Gin and Tonic Variations

DM G and TProposed and Realized By: David

Also Realized By: Jonathan

“The gin and tonic,” Winston Churchill once said, “has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” He was alluding to the British East Indian Company’s invention of the concoction as a way of delivering quinine, which was believed to be an anti-malarial medicine. However, knowing Churchill, it’s possible he was talking about the self-medicating properties of gin.

I prefer the explanation of the drink’s prominence offered by Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every planet has its own version of gin and tonic, all developed independently from one another and pronounced essentially the same. There’s something about the “G and T” (or “Gin Tonic” as it’s called in some countries) that demands invention. The drink was simply meant to be.

And, to support Adams’ theory, it turns out tonic doesn’t cure or prevent malaria because you’d have to drink too much of it (and keep drinking too much of it) to reach even the minimal level of quinine necessary to suppress the disease. Science has taught us something important about gin and tonic, however—rather than doubling the bitterness by combining its three main ingredients, the similarly shaped molecules glom onto each other to mitigate their bitterness. I take that discovery as further proof of Adam’s belief in the inevitability of gin and tonic.

So why would someone want to adulterate it, and why would we use this space (again) to encourage such an abomination?

I thought of a post devoted to the drink by itself debating the proper tonic water (I like Fever Tree or Q, by the way), the proper gin (more later), and the proper proportion of gin to tonic, but all that sounded fussy. Let me be that rare voice of political tolerance in our contentious age and state that all the people, Republicans and Democrats, should compose gin and tonics as they wish, according to their tastes.

As you’ll see, Jonathan was much subtler, thorough, and scientific in his pursuit of proper ingredients. For me, adulteration felt like a different sort of test—not can you mess-up a Gin and Tonic, but can you actually stay true to the Neo-platonic ideal of gin-and-tonic-ness while also introducing a variation that might actually enhance its essential nature?

My first experiment was to follow a basic formula:

1.5 ounces Gin

.5 ounces something else

3 ounces tonic water

the squeezed juice of one-eighth of a lime

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of things for that something else—Lillet Rose, St. Germaine, Pimm’s #1, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Maraschino Liqueur, and Benedictine—and most of the results were passable, but no gin and tonic. The best were the ones with a certain je ne sais quoi, the ones that elicited the comment, “What’s different about this?” Of the ingredients above, Pimm’s #1 and Lillet were the most successful that way. Maraschino was also subtle. The worst? Benedictine.

Like Jonathan, I also bought dried juniper berries and other spices (though not in a nifty kit) and steeped them in vodka to create my own gin… and added sumac to regular gin… and used varieties of gin available in my liquor cabinet… and foisted all these varieties on various people. Jonathan’s testers are clearly better than mine. Everyone around me is sick of gin and tonics, so sick that their most thoughtful comments were “That’s nice,” or “Yuck.”

But not me. I’ll just say one thing about my experimentation. Nothing really ruins a gin and tonic… until it makes it something else.

Here’s Jonathan’s Approach:

JBM GTAlternatives of the classic gin and tonic? How hard could it be – change the gin and change the tonic. Heck, go crazy and change the garnish. One look at my liquor cabinet illustrates the true challenge, though. I have Old Tom gin, London dry gin, Rangpur gin, botanical gin, barrel rested gin and, after a quick search for tonic syrups that resulted in the purchase of a pre-measured spice mix, my own homemade gin.

You don’t need to go beyond tonic to understand the variations available. Quinine water, as we used to call it, ranges from classics like Seagrams, Canada Dry and Schweppes to a long list of high end and small batch sodas that grows each year. These include nationally available brands like Fever-Tree, Q and Fentimans to small batch soda versions found locally. There are also many syrups, I have used and love Jack Rudy’s, that can be mixed with club soda to make your own tonic water. Simple math made me realize I had to control the variables so I settled on premixed tonics.

