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. 😉