Jul 11, 201808:05 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
A Gin Thing
Ulrich De Wachter, Getty Images, 2005
Many of us, maybe all, at some point or another overdid a food item, a drink, or one of life’s pleasures. Or maybe all three.
And after the over-indulgence, we swore off the offending situation. Never again, we muttered. Or at least not for a long time.
With me, it was a Tator-Tot gorge. I don’t even remember the circumstances except that it was in college, in a dorm, and those frozen potatoes were all I could afford. I was on a room and board plan and all I can figure is that the food served in the cafeteria was so bad that it finally drove me over the edge. So, thanks to a sale at a grocery store, Tater-Tots and I bonded, then parted ways. Forever.
I’ve since learned that just about everyone has a similar tale. And when it comes to spirits, more often than not, that tale involves gin.
I like gin. It’s always been good to me and has brightened up many a dull evening. It even gave me an air of respectability, not the easiest thing to do. While visiting England, I was ordering G&T’s like a member of the Royal Family. “I say, you Yanks don’t usually go in so much for that sort of thing. Good to see you enjoying. Pip, pip.”
To be fair, the “pip, pip: is something I added to this story. They never said such a thing. Sorry about the fact-stretch.
Back to gin, such a delightful and refreshing spirit. Hardly any weight at all, quite versatile, and loaded with herbs, possessing an elegant bouquet. I do like gin, although in one important gin area, my wife and I differ greatly. More on that later.
Gin begins its life essentially as vodka, but then the botanicals, always a house-secret as to what those are, in what proportions, are added during distillation and there you have it. Like most spirits, the originators of the alcohol, in this case the Dutch, have become forgotten. The Dutch had a knack for growing loads of juniper, and their drink of choice in the 1600’s was known as jenever, a derivative of the word for the main ingredient, juniper
Through a series of armies intermingling between England and the Dutch, the Brits cultivated a love for the spirit. Soldiers hauled this newfound treasure back to London where it became the Toast of the Town. Gin it was now, as the English shortened the Dutch and Flemish name. The medical community got into the act and proclaimed the spirit healthy and good for the body. Can’t beat endorsements from doctors on a product featured behind the bar.
Fast forward through history, Reformation, Henry VIII, the use of Turpentine in gin’s manufacture, and finally placing Quinine into tonic water then mixed with gin, and it all became an effective anti-malarial agent. When conquering the world hosting a malaria epidemic is not considered good sport.
About those botanicals, the most obvious presence is juniper. In some gins, cucumber moves to center stage. Then in lesser flavor and aromatic impacts maybe an orange peel, cinnamon, lime peel, grapefruit peel, coriander, saffron, almond, nutmeg, likely a whole gamut of spices and florals. In the still, a “gin basket” is hung to where the distillate would be influenced by whatever the distiller chooses to place in the basket. The botanicals are not added to the liquid directly.
Real benefits to gin-based cocktails: they are refreshing in hot weather and notoriously easy to make with only a few ingredients. Gin itself adds so many flavors and layers that there is no need to get carried away with multiple ingredients.
Cucumber, Basil and Lime Gin Gimlet
- 1.5 oz. London Dry Gin
- 2 slices cucumbers (about ¼ inch each)
- 1.5 basil leaves
- 1 oz lemonade (not too sweet, very citrus-y)
- ¼ oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
Muddle basil and cucumber in shaker. Add ice and remaining ingredients. Shake. Strain and pour into rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with fresh lime wedge or cucumber round.
- 9 oz. (about 1.5 cups) Blackberries. Louisiana Blueberries if you wish
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup water
Bring all these ingredients to a boil in saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. After boiling, reduce heat, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, usually 20-25 minutes. Let cool, then strain syrup into large pitcher, obtain as much liquid as possible. Discard solids.
- 2 cups dry gin
- ¾ cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups chilled club soda
- Lemon wheels (for garnish)
Add gin and lemon juice to pitcher containing syrup. Add ice and stir until chilled. Fill Collins glass with ice, divide liquid, then top with club soda. Add garnish.
(courtesy Bon Appetit)
Oh, yes, where my wife and I differ about gin is in a French 75. She prefers the use of gin as a key ingredient. I cannot fathom that a French cocktail, invented in Paris, would properly use an English spirit. History is on her side. My palate rebels at the use of gin in this instance.
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com on Wednesdays, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature about cocktails in New Orleans, every month in New Orleans Magazine.