The next question was gin. The classic uses London Dry and if the tonic was going to be dominant that made sense. As I noted, while searching unsuccessfully for new syrups I went into the Savory Spice Shop (a growing national franchise). They had a pre-packaged mix of spices to infuse vodka and make your own gin so that became another option. I also had a barrel rested gin, Cardinal, from nearby Kings Mountain N.C. and the gin style liqueur, Pimm’s No. 1, so I was set there too.

All that was left to do this right was to assemble taste testers and figure out ratios. My faithful panel was nice enough to gather for the task at hand and a forgotten shot glass made ratios approximate (I would guess it was 3:1 tonic to liquor). Here’s the three versions I made:

Prohibition (homemade) gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic
Lime wedge garnish

Barrel rested gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic in one session and Schweppes in another
5 drops Crude (Raleigh small batch brand) roasted pineapple/vanilla bitters
Lime wedge garnish

London dry gin
Pimm’s No. 1
Schweppes tonic
Mixed fruit garnish

The first mix was the most classic and the least liked. The gin was great. So good, in fact, that it was better by itself on the rocks. The nice part of make your own is that you can add and subtract spices. The juniper berries went in by themselves for 24 hours to emphasize that spice and the other spices were added for a final 24 hours.  If you are one of those people who don’t like the pine qualities of gin, though, you could add the juniper at the same time as the other spices (coriander, lavender, bay leaves, allspice and cardamom) and infuse for only 24 hours total to reduce their dominance. If gin is your favorite part of the G & T this may be the best option for your taste.

The second cocktail was a conservative variation yet well received. Barrel rested gin, at least the Cardinal version, is mellow and less spicy. The bitters added a subtle and different background flavor. I made this one with both the high end tonics and the less expensive stuff with the latter providing a quieter base to showcase the gin and bitters.

My final option was a G & T take on the Pimm’s Cup.  A number of Pimm’s Cup recipes suggest adding gin to increase the spirit quotient so I followed that idea by mixing Pimm’s and gin equally then adding tonic. The more assertive tonics worked really well here since it needed a mixer that stood up to the liquors. This is one to garnish with summer fruits like peaches, blackberries, blueberries and the like. The classic Cup addition of cucumber would probably work well also.

Jonathan’s Take: The T is my favorite part so high end tonics and syrups are well worth the cost.

David’s Take: Can I be a purist and an experimentalist at the same time? I’d like to try.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One of my testing panel members suggested a drink called Serendipity. It will require that I go against my goal of reducing the number of spirits in my cabinet by adding Calvados. The drink includes the addition, always welcome, of a sparkling wine though so I think it is worth it. Plus, I have to listen to my testers since they are practically professionals at this point.

Equal Parts Cocktail

ughProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Mixologist author Kara Newman describes equal parts cocktails as, “Easy to remember but challenging to develop.” Well, I guess that depends on your standards, on both counts. If you’re just looking to balance sweet, sour, bitter, and spirit, a host of combinations will develop in interesting ways. However, if you’ve had a few of these cocktails, remembering might be harder than you imagine.

Newman’s book, Shake. Stir. Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts, will come out in October. The book, she says, encourages versatility. She urges cocktailians not only to create new drinks but also to re-envision and re-proportion some favorites.

What appealed to me was simplicity. For once, I might make something I can remember when someone says, “How do you make that?

I’ve been experimenting with the equal parts cocktail for the last month or so—and sorry readers, our blog-silence is my fault, not Jonathan’s. I’ve reached important conclusions:

  • plan before you act—failing means failing entirely
  • don’t expect a single ingredient to establish itself as the star—maybe that will happen, but probably not
  • use ingredients you like by themselves
  • add some non-alcoholic elements; otherwise, the drink or it will be lethal

I made a number of these cocktails, and most I invented. I’ll offer two for your consideration—one sweet and one sour

Sam I Om (a Mimosa Variation)

one ounce each…

Gin

St Germaine

Lillet Rose

Orange Juice

Tonic

Shake the first four ingredients, add to glass and top with tonic

Whatever

one ounce each…

Lime Juice

Mezcal

Benedictine

Triple Sec

“Take a ratio that already works,” Newman suggests, “and just swap out elements one at a time until you end up with a drink you enjoy.” And maybe that’s all the advice you need to begin experimenting.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0218-2The first thought when I read David’s proposal was that I should make a sweet and a non-sweet drink. The second thought was that this idea would also allow me to re-visit the concept of layered drinks and the fascinating, to me, use of specific gravity to figure out the order of the layers. Neither thought was realized with great success.

