Category Archives: Gin

Great Gimlet Controversy, Redux

I promised to follow up on my Gimlet post from a while back. I was happy to see it garner so much commentary, so I wanted to address everyone’s thoughts.

First, the majority of you rightly shun and abhor Rose’s Lime Cordial. I’m sure that at some point, before the addition of HFCS, preservatives, and artificial colorings and flavorings, it was a quality product. No more.

Second, there’s far less agreement on whether a drink of gin, lime juice, and simple syrup deserves the moniker “Gimlet.” I believe that it does not. A Gin Sour is a fabulous drink, one I’ve enjoyed in the past and will enjoy again in the future. It is not, however, a Gimlet.

So, what’s a drunk to do?

I side with those of you who either use the Employee’s Only cordial or who make their own. I have yet to actually tackle that project, although I keep meaning to. It’s a worthy endeavor. I even have a bottle of Rose’s in the fridge that I intend to use as a control. If I get around to it while computers still exist and while blogs such as this are still a viable means of communication, perhaps I’ll even post about it.

Nolet’s Garden to Glass

Back in June, I received a lovely package from Nolet’s gin. The company was starting a promotional program they call Garden to Cocktail. The idea is to pair their Silver Dry Gin with a different ingredient each month and use the special ingredient to create new and interesting cocktails.

The first ingredient they sent me was feijoa (along with a promotional bottle of the gin, of course), and I must admit, I was stumped. I had never heard of feijoa prior to this.

Gin 'n' ... feijoa?

So I bumped around online for a bit to see what I could find out. I asked Twitter, I inquired on Facebook. I even foodpickled.  I got great answers from people about what feijoa is and what it tastes like, but I was still stumped. (Some bloggers received a recipe card from Nolet, featuring a drink using the gin and feijoa; not only was the recipe card missing from my box, but I generally don’t like simply republishing cocktail recipes sent me in promotional materials, so I would have asked around anyway.)

And then I tried the fruit itself. Um … I think the best I can say is, it’s not for me. I didn’t care for either the flavor or the texture, and I was even less sure how to make a cocktail from it.

But the gin! Oh, the gin is a different story.

the gin!

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin is a fairly new product on the market, so you might not be familiar with it. Made by the Dutch Nolet family, it’s the latest recipe from a family who have pursued a 300-year legacy of distilling — first in genever and then, most famously, in vodka. The Nolet family’s Ketel One is perhaps one of the most famous vodka brands in the world, and the family has been able to capitalize on that success by investing resources back into gin.

Now, Nolet’s gin is an example of what some people call a new-style gin. That means it’s less reliant on gin’s traditional juniper flavors, pushing the pine qualities of juniper into the background.

I have mixed reactions to these newer types of gin. Some brands do this style very well, and others decidedly less so. In thinking about which brands succeed in this style, I’ve decided to pay attention to what flavors they emphasize instead of juniper. Some brands, the ones I like least, do very little instead of juniper. In other words, they don’t really emphasize anything. At best, they have a watered-down gin, and at worst, they have a mislabeled vodka.

Nolet takes a different approach, luckily. The family has crafted a gin with a soft, floral, and somewhat fruity flavor profile–the botanical blend includes such unlikely ingredients as rose, peach, and raspberry.

mmmmmartini

I was intrigued by the flavor on its own, so I tried it in a couple of different types of martini. First, I mixed my version of a “dry” martini: 5 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. (It’s hard to use the word “dry” anymore without someone misunderstanding you, so I always clarify what I mean by “dry.” Some people say a dry martini contains only a scornful glance at a vermouth bottle, whereas other tipplers say it’s anything drier than a 50-50 mix of gin and vermouth.)

In my 5:1 ratio, I found the Nolet to make a delicious martini. Sure, not as juniper-forward as a Tanqueray or Beefeater version, but I’ll be honest: I don’t always want that. The Nolet is round and creamy, and at 95.2 proof, it carries its flavors handsomely into marriage with vermouth.

