Category - Gin

1
James Bond (and NPR) Had it Wrong With the Martinis
2
Watershed and the Container Store
3
What To Do With That Bar Kit You Got For Christmas
4
Why the Hell Are These Men Smiling?
5
Mainstreaming of Cocktail Culture: The Blacklist
6
In Other News, Robert De Niro Has But the Most Tangential Acquaintance With What the F**k a Martini Is

James Bond (and NPR) Had it Wrong With the Martinis

"That's not an olive, 007!And do leave off shaking your Martinis, will you?"

“That’s not an olive, 007!
And do leave off shaking your Martinis, will you?”

The NPR interview I’m referencing here is “old”, in both internet and news parlance. But I just saw it, and shallow science and bad science reporting need a vigorous slapping around whenever it is encountered, no matter how playfully it is presented. The interview in question is with a Dr. Andrea Sella of University College London, who was promoting the fact that he and others had spent someone’s good money on a “scientific” study of shaken versus stirred Martinis. Actually, he’s talking about two studies. One, which isn’t his, is about health differences, and his, which is about taste. The resulting claims, as outlined by Dr. Sella, are as follows:

  • Martinis contain anti-oxidants. When you shake your Martini, you will have slightly higher levels of anti-oxidants. Because vermouth. Anti-oxidants may arrest aging slightly by locking up hydrogen peroxide. Therefor shaken Martinis are more healthy.
  • Shaken cocktails have more water, bits of ice, and bubbles in them, which alters their mouthfeel, decreases their temperature, and increases the dilution. So shaken Martinis taste better.

I’d like to address both of these, but first I’ll embed the audio of the interview, which got a helluva lot of press attention when it first aired.

The claim that shaken Martini’s are healthier than stirred, and the underlying implied claim that both means of preparation have health benefits, is ridiculous. Look, I love Martinis, but praising them for their health benefits is like raving about the fuel mileage in your Formula One race car. Anti-oxidants may (or may not) delay aging a little bit. And there may be some slight increase in their presence in a shaken Martini. But listen to the researcher, the overall amounts of anti-oxidants in Martinis, and the difference between shaken and stirred, must both be pretty slight, or he’d want to tell you how much it is. Drinking enough Martinis to get whatever small anti-aging effect they may offer, shaken or stirred, is going to be more than offset by the liver morbidity that would set in. So if “live fast, die (apparently) young, leave a beautiful corpse” is your desired philosophy, by all means make Martinis a part of your health regimen.
For the sensible among us who like Martinis, drink them small, and drink them sparingly. If you want some anti-oxidants, eat more berries.

As for his credibility on shaken Martinis… I’m sorry, Doctor, but you need better credentials than just multiple advanced degrees in chemistry to convince me. While it is true that there is a debate about which makes a better Martini, shaken or stirred, that debate is between James Bond aficionados and actual Martini drinkers. For the record, I am assuming that we are talking about gin, and not vodka Martinis, though this is never addressed in the interview. Dr. Sella is right about the physical effects of shaking, but not about the actual resulting aesthetics. The giveaway is in the following exchange:

D(r. Andrea Sella): Well, one might expect it to taste somewhat different. Now, first of all, let me declare my interest: I’m not a huge fan of martinis per se.

(Guy) RAZ: Yeah, a lot of people hate martins.

D: Absolutely. I mean, martinis are definitely an acquired taste. But the crucial thing is that when you think about what happens between pouring something into your mouth and experiencing it in your mind, in your brain, it’s not just the sort of chemical components. There’s a lot more going on.

I’m sorry, but if you don’t like Martinis, then you are unlikely to design a test to properly measure what is a good Martini. A traditional taste test methodology, a la the Pepsi Challenge, where a random sampling of humans are given two glasses labeled A and B, takes a sip of each, and expresses a preference, is fundamentally flawed when applied to semi-universal products like soft drinks. It is doubly flawed when used for Martinis.

As Sella notes himself, Martinis are an acquired taste. Did he test only Martini drinkers, or a random selection? I’m guessing the latter. This means that a lot of people, like Guy Raz for instance, were going to experience a test between two drinks, both of which will likely taste like ass to them. The shaken one will be more diluted and muted in flavor, exactly as he predicts. Of course people, when confronted with a cocktail that is frankly pretty confrontational, are going to choose the version that is less a punch in the snoot to unprepared taste buds.