There were all sorts of sweet and semi-sweet drinks that came to mind. I knew that I did not want to proportion a group of different alcohols which meant that I needed fruit drinks, milk products, syrups and the like to mix as a non-alcoholic portion. All of those make the drink sweet. I just could not come up with the equivalent in a savory or bitter drink although I hope on reading David’s intro that he was able to do so. The ultimate choice in this category was my version of the key lime cocktail:

1 ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce tequila
1 ounce half and half
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce lime syrup (maybe it was cheating but I mixed key lime juice and simple syrup 50/50)

Shake everything together with ice and strain into a glass rimmed with crushed ginger snaps and garnish with a lime.

The result was an all too white, fairly sweet drink that fell well into the tiki category. Good but one was plenty.

One of the main purposes of the layered drink, besides testing specific gravity, was to use a liqueur from South Africa that seems to be gaining the popularity it deserves. Amarula is sweet cream liqueur from South Africa made from fruit derived from the marula tree. That tree is also known as the elephant tree due to the pachyderms fondness for it. Interestingly, elephants eat the fruit, bark and branches of the tree so they can be hazardous to its health except in the spread of fertilized seeds in their dung.

I made two layered drinks with amarula the first of which is called the Monk’s hood. That one, with specific gravity in parentheses is Kahlua (1.14), Frangelico (1.08) and amarula (1.05). The second one substituted white crème de cacao (1.14) for the Kahlua. The gravities are so close that separation was going to be difficult so I used chilled shot glasses, poured each liqueur over a bar spoon to introduce them delicately and chilled the drink to let them separate further. None of that worked very well but the drinks were great. As great as doing shots for a not too young person can be that is.

Jonathan’s take: I am sure that sometime this week I will wake in the middle of the night and realize a proportional drink with rye whiskey that I could have made. Then I will go back to sleep.

David’s take: Reviewing a whole class of cocktails? Clearly more empirical evidence is needed.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Vodka is not my favorite. It must not be David’s either since it is the major spirit that we use the least. The time has come, however, to try a cocktail with vodka at its core. There are plenty of classics that we could, perhaps should, try. There are also variations of those – such as the madras version of the screwdriver. It’s the beginning of blueberry season though so I am proposing the gravely named Razzle Dazzle cocktail.”

The Chopped Challenge

drinksProposed by: Circumstances

Reviewed by: Brave Souls

David:

Two brothers, one cocktail, only one chance to win…

Though not really—Jonathan and I would have to be in the same city to go head-to-head in our Chopped-style cocktail challenge. Instead, we’re treating the spirits and peripherals we’ve gathered as cocktailians as mystery basket ingredients.

The challenge… to make an unforgettable drink from these mystery ingredients, before… time… runs… out.

We gave ourselves 30 minutes to draw the slips of paper bearing the names of our ingredients and make and serve the cocktail, which is plenty of time for mixology. It’s so much time that I made three versions of my cocktail before settling on the “best.”

Our distinguished panel of chefs will critique their work… and one by one they must face the dreaded chopping block…

In the end only my wife and daughter were brave enough to test my efforts. When I described this challenge to people, I heard the same refrain, “That sounds like a very bad idea.”

Who will win the $10,000 prize… and who will be chopped?”

The contestants on Chopped are always playing for something—redemption, professional credibility, familial respect, some (usually pretty narrow) charity, fellow suffers of odd maladies, getting the ball rolling on some project (like a board game, twice), or pride. I don’t know about Jonathan, but my goals were more modest. I wanted to avoid spit takes.

