The gin game: Shaken and stirred, will the real Martini please standup?

The gin game: Shaken and stirred, will the real Martini please standup?

Gary Regan


Although many cocktails now are referred to as Martinis, even if they don’t contain a drop of either gin or dry vermouth, the original Dry Gin Martini has made an incredible comeback of late, and luckily for us, that phenomenon has prompted distillers to issue some new bottlings of gin. Up to now none of those gins has let me down, but I do, of course, have my preferences.

As I see it, there are actually two distinct styles of London Dry Gin: On the one hand, there are the slap-you-in-the-face-with-juniper bottlings, and on the other hand are the gins with more muted juniper flavorings and a far more gentle soul. Personally, I prefer the sharp, perfumed, ultradry gins from the first category, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. The fact is that the gins with subtler flavors are usually just as complex as the sharper bottlings but are obviously made to attract consumers with tastes that differ from mine. And given the popularity of particular bottlings of both the styles, there must be a large contingency on both sides of that particular fence.

Some gins, known as compound gins, are made by adding flavorings, such as oil of juniper, to a neutral grain spirit, but the true London Dry Gins have botanicals distilled into the spirit – a much more complicated procedure that results in a tar more complex gin. You easily can tell which is which by looking for the word “distilled” or the phrase London Dry Gin on the label. Compound gins cannot, by law, print those words on their labels. But when it comes to how the botanicals are introduced to the spirit, each distiller seems to have his own idiosyncratic method that he swears is the best way to make gin.

One distiller might add his botanicals to the spirit and distill it immediately, while another distiller might allow the botanicals to steep for, say, 24 hours before distillation, and yet another producer might simply hang his botanicals in a wire basket in the neck of the still so that the vapors from the spirit will soak up their flavors as they travel upward. It’s all very complicated.

Distilled gins are made from a large variety of botanicals although juniper, by law, must be predominant in the final product. Citrus zest, I believe, is common to all gins, and both angelica root and coriander are usually the secondary or tertiary flavorings, but then the distiller might choose to use fennel, calamus root, cardamom, cassia, ginger, cinnamon, licorice, caraway seed or a host of other herbs, roots and spices to differentiate his product. Most gin distillers refuse to part with their recipes, but some gins actually state their botanicals on the label. You’d probably find it impossible to discover the proportions in which they are used. It’s all part of the magical mystery of great gin.

The wide variety of gins currently on the market – with more to come if my sources are correct – make it somewhat difficult for bartenders to make consistent Martinis, since, as far as I’m concerned, different gins require differing amounts of dry vermouth to make a perfect cocktail. As a lover of the sharper gins, I usually make my Martinis with about eight parts gin to one part vermouth, but after experimentation with some of the more muted bottlings I realized that they need far less vermouth to make what I consider to be the perfect Martini.

Of course, one of the beauties of the Martini is hat, like gin distillers, everyone on earth makes the cocktail differently, and everyone swears that his or her method is the best. And, of course, my method is the very best. But please remember that whether you like your Martini shaken or stirred, straight up or on the rocks, with a twist or with an olive, it’s not a Martini if it doesn’t contain vermouth.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Lebhar-Friedman, Inc.

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