But had they given the test to habitual Martini drinkers alone, who are already accustomed to the unique, assertive medley of gin and vermouth, the results would have swung strongly in the other direction. People who actually want to drink Martinis are looking for that unctuous experience that is figuratively and literally diluted by shaking. Less objectively, the visual experience is better with a stirred Martini. The glass-like clarity of the drink, unsullied by ice flows, bubbles, or foam, is easier and more rewarding to gaze into, and more in keeping with the drink’s flavor.

Incidentally, I was initially also skeptical of the whole “shaking releases more anti-oxidants” claim itself, beyond the fact that there can’t be enough there to provide a usable health benefit, but on consideration, this makes sense. Dr. Sella states they found the anti-oxidant comes more form the vermouth than the gin. Many spirits experts will contend that it is the vermouth, not the gin, which is “bruised” by shaking, resulting in the release of a few new or altered flavors. I can easily see that along with those releases of/changes in flavor, you might also get some additional release of anti-oxidant compounds.

Regardless, if you want to learn to love Martinis, the road there is not through vigorous shaking. Learn to love the taste of gin in gentler cocktails, then try the real thing. And whatever health benefits may come from drinking alcohol, they come only from consumption in moderation, and frankly I suspect most of them come not from chemical effects on the body (for the most part) but simple mental hygiene of a life well lived.

And less you think I’m being too hard on Dr. Sella, he’s really quite the interesting and entertaining scientist and science popularizer. He also has a good sense of humor when things don’t go entirely to plan. You can see quite a bit of him on YouTube, in productions like this fascinating piece:
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Watershed and the Container Store

Watershed merchandising at the Container Store
I saw a tweet from Watershed Distillery (one of Columbus’s two excellent micros) today containing the picture above. It seems that the Container Store has chosen to stick two Watershed bottles (Vodka and Four Peel Gin) in a display in every location in the United States. Well done, guys.

It is a well-chosen display, actually. Watershed’s minimalist labeling, and square-shouldered bottles go well with the chain’s clean-lined aesthetic, and the label colors of these two go well with the shelving and other accessories for the display.

For those of you who are unfortunate enough to not have Watershed in your market, don’t steal the displays. If you didn’t realize yourself, the batch number on these display bottles is “01”. I think there are likely more Container Stores in America than there were bottles in batch one of either of these liquids…. Just order yourself some from Binny’s.

(Mandatory legal disclaimer: My wife owns stock in the Container Store (Symbol: TCS), and I drink a lot of Four Peel….)

What To Do With That Bar Kit You Got For Christmas

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So you got a kit of bartender tools for Christmas. Great! Good for you.

Now, make me a drink.
A good one.

Right. Now that you’ve gotten some proper tools, it is time to set aside the Long Island Iced Teas and Rum and Cokes and develop a new repertoire of offerings to show that your knowledge has been upgraded just as much as your equipment.

My nephew/apprentice suggested I do a quick rundown of easy, classic drinks that can give you an idea of what you can do with those new bar tools. You can find all of these all over the web, and in books of course. But this is a good list that covers the major spirits, and gives you a quick overview of the sort of flavors sophisticated, well-made cocktails can offer you and your friends.

The Simple Daiquiri

Spiffy New Tools Used: Shaker, Juicer, Jiggers (Hawthorne Strainer)

Make this guy first. Yes, I know a blender wasn’t included in your bar kit. You don’t use a blender to make a real Daiquiri. I suggest you start with a real Dauquiri because virtually everyone will like it, and it teaches the most essential home-made ingredient you will need to “master” to make great cocktails: Simple syrup.

To make simple syrup, put 1.5 cups of refined white sugar in a small pot on the stove. Add 1 cup of water. Do not stir at any time. Bring the pot just to a clear, roiling boil, and kill the heat. Once it is cool, you are done. For a few cents, you’ve produced something that people pay eight bucks for. You can increase or decrease the amount of sugar you use in the mix as you get used to using simple, and decide how sweet you like your drinks. Simple will last quite a while in your fridge. If you add in an ounce of vodka as a preservative, it will last every bit as long as you need.