“Two contestants think they have what it takes to be a Chopped champion. Let’s meet them…”

I’m actually not sure I do have what it takes. A big part of being a not-so-savvy cocktailian is the protection of the label. If you advertise yourself as incompetent, how badly can you fail?

I was trying to apply what I’ve learned, which—as I’ve said—isn’t enough. Writing “Crème de Menthe” and “Spanish Port” on slips of appropriately colored paper, I understood why Chopped contestants sweat so profusely.

Cocktailians… here are the rules. There is one round with its basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available are pantry and fridge.

categoriesWe divided the contents of our liquor cabinets into four categories—basic spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines, and other non-alcoholic ingredients like bitters, simple syrups on hand, grenadine, and the like. It’s hard enough to make a harmonious drink from three alcoholic components (never mind some weird bitter).

I’d already decided to interpret “pantry and fridge” liberally.

When the clock runs out our judges will critique your drinks on presentation, taste, and creativity.

At least two of those criteria didn’t seem so tough.

Please open your basket.

I let my wife draw my four slips of paper and opened them all at once:

  • basic spirit: aquavit (a basic because I figured aquavit is like gin… giant mistake)
  • liqueur: crème de violette (which I’ve always thought must be what perfume tastes like)
  • fortified wine: Spanish sherry (goody, some earth tones to go with purple and ochre)
  • other: cardamom bitters (perhaps the bossiest bitter—it has to get its way)

First I thought, “This was a very bad idea,” and then I tasted each ingredient just the way the contestants on Chopped do… when they’re stalling. In cocktail class, I learned each cocktail is actually six ounces, with two being ice or mixer. When I combined equal portions of the spirits and a single drop of cardamom, it came out to 4 ounces of army green. Fail.

Try again. I thought the crème de violette had to be less and the aquavit had to be less and who in their right mind would ever drink anything grayish green? So I reduced the crème de violette to half an ounce, made the aquavit and sherry one ounce each and, from the pantry, used a half an ounce of lemon juice. Then my hand slipped, and I ended up with three drops of cardamom. The color was better. The drink was wretched. Fail.

Too much sherry, still too perfumy, and I thought, “I kind of hate cardamom… and caraway… and these silly things I think are a good idea.” With a few minutes left I came up with what I’m calling Pomegranate Chaos:

  • 1 oz. Aquavit
  • .75 oz. Sherry
  • .25 oz. Crème de Violette
  • 1 drop cardamom bitters
  • .5 oz. blood orange juice
  • 2 oz. sparkling pomegranate juice

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Pour pomegranate juice to taste.

You will note that pantry and fridge ended up being pretty damn important.

Cocktailian, you’ve arrived at the Chopping block…

If you watch Chopped regularly, you know the judges have clear predilections. Never serve Scott Conant raw onions, don’t call something mole if Aaron Sanchez in on the panel, Marcus Samuelson will accuse you of not preparing an ingredient properly, and Alex Guarnaschelli hates pretty much everything (unless someone else hates it, in which case, she loves it).

Here is what I imagine my judges saying (and pretty much what they did say), “I like the color, and the juice and sparkling pomegranate give the drink a real freshness, but the basket items are all lurking, hidden like an ugly chair in the corner when company comes over. It’s drinkable, but the part I like least, the funky aftertaste, comes from the main ingredients.”

Ted will ask (he always, always does): “Well, this is not a simple matter—do you think you’ve got it figured out?” The judges always answer, “I think we have.”

Like Jonathan I tried a second drink, which I’m calling the Pola Debevoise, with more reasonable ingredients: gin, maraschino, brandy, lemon… and I added grenadine to tie it all up. I learned from the first round to diminish the stronger flavors and used .5 oz of the lemon and maraschino. Trying not to rely on the pantry too much, I included only .5 oz of the grenadine too. I chose an ounce of Brandy but relied on the gin as the dominant flavor (1.5 oz). The judges liked that one better, though I doubt I’d make any round two.

So whose drink is on the Chopping Block?

