Now that July is upon us, the Summer of Gin is well under way. How better to while away a hot Saturday (or Wednesday) evening than with a few refreshing gin-and-tonics?
The gin and tonic is a classic highball -- arguably the classic highball, after the scotch and soda -- and one of the few great bar mainstays of British origin. Given the drink's enduring popularity, it's easy to screw up. So bartenders should take care not to ruin it with cheap well gin, inferior tonic, or overripe fruit, as this useful 2006 article from MSNBC advises.
The Museum of the American Cocktail recalls the Hemingway gin and tonic -- the "standard" gin and tonic except with a lime peel and two or three drops of Angostura bitters. "Man can drink anything he wants. He has money to pay for it. He’s supposed to be taking his pleasure and he spoils good gin by putting it into some kind of Hindu drink with quinine in it," says Mr. Bobby, who owns the Ponce de Leon bar in Islands in the Stream.
"It tastes good to me," replies Thomas Hudson, Hemingway's protagonist. "I like the quinine taste with the lime peel. I think it sort of opens up the pores of the stomach or something. I get more of a kick out of than any other gin drink. It makes me feel good."
Hudson -- or Hemingway, rather -- was on to something.
A painting of a Sapphire gin and tonic with lemon by Christina Bingle.
I know that the dollar is weak, and thus American firms are susceptible to the current power of the Euro. But a Belgian brewer buying out Anheuser-Busch?
If I actually liked that flavorless swill the make in St. Louis, I'd spit it out. For the record, this beer drinker and once-frequent homebrewer thinks the take-over company's flagship adult beverage ' Stella Artois ' is the most overrated "premium beer" in the world. So I'd spit that out, too.
Regardless, there is just something wrong about foreigners taking over the quintessential American beer. How do you say "Proud to be your Bud" in whatever language they speak in Belgium?
We didn't make this video. I don't know the person or persons who did. They seem like fun folks, even though I'm not a great fan of Hendrick's gin (too gimmicky, not worth the price), and even if the video takes a needlessly vulgar shot at the Summer of Rum.
Other posts in the Summer of Gin series (so far):
Cocktails needn't be fussy. Objectively, there are few drinks as simple to mix as the classic martini. Combine gin, vermouth and ice, shake, strain, garnish with an olive or lemon peel, and enjoy. Easy, right?
If only. The martini, as most ardent drinkers know, has a cult following. Making the drink is a ritual in itself. Whole shelves of books have been dedicated to martini lore. (If I had to choose just one, I would recommend Martini, Straight Up, by Lowell Edmunds.) Friendships have been destroyed over the meaning of "bruised gin." And grown men have come to blows over the right proportion of gin to vermouth -- or whether there should even be vermouth in the drink at all. (Of course there should.)
I don't intend to revisit any of those controversies. The Summer of Gin is supposed to be fun, after all. But I do want to make the case for decent gin as the foundation of a great martini.
Decent gin? Isn't that obvious? Well, I guess it matters what "decent" means. Decent gin is neither cheap gin nor high-priced boutique gin. I don't believe it is possible to make, let alone enjoy, a Gilbey's or Gordon's martini. Those gins are too harsh and unforgiving. You can actually hear brain cells die. At the same time, although a super-premium gin such as Junipero or Sarticious makes for an excellent martini, expense or status are not essential for a first-rate martini. Far from it. And as much as I love a Junipero and Vya martini -- the quintessential martini, 100 percent Californian -- I simply cannot afford that luxury right now. (Donations will be gladly accepted, however.)
So at the moment, I'm drinking Tanqueray and Martini & Rossi fashioned the Bernard DeVoto way, except with a twist of lemon. It's a great drink. Regular old Tanqueray is a very good, reasonably priced gin. So is Beefeater, which was my dad's gin of preference. I used to make a fetish of Bombay Sapphire, but, truth is, Tanqueray or Beefeater work just as well.
Half the trick to making a great martini is the choice of ingredients. But the other half is simplicity itself: A martini needs to be cold. Yet even so obvious a piece of advice is controversial. Vermouth should be refrigerated, but what about gin? I would say no: Cold gin cuts down on dilution, and you want some dilution in the martini, as Gary and Mardee Regan urge. Dilution argues for ice -- lots and lots of ice.
So here is my recipe for a simple, classic martini:
Shake (or stir!), strain into a cocktail glass, garnish (or not!) with an olive, or lemon peel, or twist a lemon peel over the glass and discard. Whatever suits you. There can be no disputing matters of taste.