DAIQUIRI

  • 3 parts light rum
  • 1 part fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 part simple sugar

Pour all ingredients in your shaker and add plenty of ice. Shake it until the tin is very cold in your hand. Use whatever strainer you received to strain the frothy, icy mix into a cocktail glass. The garnish is traditionally a wedge or wheel of lime.

All the recipes in this post will be in “parts” rather than specific measurements. What matters when you make a cocktail, any cocktail, is the ratio between ingredients. How big a part is depends on how large your glasses are, and how many drinks you are making at once. More importantly, you can easily adjust any recipe to your personal taste by modifying the ratios. Many people like a 2:1:1/2 Daiquiri, which will be much more sour. The point is, put in some effort to determine what ratios you like. And since you are putting in this effort to get those ratios right, measure your ingredients. That’s why you have those fancy jiggers or measuring cups in your kit!

The Mighty Manhattan

Spiffy new tools used: Stirring pitcher, bar spoon, jiggers, julep strainer

Learn to make good Manhattans to impress the older, very experienced drinkers in your life. Show skill in making these, and a significant portion of the people who employ people in the world will take you just a bit more seriously. And while you are at it, slip one to your younger friends as well. You will open their eyes.

The Manhattan can be made with most any North American aged whiskey. But you will likely only be happy with one made with either bourbon or American rye whiskey. This is a bold drink, and benefits from the bolder flavors in those spirits. While you are learning, I’d use bourbon, as you can get a drinkable call brand (e.g. Maker’s Mark) for less than an equivalent rye. Once you know what you are doing, buy a bottle of good rye. Lots of us think it makes the superior Manhattan.

MANHATTAN

  • 4 parts quality American whiskey
  • 1 part Italian vermouth (the sweet, red stuff)
  • Angostura Bitters, dash to taste

Combine ingredients in mixing vessel. Add ice and gently stir a good long time. Strain into a cocktail class and garnish with a single brandied cherry.

There are three things to learn from making this drink.
First, the vermouth makes this drink. And with vermouth, you generally get what you pay for. Spring for the good stuff like Dolin, or Antica Formula if you can get it. And buy it in the smallest bottle you can, because vermouth is a wine, not a liqueur. It goes bad after opening… fast. Keep it in the fridge, and you may get a month out of it before it turns on your drink. As a home bartender, you will pour out a lot of vermouth. Get used to this. The ratio of whiskey to vermouth will vary greatly from drinker to drinker.

Second, learn to dash bitters. Do not tentatively tip the bottle over the vessel and jerk back when the first hesitant drops seep out. Similarly, don’t just let it pour. A dash is a big, swift, sweeping motion, followed by a quick return to upright. Bitters a cheap. Practice. And clean up the inevitable spills at once, or you will need a scouring pad, because it stains. Start with three dashes in your Manhattan until you know what you like.

Third. Do not ever shake a Manhattan. Don’t make me come over there.

The Quintessential Martini

Spiffy New Tools Used: Stirring pitcher, bar spoon, jiggers, julep strainer

This is a gin drink, padawan. Put down the vodka. If you’ve never drunk gin before, I suggest that you try a different gin drink to learn to love the spirit. And if you do drink gin, but have not had a Martini you like, try it again, made right, with fresh, good vermouth. Everything I said about sweet vermouth above, goes double for dry vermouth.

DRY MARTINI

  • 3 parts gin
  • 1 part French vermouth (the dry, white stuff)
  • Orange bitters

Combine ingredients in your mixing vessel and stir you long time, Joe. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with either an olive or a long twist of lemon peel.

Making your Martini is very similar to making a Manhattan.

James Bond and Goldfinger discuss lasers“Do you expect me to talk?
“No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to stir your damned Martinis!”

Martinis are the diamonds of the cocktail world. Like diamonds, the freer they are of inclusions, the more valuable. Shaking a Martini leaves bubbles and shards of ice on the surface. This would be great if your intent is to drown Leonardo DiCaprio in there, but not if you want to drink it. Not only is a stirred Martini more beautiful, it will taste better, as the bubbles injected by shaking will mask and muddle the flavors.
And yes, a really good Martini should have a dash or two of orange bitters in it. You won’t be able to taste them, but you will be able to taste the difference. People who don’t drink Martinis will happily drink your Martinis.