David’s Take: Uh, I think I know.

bottles 2Jonathan:

bottles 1My name is Jonathan and I have little experience, no celebrity mentor and there is no drive to be the best mixologist here or anywhere. I operate out of my home typically, although I have been known to guest star at a sporting event tailgate with an audience that is mostly college students. Not to say that they are an easy group to please, but left to their own choices they are apt to choose Busch Light. The only classical training that I have has been provided by the internet, books, the rare video and observation in the form of television watching. In short, I know little, provide drinks to a very small sampling and am self-trained. I am ready for Chopped Cocktail, though, since I have a cabinet full of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, fortified wines and assorted additives.

It is also my hope that I can be an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they could home bartend but were held back by having a second toe longer than the first. Morton’s foot sufferers may not have ever been told they couldn’t be bartenders, but given the chance I am sure they would. Imagine the strain and pain folks like me must feel as the pronounced second toe shifts extraordinary pressure to the second metatarsal. There were so many days standing in the kitchen that I felt I could not hold the Boston shaker for one more second, but persevered to create the finest drink I could. If I win, it will be a true victory for my second, but longest, piggy.

The true chopped has rounds for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I really hoped, even with two attempts, to get a drink that could be a dessert but no luck. So here are my drinks with the appetizer first and entrée second.

drink picThe first choices revealed Irish whiskey, absinthe, lillet (rose’) and angostura bitters. It sounded a little like a Sazerac, at least from what I remember way back when we made that, so I went that direction. The first step was rinsing the ice with a little absinthe and then dumping the excess. I added the whiskey (1.5 ounce), lillet (1 ounce), and 2 drops angostura. The pantry provided a splash of simple syrup and an ounce of lemon juice. I shook all of that with the ice and strained into a coupe with a twist of lemon. The simple syrup may have been too much. For an appetizer it needed the bite of the bitters combined with the whiskey and acid of the lemon. The lillet provided enough sweetness by itself. Not a bad drink, but not the aperitif I wanted. The invented name (we need one of those, right) – The English Channel.

The second group was the entrée choice. This draw revealed rum, tuaca, sherry, and grenadine. These were mixed in a highball glass (1.5 ounce, I ounce, .5 ounce and 1 ounce respectively) along with orange juice (2 ounces) and seltzer water from the fridge. I added ice and garnished with lemon. It seemed a little tiki-ish so I should have added one of my leftover paper umbrellas to finish the drink.

This one was more popular with every taster except me. It had a similar color (keep in mind I am still color stupid) to the English Channel, but was much lighter in body thanks to the seltzer. Part of the concept of true tiki is multiple ingredients and I think tuaca has a future in that genre when it makes its next resurgence. It provides that unknown back flavor that would help distinguish the drink and make it hard to determine the secret recipes that are another part of tiki. This one I am calling Don the Chopped Amateur.

Jonathan’s take: When Ted pulls the shaker shaped cloche, I think I am chopped. Darn that stubby first toe.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Among the many drink related gifts I received this Christmas was a beautiful and well written book – The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. It is a great mix of information including more history and background on many of the cocktails that we have tried in the course of this blog. It also includes recipes for classics, twists on those classics (thus the subtitle “cocktails inspired by the classics”), and drinks that should be classics. After the chopped episode it might be time for one of those should-be classic cocktails called the Monte Carlo. It provides that important lesson that sometimes it is better to stir to chill instead of shaking to do so.

Tabernacle Crush

Tabernacle3Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

First, a little business. This blog is approaching its one year milestone, and Jonathan and I (no surprise) plan to celebrate. On August 9th, we’re going to write about what we’ve learned during this year of being a two person remote cocktail club, but then we’ll need your help. The next week (8/16) we want to write about what we consider the hits and misses in our selections. You, Dear Reader, might have something to say about that too. Jonathan and I recognize the same names as frequent fellow travelers on this adventure, and we would love to hear what you’ve tried, what you’ve liked, and what you’ve loathed. Please let us know. We promise to make you semi-quasi-proto-famous (just like us) by mentioning you.

