Oct 23, 201309:25 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Gin: A Fascinating White Spirit

Juniper berries on a bush

hisks, stock.xchng, 2007

Oh, I know, all you vodka lovers out there just adore your white spirit. And, yes, I will admit, there is a place for vodka in the pantheon of cocktail ingredients.

But have you ever placed seven or eight vodkas side by side and then blindly tasted them to see if you could identify the one to which you are wed? Or even see if you could find any great differences between the lot of them? I may be the only one out here with this thought but after I reach a certain price point, around $22, I find the taste differentials in vodka are negligible.

And I like to taste the base spirit in my cocktail. Once a few ingredients are added to vodka, those additives define the drink, not the spirit. Again, you have to always work with the better, maybe not the best, quality, but the popularity of vodka puzzles me. Except that vodka is an excellent deliverer of alcohol. I will grant you that.

Vodka brands are defined more, in my opinion, by marketing and not so much by stylistic, aroma or palate differences.

A white spirit that I do find interesting, and stylistically different from one label to the next, is gin. I think the main reason gin is off-putting to a lot of folks is that at some point in the past, there was a night of over-indulgence and now gin’s distinctive aromas and tastes serve as reminders of a very bad morning-after. Yeccch!

Gin is a light-bodied, wheat or rye grain-based spirit that originated in northern Europe in the late 1500s, and soon found thirsty consumers in England. The name “gin” is a derivative of the Dutch word, jenever, meaning juniper, the prime fruit compound used in the distillation process. Juniper berries come from evergreen, low-to-the-ground bushes that flourish in northern Italy, Croatia, America and Canada.

In the manufacture of gin, the juniper berries are placed in a “tea bag” that is inserted into the still. There are also botanicals in the bag, usually anise, angelica root, cinnamon, orange peel and coriander, among other herbs and spices. Each gin distiller closely guards the identity of the true ingredients and their quantities. The botanicals are what differentiates the aromas and taste of one gin from another.

Gins go through a multiple distillation process, in which the heart of the condensation vapor is distilled again. This removes harsh flavor and aroma compounds, leaving each distillation’s result “cleaner” than the previous action. The last pass through the distiller is where the botanicals’ tea bag is present, giving the final distillation its distinctive gin qualities.

In the United States and England, the largest gin-consuming nations in the world, a style known as London Dry Gin is most popular. Interestingly, Spain boasts the highest consumption of gin per capita. 

While London Dry Gin is excellent for use with other ingredients in cocktails, other gin styles are Plymouth, Old Tom, and Genever. Today, Plymouth gin is made by only one company, Coates & Co., and they own the exclusive rights to the term. Old Tom Gin tends to go the sweet side, a style that was popular in the 1800s. Genever is Dutch-style gin, made from malt-grain mash, and a bit on the heavy side.

If you are a fan of simple drinks that can be made in a hurry, what could be easier than a Gin & Tonic? C’mon the name is the ingredients and there are only two items. Three if you include the lime.

Here are some other gin drinks of interest, courtesy of James Waller, author of Drinkology: The Art and Science of the Cocktail:

 

Alexander

This is the ancestor of the more famous Brandy Alexander.

 

1 oz  London Dry Gin

¾ oz white crème de cacao

1 oz  heavy cream

2 heaping teaspoons whipped cream

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

 

Combine ingredients, including whipping cream, in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.

 

Gimlet

A popular drink in your parents’ day, this is one of the few drinks where Rose’s Lime Juice is better than the usually-preferred fresh-squeezed lime. Delicious and quite simple.

 

Lime wedge

2 ½ oz London Dry Gin, or Plymouth Gin

½ oz Rose’s Lime Juice

 

Rim cocktail glass with lime wedge. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, with ice. Stir and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lime wedge into cocktail and drop it in.

 

Gin Sling

This is the original sling cocktail and original recipe.  Not as complicated as a Singapore Sling.

 

Lemon wedge

2 ½ oz London Dry or Plymouth gin

½ oz Cointreau or triple sec

½ oz fresh lemon juice

Club soda or seltzer

 

Rim a highball or collins glass with lemon wedge. Fill the glass with ice. Combine the gin, Cointreau, and lemon juice in a shaker. Shake well and strain into the ice-filled glass. Top with club soda. Squeeze lemon wedge into cocktail and drop wedge in. Stir briefly.

 

Ramos Gin Fizz

Legendary bartender Henry C. Ramos invented this great cocktail right here in New Orleans, and it has been an international favorite since the late 1800s. Some folks use a blender but we think the drink should be created just as Mr. Ramos did it.

2 oz London Dry Gin

1 oz heavy cream

1 oz simple syrup

¼ oz fresh lemon juice

¼ oz fresh lime juice

4 drops orange flower water

1 egg white

Club soda or seltzer

 

Combine all ingredients except club soda in standard shaker with ice. Shake for at least three full minutes. Strain into large, chilled, red wine glass. Top with club soda. Stir briefly.

 

 

I have intentionally left off the French 75 from this list. There continues to be great debate over whether this cocktail should contain, as its base spirit, gin or cognac. Cocktail historians are fond of noting that the original recipe, named in honor of a 75 mm cannon used by the French in World War I, designated gin as one of two main spirits. The other being Champagne.

I, however, fall into the camp that I cannot imagine any drink with the word, French, in the title and using Champagne, would use an English spirit. But that’s me. And, I am sure, the French.  

 

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All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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