Other posts in the Summer of Gin series (so far):
If it were the Summer of Rum -- and it isn't -- then I would link without reservation to Eric Felten's article in the Wall Street Journal on Ernest Hemingway's love for rum drinks, especially the daiquiri. Whoops. Looks like I linked to it anyway. The daiquiri is one of those great drinks that's been ruined by time, cheap booze and what I would call the Slurpefication of cocktails.
Any other year, I would make a stronger case for the classic Hemingway daiquiri. I'll leave it instead to Felten, who always entertains and educates. We learn, for example, that "Hemingway allowed no sugar in his Daiquiris. His Doble-drinking hero in the posthumously published 'Islands in the Stream' declares that what makes him love to drink is 'drinking these double frozens without sugar.' Part of the reason Hemingway abjured sweet drinks was that it was harder to put them away in quantity: 'If you drank that many with sugar it would make you sick.'"
Did Papa know best? As it's the Summer of Gin, I really can't say. What gin drink beats a daiquiri? I would recommend an Aviation: 2 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur, 1/4 oz. lemon juice, cherry garnish. (Recipes can and do vary, however.) A great, refreshing (non-rum) cocktail for a hot afternoon.
I promise you this: Natty Light would never be caught in such a compromising position.
I was in Seattle last week, and made sure to make a pilgrimage to a booze paradise: the Zig Zag Cafe. I'd heard about it from various sources, and I was not disappointed. It's tucked away below Pike Place Market, near two of my other favorite Seattle destinations, the Spanish Table, and World Spice.
My plan was to settle in for some serious drinking, and luckily one of the bartenders (named Eric) came to our table, and helped direct my exploration (once I mentioned a couple of cocktails I'd made at home but never had at a bar).
So here's a report on the drinks, with links to the recipes from Drink Boy's excellent site (one of the sources that sent me to Zig Zag in the first place).
Corpse Reviver #2
Fin de Sicle
Here's an Italian variation on the gin and tonic -- gin and chinotto. OK, it's actually pronounced key-NAWT-toe, not chin-auto, but I couldn't resist the pun. And, in case you're wondering, it's a type of bitter citrus fruit, an Italian kissing cousin of the orange. Chinotto also makes for a tasty mixer, especially with gin on a warm weekend afternoon...
Hi there. New guy here. I guess it's up to me to break the ice.
The most-cherished bottle in my liquor cabinet -- and by "liquor cabinet," I mean "the top of my microwave" -- is a 15-year-old Laphroig.
Am I worthy of your envy? Or your contempt? And does it change anything if I say that I fervently hope Barack Obama wins the presidency?
Will Hugh Hewitt revoke his blurb because I said that?
OK, I'm at the dance. Will anybody make eye contact with me? I'm so nervous.
Did you see Chad's basement bar. Pretty damn cool. All the time I've been to Minnesota spending my hard-earned California taxpayer dollars, how many times have I seen the Saloon at Chez Elder?
Zero. None. Nada.
And now he moves away and leaves it behind?
I dold ya he hates me.
The Atomizer misunderstands the Summer of Gin:
Atomizer Sez: What?! Alcohol has seasons now??!! Nonsense, I declare!!!! Drink what you like when you like...period.
The point, of course, is not to dictate that only gin could be imbibed (how un-American!) but to suggest that this summer, gin would be an excellent choice--and if you haven't been drinking it (not a problem for a gin-soaked boozer like the Atomizer) you should try it...
I think he's just bitter that it's still 42 degrees in Minnesota. I suggest a nice aged rum by the fire...
Here's your assignment for this weekend, to prepare for the Summer of Gin (it's 80 degrees in Long Beach today, so I'm starting summer already):
Make a French 75. Despite its name (which comes from a piece of French artillery, so maybe I should say as its name suggests) this drink is not a knockout, but a great balance of flavors.
Chad the Elder is raving about a new drink called the Ten Thyme Smash. It's not clear where this drink came from, although it is certainly part of the gin comeback.
The recipe is indeed hard to track down, although I believe it can be found in this book (which I have not read).
A few years ago, Monkey Ben declared the Summer of Rum. Out of sheer laziness, and inebriation, every summer since has been the summer of rum. And it's been lovely.
But now I'm declaring Summer 2008 the Summer of Gin. A gin primer and recipes to follow, no doubt with the same results as Ben's rum posts...
(Oh, what the heck, here's a good gin primer.)