Now onto this week’s business. Peaches—good peaches—don’t appear in Chicago until late July and disappear by the end of August. During that window, if you’re lucky, the grocery may present a few that actually smell like peaches. Those ripen. The others might as well be stones that, over time, soften to paste. A good peach is so good, a pasty one seems a particular crime.

The peaches I used for this recipe came from my wife’s visit to a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Lincoln Park, and proposing a drink dependent on such a rare and special fruit was a leap of faith. To be honest, I’m not sure where those peaches originated before that, but, around here, the common answer is “Probably Wisconsin.” I owe my wife… and Wisconsin… a debt of gratitude for the wonderful peach her visit produced.

To be candid, the name of this drink defies me—Tabernacle… what? Crush… what?—and I almost stopped right there, but, as a thrill-seeker and a summer-lover, I figured, why not turn my favorite sweet of summer into a drink. We can’t grow many things on our porch in Chicago, but basil is one plant that doesn’t mind the shade of taller buildings, so that was another plus.

Then I said a little prayer… “Oh please peach, be good.” I hope Jonathan had similar luck.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 large peach, sliced

6 small basil leaves, plus more for garnish

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces gin

1 ounce Lillet

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Ice

Club soda

In a tall glass, muddle the peach with the 6 basil leaves and the lemon juice. Add the gin, Lillet and simple syrup. Add ice cubes and top with club soda. Garnish with basil.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JBM

Spent the whole week trying to remember the name of this drink. I could tell you what was in it, how it was prepared, and drinks that, I assumed, were similar. I just could not remember the name because despite some muddling that could become crushing with a little more vigor, the name makes no sense. I sure hope David has offered some enlightenment.

South Carolina is my common destination of choice for the spirit of the week. As I have described, they operate under a private ownership system as opposed to the state run system in North Carolina. The price difference is not that great from what I can tell, but there is often a much greater selection and the employees are much more willing to offer advice and recommendations. Of course this far into the endeavor, it is always more a question of which gin I will use rather than a need to buy more.

The southern Carolina is also the location of choice for peaches. A distant second to California in annual production, it is still a major producer, and there are roadside stands within 20 minutes of our house. Summers become a game of waiting for the first ripe peaches, then waiting for the different varieties—all with the goal of finding that perfect peach so sweet and juicy that a single bite can lead to peach nectar dripping from hand to elbow. This drink was just another excuse to go in search of that perfect peach.

This is also the third drink within the last month that used basil, but the description made me think it might well be the best combination. I’m not sure that part was true, but the use of the muddled peach was not a disappointment. The botanicals of the gin clouded the basil taste, while the peach shone through. It is very important to pick a peach for the drink that is ripe to the point of being mushy. The ripe fruit breaks up in the muddling and while that makes it more difficult to drink it gives the cocktail a wonderful color and full peach taste. This may be one of those drinks that a purist would snub, but in the heat of summer, and at a time when the perfect peach is a worthy pursuit, it is great refreshment.

Jonathan’s take: Odd name, wonderful drink to celebrate summer and peaches.

David’s take: I’ll try to recall this one next summer… though I’m sure the name will slip from memory.

Next week’s proposal (proposed by Jonathan):

It doesn’t seem to matter what I am reading, there is one classic that keeps coming up – the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a South American brandy made with grapes and the sour is the classic drink of the spirit. In fact, it is the national drink of both Peru and Chile. More on the arguments about that next week.

The Vesper

20140208_175743_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are a few themes to our cocktail choices. Not surprisingly for novices, we have tried a number of classics like last week’s Manhattan. The most common cocktail glass choice has been some variation on the coupe. Odd liqueurs, fortified wines and herbals have all become more commonplace in our combined bars. Cocktails are best matched to the correct setting and situation. Finally, there has been a literary lean in the choices that has included a nod to Hemingway that lead to the author of a book on his drinks visiting and commenting on this site.

