Accidental Hedonist » Gin From a closed mind to an open book Tue, 26 Feb 2013 18:40:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Reader’s Choice Finals – Hendrick’s Gin versus No. 209 Gin Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:00:42 +0000 Kate

This is it – the finals. Out of the initial sixteen gins selected, these were the two that you deemed best. Your final task here is to pick one over the other. Will be be the lesser known No. 209 gin from San Francisco? Or will it be the popular Scottish Gin, Hendrick’s?

The choice is yours.  You have one week to vote.

[poll id="18"]

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The History of the Martini Mon, 09 Jul 2012 14:40:26 +0000 Kate

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

 (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

11. Gin Punch
(From a recipe by Soyer.)
1/2 Pint of old gin.
1 gill of maraschino
The juice of two lemons.
The rind of half of a lemon.
Four ounces of syrup.
1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
Ice Well.

This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

57 Martini Cocktail

(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;
2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
1 dash of Curaçoa;
1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

Turf Club Cocktail

Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899


1/2 c Tom gin,

1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

1 tsp orange bitters,

serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

Martini Cocktail

A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

“Golf Cocktail”

Extra Dry

There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

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The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #2: Bombay Sapphire vs. No. 209 Thu, 05 Jul 2012 14:18:24 +0000 Kate Vote!

[poll id="17"]

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The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #1: Hendrick’s vs. Leopold’s Thu, 05 Jul 2012 14:16:13 +0000 Kate Vote!

[poll id="16"]

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The Final Gin of my Final Four Sun, 01 Jul 2012 19:34:29 +0000 Kate

I’ve been sitting on this decision for two weeks, when I first compared Knickerbocker Gin to Leopold Bros. The problem? They were both quite excellent, and choosing one meant not giving the other its fair due.

Let me be clear, these are two very different types of gin, with Knickerbocker eschewing the traditional London Dry recipes, trying (and succeeding) to do something different. Leopold goes the opposite route, instead focusing on paying attention to the details of a traditional distillation. Knickerbocker is heavy on the botanicals, Leopold Bros. focused on perfecting the process of a classic recipe.

That’s not to say that Knickerbocker is not as well distilled as Leopold Bros. It sits very smoothly on the palate, and has no rough edges to the spirit that other gins have shown themselves to have in previous head-to-head.

So why did I choose Knickerbocker? It was that same bugaboo I came across in a previous tasting – Knickerbocker was interesting. Or, at least, it was one smidgen more interesting the Leopolds, which was also quite interesting.  The flavor profile of Knickerbocker provided something new and different. Yes, yes, the juniper was there, but it played with its citrus notes a little more, and the other botanicals, including cardamon, coriander,  were more assertive, but balanced quite nicely.

I have a feeling that if Knickerbocker ends up being my number one gin, then Leopold’s will be the second best gin in this exercise. Had it gone head to head with a different gin, I suspect Leopold’s would be in the final four as well.

But they didn’t, so they’re not. It’s Knickerbocker by a hair.

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The Third of My Final Four Gins Sun, 24 Jun 2012 23:58:48 +0000 Kate

One of the things that filling a 16-gin-bracket-in-order-to-determine-one’s-favorite accomplishes is that it allows one to see their predilections a more clarity. I’ve already seen this once so far in this endeavor, where I’ve come to terms with the fact that an alcohol-heavy spirit is a bug and not a feature for me. I’ve given my reasons for this before – alcohol numbs the palate, making it hard to taste the complexities within – but I recognize that ultimately this is a subjective preference based off of my own ability (or non-ability, in this case) to taste well with a higher ABV in tow.

I use this as an example to better support my second predilection that I’ve come across – I like “interesting” drinks. Imagine my discomfort as I sit here writing this line, without a clear definition of what “interesting” actually means. I admit that there’s no one consistent definition, and that puts my critical palate even more in question.

Take, for example, the third gin that I’ve put in my final four - Bulldog. I like it because it’s well made, it has a nice balance, and that there is no one flavor that smacks one repeatedly over the head.  Alas, these are the same characteristics that describe No. 209, to which I was comparing Bulldog.  So what differentiates the two? Well, Bulldog is interesting to me. It’s interesting because it has subtlety and nuance, a rarity in the gin world.  It uses different botanicals than No. 209, other than the standard juniper. It presents itself as a London Dry Gin, a more conservative gin style than No. 209′s  New Western Dry Gin style, and it does so with panache.

Yes, panache.

I drink Bulldog, and I don’t feel as if it’s off to the juniper races with other more popular gins. I get the sense that the folks at Bulldog are looking to do their own thing, but they don’t need to shout about it.  I like No. 209, but I’ve tasted their flavor profile – juniper with citrus- in other gins. Bulldog seems to show restraint, a great characteristic to have in a market full of “look at me! Look at me!” type gins.

