Mixology Monday: Gin

Gin tasting

It’s Mixology Monday, hosted by the wise-beyond-his-years Jay Hepburn of Oh Gosh! Our topic this month is gin. A fantastic topic it is too. Too many people lack experience with gin, thinking it’s good only for Martinis and G&Ts. It’s terrific in both, of course, but it’s versatile, and now we get to discover many ways in which it can be enjoyed.

Because November is Month Impossible for me, I wanted to write a quick and easy post. I failed, big time. But that’s lucky for you, because it means I will now spend many entertaining paragraphs (I hope they will be entertaining…) explaining what went wrong and offering alternatives and additions. Here we go.

The Cocktail

Faintly from the back of my mind, I recalled that there was a gin recipe that I’d not tried in one of my cocktail books. Atomic Cocktails is chock full of style, but its recipes are hit-or-miss. Still, I had been interested in this one, if only for the blatant Fitzgerald name-drop. Here’s the full recipe including prologue:

Webster’s F-Street Layaway Plan

This was the martini of choice for F. Scott Fitzgerald, patron saint of the mixed beverage. Could this wild hybrid of good gin and complex Chartreuse be the reason Scott and Zelda were always dancing in those fountains? In any event, the Layaway — a specialty of notorious Bay Area bar master Jamie Reynolds — is best served the way Fitzgerald liked it: day and night.

1/4 ounce green Chartreuse
1 1/2 cups cracked ice or 6 ice cubes
2 ounces dry gin
1 lemon twist for garnish

1. Chill a martini glass.

2. Pour the Chartreuse into the chilled glass; swirl it around to coat the interior, and discard any excess.

3. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the gin. Shake vigorously to chill, or use a long-handled bar spoon and stir gently about 20 times. The key is to work quickly so the ice doesn’t melt and dilute the gin.

4. Strain the gin into the chilled glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Serves 1

Pretty much everything about this drink sounded bogus to me. The recipe is nothing like a cocktail recipe from the early 20th century; it’s gin in a coated glass, which I’m sure wasn’t popular when Fitzgerald was alive. I’m unable to turn up anything about Bay Area bar master Jamie Reynolds. Plus, "stir gently 20 times"? Please.

Still, this drink would give me a use for the Chartreuse that’s been taking up space in my cupboard — as far as I could tell it was undrinkable. Maybe I’d finally found it’s place in the bar world.

I mixed the drink as described, using the gin I had on hand, Hendrick’s. (I know: not ideal for mixing. But I like it straight so I keep it in stock.) And I was thoroughly displeased with the result. The Chartreuse (green? yellow? I can’t tell — it’s chartreuse! Most likely what I have is yellow) and the Hendrick’s fought for attention and refused to blend. The lemon tried to make everyone play nice, but it was outdone.

So ok, this drink was no good. I was going to simply report my experience and be done with this MxMo post. And then I skipped around the internet and found Jamie Boudreau’s MxMo post, in which (among other topics) he explains that Chartreuse and gin are the best of friends.

The Bijou he described sounded delightful … everything that my Layaway Plan drink was meant to be. I didn’t have quite the ingredients listed, so I subbed in what I could:

Not-a-Bijou (with apologies to Jamie Boudreau)

1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz sweet Vya (which I bought because PeterB said I should)
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir, strain into cocktail glass. Lemon twist garnish.

This is a lovely drink, in stark contrast to what I’d made earlier. Incidentally, I had the outstanding fortune to visit Vessel a couple of times recently and thus to have drinks mixed by Mr. Boudreau himself, and I would describe this drink as being characteristically his style: complex and multi-layered and balanced. (Also: very strong.)

And but so, now I’ve given you one lame recipe for MxMo, and one recipe that was blatantly copied from another MxMo participant. What value am I adding to this world?

To make up for everything, I present the following investigative report: the results of a gin tasting I held a little while ago. Please enjoy!

The "My Brilliant Mistakes" Gin Tasting

Some months back, I received this email:

Dear Cindy,

Your blog is very interesting and would appreciate our new G’Vine Gin. G’VINE breaks away from the traditional juniper based "London dry" and is truly a unique product. Thanks to its versatility, G’Vine offers many new drinking options. Please visit this funny video/blog, which presents G’VINE as true innovation and an alternative to vodka. Feel free to share your great experiences with gin and/or vodka and share this blog with your friends. We are happy to link their blog to yours in "Gin, Juice & Other Blogs" category. We would appreciate it if you would link back to us as well. Enjoy.

www.deathofvodka.com

Cheers,
G’VINE Gin

So I checked out the website. The video was light and kind of amusing. But before I could recommend it to you, my beloved readers, I felt I should try the alcohol in question. And that I could not do, because I couldn’t find G’Vine Gin in any local Pennsylvania liquor stores. I deleted the email and figured that was that.