This week’s cocktail, the Vesper, combines many of those themes. The drink’s origin, at least the undisputed part, is Ian Fleming’s first James Bond book Casino Royale. It is a variation on the classic martini served in a coupe. The ingredients are gin, vodka and a fortified wine, Kina Lillet, so obscure that it is no longer made although there are recommendations for a substitute.

The recipe that I used is very close to one recommended by Ted Haigh as translated from 007’s precise instructions to a bartender:

3 parts gin (Gordon’s for Bond but Boodles in this case based on Haigh’s recommendation)
1 part vodka (Tito’s since it is grain based which I will explain below)
½ part Lillet Rose’ (Blanc is one substitute, Cocchi Americano another)
Twist of lemon as garnish

Combine liquids, shake with ice (to make sure it is very cold and perhaps slightly diluted by the melt), strain and garnish with the twisted lemon rind.

James Bond dictated the recipe to the bartender in a casino bar. He then tasted it and was so satisfied he decided it would later need a proper naming. His only quibble, consistent with the discernment associated with the character, was that a grain-based vodka would be an improvement over the potato based one the bartender used. That was splitting hairs by Bond’s own assessment, although he used a French expression (“mais n’enculons pas des mouches”) that is much more colorful than splitting hairs. I’ll leave the translation to everyone’s Google skills.

This is a drink that needs a scene like that painted by the author Fleming. He placed it in the casino bar as Bond meets his CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, for the first time. I felt like it was most appropriate for the waning daylight hours of a warm day. Perfect for sipping while the light slipped away and the cool of the night wandered in.

photo 2-16Here’s David’s Review:

I’m no martini man, classic or otherwise. I’ve had a few—surprisingly many for a person who has never acquired a taste for them—but perhaps I’m simply not dry enough or droll enough or sophisticated enough or just too coarse. I would be the worst Bond ever, worse than Timothy Dalton and much worse than George Lazenby. Gin is wonderful, vodka is—to my taste-buds—flavorless whether it’s grain, potato, or kitchen refuse, and Lillet (I used Blanc) seems quite pleasant. Lemon is good too.

Still, bringing the coupe to my lips and greeted by that familiar solvent smell, I had to hope their sum would be greater than the parts. My experience with martini-type drinks leads me to expect the initial burn of ethanol and the secondary warmth of nearly instant inebriation.

Okay, that’s not so bad, but it’s also not the sort of encounter I seek. Is it wrong to want a more disguised purpose?

The Vesper needed slow and steady sipping and very careful savoring. I tried to detect the separate components and monitor their influences on one another. I invoked all my senses as everyone tells me to and awaited the lift that invariably arrives after the first few swallows.

Still, here’s my verdict: I’m sorry.

Before you sigh and huff, Martini lovers, I want you to know it’s me. One of the only Latin phrases I know by heart is “De gustibus non est disputandum,” or “There’s no disputing matters of taste.” I’m not giving up on martinis—quite the contrary, I mean to figure out at last what others see in them—but I can’t pretend. I’d rather have bourbon on the rocks.

But, hey, a silver lining: I’ve made friends with the spirits expert at my local Plum Market, and she persuaded me to try a different (read: more expensive) type of vodka, Karlsson’s Gold, which is refined exactly once. Most distillers create vodkas refined over and over to the point of clear and clean consistency, but this one actually has a sort of flavor softer than you’d expect, if you can understand that. Granted, it’s potato and not grain (as Bond prefers) and didn’t redeem this drink for me, but it was a good discovery, something I can look forward to using again.

Jonathan’s take: Completely mixed reviews in my household on this one. It is definitely for martini lovers and demands the right setting.

David’s take: It’s me. It’s me. Martinis are just not my thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’ve been feeling guilty about making my brother wander the planet in search of Aquavit and have been thinking about ways to make his search worthwhile. I’ve decided on a cocktail called A Sling of Sorts #2, which seems to me suitably arcane, involving simple syrup, port, and seltzer. As we turn toward spring (a Chicagoan can hope, can’t he?), the light character of this drink might be welcome….