And this makes them interesting. So their gin goes into my final four.

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The Reader’s Final Four Gins Mon, 18 Jun 2012 13:39:29 +0000 Kate So the votes have been tallied, the polls closed, and the Reader’s bracket now is a little more filled out. The result? We (and when I say “we”, what I mean is “you”) have the final four brands of gin that will go up against one another.

The four? Batch No. 209, Bombay Sapphire, Leopold’s Small Batch,  and Hendrick’s. Overall, not a bad selection of gin there.

The next step? Once I find time and get off of my duff to do my own taste tests and fill out my bracket, we’ll get down to the nittiest of gritties: Determine which is the best gin.

The match-ups will be

Batch No. 209


Bombay Sapphire

and the undercard will be:

Leopold’s Small Batch





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The Second Gin In My Final Four Sun, 17 Jun 2012 20:40:40 +0000 Kate

So now we have a second gin in my final four, namely Plymouth English Gin, whose smoothness and restraint on the botanicals easily beat out the overly-alcoholic and overly-junipered Beefeater.

If you’re looking for a great example of what the idea of “balance” is in spirits, Plymouth Gin would be a great place to start.  No one specific flavor stands out, even with the usual obvious juniper sitting in the midst of their recipe. But here it words with the botanicals, rather than trying to compete with them.  On the back of the palate, I taste a bit of lemon, but that’s on the finish. It doesn’t dominate. Even the alcohol works in concert with the other ingredients, and it does not overpower. Plymouth is a wonderful gin, and Beefeater, with it’s one trick pony of a flavor profile, never really had a chance.


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Vote For the Last Position in the Final Four: Spruce Gin vs. No. 209 Sun, 10 Jun 2012 17:07:29 +0000 Kate There can be only one, as we know. But it is possible for you, the reader, to determine which are the best four gins.  In this last match-up to make it into the final four, we have two lesser-known gins. On one side, we have Rogue’s Spruce Gin. On the other side, No. 209 Gin.

Your job? Let the rest of us know which one you prefer.  You have until the morning of June 17th to let us know. The fate of the world now lies in your hands…er…voting choice.

[poll id="15"]

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The Next Gin Fight: Beefeater vs. Bombay Sapphire Thu, 07 Jun 2012 15:17:51 +0000 Kate As you can see, you guys are filling out your bracket quite nicely, with Leopold’s getting into your final four. I’ll have more on that gin later this weekend.

However, there’s still five more of these polls to complete. Right now, we have two heavyweights going against one another. So I need for you to decide, which is better – Beefeater or Bombay Sapphire? Vote below!


[poll id="14"]

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The First of My Final Four Gins Sun, 03 Jun 2012 23:20:15 +0000 Kate

I’m of the belief that if a product can prove itself to be better than two other similar products, then it at least deserves the adjective of “respectable”.  When the final four gins make it into their respective brackets, it will be difficult for me to claim that they are undeserving of their position – and thus,  conversely, they are deserving of some measure of acknowledgement.

The first gin in my bracket set to make it into the final four comes from Portland, Oregon, and yes, it is hardly a secret now that there’s a picture atop this post proclaiming its new status. Aviation Gin is worth a moment of your time, or at least some measure of consideration.  It is warm, well balanced, but not overly heavy on the juniper. It has botanicals that put me in the mind of chai, although that does Aviation a bit of a disservice, as it’s far more nuanced and subtle that a peppery, spiced, tea.

When I compared it against Old Raj London Gin, the difference between the two were quite apparent. Setting aside the obvious varietal differences between a London Gin (Old Raj) and a New Western Dry Gin (Aviation), the difference that stood out was the over-junipered flavor of Old Raj. When compared against Aviation, it seemed out-of-balance and obvious.

Let me play with some fonts in order to help demonstrate the difference.

Old Raj - I AM A GIN!!

Aviation - I am also a gin.

In other words, Old Raj shouted at me, and Aviation just let itself be known.  And, for the record, it’s difficult for me to side with anyone  or anything that is too loud.

Aviation? Congratulations! You’ve made it to my final four. I’ll never fault anyone for having you in their collection.


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Leopold’s Small Batch vs. Knickerbocker Gin – You Decide Wed, 30 May 2012 02:42:29 +0000 Kate It’s a battle of unknowns, as you, the reader, gets to decide which of these smaller brands gets to make it into the final four of the Reader’s Bracket.

Is it Leopold’s Small Batch out of San Francisco? Or will it be the upstarts from Michigan, with their Knickerbocker gin?