Another week passed and I received the same email again. I wrote back:

Hi there,

Thank you for the email. I’m interested in knowing more about your product. I haven’t been able to find it in stores — is it available in Pennsylvania? I’d prefer to try it before recommending it to my readers.

Cheers,
Cindy

They wrote back with a nice note, promising to send me a sample. And sure enough, some time later I received a package with two cute airplane-sized bottles of G’Vine, plus an impressive pile of marketing literature and a CD of images.

Being a marketer, and a blogger, and a person who enjoys gin, I liked their approach. Get the word out, use online technologies to reach your target market, get the product in the hands and glasses of people who can spread the good news. And send Cindy free gin. An excellent strategy.

The thing was, I felt quite unsure of the underlying concept of G’Vine. I mean, G’Vine is gin that doesn’t taste like juniper — which, to me, is pretty much the point of gin … the tasting like juniper bit. There are other flavors there too, different botanicals and whatnot depending on which gin you’re drinking. But the gin-ness of gin, if you will, is the juniper. Take away the juniper, and what’s left?

I thought I should try this juniper-lite gin along with other gins, to figure out what juniper brings to the party and what else is possible. And rather than drink great quantities of gin by my lonesome, I decided to invite over some gin-drinking pals to help.

The New York Times did a similar tasting earlier this year, mixing a variety of gins into Martinis and dissecting the results. I didn’t want to repeat their work. For my tasting, I would serve the gin stirred with ice and strained. Mostly, this would mean I’d have more tasters: My gin-drinking friends mix their Martinis with the "pour the gin and look across the room at the bottle of vermouth" method, and I feared they’d be thrown off if I tried to introduce any other ingredients into the drinks.

But that was just as well, because this gin-only tasting would allow us to focus more on the gin flavors without vermouth or olives or any such.

My tasters were my brother-in-law Mike, and my friends Jud and Paul. And me. All of us have been known to enjoy a variety of spirits, although I can’t recall Jud or Paul every drinking vodka.

For this tasting our responses were subjective of course — your mileage will vary — but looking through our notes you can see trends: I like the flowery and sweeter gins, Jud and Paul despise them, Mike has a wide range of taste. All the same, the common points are interesting.

Gin   Tasters’ notes

G’Vine   Mike: one star
Smells a little like witch hazel. Tastes like it is diluted already. Slightly sweet grape taste, not very good by itself. A lot like Vodka — maybe it would be good mixed. Not very ginny. "Tastes a lot like Bankers Club Vodka."
    Paul
Don’t buy it. Probably better with soda or tonic.
    Jud
Medicinal taste. Tastes "premixed." The French should stick to brandy. Would disappear in a mixer.
    Cindy: —
Herby. Citrus? Lavender? Like it’s already mixed with something. Would be lost with a mixer.

Tangueray   Mike: four and a half stars (second favorite)
Smells like gin — you can smell the juniper. Yummy by itself. Quite smooth, not too dry. Not a very complicated flavor, pretty mild.
    Paul
Straight. Nice gin flavor — mild. Not dry / pine tree-ish. Good with tonic. [Ed note: Paul brought this bottle to the tasting.]
    Jud
Tingles the tongue. Very easy to drink straight up. "Tastes like gin." Nice "burn" down the throat.
    Cindy
Can be drunk straight. Not super dry. Simple. Wouldn’t want a lot of it.

Burnett’s   Mike: three stars
Smells like gin but very slightly — not much juniper. Vegetable taste — pretty mild — middle of the road smoothness. Vodka back taste.
    Paul
Vegetable / cucumber-y. Mild, not dry. Not worth trying again on purpose, but OK in a pinch.
    Jud
Bite-y. Fairly wet, sweet. Upfront "veggie" taste. Alcohol back taste.
    Cindy: +
Juniper, cucumber or fresh green pepper. Front-loaded, not a lot of body. Similar to Hendrick’s. Slightly sweet.

Hendrick’s   Editor’s note: Here is where spelling and handwriting begin to falter in everyone’s notes.
    Mike: four stars
Smells like gin — juniper. Pretty smooth. Front and back taste the same. Back taste has a little cucumber. Something floral. Good by itself.
    Paul
Very mild smell. Nice kick. Cool? as a cuke. Don’t think it would mix with vermouth. Rocks? Shaken w/ice? Flowery: rose petal. Try with tonic.
    Jud
Pine then cucumber taste. Fairly smooth, flowery. Would hold up in a G&T.
    Cindy: + +
Pine, cuke. Smoother. Once you think "rose petal" you can identify the flowery taste.

Broker’s   Mike: five stars (my favorite)
Smells like gin — a lot like Tangueray. Pretty dry to start and gets sweet in your mouth. Sweet back taste. Lemony.
    Paul
Mild gin smell. Like a drier Tangueray. Would probably be OK with tonic or as a martini gin. Sweet but not too sweet. All-purpose.
    Jud
Wet, yet dry finish. Smooth, sweet, slightly citrus. Stands up by itself. Martini or G&T.
    Cindy: + + +
Juniper and sweet. Stronger proof. Versatile — mixable.