The Sumptuous Sidecar

Spiffy New Tools Used: Shaker, Juicer, Jiggers (Hawthorne Strainer)

This is a drink every bartender knows how to make, but since few have any idea how to make one well, it is one you can really show off with. It is a brandy drink, so be careful about what you use. Good brandy (sorry America, that usually means French cognac) gets pricy fast, and will be wasted in a Sidecar. But crappy brandy is just a shame in any terms. Keep a bottle of something French with the letters “VS” on it around, and you’ll be golden.

SIDECAR

  • 3 parts cognac
  • 1 part Cointreau or other high-end orange liqueur
  • 1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice

Combine in the shaker with ice and give it a good shaking until your hands are cold. Strain into a cocktail glass half-rimmed with superfine sugar.

Wait!
You told them shaking is all bad n’ stuff!

It is… sometimes. Other times it is essential. Here is a general rule that will go further to make you a cocktail expert than any other:

If all the ingredients in your drink are clear, then you stir it. If anything is cloudy or viscous (e.g. dairy or citrus) then you shake it.

As with the lime in the Daiquiri above, the lemon juice will make the Sidecar cloudy anyway. And opaque ingredients can leave the drink mottled in appearance if you only stir them.
Squeeze your own citrus juice. You will quickly learn there is a noticeable difference.
Sidecars traditionally have a sugared rim, but some people don’t like the extra sweet. Whenever you rim any glass with sugar, or salt as with a Margarita, rim only half to two-thirds of the way around, so drinkers who don’t want the rim won’t have to partake.

The Not-Really-So-Girly Cosmopolitan

Spiffy New Tools Used: Shaker, Juicer, Jiggers (Hawthorne Strainer)

This is probably the greatest vodka cocktail ever invented. And no, a well-made Cosmo is not necessarily a girly drink. Listen guys, if you aren’t manly enough to enjoy a pink drink that is this good, well, you are no man.

COSMOPOLITAN

  • 3 parts vodka
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 1/2 part fresh lime juice
  • 1 part cranberry juice cocktail

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake gently until chilly. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

This is a good drink to examine to understand that ratios are guidelines. Depending on the cranberry juice brand you use, all of these numbers can change. And of course, your desires for color, sourness, and cranberry-ness will also affect how you put this one together. My ratios here will give a pretty tart, colorful Cosmo. That said, the recipe is pretty bullet-proof. Just understand that the ingredients matter here. Cheap vodka will taste like crap. (Super-expensive vodka will taste exactly the same as the twenty dollar stuff in this and most other drinks.)
Do not use Rose’s or sourmix instead of fresh lime. Do not use triple sec instead of Cointreau. Use good cranberry.

Do not let the sweet pink color and gentle alcoholic impression make you forget that this is a full-power cocktail. Be safe.

The Old-Fashioned Old Fashioned

Spiffy New Tools Used: Bar spoon, jiggers, vegetable peeler

The Old Fashioned is a drink that is actually easier to make well than it is is to make crappily. Yet every day, thousands of crappy Old Fashioneds are offered to hapless drinkers. Why has this become the norm? Bad booze, that’s why. Don’t let bad booze happen to you.
The first thing you are going to notice about my recipe is that there are no orange wedges or maraschino cherries to be seen. A disgusting mass of crushed fruit is not part of a true Old Fashioned Cocktail. People started adding all that fruit because they were making the drink with liquors like Early Times. Booze like that needs something to cover it up. But if you are using good liquor, why not appreciate it?

OLD FASHIONED COCKTAIL

  • 4 parts high-quality brown liquor
  • 1 part simple syrup
  • several good dashes of Angostura or other complimentary bitters

Pour ingredients over ice in a low glass. Stir in the glass to get a good melt on the ice. Garnish with a long slice of orange peel, removed from the fruit with your veggie peeler.

