By Robert Marshall
No other spirit has experienced the fluctuations of fortune and infamy that gin has. Both the drink of the rich – a spirit that spearheaded the cocktail craze of the early twentieth century – and also the drink of the poor, it reached its nadir in the eighteenth century when adulterated with turpentine and sulphuric acid, it brought about the first English laws to prevent excessive drinking and control home distillation.
Juniper flavoured spirits, known as Genever, originated in the Netherlands, but arrived in England with the accession of William of Orange in 1689. Its popularity quickly spread and by the following century an alcoholic binge of gin crazed debauchery was endemic in London, the largest metropolis and global trading centre of the world at that time, and ever since gin has continued to typify the vices and virtues of an urbane life.
At its core is juniper which is distilled with other roots, herbs, citrus peels and spices. Many of these exotic ingredients arrived in the ports of England and Holland from the colonies and several of these core botanicals, such as orris root, coriander and angelica, remain key components in the distiller’s recipe and have helped make gin a perfect partner for many classic cocktails.
Unlike whisky, brandy or rum, gin doesn’t need to be aged (although some modern producers are experimenting with barrel matured gins). This means that a new gin can be distilled, with its unique selection of botanicals, and released, with some clever marketing and storytelling, relatively quickly. Today a plethora of gins exist from all around the globe some simple, light and citrusy, others heavy, spicy and complex. My recommendation is to experiment; try different brands with different variations of mixers, cocktails and garnishes, and explore the infinite possibilities that this beguiling spirit holds.
3 Classic Gin Cocktails to Buy, Try or Make at Home
Contrary to what James Bond orders, a Martini should always be stirred and not shaken and his preference for replacing gin with vodka was written to emphasise 007’s wry, idiosyncratic tastes. A great Martini should always be served as cold as possible. Make sure the iconic Martini glass, and even the gin, comes straight from the freezer. Choose a top drawer dry vermouth – Noilly Prat, Lillet Blanc or Martini Extra Dry. Opt for a ratio of quality gin to vermouth, the bigger the ratio of gin, the drier the martini, but a 4:1 mix will still allow you to taste the vermouth. Further dilution comes from stirring gently with ice (ideally spherical) in a mixing glass until freezing cold to the touch. The importance of ice in cocktails cannot be ignored and stirring allows slow and steady dilution, whilst shaking breaks shards of ice into the martini. Finally, garnish with a twist of lemon, squeezed over the surface of the drink to release its oils, or serve “dirty”, with an olive and a dash of brine. Like a silver bullet hitting your senses; Martinis are sophisticated, cool, crisp and super clean.
Gin & Tonic
Probably the most popular long mixed drink in the world, gin and tonic is enjoying something of a renaissance. In the last few years diverse menus have popped up in restaurants and bars around Romania’s cities offering an array of crafted gins, tonics and garnishes.
The origins of mixing withtonic water can be traced back to the British colonies. Quinine, which is extracted from cinchona bark, is thought to prevent malaria and the British took up the habit of mixing the bitter pill with more palatable gin and a dose of sugar. We have a new generation of Spanish gin drinkers to thank for the habit of serving the drink in a large copa de balon glass with a dash of tonic and a range of herbs and spices thrown in for good measure. If you are ordering, or making at home, make sure you have some decent size blocks of ice, and don’t overdo it with the garnishes – it is important to let the original infused flavours of the gin express themselves and bind with the bitterness and crisp bite of the tonic.
The drink originates in Florence and is named after Count Camillo Negroni who is purported to have asked for his favourite cocktail, the Americano, by adding gin rather than the normal soda water topped off with an orange garnish rather than lemon.
Easy to make and refreshingly bitter the Negroni delivers the perfect introduction to making serious cocktails. Made of equal parts of gin, campari and red vermouth (Martini Rosso) which, when well balanced, provides a supple blend sweet, sour and bitterness topped off with a twist of orange zest. In Italy it’s served up as the perfect aperitivo, but the Negroni is so delicious, especially when built up with chilled spirits over a huge cube of ice, that you will be tempted to skip the Chianti and continue the evening trying this classic drink with different combinations of gins, vermouths and bitters.
Robert Marshall is a Wine and Spirits consultant living and working in Romania since 2007.