Sin & Gin


I have a friend and colleague in Austin who has a few ‘truths’ he lives by when drinking.

1. You can drink them cute, but you will never drink them skinny. (For the sake of my wife’s liver, I need to get back in the gym.)

2. Never attend events with open bars. Always pay for drinks. It’s much safer. (I understand this, you understand this. Remember your cousin’s wedding reception last fall? No? Point made.)

3. Gin, gin, it’ll make you sin. (I’m a sinner.)

We are awash with gin these days. Plymouth has returned, Genever is back behind the bar, and New Westerns keep introducing botanical potpourris. It’s goddamn Sodom & Gomorrah behind the stick.

You think you hate gin. Your wrong. What you really hate is the college memory of mixing cheap gin (that was barely better than the bathtub variety of Prohibition past) with purple KoolAid and the deserved reaction of your body expelling it. You hate it because, besides the KoolAid incident, the only time you’ve had gin is in a Gin & Tonic and it was made with cheap gin and artificial tonic water out of the bar gun. And you think you hate gin because your local bartender’s only skill set is opening bottles of beer (my seven year old can do this, he’s not a ‘bartender’) and has no idea on how to mix a proper cocktail. Find a real bartender.

Ok, a quick primer and history of gin.

1. It’s flavored predominantly with juniper berries (you knew that) usually harvested in Tuscany where Italian monks first began infusing spirits with it to combat the Black Plague during the Middle Ages. Didn’t work, but patients probably were less concerned about their erupting boils and bleeding orifices if they drank enough.

2. The Dutch rule the seas and spice trade in the middle of the last millennium. They have lots of spice in storage. Plant based items go bad if in storage too long. If you store such items in high proof spirits, they don’t go bad. If you store juniper, cassia, cardamon, and citrus fruit peel in spirits you’ve made gin.

3. The English hate the French. They start taxing imported spirits (Cognac) heavily. They allow any citizen to distill their own booze. Juniper covers up bad kitchen distillates, so does turpentine and it kinda tastes like juniper. Everybody does it. Everybody is drunk and poisoned. England rethinks its position on unlicensed distilling.

4. Guy in Scotland invents column still that produces very clean spirits. Guy in Ireland patents it. Guy in England starts using column still and distilling traditional gin botanicals in the third pass through the still. He invents London Dry gin.

5. The cocktail is invented in the US. Bartenders use malty Dutch gin and sweetened Old Tom in recipes. England doesn’t understand cocktails, or ice in drinks. But, they have a lot of people ‘civilizing’ India. It’s hot in the jungle, they keep getting malaria, and their teeth fall out from scurvy. Copious amounts of gin lets them forget about hot jungle filled with tigers, tonic water contains quinine which helps with the malaria, lime contains vitamin C which keeps their teeth in their head. The Gin & Tonic is born.

6. Prohibition declared. Poor distillates abound on the Black Market. Sears & Roebuck sells juniper oil in their catalog. Juniper covers up bad taste of poor spirits. The bathtub has a new use.

7. Three Martini lunches. Everybody is very sophisticated.

8. The rise of Vodka nearly kills gin and whiskey in the US. Vodka begins to infuse flavors. Unfortunately its with Bubble Gum and Whipped Cream artificial flavors.

9. Bartenders around the world start teaching people to drink better. Gin is saved.

10. Dave Rigo & Greg Lehman release their bourbon barrel aged gin from Watershed Distillery.

Ok, so maybe that last one won’t go down in all of the history books. But it’s great gin. Myself and a few bartenders on the North Coast got a sneak peak of it before its release into the wild next month. The Cliff Notes on it is that they are aging their signature Four Peel gin for one year in used Wild Turkey barrels. They will be using their own bourbon barrels once… Oops, thats still a secret. Anyways, I was truly impressed their aged gin. The botanical’s edges round out and the florals on the nose are accentuated. We mixed some up as a variation on the Martinez and it showed wonderfully. I’ve always liked using their gin in the Rosewood Snapper and look forward to trying it with the aged version. Now, fair warning, only two cases a month are coming to Cleveland for a while and it may be hard to find. You might want to book a tour of Dave and Greg’s distillery in Columbus and try to talk them into selling you a bottle.

Now go sin.



Too Many Tomatoes

It’s August in Ohio. Actually I’ve not checked, but it’s probably August everywhere. However, August on the NorthCoast means tomatoes, too many tomatoes. Neighbors will actually sneak onto your porch at night and drop off bushels. Now some people start pulling out the pressure cookers and mason jars to start canning the absurd surplus. But some of us make pitchers of cocktails.

The Bloody Mary has its roots here in the Heartland. It is credited to Ferdinand ‘Pete’ Petiot from Canton, Ohio, a barman working in Paris at Harry’s Bar during Prohibition. With the shipping lanes safe following WWI and the US starting to export products world wide, a steady stream of canned tomato juice was becoming available in Europe year round. Pete, being a good Ohio boy, knew that tomato juice with a little bit of spice was a good eye opener, and if you added a bit of vodka (already gaining popularity on the continent since the turn of the century) you had a libation that tempered the pain of the previous evening’s imbibing. Pete eventually returned to New York in the 1936 where his Bloody Mary (renamed the Red Snapper as the management at the King Cole Bar thought Bloody Mary wasn’t an appropriate name)  was being made with gin. Lucky for him Heublein had just acquired a failing brand named Smirnoff and was introducing vodka to America. Pete’s original recipe was fairly simple compared to the meal in a glass we enjoy today and is as follows:

1½ ounces vodka

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

4 dashes Tabasco sauce

Pinch of salt and pepper

¼ ounce fresh lemon juice

4 ounces tomato juice

Lightly pour all ingredients ice back and forth between two glasses to mix

Garnish with a lemon and lime wedge on the side

A fairly simple recipe, but lets get back to our bumper crop of tomatoes. We no longer have to settle for insipid hothouse tomatoes with the resurgence of backyard gardens and urban farms combined with interest in heirloom varietals. We now have at our disposal dozens of different tomatoes in all the colors of the rainbow with varied bright flavors. These are the ones I love to use in the Rosewood Snapper; their summer freshness combine with the aromatics of gin perfectly.

Wait, gin? Yes, gin, it’s the original flavored vodka. Remember gin is made with roots, herbs, and spices. What goes well with tomatoes? Roots, herbs, and spices. Now, the definition of gin is that juniper is the forefront flavor profile, however with the advent of New Western style gins we find the volume of juniper turned down and other flavorings elevated. I love London Dry gin, but for this drink, New World gins tend to be much more approachable for this reason. Look for local small distillers who tend to make New Western style gin or larger brands such as Right Gin (black pepper) or Hendricks (cucumber) who have profiles that work well with tomato.

Rosewood Snapper (by the pitcher)

Core, seed, and finely chop 3 lbs of heirloom tomatoes

Place 2/3rds of tomatoes into pitcher and muddle hard

Add 1 cup water and remaining tomatoes

Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Add juice of one lemon and one lime

Add 8 oz of New World style gin

Add 3/4 oz Chartreuse

Stir lightly

Add ice

Chartreuse? Yes. If you’ve never been exposed to it, ask your local barkeep. They will gush over this historied spirit explaining that it is made with over a hundred botanicals, explaining how complex its flavor profile is, and how only three people at any given time know its recipe. And they will talk some more about it, and then some more, and if you don’t shut them up they will probably start talking about Fernet Branca and before you know it it will be 2 AM. Anywho, a bit of Chartreuse, with its deep botanical extracts, adds a sophisticated edge to this fresh and lively libation.