Gin City

  1. VaNC says:

    Great, just the vision I needed in my head this beautiful morning.

    Thanks a bunch! 🙂

  2. Varmint says:

    I warned you!

    Anyone who claims they can’t drink a particular spirit because it made them sick once need only think about my little episode.

  3. Tyler says:

    Dean, I can relate to your gin incident…..RUM has been off limits for me since the party following my high school graduation in 1981. Unlike you, I’ve had no desire to get back on the Bacardi horse!

  4. I agree 100% with your thoughts on the Martini. My first underaged drinking hurl was Southern Comfort. I still drink it on a rare occasion.

  5. Varmint says:

    Ooh, Southern Comfort still makes me want to woof. I recently shared a bottle of that with a bunch of prominent chefs and food writers. I realized that even those with great taste can put it all aside when they just want to get drunk.

  6. FuzzyT says:

    Bacardi 151 is the The Bad, for me. Love my Mount Gay though.

    No such thing as ‘vodka martini’, just vodka cocktails served in angular, long-stemmed glasses.

    Soco = Robo

    Plymouth rocks for martinis and G&Ts.

    Where do you get your vermouth?

  7. Varmint says:

    I can get that vermouth at most grocery stores. It’s nothing special.

    The next thing I want to get is some artisanal tonic water.

  8. FuzzyT says:

    The next thing I want is the abolishment of the NC ABC system.

    Barring that, I’d settle for an 25,000 sq.ft. ABC Superstore in Cameron Village and a lifting of the case-minimum rule on special orders.

  9. pheebs55 says:

    here!here! Gin fans unite!

    I too, have always though gin far superior to vodka.

    My favorite cocktail? Hands down a Negroni: equal parts campari, gin, and sweet vermouth.

    BTW: southern comfort is amazing…especially with cheerwine (this was the favorite BOH shift ender, along with a PBR, at Vertigo back when it was actually a good bar).

  10. ncn8tive says:

    What a trip in the way-back machine!

    I’m a foodie and new to this blog, and right away I see that I am amongst my peeps. I too was 15 in ’79, and it was around about the same time that I drank too much malt duck (remember that stuff?…think purple beer) along with nacho doritos (think artificial orange “cheese”) at a party…imagine what I woke up to? I am eternally grateful that I survived my youth…

    I do love gin, and I’m always on the lookout for exotic liquors and liquers any time I’m traveling outside our lovely state (or country, for that matter). I’ll be on the lookout for some your suggestions…

    Thanks for the memories!

  11. Joe says:

    So “gin is really just another flavored vodka”? Fie on you (even if it’s true)! Flavored vodka is for wimps, couch potatoes, and potato drinkers; gin is for real drinks. And how the hell am I now supposed to make fun of vodka drinkers, if they can say my Bombay or Plymouth is just flavored vodka! A pox on you, sir! 🙂 And another pox on you for cutting my never-actually-done gin post off at the knees! 😉

  12. Jeff says:

    Cold Duck and Nacho Cheese Doritos….sounds like a Clemson nighmare.

  13. Varmint says:

    Hah! Tonight I drank Citradelle martinis garnished not with olives, but Meyer lemon peel. Zowie!

    And Joe, it just goes to show that we need to get together soon and drink a martini or three!

    Finally, Jeff, Cold Duck and Doritos are hardly a Clemson nightmare. That’s their ultimate dream!

  14. Joe says:

    V: let me know when or where. Life is nuts. 🙂

  15. durhamfood says:

    I think you two need to hang out at Jujube, on Dec 31st. That’s indeed what I believe!

  16. DCfoodAmateur says:

    Ouch! My 15 year old misfortune came at the unforgiving hands of Johnny Walker Red. Let’s just say that the full version of the story involves a hospital recovery room and a stomach pump. 23 years later, scotch is still on my do not drink list.

    Little trivia here, what was the first legal drink ordered after prohibition was repealed and who imbibed the concoction?

  17. Joe says:

    So what do you think of Junipero? A friend said it had way too much juniper in it for him. But I like juniper. I also want to taste it because it’s made in San Francisco, which is probably my favorite city in the US. Spent a lot of time there, but very little of it was when I was of an age to drink.

    WRT martinis: I just can’t drink any more than a taste, because I just don’t like what’s essentially straight booze. But several of my martini-drinking friends like to use about one measure of vodka to about three measures gin: they say that dries the martini out, and they like that. Any experience with that?

  18. Varmint says:

    I really loved Junipero. To me, it made a great gin and tonic, simply because the juniper flavor came through so well. You can get it at our ABC stores, thankfully.

    For me, a martini has to have the vermouth. It’s not a matter of “drying it out.” The vermouth adds balance. And, of course, it needs to be extremely cold. I only drink one, though, as any more is just too much for me to handle. G&Ts, on the other hand, I can drink until I pass out. Which I really try to avoid!!

  19. Nibbs says:

    Thanks for the heads up on Plymouth – My wife was well stocked with Hendricks and Junipero (stock up in DC since our local place didn’t have the J until recently) ; So last trip to the liquor store (sign may say ABC, but I know what it really is) I picked up some Plymouth for her to try. Karen’s really enjoying it.

  20. Varmint says:

    And I didn’t even know your bride was a gin drinker. We need to figure out a way to share tasting notes!

  21. Joe says:

    Oh — I just realized my comment made it sound as if my friends don’t use vermouth. They do: I was just giving the ratio of liquor.

  22. Varmint says:

    Two great articles about gin and martinis just came out. The New York Times has an article about where to find classic martinis in the Big Apple:

    And the LA Times had an article last week about the revival of gin cocktails.,1,5301850.story

    Boy, we need to crush the vodka establishment!

  23. Vodka certainly does need to be reminded of its place ! I am very happy to see the classic cocktails and Gin make a comeback.

  24. boozysuzy says:

    you haven’t tried gin until you have tried Brockmans! it’s a really different style of gin and tastes amazing. You can drink it over ice, with tonic or even ginger ale ! You have to try this one! You can find it at Lets crush the vodka establishment now!

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