Proposed by: Jonathan
Reviewed by: David
As the Jeff Goldblum character in The Big Chill tells us, the world is full of great rationalizations. One category of rationalizations is the adage of alcohol as medicine. The proposal this week was to use our newly acquired liqueur, Chartreuse, in a mix with gin and quinine, and each of those ingredients has been purported to have medicinal qualities.
The legend is that Chartreuse was not only created as a medicine, but as a way to prolong life. The monks who actually made it did so specifically for medicinal purposes. No doubt the popularity has led to production for other purposes, although even monks could be excused if they continue to rationalize that it is made for its curative properties.
There is no need to repeat the full history of gin, especially in this short form, but it’s also one filled with tales of the health benefits of gin and juniper. Ailments ranging from stomachaches to gout have been addressed with gin. In fact, the very popularity of the spirit in England is said to have begun with the observation that, if opposing soldiers drank it prior to battle, it calmed nerves.
One of the best, and most complete, histories of the use of juniper and making of gin is found in The Drunken Botanist. I’ve mentioned this book by Amy Stewart before, and it is a wonderfully detailed cataloging of the use of plants throughout history in the making of alcoholic beverages. The section on juniper and gin is a combination of history, anthropology, and botany. Once again, much of that also includes the medicinal principles applied to gin in general and juniper specifically. Read it for yourself so that the next time you crave gin, you can suggest the drink is only because you wish to “…thin any thick and viscous juices.” There’s a nice rationalization.
The last ingredient is quinine, which is also known for its health effects. Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree and has been used, among other things, for pain, inflammation, and most famously, malaria. Recipes for the classic gin and tonic range from high-end tonic water, that presumably contains the most quinine, to those made with whatever you can find on the grocery store shelf. I even read a few recipes for creating my own, but lacking a cinchona tree, I ignored those. My choice was Schweppes since our brother-in-law, Will, recommends it.
My original proposal was to create a Chartreuse, gin, and tonic. As it ended up, I did that to mixed effect (too much botanical) and then backed up to make the classic G & T with lime garnish, as well as, a Chartreuse and Tonic with mint garnish. The latter was an interesting substitute for the classic and the former its normal reliable cocktail. All of this, of course, was for my health.
Here’s David’s Review:
I’ve had a few gin and tonics. I joked with one of Jonathan’s college friends that, wherever I went, I could get them to slip me a gin and tonic. That gas station and convenience store outside Carboro? Of course. The county courthouse you passed on the way to Fayetteville? You just needed to know who to ask. The concession at the mall multiplex? They were ready. You just had to put finger to nose and nod in just the right direction, no code words required.
To me, you can change gins and change tonics, and a gin and tonic still tastes like another gin and tonic. But add Chartreuse, and a gin and tonic isn’t one anymore. Chartreuse ain’t cheap, which should be abundantly clear by now, but it’s also quite distinctive in its effect (and potency, by the way). The bitter and botanical flavors of quinine and juniper meet a sort of a kind of an ally in Chartreuse, yet the Chartreuse adds a mellow and syrupy element that makes the cocktail smoother and sweeter, heavier than the typically crisp, summery, and refreshing gin and tonic.
I’m not sure this drink would ever replace gin and tonic for me. I liked it, but you need to enjoy Chartreuse to appreciate it. In the version my wife and I first tried, you would also need to enjoy lime juice. The half-ounce we added distanced the cocktail further from gin and tonics. To me, it was too much, the sugar in the fruit pushing the drink closer to a daiquiri than a cure for malaria.
As someone with a deep fear of malaria, I like my gin and tonics medicinal, more bitter than sweet.
In the second iteration of this cocktail, we used the mint we’d forgotten the first time and added only as much lime as we could squeeze from one quarter. I liked it better because the mint found an echo in the Chartreuse—I figure mint may be one of the 130 ingredients—and, if you happen to already have some Chartreuse on hand, I’d recommend that version.
A disclaimer, however: I am not recommending stopping at the county courthouse on the way to Fayetteville to ask for a Chartreuse, Gin, and Tonic. No amount of gestures and cryptic remarks are likely to get you one. In fact, you could very well be arrested and/or sent summarily to the nearest mental health facility. You might also have your mettle questioned, which, as every gin and tonic drinker knows, is untenable.
Jonathan’s take: The idea to use Chartreuse was a great excuse to revisit a classic.
David’s take: As a variation, wonderful, but I’m going to keep experimenting with Chartreuse. I’m not sure we’ve found its best use yet.
Next Week (proposed by David):
One of Jonathan’s best friends (and a fan of this blog) is visiting Chicago next weekend, and my wife and I are looking forward to sharing dinner with him and wife. I’ve chosen a restaurant with a nice cocktail list, so I’ve suggested that Jonathan and his wife go find a place for cocktails in Charlotte. Who knows what we’ll try (or retry), but putting our fate in the hands of a professional mixologist will be a nice change… and maybe spare us (and our budgets) another bottle of something odd in our liquor cabinets.