I’ve been thinking about gin. Partly that’s because I’ve been drinking a fair amount if it lately, but not only for that reason.
It started when I was drinking gin in Vienna in the Blue Bar at the Hotel Sacher, which actually looks even more blue than the picture below:
I had a Gibson martini made with Wien gin, it looked like this:
At the time I didn’t know what Wien gin was, but I think it was probably this:
The Blue Bar made a good martini, even if I could have wished the glass a bit fuller, but those cocktail onions were the real revelation, sweet and mild, a million miles away from the vinegary sourness that goes with so many cocktail onions.
And then there was Das Torberg die Bar – a bar that stocks 200 gins supposedly. I ordered the Gansloser Black Gin - that's the bottle above - which (call me naïve) I had expected to be black in color but looked just like any other gin. Tasted very fine though.
We asked the lady behind the bar about Wien Gin and she served a couple of slugs of this stuff:
Which is certainly Viennese gin, though not the same brew as at the Blue Bar, and again perfectly good, and again I could have used a heavier pour.
And last weekend, in Palm Springs, I had an “Honest Gin Martini” at Mr. Lyons in Palm Springs – (it used to be Lyon’s English Grille, but has evidently gone native). And yes it lived up to its name.
But here’s the thing I’ve been thinking: gin, as I understand it, is essentially flavored vodka. At the very least it has to be flavored with, and preferably fermented with, juniper but the basic process and the basic stuff is the same. Now, if you look at the list of ingredients on any of the fancier gins you’re likely to see they contain licorice, nutmeg, cumin and whatnot: these, along with a dozen or so others go into Citadelle gin, which is French, and which I think is a very good ‘un.
But here’s what I don’t get: licorice, nutmeg, cumin and whatnot are noticeably colored – yet commercial gin continues to be entirely clear. What’s that about, then?
And I tried a little experiment. One of my favorite gins at the moment is Death’s Door, made on Washington island in Wisconsin’s and according to the label “it’s crafted with 3 Botanicals” – juniper, coriander and fennel seeds: very simple and all things that can be found in the Psychogourmet test kitchen.
So I got some cheap and cheerful vodka and spruced it up with those three ingredients and put them in my Sempli Incanter – every home should have one if you ask me.
Of course I don’t know what quantities the Death’s Door folk use (I think I overdid it on the fennel) but after a couple of weeks it tastes pretty decent if not exactly like Death’s Door, then a whole lot better than cheap and cheerful vodka. It isn't actually as murky as it looks in the picture - there's condensation on the glass
But there’s no way in the world the end result is going to be clear, is there?
So what do the manufacturers do? Do they re-distill it? Is it just filtration? Can you bleach liquids? I have no idea but somebody out there surely knows.
And I thought I should also throw into the mix: Ogden Nash’s well-known and perfect poem, “A Drink With Something In It,”
See what I’m talking about – the martini celebrated here is yellow, (yellow I tells ya!) – not clear, and that’s surely because of the gin, not the vermouth. Room for further discussion.
And OK, here's some of the discussion right here, a Facebook post in response.