You decide!

[poll id="13"]

The poll closes in a week.

In related news,  Hendrick’s make it into the final four in the Reader’s Bracket.

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The Thing About Gin: Lessons Learned From the First Round Tue, 22 May 2012 14:45:24 +0000 Kate Everyone has that one alcohol, that one drink that they detest. Usually the result of an unfortunate binge, this detestation shapes the way one thinks. From “Oh God, Tequila is vile!” to “I can never touch Cosmopolitans again”, the drinker puts aside the drink for a lifetime, never again to attempt to consume the drink.

Gin was this drink for me. After fifteen rounds with a truly awful brand of gin, I was the loser, the one down for the count. And I vowed never again.

Then, about a year ago, I wanted to find out about Martini’s, but could only muster a passing like for Dirty Martini’s, where the olive brine covers up the subtleties of the gin like an electric guitar at a pan flute concert.  When I decided to dedicate myself to the Classic Martini, I knew I had to address my revulsion head on. Eight taste tests and sixteen gins later, I realize that I have missed out on quite a lot, gin-wise.

Every gin is different, and honestly, quite difficult to compare two well made gins against one another. It’s akin to comparing Earl Grey Tea up against Pu erh.  Yes, they all share the fundamentals, but beyond that, it comes down to flavor preferences.

That being said, there three flaws that I’ve come across, that one should look out for in tasting gin.

The first is obvious to anyone reading these comparisons over the past two months – a higher alcohol percentage works against the gin, not with it. Alcohol numbs the palate, and the more of it in the drink, the less likely one will be able to taste the subtleties of the botanicals. The Sweet Spot, ABV-wise, is between 40-45%.

The Second issue is poorly run distillation, which leads to a higher-than-average chemical-like taste in the alcohol. This is typically found in cheaper alcohols, where quality control is less of a concern, but it does pop up time to time in mid-level brands.

The final regular flaw I’ve come across is out of balance flavors. If you’ve ever had a gin that boasted eighteen botanicals, but you can only taste juniper and citrus, then something is clearly off.

So what do I think makes for a good gin?

  1. Good aromatics that are balanced.
  2. A smooth mouth-feel where the alcohol does not excessively dry-out or numb the palate.
  3. A distinct flavor profile that is also well balanced.
  4. A pleasant finish.

Somewhere in my final eight, there is a good representative of the above. The fun part is looking for it.




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The Last First Round Winner: Was it Spruce Gin or Bulldog? Mon, 21 May 2012 15:38:19 +0000 Kate

The first round is done. There’s not much more to say to this, other than this was a belabored way to separate the wheat from the chaff, and now we have 8 gins left that are respectable.

The problem…well, not a problem, more like an observation…is that my bracket is far different from the reader’s bracket.  This is mostly due to a few folks stuffing the ballot box in a few instances, but that’s fine. These aren’t scientific results after all.

So who won this round, where Rogue Spruce Gin went up against Bulldog gin? Remember when I said ballot stuffing in the above paragraph? The reader’s picked Spruce Gin in large part due to this.  From my perspective, Bulldog is simply the better drink, for reasons listed below.

Rogue Spruce Gin: Not as aromatic as I anticipated. Spruce is there, the something vegetative, probably cucumber, but it’s off somehow.  Then there’s juniper, and a little tinge of citrus beneath it all. The taste is…spicy, with a bit of sweetness  that compliments the spicy (I’m guessing ginger) nicely. However, out of all of the gins tasted thus far, this is the least juniper-y. It’s there, but behind the sweetness. Then there’s the chemical taste that comes from bad timing in the spirit safe. This isn’t a bad drink, but it does come across as a bit …unrefined. When compared against some of the other winners in the previous 7 match-ups, this falls short in comparison. It’s not as bad as Gordon’s, but it ain’t great.

Bulldog Gin: Stronger nose on this gin, with a strong juniper and citrus (lemon) foundation. Buried in the aroma is a bit of  an earthy aroma (cardamon?) and, yes, even floral notes.

The taste is smooth going in, and the juniper makes itself aware without shouting. No citrus taste, but there is a spice there that reminds me of muffins. I want to say cardamon, but that’s not right…poppy seed? (Yup, the bottle says Poppy…how about that?) I can’t get over how smooth this gin is, and at 40% ABV, there’s some room to play around with nuance.  (Spruce gin is at 45% ABV, which works for me). The finish is silky, and reminds me of a well made tea – warm and comforting, and not bitter or astringent. Yup, I like Bulldog, at least in comparison to Spruce Gin.

I’ll have some first round observations on gin in a different post.

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