That’s it! No muddling, no useless soda water. This is a quick, easy, extremely high-quality cocktail. After a few years of drinks learning, you may well settle on this as your “Gawd! I’m in no mood for crap, but I need a drink now!” tipple.
Most people use bourbon in an Old Fashioned. It is an American invention, and bourbon is the American spirit. But most any good quality aged spirit will make a delicious Old Fashioned. For my part, I make a slight majority of my Old Fashioneds with good quality rum. Knock the sugar down a bit when using rum, or if your bourbon is of the sweeter variety.

The Merry Mojito

Spiffy New Tools Used: Bar spoon, jiggers, muddler

One last suggestion, since you may well have gotten a muddler in your tool kit, and as just noted, it should not be used in making Old Fashioneds. This is actually the most complex of these drinks for your first bar kit, but if you make a killer Mojito, and if you do it with style, you will be King come Summertime.

MOJITO

  • 3 parts white rum
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 1 part simple syrup
  • 4 mint leaves per drink

Drop mint and simple syrup into bottom of highball glass. Muddle briefly. Add lime juice and rum, then ice. Top with soda water and give a quick stir. Garnish with more mint and a lime wheel.

Be careful with muddling. Unlike you may have seen in certain rum ads, you need neither arms like Thor’s, nor a half an hour’s free time to muddle one Mojito. You are merely bruising the mint, not crushing or tearing it. If you do crush or tear the mint, you will release not only the essential oils you need for flavor and aroma, but also other, less appetizing chemicals.

Er, the hotties in short dresses dancing on the tables in the video? Also not required… but recommended.

Now, you have your kit of real bar tools. Go out and make yourself some real drinks with them!

Why the Hell Are These Men Smiling?

Question of the day: What in God’s name is making these men smile?

Pictured is a bunch of men pouring out huge bottles of bootleg spirits into the gutter in 1931. Awful as bathtub gin was during Prohibition, the glee at so much hooch going down the drain seems… strange.

They are smiling so much because they already poured the gin into another tank. I’m guessing this is water they are pouring out.

That makes a certain amount of sense. Even today, you can’t capture smells in a picture.

Mainstreaming of Cocktail Culture: The Blacklist

Blacklist Megan Boone James Spader
Among the more important elements in growing and sustaining the cocktail movement is the way it is seeping into the popular culture, particularly the entertainment media. The obvious leader here is Mad Men (the show no one watches, and everybody talks about), with its loving ruminations on the importance of a well-made drink. If the world of fine cocktails wants to move beyond the strong fad or wave of fashion stage and embed itself firmly in a place in modern society similar to that of fine wine, it needs shows like Mad Men. But more, it needs scenes like the one that popped up this week on a new NBC show called The Blacklist, a show no one is talking about, but everyone is watching.

Below is the entire second episode, embedded for your perusal. NBC doesn’t seem to want to let me embed a clip or set the start time, so fast forward to 12 minutes for the scene that concerns us here. NBC may take a few moments to interest you in some insurance or soap before you can watch the video….

Here we see the series’s heroic villain (villainous hero?) proantagonist, Raymond “Red” Reddington sitting down with young FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen at a Montreal restaurant. Before I get to the cocktail implications, I’m going to do a brief review of the show, because regardless of your cocktailian proclivities, it is worth a watch. Red is a former government agent who currently holds down the number four spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, yet he has turned himself in to the feds solely in order to screw with the mind of Keen for some unknown and likely nefarious reason that we’ll get a little bit closer to understanding each Sweeps Week. Red is played by James Spader (you know, Ultron), who chews the scenery in a delightfully understated manner and he uses the rest of the cast, and the FBI as a whole, to accomplish lots of Really Good Things, by Really Dubious Means, for reasons that no one understands, but that we viewers imagine are Really Bad. He is stylish, unflappable, decisive, and nearly omnicompetent. He loves a really good drink. Oh, and he’s a textbook sociopath.

Red’s keeper/protegé Liz is played a bit too strongly in the first two episodes as an innocent with things to prove. I think this is to provide contrast to the dark and twisty road that Red (and probably her own past and her apparently too good to be true hubby) will take her on.