It's not Christmas until Bob and Doug McKenzie sing about comic books, packs of smokes, tuques (or tukes, in the American spelling), back bacon, french toast, turtle necks ... AND A BEEEER, IN A TREE.
Enjoy a song I played about 500 times a day when I was a young teen.
Update: I revised and reposted this article for the Winter of Apple series in January 2009.
It's fall. It's cloudy outside. There's a slight chill in the air. The apple trees are sagging, ready to be picked.
Or so I've been led to believe. It was 85 in my part of Southern California today. My grass is dying. I have two little apple trees and, to be perfectly candid, they don't look so good.
Imbibe magazine last month had a nice feature on the supposed resurgence of applejack. I say "supposed" because I really don't know if applejack is the next small-batch bourbon or not. But if it is, I couldn't be happier -- especially if my favorite potent potable becomes easier to find in bars. I was in Vegas over the summer and after a particularly dismal session of poker at the Circus Circus I repaired to a casino bar to sulk. Lo and behold, I spied a bottle of Laird's Applejack behind the bar. "I'll have an applejack and soda," I told the Filipino barman. "A what?" he said. "That," I said, pointing. Turned out, there wasn't even a shot's worth of booze left in the bottle. That capped the night for me.
Applejack is an American original. According to E.C. Kraus, a home wine-making site, "Applejack is made by storing completely finished apple wine at below freezing temperatures. What happens is the water that is in the apple wine freezes and rises to the top while the alcohol stays in liquid form -- a process known as fractional crystallization. Each day you simply scoop off the ice that has formed, causing the alcohol and the apple flavor that is left behind to become more concentrated." Got that? Good.
There was a time in the Republic when applejack was more common than beer, wine and whiskey. Applejack, in fact, was the first natively distilled spirit in America. The earliest temperance activists advanced their crusade by chopping down apple trees. Eventually, applejack's popularity waned. "There used to be a number of applejack distillers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- the places it always called home, right up into the 1930s," writes Ted Haigh. "Now all are gone save one."
A drink as old as applejack -- and apple brandy, generally -- has yeilded a number of cocktails over the decades. The most famous, I think, is the Jack Rose. Below are five applejack/apple brandy recipes that I highly recommend. Once again, I invite the other monkeys and our three or four regular readers to add their own suggestions or comments.
Here's a question: Are whiskey and beer more expensive? I think they might be and I think the ethanol craze is the reason why. Do I have evidence? No. Google is of no help, except to point to articles that I've missed.
I plan to post something substantial on rye before long. But I suppose I should at least link to Gary Regan's piece in the SF Chronicle and this story from the KC Star on rye's resurgence: "Edge is what ryes about, and distillers often use the grain to give bourbon a spicy bite. To be rye whiskey, though, a spirit must be made with at least 51 percent rye or malted rye and aged in charred new oak barrels...." Yes, indeed. I prefer Old Overholt, but I try to splurge for Michter's whenever possible. (It used to be $30 at BevMo. What happened? King Corn, that's what!) If I had the money, however, I'd go whole hog, as it were, for Old Potrero.
The latest issue of Imbibe magazine contains a feature on 50 gift ideas for the discriminating boozehound (my term, not theirs). In it, I made three happy discoveries. The first is a limited-edition whiskey-barrel bitters by Fee Brothers. The second, after a visit to Fee Brothers' website, is the addition of two new bitters -- grapefruit and lemon -- alongside the tried-and-true peach, orange, mint and old-fashioned flavors. Alas, Fee Brothers does not sell direct to the public. But the third discovery may be the best: a fine website called Kegworks, which sells Fee Brothers and Regan's Orange bitters as well as mixing supplies and, of course, keg equipment.
When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear of the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover...
--Kingsley Amis, "On Drink"
Monkey David and his bride Carrie hosted a party for the ages at their homestead on Saturday night. I helped tend bar. Over the course of 10 hours, we served 203 champagne cocktails, 91 Mai Tais, 87 Manhattans, 42 Cuba Libres, 14 Bronxes (Bill W.'s first drink, you know), 4 Sazeracs and 3 bone-dry vodka martinis. Also, the guests availed themselves of a 5-gallon jug of Fish House Punch, about which more below. Oh, and there was food. Lots of food.
By 10 o'clock Sunday morning, the carnage could be seen far and wide. I had a six-inch gash on my right forearm (origins hazy; possibly self-inflicted), which required emergency stiches from my wife. David's head swelled up three times its normal size and turned a sickening shade of overripe tangerine. A Vietnamese man emerged from the rear patio naked, gleaming with sweat and painted with the blood of what might have been a goat. My new old friend Oliver, who served as glasswasher, barback and bon vivant, wandered the neighborhood in a daze, wearing nothing but a bathrobe and just narrowly skirting arrest. Carrie, as always, looked radiant and unflappable, even though she drank the rest of us under the table, under the chairs, and under the house.
