Sep 17, 201012:00 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
Getting Your Gin On
I have no reason why, but somehow at this time of year, with the anticipation of cooler weather, I crave good gin drinks.
It’s a bit strange because we New Orleanians have no connection to veddy British beverages. We fought those redcoat devils on our own soil to keep them out of our town. We still celebrate and sing about it.
Even in our earliest days of cocktail concoctions, gin was never a prominent spirit here in New Orleans. Yet today, we are seeing a growing appreciation of gin as an important mixer in our local cocktail culture, and there is very little negativity expressed toward this drink category, even though many of us probably suffered our worst hangovers in college from this spirit. It all goes down so smoothly.
Gin is a clear spirit, derived from the distillation of wheat, rye, malted barley and a bit of corn. At this point, the clear product is re-distilled, and as the vapors pass through the condensation line of the column still, on the way to re-liquefying, they pass over a suspended sack of botanicals. Usually these ingredient sacks are composed of dried juniper berries, lemon and bitter orange peels, along with a smattering of other aromatics and flavoring ingredients such as teas, frankincense, cinnamon, saffron, coriander, grapefruit peel and nutmeg. The exact contents of the sack and the measurements are a closely guarded secret for each gin house.
Just like many spirits, gin began as a medicinal product. The true origin was in the early 1600s when doctors would prescribe quinine water and a juniper-based spirit to clear up all manner of stomach disorders and dysentery. Samuel Pepys noted that he cured a case of colic with “strong water made with juniper.”
The minimum alcohol level for gin in the U.S. is 40 percent. In Europe, it’s 37.5 percent.
Several categories of gin are defined, with London dry gins being what we are most familiar with because these are lighter and lend themselves nicely to mixing. Plymouth gin, another category, is a more full-bodied, bolder style. It’s also used for mixing but in cocktails that contain other pungent or strong ingredients, or it can be served on its own.
There is another style of gin that we don’t see much around here, and it is a Holland or Belgian style, Genever. In Genever, the distilled base gin spirit is blended after distillation with another also-distilled spirit that is juniper-based. The juniper spirit contains aromatics that were distilled with the junipers. Oak barrel aging is involved here, and the result is a very strong juniper-driven spirit with a bit of a woody taste. The style can be compared to a lighter scotch. Of course the aromatics are the bonus here.
Depending on those botanicals and aromatics, gin can be a complicated spirit with many layers that play on both the palate and nose. Again, each gin house determines its own style as far as the additives are concerned, which means each gin is different from others, unlike vodkas, which tend to taste within a very close range of each other.
In the early 1700s, during the reign of the Protestant King William of Orange, who ruled the British Empire from the throne even though he was also monarch of the Dutch Republic, gin really hit its popularity. It seems William did not want spirits, such as wine and cognac, from those Catholic countries, such as France or Spain, coming into his England. To assure a certain outcome, the British Crown decreed that imported spirits would be heavily taxed and that unlicensed gin production was legal with no taxation. Talk about a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
As you can well imagine with our country’s Protestant and English-founding, gin was an extremely popular drink among our forefathers and -mothers. It remained that way pretty much up to Prohibition, and because gin is relatively easy to distill and requires no aging, both making and drinking “bathtub gin” became favorite pastimes among many law-abiding citizens who did not particularly want to abide by that particular law.
The real birth of the neo-cocktail movement was spurred by the “drinking” culture that took hold of corporate America in the 1960s, with the simple-to-make martini rising to fame. Up to this time, gin was the dominant white spirit in America. Now there was a rise in the popularity of vodka, with both spirits gaining their own following in the potent alcohol-only mixture garnished with an olive.
Incidentally, in case you were not aware, sloe (note the spelling –– it’s not “slow”) gin is a liqueur, an infused gin made with the fruit of the blackthorn bush, known as sloe. The blackthorn bush is an early spring bloomer and is sometimes confused with the cherry plum. The fruit was named slāh in the Middle Ages –– nice bit of bar trivia there.
Cocktails You May Enjoy:
The predecessor of the Brandy Alexander, the gin-based Alexander noted here is actually a bit of reverse-engineering, incorporating whipped cream instead of just cream.
1 ounce gin
¾ ounce white crème de cacao
1 ounce heavy cream
2 heaping teaspoons whipped cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Combine ingredients, including the whipped cream, in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.
If you are a fan of deep apricot flavor, this is a great drink for you.
1 ½ ounces gin
1 ½ ounces apricot brandy
¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
2 -3 dashes grenadine
Combine ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass.
This variation on the classic sidecar, which is made with brandy, was popularized at the Chelsea Hotel and is often referred to as the Chelsea Sidecar.
2 ounces gin
½ ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Rim a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon twist. Combine all other ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake well, and then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.
Legend has it that this drink was named during World War I in honor of a French gun with a 75-millimeter barrel.
1 ½ ounces gin
1 ½ ounces fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons simple syrup
About 4 ounces well-chilled champagne
Combine gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain, and pour into a Collins glass with ice cubes or a champagne flute filled with crushed ice. Top with champagne. Garnish with the cherry and the orange slice.
(Thanks for the recipes to James Waller, author of drink-ol-o-gy: The Art and Science of the Cocktail, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.)
All this talk of gin is making me thirsty for (surprise!) gin. Pardon me while I step out for a few moments –– or at least until next week.