Time to talk about gin. And why the G&T is not just a cocktail, but a masterful cocktail.
Cocktails are a simple thing, really; pretty much every time (there are exceptions, of course), you’re trying to balance 4 flavour directions; sweet & sour flavours, and strong & weak flavours. The gin and tonic is one of the simple mixed drinks that works so well with those 4 directions that we have to consider it a cocktail. That and it’s got a confusing and misleading origin myth.
So. The Gin & Tonic. We’re using Blackwoods 60 here, because it’s really great, and because 60% gins are definitely the future. A decent double measure over a tall glass filled with ice, squeeze a sizeable wedge of lime (never, ever, lemon) over the gin, and rim (fnarr) the glass with the squeezed lime. Pour your tonic over (you’re aiming for 1 part gin to 3 parts tonic), give it a quick stir (careful, tonic is effervescent as fuck) and find yourself some sun to sit in. Or a comfy chair to ponder in. The gin & tonic. Simple, to the point and moreish. And if you use decent tonic, it’ll stop you getting malaria *and* scurvy.
Next up; the more sophisticated old school gin cocktail; the dry martini, often abused and never perfected. Careful instructions to be followed precisely, please.
- Take a pint glass/boston tin/vintage martini vessel and fill it with ice. Let it rest so the ice is wet.
- While that rests, polish your martini glass, pop a pinch of salt in the bottom, and fill with crushed ice and soda (or just water). The salt is there to help it get even colder, and to give a tiny lift to the gin flavours later.
- Strain off any water that’s collected in your mixing glass and add a decent splash of dry vermouth. I use Noilly Pratt, but Martini or Lillet are perfectly acceptable substitutes. Stir this and make sure all the ice cubes get a good coating of vermouth.
- Strain off all the liquid if you’re making a Montgomery martini, or throw the ice away if you want a Churchill (and replace with fresh ice). If it’s a ‘normally’ dry martini you’re after, leave a couple of teaspoons of liquid at the bottom. We’ll talk more about dryness shortly.
- If you like it dirty, add a couple of teaspoons of your olive brine at this point.
- Add 2-3 measures of your favourite gin; again, I’ve used the Blackwoods 60 here, but really anything above 42% is good. Gin at 37.5% is just juniper vodka, so avoid that unless you’re cooking salmon in it. With the 60% gin, you’re going to stir it for about twice as long.
- Stir with your hand on the glass or tin until it is uncomfortably cold to hold on. This is probably about 30 stirs.
- Throw out the ice and water from your glass, and strain the martini into the glass. Garnish with an olive or a lemon twist, to taste.
- Relax, enjoy, and drink it *fast*.
Martinis should be ice cold the whole way through or they quickly become hard work. Cold is your friend here; it gives the drink a lovely silky mouthfeel and most importantly means the distribution of gin and water isn’t even.
The reason we avoid gin below 42% is because all the different botanicals (flavours) express themselves at different strengths between rough 42 and 38%; below that point, it really is just overpowering with juniper. So you’re actually trying to create something quite unlikely and difficult with a martini; stirred enough to be integrated, cold enough to maintain some viscosity, and at the perfect range of strengths that you taste every flavour in the gin in each mouthful. Done right, it’s transcendent, and done wrong it’s worse than paraffin.
What’s that? You don’t know what I meant by dryness above? Confusingly, this refers to how little dry vermouth you add; a more dry martini has *less* vermouth in it. Churchill used to be happy for the sun to have shone through his vermouth bottle onto the gin bottle, which is why his martini has effectively no vermouth. The Montgomery martini is the next step up, with about a 1/15 ratio of vermouth to gin (the amount of soldiers Field Marshall Montgomery lost compared to his enemies!), and for most people, about 10/1 is about right. You can even make it wet, leaving in enough vermouth for a 6/1 ratio.
Experiment with your martini; try different gins and different dryness…it’s an impossible drink to perfect, but well worth striving for.