Hours later, I'm nursing the remnants of a fierce hangover, and I find myself wanting a more effective cure. The only real cure for a hangover, of course, is water and time. But who has either?
What I really want right now is a Corpse Reviver. There are two good recipes that I know of. One comes from Harry Craddock's immortal Savoy Cocktail Book. The other is an updated version that appears in Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology.
Corpse Reviver No. 1
(the original 1930 recipe by way of Harry Craddock)
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; Crocker warns: "Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again."
Corpse Reviver No. 2
(by way of Gary Regan -- although he lists this in his book as "Corpse Reviver No. 1"; Regan thinks this is the better version of the two; I defer to tradition and chronology)
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Either would be a fine pick-me-up at any hour, although Crocker suggests the cocktail is most effective before 11 a.m. Absinthe barmen Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz offer a useful survey of hangover cures in their beautifully constructed book, The Art of the Bar. "Folks at the restaurant frequently ask for a strong, spicy Bloody Mary," they confide. "But a glass of champagne, a Death in the Afternoon, or even a plain old Screwdriver may do the trick just as well." A Screwdriver sounds nice, but how about that middle thing?
Death in the Afternoon
Pour the Pernod into a champagne flute and fill with champagne; so easy, even a half-revived corpse could do it.
Hollinger and Schwartz offer another remedy, for which I cannot vouch: "If you're feeling particularly masochistic, you might want to try an Ernest Hemingway speciality known as Death in the Gulf Stream. This is a mixture of crushed ice, 4 dashes of Angostura bitters, the juice and peel of a whole lime, and an oversized shot of extra-dry Holland gin. As he said of the drink, 'It is reviving and refreshing; it cools the blood and inspires renewed interest in food, companions and life.'" I'll take Papa's word for it.
Now, a word or two about the Fish House Punch.
I don't know what it is about the Fish House Punch, but it's all but guaranteed to make imbibers disrobe. The mystery is why. According to Gary Regan, "The Fish House Club in Philadelphia was founded in 1732 when a group of fisherman formed a society dedicated to gastronomy as well as angling. Although the club is officially known as the State in Schuylkill, it's often referred to as the Schuylkill Fishing Company or the Fish House Club. George Washington dined at this club, and some historians say that three blank pages in his diary reflect the effects of the Fish House Punch that he indulged in during his visit." No word whether the Father of Our Country got naked. But the recipe, which is older than the Republic, is simple enough:
Fish House Punch
(Gary Regan's version, which makes 10 to 12 five-oz. servings -- extrapolate as needed)
Pour all ingredients into a large nonreactive pan or bowl; stir well; cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least four hours; place the large block of ice in a large punch bowl; add punch
David says he mixed a "modified version" -- I think he left out the peach brandy. The legendary outcome was the same. I've heard stories about the Fish House Punch, but I'd never seen the effects. One time, years ago, a Claremont College security arrested an opera singer who was wandering naked through campus. She'd imbibed the punch. Last night, our Vietnamese friend stripped down and jumped into the hot tub. He later said, "I don't know why I did it." But when I asked him what he had to drink, he replied, "Nothing but punch." Bingo. And David's pants "fell off" late in the evening after he downed two or three glasses of punch in quick succession. Coincidence? I don't think so.
We left David and Carrie's house shortly before noon. David was lolling on the couch, wondering how all 15 of his drinks last night had been spiked with alcohol. As I sit here sipping cheap cabernet in the low light, with the wind howling outside, I wonder much the same. And I look forward to the next party.
AnonyMonkey asks: "Is there a case to be made for flavored vodkas?"
Absolutely, yes. In brief, it's all a matter of taste.
Most everyone knows that the faux-martini craze fueled the market for orange, lemon and ever more outré flavorings over the past decade. But as the Beverage Tasting Institute notes, flavored vodkas are as old as the spirit itself, dating to about the 11th century. A quick survey of Hi-Time Wine's vodka section turns up at least 50 different flavors. If strawberry, melon or peach-flavored vodka strikes you as unmanly, try okhotnichya -- an ancient "hunter's vodka" infused with ginger, cloves, lemon peel, coffee, anise and other herbs and spices then blended with sugar and white port. Stoli makes one, but apparently it's no longer available in the United States. Pity. It sounds delicious.
