Wednesday, May 21, 2008

gin and vermouth -- two tickets to paradise

by Pink Lady

The LUPEC Boston column in this week's issue of the Weekly Dig stars two spirits that have become less and less vogue in the age of the extra extra dry, extra extra dirty vodka martini: gin and vermouth. I will save discussion of the "original" martini recipe (and modern bastardizations thereof) for a later date. For now, let's get to know these two glorious spirits a little better. They are key ingredients in a good many endangered cocktails, as LUPEC Boston member and Drinkboston founder Barbara West explains beautifully here. To coax these classics back from beyond the grave you will need to cozy up to both.

So, vermouth: qu'est-ce que c'est?

It's simply fortified wine aromatized with herbs and spices. As the story goes, vermouth was invented in Italy in the 1780s by Anthony Carpano -- allegedly it was grandma's recipe -- and the name is derived from the German term for key ingredient wormwood ("Wermuth"). Vermouth herb & spice blends are as protected and proprietary as recipes for gin botanicals, and can contain something on the order of 40 - 50 ingredients. Carpano's original vermouth was sweet and red; about a generation later, French herbalist Joseph Noilly invented a dry vermouth based on the delicate, dry white wines and local plants of his region, and also made with wormwood (which is also a key ingredient in Absinthe; more info on that in next week's column.)

Vermouth was originally referred to according to its country of origin, especially in old cocktail books. Italian vermouth references the sweet stuff and French vermouth references dry. Grazie, Antonio! Merci, Joseph!

Many Americans fear vermouth in this modern age of drinking, as The Spirit World's post on the topic articulates. Perhaps your first encounter was with vermouth that had gone stale for lack of use in your parent's liquor cabinet? Lesson learned, you shouldn't have been dipping into their stash while they were out of town, anyway. In any event, I implore you to give vermouth another try as a grown up. It's cheap enough to buy a few bottles, taste and compare, and discover on your own what you like best -- and what works best in different cocktail recipes. Married...with Dinner conducted a vermouth-by-vermouth in home taste test, the results of which are very enlightening.

My most recent vermouth "a-ha!" moment came with the purchase of a bottle each of Extra Dry and Sweet Vya at Brix in the South End. It's expensive for sure, retailing for $25 whereas other bottles in the category hover around $7 - $10, but Vya is a truly worth it investment, especially if you can find a way to write off alcohol purchases. Vya Extra Dry is light, herbaceous, and melon-y; Vya Sweet is warm, complex, citrus-y and spicy -- it reminds me of sipping my Swedish Pop-pop's glug by the fire on a snowy New Year's Eve in Vermont.

And for you gin-shy folks...

I actually did have a gin-cident circa my freshman year of college. I do not speak of what ensued that night and I didn't touch the juniper scented stuff for nearly a decade thereafter. Then I fell in love with classic cocktails and it was only a matter of time before my vodka days were numbered. If I can do it, you can too.

What really brought me back was the gin tasting we did at our very first LUPEC meeting in February 2007. It was an aggressive re-entry but it got me over the initial hump, and also taught me a very important lesson: not all gins are created equal. I found Hendrick's, with its crisp, clean flavors and fresh cucumber notes t be a great gateway gin. I also like the then locally unavailable Blue Coat Gin that a friend had smuggled across state lines for our hostess from the "City of Brotherly Love." I also learned as we tasted each gin side-by-side that it is the botanical blend of Tanqueray that my mind and palate equate with my gincident, not gin or it's juniper flavors. Et voila, I am now officially a gin girl.

I'm sure you've tried Absolut Citron or Grey Goose Orange; gin is just a few steps away from those flavored neutral grain spirits. Here are a few starter cocktails to get you going:

The Pegu Club
So refreshing & delicious, this is the one that REALLY brought me back to gin, at Taste of the South End last year. I had about seventeen of these.

1.5 oz Plymouth Gin
.5 oz Orange Curacao
.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Orange Bitters

Blue Skies
Tried this again recently at our April '08 meeting at Barbara West's house -- so delicious!


1 oz Applejack
1 oz Gin
.5 oz Lemon Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
1 or dashes grenadine
Shake with cracked ice and strain into your favorite vintage cocktail glass!

The French 75

What better way to sneak gin into the glass of an unsuspecting gin-phobe? By adding lemon, sugar, and champagne...

2 oz Gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar or 1 tsp simple syrup
Champagne

Cin-cin!

2 comments:

Adam L said...

Thank you for writing about Gin and Vermouth!

Really hoping that folks branch out a bit and dip into either (or both) pools as it opens up a world of classic and new cocktails to them.

I'd also like to add The Hearst and the (devine) Hanky Panky to the list of intro beverages for the gin-o-phobes.

Sure, they're sweet vermouth and gin which makes the Martini crowd cringe - but some find that the sweetness of the vermouth takes that pre-conceived bite out of the equation that folks seem to fear from gin.

Plus they are damn fine cocktails in their own right for the gin and vermouth lovers out there.

Cheers!

a.

Pinky G. said...

Great suggestions, Adam - thanks for chiming in. The Hearst is one of my favorites. For those interested, the recipe can be found in 'Esquire Drinks' by Mr. David Wondrich.