I then tried it mixed “wetter,” at 2 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. I didn’t care for this at all. The gin lost its own character into the vermouth and I felt like I was drinking little of substance. A week later, I tried it again at 5:1 and again loved the martini.

what’s next, or, a very lychee dietschy

So having felt that the feijoa was a dud, but loving the Nolet martini, I was eager to see what awaited me in my second shipment. When this arrived, I opened it to find several lychees. This time, I did get the recipe card that Nolet sent, but again, I didn’t want to just reproduce that cocktail; I wanted to try something different.

Also, my wife is nine month’s pregnant and, for that reason, abstaining from booze. Whenever I mix up a fruity cocktail for myself, I like to make her a dry version when I can.

So I dug around online and found a Serious Eats post from earlier this year, describing a Lychee Soda at the Modern Bar Room in New York. (Disclaimer: I write for Serious Eats.) That sounded very crisp and refreshing, and I knew it would make Jen a lovely NA drink.

So I pureed the lychee, mixed it with some Lavender-Lemon Simple Syrup, from Royal Rose Syrups in Brooklyn (disclaimer: Royal Rose sent me several syrup samples.) Jen’s got topped with seltzer water, whereas mine first got a hit of Nolet’s and then a seltzer blast.

photo © Jennifer Hess. All rights reserved.

Okay, yum. My only complaint is that I’m out of lychees.

Drink of the Week: Martinez

Rhode Island recently started (finally) getting in bottles of Ransom Old Tom Gin; having heard so much about it over the last two years or so, I had to buy a bottle and try it.

The only other Old Tom I’ve had is Hayman’s, and I have to say, these are very different products. Both are excellent in quality and great in flavor, but the Ransom has a maltiness to it that makes it stand out just a bit. I suspect each Tom will shine brightly in specific cocktails, so I can see both of them having a place on my bar.

A cocktail in which the Ransom excels is the Martinez, the martini precursor that uses gin, sweet vermouth, bitters, and sometimes either curacao or maraschino. Historically, the Martinez calls for equal parts gin and vermouth. I like them prepared that way, but I prefer a little more gin in mine.

Here’s my recipe:

Martinez

  • 2 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • lemon twist

Stir all ingredients except for lemon twist in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over drink and discard.

Photograph © Jennifer Hess

Ad of the week: Martini Gigger

Playboy, in its early days, ran a lot of these small ads for cocktail and liquor accoutrements. This one’s pretty awesome, and I’d love one.

martini-gigger

I mean, it’s perfect, right? At least assuming you like your martinis at 4 to 1, and I do. And I love that it’s normative in this era (unless you’re a Mortini drinker) to expect a 3.5 ounce cocktail.

Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum

My god, Tales didn’t kill me after all.

This rainy weekend saw Jen and me attending a couple of wine and spirit events down in Newport. On Sunday, we attended the Newport Wine Festival–three full tents of wine and spirits to sample. We weren’t too crazy about certain aspects of it, especially the way food was handled, but overall we enjoyed it. We went in part to see our old friend Jim Ryan, late of Dressler restaurant in Brooklyn, and now a brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin. I’ve seen Jim a couple of times at Tales of the Cocktail since we left New York, but Jen hadn’t seen him since the last time he sat a cocktail in front of her at the Dressler bar. (Disclaimer: Jim was able to procure tickets for us, so our entry was free. We paid for food and parking.)

name those botanicals

(photo by Jennifer Hess)

Jim gave a condensed version of his talk at Tales, when he and Charlotte Voisey gave a presentation on the botanicals in Hendricks gin. Jim discussed the use of spicy elements in the Hendricks botanical base, and spicy ingredients in cocktails. One highlight was the La Luna cocktail, a blend of gin, lime juice, cucumber juice, jalapeno syrup, soda–a delicious drink that I tried in the Botanical session and was happy to see at Newport, because I knew Jen would love it. Jim also had an assistant pass around a tray of botanicals, tins of juniper berries and other spices, alongside vials of the same botanicals in distillate form.

Monday, I flew solo and attended the M.S. Walker Wine Experience, a wine-and-spirits tasting put on by M.S. Walker, a distributor in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I focused mostly on tasting spirits since I knew there were a few new things I wanted to try. Chief among them was the new spiced offering from Chairman’s Reserve Rum, made by St. Lucia Distillers and imported into the United States by Team Spirits Imports Company. That latter group was repped at the show by its founders David Jones and Clyde Davis, and I had a chance to speak to David at some length about how the spiced is made.