Seagram’s Extra Dry   Mike: two stars (my least favorite)
Very little smell — just alcohol. Tastes like vodka. Very dry — not too good.
    Paul
Strong sweet smell, low taste. Big burn. Not very good. Big ‘no’ for martinis. Maybe OK in a pinch for G&T. Not an herbal taste – more medicinal.
    Jud
Fairly flavorless. No bite or tingle. "Gin joint" taste.
    Cindy: –
Little flavor — like vodka. Burning for 80 proof. Paul’s gin in college.

Plymouth   Mike: three stars
Very mild smell. Very strong taste. Floral. Somewhat ginny, very dry. Strong back taste. Martini?
    Paul
Mild gin smell. Smooth start — very strong finish. Nice and dry — martini? Flowery linger. I wouldn’t seek it out again but would be OK w/tonic.
    Jud
Wet, full body, strong finsh. Floral taste. Mild smell, heavy aftertaste. Good mixer, but not on its own.
    Cindy: + +
Low smell, high flavor. Brings gin to the party, but floral. (What do I mean?? Probably that it tastes juniperish and floral, both.)

Junipero   Mike: one star
Juniper! Juniper! Juniper! Very floral. The taste stay in your mouth for a long time. If you like the "pine tree" taste, this is it.
    Paul
Very strong juniper — too much for me. Strong start, strong finish, strong a couple minutes later. A big ‘no’ for me.
    Jud
All about the flowers. Much bouquet — literally. Too much for stand-alone. Long-lasting flavor. Good for chewing gum, not gin.
    MBM: + +
Juniper up front. Flowery. Full finsh. Rose petal or lavender?

Bombay Sapphire   Mike: four and a half stars (third favorite)
Mild smell, quite complex. Clean taste. Same front and back taste. Very dry. Probably great for a martini. Very consistent taste.
    Paul
Very clean start and finish. Nice "gin" taste — not overpowered by any one flavor, nice blend. Best on its own — little vermouth, no tonic. Still my favorite.
    Jud
Clean flavor. Tingles the tongue — up the nose. Consistent taste before and after. Mild smell. Good straight up or with very little vermouth.
    Cindy: + +
Clean with flavor. Has fragrance. Subtleties. Blendy — balanced flavor.

     

So what have we learned?

  • I wanted to like G’Vine, hoped that I would find something appealing in it, but I couldn’t find a way to drink it. After the main tasting I tried mixing it in a Martini with just a little vermouth, and then in a Gin and Tonic with a slice of lime. The Martini did not work at all for me, and the G’Vine was lost in the G&T.
  • Broker’s is a damn fine gin. Also, the bottle comes with an adorable little bowler hat. That makes it seem chintzy even though the stuff is expensive. But the gin is lovely.
  • After tasting all the other gins, with the wide range of flavors and strengths, I expected to find the Bombay Sapphire thin or bland. It was not. It still had plenty of flavor and subtlety. I didn’t think it was quite as versatile and tasty as Broker’s, but I was impressed with it.
  • Nine gins is a lot of gins to try. Even if one is having just a sip of each, those sips add up.
  • Taste plays a big role in enjoyment. Whether you’ll agree with any of our tasters is, well, a matter of taste.

OK! It’s time to see what others have devised for the Gin Mixology Monday. Please visit Oh Gosh! and see what can be seen. Cheers, and thanks to Jay for hosting!

6 thoughts on “Mixology Monday: Gin”

  1. Thank you, Cindy. As a staunch but unadventurous fan of G&Ts (Tanqueray preferred, thus far, but I’ll often suffer a well drink—in fact, I did tonight, now that you mention it), I feel that I got a lot of bang for my (nonexistent) buck on this thoroughly researched report. I had never even heard of Broker’s, and I’ve seen but never tried Hendrick’s. Now I know that I must try both, and I trust that I will like them.

  2. Ooo. I remember a fairly open-sounding invitation to the tasting showing up on Twitter a couple of months ago; I briefly thought about showing up.

    I really, really shoulda.

  3. The Webster F. Street Layaway Plan is a drink that appears in John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday (about 15 years after Fitzgerald’s death). As far as I know Fitzgerald never had a thing to do with the drink, although Steinbeck liked it. It’s simply a martini made with chartreuse instead of vermouth and garnished with lemon or lime instead of olives. From what I can tell in the novel (and I presume Steinbeck was writing from personal experience) the touch of chartreuse was added in the shaker. While it’s not my favorite drink, I don’t find the Webster to be the disaster that Cindy does.

  4. John Steinbeck described the “Webster F Street Layaway Plan” in his novel Sweet Thursday as a “drink … made of rattlesnake venom and raw opium.” Weee-doggie!

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