Let summer beGIN, says Bury St Edmunds' restaurateur Maria Broadbent of CASA
"Gin. . . the principal cause of all the vice and debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people" 1721 Middlesex magistrates
I ‘progressed’ to liking gin sometime in my mid-twenties. Back then, the options were quite limited and Bombay Sapphire was the unusual one! We have come a long way from Gordons or Bombay with Schweppes or Britvic! The plethora of gins and indeed tonics is mind blowing. Combine these with a whole farrago of garnishes and glasses – I guarantee you will be a quivering wreck.
A BOTTLED HISTORY OF GIN
Jenever – Dutch gin or Hollands is the juniper-flavored national drink of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved. The European Union regulations specify that only liquor made in these two countries, two northern French departments and two German federal states can use the name jenever or its derivatives. The link with Holland doesn’t end there, English troops supporting the Dutch in Antwerp against the Spanish in the 16th century drank Jenever for it’s calming qualities – hence the phrase Dutch courage!
BINGE DRINKING 17TH CENTURY STYLE
Gin was the catalyst for licensing alcohol in this country – some compare this to current drug wars. Imported from Holland from the 1690s, it was readily available and cheap – by the 1730s consumption was estimated at two pints per week per Londoner. It was held as the primary reason for high levels of crime. So binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour is nothing new! The government at the time launched the first anti-drinking campaign with etchings depicting the bad effects of excessive gin drinking. Gin Lane and Beer Street show that excessive alcohol and especially gin led to social breakdown.
In 1721 Middlesex magistrates described gin as “the principal cause of all the vice and debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people.”
GIN AND TONIC
Tonic was given to the British troops in India for the anti-malaria properties of quinine. Quinine, however, is very bitter – so the soldiers added their gin ration, lime and sugar to make it palatable. The G&T was born! (Today there is much less quinine in tonic.) Also, for the record, it is one of the lowest calorie alcoholic drinks when mixed with a slimline tonic!
MY TOP 3 GINS
One of the most popular gins in Spain, created by Manolo Martin, the World Champion Bartender in 2011 in Poland. A Premium London Dry Gin from Granada (south of Spain), distilled three times for an amazing purity. Using 8 different botanicals; juniper berries, cardamom, coriander, angelica, lime, ginger, mandarin as well as one secret ingredient.
BROCKMANS - my latest find is an intensely smooth gin. Tuscan juniper, Bulgarian coriander plus the fruitiness is immense! Blueberries (great garnish) blackberries and Valencian orange peel make this a very European gin. Oh – and the bottle is really sexy!
BOË PEACH & HIBISCUS
A fragrant gin-based liqueur from the Boë stable – showing off flavours of peach and hibiscus beautifully. Serve with hibiscus tonic and for a bit of flare an hibiscus flower (buy in syrup!)
FOOD AND GIN PAIRINGS
Gin and tonic or a gin-based cocktail provide great alternatives to wine or beer with a meal. Gin is great with fish, spicy foods and I personally like to match up flavours to the predominant botanicals.
Here is a small sample of the foods we found to work particularly well with gin:
Hendricks Gin is always garnished with cucumber – This is a perfect combination for smoked salmon and tzatziki (a Greek cucumber and yoghurt dip)
Whitley Neil Quince Gin – This is amazing with Spanish membrillo (a quince paste) and nutty Manchego cheese.
Bruni Collins Gin – This fabulous Spanish gin has a sweetness and citrus quality to it and is yummy with cured meats, such as chorizo and Serrano ham.
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
Twist of lemon zest
Shake or stir over ice and put in to a CHILLED martini glass
25ml fino sherry
Slices of lemon
8 cubes of ice
Put everything in a glass (preferably a gin balloon) and stir!
Delicious with salted almonds.
HOW DO YOU DISTILL GIN?
A spirit can only be called gin if it contains juniper. Without the addition of these tiny berries, the spirit remains as vodka.
Colourless and full of taste, gin undergoes a dual distillation process where the base spirit, or ethanol – which can be bought in. This base spirit is infused with a range of botanicals for taste. The re-distillation process is when juniper berries and botanicals essential oils are introduced and mixed into the ethanol. This heating process is crucial to gin production and can affect the taste and intensity of the spirit.
Other botanicals include coriander, angelica, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, cinnamon, grains of paradise, cubeb berries and nutmeg. Typically, a fine gin contains six to ten botanicals. Angelica and orris root are used in gins to lock in the flavor of the other botanicals.
Turning a neutral spirit in to gin can be done in a number of ways:
Steeping has been around for centuries – the traditional go-to process for many distillers looking to create their own brand of gin. In this process, the ethanol is heated up in a pot still, or a drum-like distillation apparatus. The pot still provides the perfect apparatus for the alcohol to collect and condense over time. Botanicals are dropped directly into the alcohol during the heating period and steeped for 24 to 48 hours. Once the liquid has cooled, the concentration is reduced with water and bottled for mass consumption.
This process relies mainly on the vapour to combine the flavours of the botanicals with the base spirit. Allowing subtler, floral notes to surface, giving the gin a lighter, yet satisfying taste. Bombay gin, a globally popular spirit, was one of the first brands to list the botanicals they use on the bottle and is known to stand by the vapour infusion method.
Also known as cold distillation, this process requires a lower boiling point for alcohol distillation and botanical infusion. The pressure from the vacuum brings down the temperature of the pot stills into the 25-40 degrees Celsius range. In these cooler conditions, the botanicals remain intact and aren’t as thoroughly brewed as they would be in a steeping or vapour infusion method. By doing so, more of the flavour is restored instead of getting evaporated in the heat.
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Tel 01284 701313