The rest of the cast is to this point unfleshed out. Most so far remain stock characters that you’ve seen in a host of other shows. The team leader, Cooper, needs to get some interest quickly before he turns into a black Basil Exposition. Malik is the sweet-faced CIA agent forced upon the team because… Justice always likes to have the CIA around to keep an eye on the FBI or something. Her main role on the show so far is to torture suspects right in front of FBI agents because the CIA is unbound by any law, and to just generally give some ambiguity to Red’s evil by being just as heartless. Finally the young FBI field agent Ressler is on the show to look smashing for the ladies while almost being blown up every episode.

I snark about these characters because snark is what I do. There is potential in each, combined with Red’s already fascinating portrayal and the generally strong stories, this could make for an ongoing hit. Think White Collar, with Hannibal Lecter instead of Neal Caffrey.

Now, back to the scene. It was crafted, I guarantee you, by someone who is a genuine cocktail snob who wants to show cocktails as superior to wine, not just a writer in search of a display of sophistication and mentoring (grooming?). Let’s break it down.

Liz orders first, a glass of chardonnay, as boring and prosaic as you could imagine from someone who isn’t really a world class sophisticate. Red immediately overrides her order to the waiter, in French. When the waiter returns with a purple cocktail, Red explains, “Aviation Cocktail. From the 20’s. Tastes like… Spring, doesn’t it?” The great cocktail in place of the boring wine is meant to be a gift, and also represent another step in taking control of her. But the clear implication here is that he upgraded her.
Blacklist Megan Boone
The Aviation is less popular today with the top of the cocktail set, but it used to be the cocktail fraternity’s Secret Handshake. It is a gateway concoction, and you largely find it on menu these days in markets or areas where the industry is still impressing on the minds of its clientele that cocktails have a next level. Red is using a gateway cocktail as part of a gateway conversation. And like the most effective gateways, the subject doesn’t know what she’s getting into, with the drink or her relationship with Red. The show also takes great pains make the drink look appealing: It is generally backlit so you can appreciate the exotic purple coloring, etc. (Incidentally, there is no way whatever is in that glass is actually an Aviation. That jewel-like color means there is no lemon juice present, and the purple is so dark you’d need 50% Creme de Violette to get there.)

We also get meaning from what Red drinks: a glass of neat whisky. Culturally, this is a cue that here is an older, more mature, and thoroughly masculine man, possessing both wisdom and perhaps inner pain. The scotch symbolizes him.
Blacklist James Spader
Scenes like this are essential to the mainstreaming of cocktails. First, it appears on a broadcast network, with an audience six times larger than a Mad Men, and ten times as diverse. Second, the drinks are portrayed as distinctly superior, in taste and sophistication, to wine. Third, the drinks are used to advance the story, and at multiple levels. Also, this episode is evidence of how far toward that end cocktails have come, for exactly the same reasons.

In the event you haven’t had an Aviation lately, or ever, I think I’ll finish with what I think is the best recipe, along with a picture of what one really looks like (equally as gorgeous, but perhaps less videogenic.) This is the exact recipe I happened to have just made for myself before my wife and I sat down and hit play on the DVR to watch this week’s The Blacklist. The looks on our faces at the twelve minute mark were priceless, I’m sure.
Aviation

UN COCKTAIL DE L’AVIATION

  • 2 oz. light, floral gin (Bombay Sapphire or a good New American style like Aviation)
  • 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • scant 1/4 oz. creme de violette

Combine ingredients with plentiful ice and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass, then gently place a single brandied cherry in the bottom.

In Other News, Robert De Niro Has But the Most Tangential Acquaintance With What the F**k a Martini Is

From the instructions he sends out to you just in case he decides to attend your party: Gin, chilled glass, small pour size. Check, check, check. That last item is especially well put (read the New York Post’s article).
So far so good. He sounds like a reasonable man here. Why am I getting so hot under the collar?

Shake for 45 seconds…!
Muddled cucumber…?
“No vermouth necessary.”?!?!

Tangential. At. Best.
robert_de_niro_wireimage--300x300-2
Yes, I’m talkin’ to you, Bob. It might be a fine drink, whatever it is, but show some respect in the future. I don’t want to hear you taking the name of the Gospel of Gin in vain again.
(Thanks to @Teekeemon for his alertly twigging me to this cultural travesty.)

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