Fact is, flavored vodkas do add another dimension to cocktails. Orange- or lemon-flavored vodka works well in a Cosmopolitan. And what would the Lemon Drop be without lemon vodka? A few weeks ago, I tried a tasty tipple consisting of Van Gogh Oranje vodka and Pama Pomegranate Liqueur. And, in my opinion, the very best Bloody Marys are made with Absolut Peppar. (Here's a dumb recipe. Here's a better one.)
A number of creative bartenders have mixed some truly innovative cocktails using high-end vodkas. The indispensible Gary and Mardee Regan have a great online recipe book that includes several drinks based on Belvedere Pomarancza and Cytrus. (By the way, if you are not familiar with Gary Regan's Cocktailian column in the San Francisco Chronicle, check out the archive. Lots of good stuff there.) I generally like the recipes at Van Gogh's site, too.
Personally, I'm more of a gin and whiskey guy than a vodka fan, although I kept several flavored vodkas in my home bar until just recently. I don't much care for Absolut's or Stoli's offerings -- they taste artificial to me (Peppar excepted). Skyy is terrible, but it happens to be inexpensive and it mixes well enough. Grey Goose and Belvedere are infinitely better, as one would expect of pricey super-premiums. But I would much rather spend my hard-earned booze money on really good bourbon or rye. That's a subject for a different post, however.
Below are five flavored-vodka recipes that I recommend. A few are a bit girly, but they've all been hits at parties I've hosted. I encourage the other monkeys and our three or four regular readers to add their own favorites in the comments.
Is there a case to be made for flavored vodkas?
Hey! It was National Boss Day today! (Is that correct? Or should it be National Boss' Day? Or Boss's Day? Maybe Bosses Day? Only Henry Fowler knows for certain.) Happily, I no longer have a boss upon whom to lavish cheap, perfunctory gifts or empty sentiments. Technically, I guess I'm my own boss now. What do you give the boss who has everything and nothing?
Gift cards would be nice.
Whaadya know. It turns out that MTV hasn't quite exhausted all the ways one can film 20-somethings screwing, drinking, fighting, screwing, whining, fighting, drinking, drinking, screwing, drinking and screwing ... and drinking.
The 719th edition of "The Real World" will return to Los Angeles next year. The show will be filmed in Hollywood in a "green" house Or is it "sustainable"? I'm never quite up on the latest trendy apocalyptic lingo.
According to MTV, the show will introduce todays youth to the ways in which they can incorporate environmentally friendly household items and make eco-friendly lifestyle choices, as seen on The Real World, into their everyday lives.
The house will utilize solar energy and feature recycled glass counters, sustainable furniture and energy-efficient lighting.
Great. I always wanted to see if fig-leaf condoms could prevent herpes and whether puke is hard to get out of a hemp carpet. Aim for the bamboo floor, kids!
Making a good martini really is simple. Nonetheless, almost nobody gets it right. Leaving out those abominations made with vodka and various fruity flavorings, ordering "a martini" usually will get you a glass of cold low-grade gin fit only for peeling paint off your garage door.
Chad knows this. I really believe that. But recently, he experienced some sort of altitude-related breakdown that caused him to do the unthinkable.
We can forgive him this offense. I'll even let the snarky swipe against protestants slide. But let us all learn from his lesson.
It's probably worth noting at the outset that the Mai Tai you may have enjoyed at Trader Vic's is not the same cocktail Victor Bergeron mixed up at his Oakland restaurant 60 years ago. Okay? Okay. But I greet the news of the demise of Trader Vic's in Los Angeles with great sadness. I last had a drink there five years ago. It was a fine place. There are still several of the restaurants left, but Trader Vic's at Los Angeles was an institution.
The Los Angeles Times is an institution, too. But I'll miss Trader Vic's more.
Yes I have.
So what of it?
I tell you, it's nigh on impossible for a man to get a decent beverage in America these days. You can't drink first-rate wine, good brandy, acceptable rum or even half-decent bourbon. Now, evidently, beer is right out. As far as I know, only a certain gin is safe.
I'm as patriotic as the next fellow, but these boycotts are proving difficult on the liver. I'm not about to brew my own beer, or ferment my own wine, or even distill my own whiskey. So I guess I'm going to have to betray my country -- at least, in the eyes of some -- and drink whatever the hell I like. (Except for the beer. It gives me horrific gas nowadays.)
Forgive me. It's... a weakness.