Chairman's Reserve Spiced RumFirst, I have to say this: I normally hate spiced rum, and David put a finger on why–it’s often overloaded with vanilla. And yes, I’ve found that to be true, but there’s more. I just don’t think the spices make any sense. I can rarely distinguish anything other than clove and maybe nutmeg. And the damn things are always so overly sweetened. Gross.

Chairman’s is taking a different approach. First, the base spirit is the original Chairman’s Reserve, not a “second” gussied up with caramel and vanilla flavoring. Second, they’re using spices and fruits that make sense for St. Lucia–products that are traditionally grown or consumed there. Bitter orange peel. Clove. Ginger. Coconut. Nutmeg. (What you won’t find is the Bois Bande that’s used in bottlings sold in St. Lucia. Its supposed aphrodisiac properties would have made it too hard–fnar, fnar–to pitch to the TTB.)

Man, I really loved this stuff. I told David it was like sipping a well-made rum old-fashioned. Or, even truer, sipping a pseudo-OF. One thing I sometimes enjoy is using a small bit of liqueur or other sweetening agent in place of sugar (or simple syrup) in an OF. So I’ll sometimes take 3 oz. of a good sipping rum, splash in about a teaspoon of Allspice (Pimento) Dram, and dash on some bitters. The Chairman’s reminded me a lot of that.

Now, the Team Spirits guys had the Chairman’s Spiced at Tales, from what I’ve heard, but the one time I saw it was in a Tasting Room, and their table was always so mobbed I couldn’t get close to it. Everyone there seemed to love it, too.

Look for Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum to come to market in September.

Botanical Garden

Thursday morning, I had the pleasure of sitting in on the Botanical Garden seminar, presented by Charlotte Voisey and Jim Ryan of William Grant & Sons. Voisey and Ryan discussed the roles that various botanicals play in gins.

J&C

The seminar was lighthearted but info-packed. Four actors played the role of different botanicals and were decked in colorful outfits. At the right moment, the actor would come out into the room, dance or strut or even swagger around to music, and then exit. It sounds cheesy but it was actually quite fun.

Juniper

Charlotte started, describing the history of the science of botany, and how our understanding has evolved over time.

They then split the world of gin botanicals into four groups: spice, floral, citrus, and other. They said there was honestly no better term they could derive than “other.” In spice, they covered first the biggie: juniper. They worked through coriander, caraway, and cubeb.

The cocktail served during this portion was the Snapper. Their version included Hendricks gin, rice wine vinegar, spices and a float of port.

They moved on to citrus: orange peel, lemon peel. They use a bitter orange, like that found in marmalade, for Hendrick’s. As for the lemon, it’s there to help correct and soften other flavors. Cocktail was the Citrus Fizz, in which they tried to layer the citrus flavors in the drink. It was gin, Solerna Blood Orange Liqueur, creme de violette, rhubarb bitters, and the juices of orange, lemon, and lime.

Among the floral botanicals used in making Hendricks are chamomile, elderflower; meadowsweet, and rose petal. The cocktail served here was the Pall Mall Punch: Hendricks, chamomile tea, lemon, honey syrup, and Peychaud’s. Lovely drink.

wee cuke

Finally, the elusive “other.” Just three things here, one of which will certainly not surprise anyone: first, angelica root, and orris root and the non-shocker, cucumber. I was interested to learn that cucumber’s essential oils are too low to be added in distillation, so they’re infused in afterward. For this round, they served up the La Luna, which was really kind of fun, but a little strong: Hendricks, cucumber juice, jalapeno syrup, and lime. A very green drink.

