Gin

A Drop Of Britain In The Mediterranean

20 June 2012

Although Great Britain controlled the exquisite island of Menorca off and on for less than a century between 1708 and 1802, its influence can still be felt in the local cocktail culture. The traditional tipple isn’t sangria or sherry, but gin. In fact, Menorca is one of the few places in the world with its own gin D.O., Gin de Menorca, because of the unique local distillation process.

British soldiers stationed on this small island off the coast of Spain longed for a taste of home, and residents obliged, distilling gin mostly from local wine rather than grain, in the manner of Dutch genever. I’m not sure how many distillers were crafting gin 200 years ago, but now the production of Menorcan gin is now dominated by one company, Xoriguer (sho-ree-gair), owned by the Pons family, which traces its lineage back to the very first Menorcan distillers. Xoriguer still uses wood-fueled copper pot stills to craft its gin, much like the first gin makers on the island.

I had my first opportunity to taste Xoriguer gin when I visited Menorca in late April. In need of a little refreshment after touring some of the island’s mysterious megalithic sites, we climbed down to Cova d’en Xoroi, a bar and club inside a spectacular cliffside cave overlooking the Mediterranean. It felt a little too early to drink the gin straight, so I opted for a classic Pomada cocktail. Traditionally, a Pomada is a mix of Menorcan gin and lemonade over ice, but at Cova d’en Xoroi, the bartender substituted lemon Fanta. It still tasted great — cool, refreshing, aromatic and just a bit tart. Of course, the flavor wasn’t hurt by the stupendously scenic setting.

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Gin And Juice

7 April 2012

After seeing the beautiful but disturbing Cindy Sherman exhibition at MOMA in New York, I needed a little refreshment, and a candy from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres installation just wasn’t cutting it. We headed to The Modern, MOMA’s superlative restaurant and cocktail bar.

Amazingly, we secured a booth at the bar without a minute’s wait, and before long I was sipping one of my favorite cocktails of the trip: Via Per Le Indie, a drink with an inexplicably half-Italian, half-French name that is nevertheless 100% delicious. Cadenhead’s Old Raj Gin, distilled to 110 proof and infused with a little saffron, serves as the cocktail’s base. This Scottish spirit is mixed with Bénédictine (an herbal and relatively sweet French liqueur), fresh lemon juice, ginger and honey, and served over ice.

For $15, I expected something impressive, and this cocktail did not disappoint. An aroma of honey gave way to flavors of juniper, citrus, ginger, and then honey again on the finish. Complex and delicious, and just what I needed after some serious art consumption.

I had a much simpler version of this cocktail at Thalia, a restaurant/lounge in the Theater District. Their Bee’s Knees cocktail ($11) combined Tanqueray 10, lemon juice and honey, and again I found it to be a most satisfying sweet/sour drink.

I had never tried this gin/lemon/honey combo before, but it has a long history — it turns out that the Bee’s Knees is a classic cocktail from the Prohibition era. The honey, no doubt, served to smooth over the rough edges of the low-quality gins available at that time (you can read more about the cocktail’s history here).

Fortunately, we don’t need to mask our gins nowadays, giving us much more freedom to create a balanced cocktail. Encouraged by the simplicity and ready availability of the ingredients, I experimented at home with various proportions. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is Odd Bacchus’s ideal Bee’s Knees:

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Orange Jigger and Rose Lemonade

10 March 2012

What bloggers want you to believe happens.

I’ve long been a fan of Fentimans Tonic, but it was only a few days ago I had the opportunity to try some of their other “Botanically Brewed Beverages.” While shopping at Whole Foods, I happened upon four-packs of Mandarin & Seville Orange Jigger and Rose Lemonade — on sale. How could I pass them up?

The intriguingly opaque orange soda and slightly pink rose lemonade each taste quite fine on their own. If you have a non-drinker coming to your home, I’m sure they would be delighted to have one of these instead of some high-fructose corn syrup bomb like Coke (or a chemical stew like Diet Coke). Be sure to serve it in a glass, so that the aromas can be enjoyed.

But I would be remiss in my duties as Odd Bacchus if I didn’t give you at least a few ideas for alcoholic beverages as well. Since I hadn’t worked with these sodas before, I wasn’t sure what booze would pair best with each. Vodka obviously works OK, but what about something with a little more flavor? An experiment seemed to be in order.

I gathered bottles of gin, rhum agricole (rum with a bit higher proof than normal), tequila and Cognac. In order to keep things fair, I used the same proportions for each alcohol: 1 part alcohol and 3 parts soda. Let’s begin.

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The Pegu Club

23 September 2011

An old friend sent me a script to read, and I needed a little nipper to make sure my editing skills were at their peak. I went through the cocktail menu in my mind to come up with something appropriate for the occasion. But then I thought, eh, the heck with it. I had some extra limes on hand, so I shook up a lovely Pegu Club.

This cocktail, named after a colonial British club in Rangoon, Burma, has nothing whatsoever to do with my friend or the script he sent, but gosh, it’s delicious. It’s elegant, but it has a whiff of the exotic, composed of gin, orange curaçao, fresh lime juice, Angostura bitters and orange bitters.

Eric Felten introduced me to this cocktail in 2007, back when he was writing his excellent weekly “How’s Your Drink” column. Felten confirms that this cocktail did indeed originate at Rangoon’s Pegu Club, though if it exists, this genteel (and at the time, whites-only) watering hole no longer exists. It either burned down during a 1941 Japanese air raid, or was taken over by the Burmese army. It’s rather odd that Wikipedia can’t definitively say whether it still stands, but then Burma isn’t the most open of countries. You can view an old postcard of the club here.

New Yorkers (of any race) can visit a lounge called the Pegu Club in Soho any time they like, and imbibe what is doubtless a stellar version of this cocktail. But those of us stuck in the provinces can make a perfectly delightful version at home:

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