twice in the past three days i have narrowly skirted making an ass of myself, an elusion for which i can take no credit, for it is only thanks to providence/the ignorance (providential ignorance?) of my audience that i was not unmasked for the charlatan that i am. but, grateful that i am for the negligence of fate, i cannot allow my offences to go unaccounted for, never being one to resist shooting a poor gift horse in the face (what?).
i have been talking about gin – because i like gin – and what is both offensive and wrong is i have been claiming that it is “Swiss, i think, Originally,” and that “Gin comes from Jeniver, which comes from Geneva, hence Switzerland.”
all wrong of course (i admit that as preamble to these bald inaccuracies i usually bemoan the difficulty of finding a good gin website compared to the ease of finding one for scotch, the latter of which being where googling is concerned basically the barely-legal-girl-on-girl of the spirit world), but thank god for Saveur Magazine, b/c they can’t help but go and deposit on my very table an April issue featuring a 3 pg. article on gin (its renaissance, the origin and varieties thereof)!
the issue also contains the article, “Queen of Spices,” on cooking with cardamom, which is a little bit eery if you’ve read that thing i wrote a little while ago that also features a passing reference to cardamom and the unlikelihood that i should run out of it b/c isn’t it one of those Spices Which You Buy For “Some Reason” And Never Use Until You’re Old And Grey Until The Day You Try To Make A Curry From A Proper Recipe Instead Of Just Patak’s And Then Wouldn’t You Know It You’re Out Of It, but in fact it is not because i happen to like the stuff and use it like, all the time, in you know whatever, but anyway . . . the issue also contains a feature article on classic Roman cuisine, which if you’d believe it i was talking about with someone not 5 hours ago – how handy is all this? i can’t believe i forgot to renew my subscription to maintain my ‘preferred subscriber’ status. it’s like they’re making up for that L.A. issue that despite my loving Chinatown and Raymond Chandler and the “later work” of David Maisel, failed to capture my attention.
so back to gin. much of the following is cribbed from that Saveur issue, on the off chance you have no subscription, are too lazy to go to a goddamn newsstand and read it yourself, or are say a cook in an antarctic research station and so have limited magazine access (a job the ups and downs of which i’ve more than than once speculated upon, and honestly am not altogether convinced i shouldn’t be out on a southerly-drifting ice floe with my Earth Chef and Mitoku [why yes, it is a knife made by a macrobiotic food distributor, would you like to make something of it?] and thumb out right now).
Genever – came out of Holland, let’s say around the 16th century, was in time mostly eclipsed by the London Dry style (see below), but is making a comeback. malt-spirit base, which then is augmented with botanicals, which gives you a drink much closer to a kind of flavoured whiskey than what you’re probably accustomed to. a little more easy drinking and less floral, largely because with the stronger flavoured base, you don’t want to go crazy with the herbs and spices or it like as not will end up tasting like vomit. i’m curious about these.
the usurper, whose successes we shan’t begrudge
London Dry – Gordon’s, Beefeater, Tanqueray, good chance the majority of gins you’ve tasted are in this vein, which came into its own in England in the 1800s and favours a cleaner, smoother base spirit that takes a back seat to the botanicals, which with some variation rotate around a combination of juniper, coriander, citrus peel, angelica and black pepper.
defined by its absence, sort of?
Old Tom’s – the predecessor to London Dry, there doesn’t seem to be a solid consensus on what it was or what it should taste like, after a good hundred years off the market, but it appears that a couple of producers (Hayman’s and Ransom) are bringing it back. expect something a little sweeter and fuller bodied than London Dry, but beyond that, you’re on your own, guy.
Saveur refers to these as “international style,” and basically includes any and all of the maverick breeds that don’t really fall into Genever or London Dry styles. Hendrick’s, with its cucumber and rosewater notes, is probably the best known (and, i can vouch, effing delicious) example. the article also recommends DH Krahn (soft, briny and earthy), and Whitley Neill (full, fruity, well-balanced, whatever that means), although the absence of orthopraxy regarding ingredients fosters considerable ambiguity in terms of classification. ie: Whitley Neill calling itself London Dry, but with the twist of a couple of added African botanicals. the faintly colonial echoes of which (“Inspired By Africa – Made In England”) i find cute, as they really are too spectral to be legitimately offensive on any level.
but good luck finding them, in Quebec especially, because the SAQ be some arbitrary motherfuckers.
postscript: a recent dinner guest of mine got onto this topic, and was outraged when she realized that the Person At The Party who had held forth with such seeming authority on Gin had in actuality merely read this same article. it is out of concern for being branded such a Know-Nothing-Know-It-All that i try to wear my sources on my sleeve, and defuse any situation where i am at risk of being taken as an authority on anything. nonetheless, a friend has pointed out that the role of sort of a cultural middle man that i am slipping into is an important one – panning bits and pieces, tidbits and tastes, from the streams of others’ expertise and conveying them in reasonably interesting fashion to those who have a more casual or occasional interest.
not unrelated, “For such a dirtbag, you sure can make a girl feel uncultured,” is one of the funnier, if double-edged things that has been said to me in a little while. meant as a compliment, i think, but while i have no illusions about not being a dirtbag, i’d hate to make someone feel bad.
big old softy that i am.
second postscript: although i didn’t make us of it at all for this post, as per all things alcohol, Iain Gately’s Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, is a hell of a good romp/resource and gives a good historical accounting of the English Gin Craze of the early 1700s (as depicted above).