Martini Project: DeVoto Edition

The martini: easily the most-often mixed drink in our household, and the one I have the most fun playing with. As Paul “Birthday Boy” Clarke pointed out recently on Serious Eats, it’s a much more flexible drink than people give it credit for. With the explosion of the gin category in the last few years, there are now many expressions of the martini’s base to experiment with. Vermouth, however…

Until recently, most elbow-benders didn’t have much choice in the vermouth market. You could find Noilly Prat, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi just about anywhere. If you were in a larger market, you could probably Boissiere and Stock, as well. In the last couple of years, though, that’s changed. I won’t say the category has exploded, but some excellent new vermouths are on the market now, and if you can find them, you’re in for a treat–Vya and Dolin immediately come to mind.

Further, if you expand your definition of martini to include a drink mixed with other fortified wines or aperitifs–sherry, Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano, or Bonal Gentiane-Quina, for example–you open up for yourself a number of new avenues for combinations. Until early this year, however, my options in Rhode Island were rather limited. Now, though, the Haus Alpenz portfolio is available to us, and I already have several nearby stores that carry the line of Dolin vermouths. (And I’m working them on the Americano and Bonal.)

With that in mind, it’s time to start playing. The game is, here, I’ll be mixing up various variations on the martini–different proportions, different ingredient combinations, etc. I want to get to a point where I can say, “Hey, I really like Bonal with Plymouth, and I also think Dolin’s the perfect partner with Tanqueray.” (These are just examples, of course; I’ve never mixed them that way yet.)

I’ll begin by tackling the De Voto recipe that Paul mentions in his SE column. In his newly reissued (and handsome) book The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, first published in 1948, the author and literary critic Bernard De Voto wrote of the martini that …

[t]here is a point at which the marriage of gin and vermouth is consummated. It varies a little with the constituents, but for a gin of 94.4 proof and a harmonious vermouth it may be generalized at about 3.7 to one. And that is not only the proper proportion but the critical one; if you use less gin it is a marriage in name only and the name is not martini. You get a drinkable and even pleasurable result, but not art’s sunburst of imagined delight becoming real. Happily, the upper limit is not so fixed; you may make it four to one or a little more than that, which is a comfort if you cannot do fractions in your head and an assurance when you must use an unfamiliar gin.

Now, most people would probably skip the 3.7 nonsense and go right for the 4:1 measure. After all, that’s easy. If you’re stirring for two, that’s 4 oz. gin and 1 oz. vermouth. For one person, it’s a snap to halve that. But how do you measure 3.7 or 7.4 or 1.85 ounces of anything? I always hit that roadblock and never went farther.

But I’ve been reading one of De Voto’s contemporaries lately, the gourmet, railroad aficionado, bon vivant, boulevardier, and long-time newspaper columnist Lucius Beebe. He wrote of a 1963 trip to Boston, in which he luncheoned in the private Union Club. He writes of their martinis that they’re “magnificent” and mixed “precisely according to the immutable formula laid down by the late Bernard De Voto.”

So to hell with it. I’m a geek, there’s gotta be a way to hack this. I remembered my digital kitchen scale. I placed a mixing tin on the scale and zeroed out the weight. Then I carefully poured 37 grams of water into the tin. That’s a little over 1-1/4 oz. but not quite 1-1/3. Okay, I could work with that. Take 37 grams of gin, 10 grams of vermouth; then it’s simply a matter of scaling that up to make two cocktails. I still needed the digital magic machine to get the right measure, but fine. Anything for you, dear ones.

De Voto Martini for Two

  • 148 grams gin (I used Bombay, which isn’t quite up to De Voto’s standard of 94.4 proof, but it was good)
  • 40 grams Dolin dry vermouth
  • lemon twist, for garnish (upon which De Voto simply insists)

Stir, dammit. Garnish.

Prior to dilution, that comes out to 188 grams or approximately 6.63 oz. for two cocktails. Just about perfect for my glass size, with a little left in the mixing glass. Now, an Imperial variation.

De Voto Martini for Two, Imperial

  • 5-1/2 oz. gin
  • 1-1/2 oz. vermouth
  • lemon twist

Stir, dammit. Garnish.

That’s not quite to the 3.7 standard, but it’s as close as you’ll probably come with traditional bar measures. That gives you 7 oz. of martini, prior to dilution, for a ratio of 3.66667 to 1.

And now even I’m weirded out by the geekery of this post.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a review copy of The Hour.