Gourmet Secrets: Here’s to the new age Gin and Tonic

That old bar standby of gin and tonic has now given way to boutique gins, artisanal tonics, and cocktails like you’ve never dreamed of
Le Cirque, the star cocktail at the Green Bar Hotel Cafe Royal London
Le Cirque, the star cocktail at the Green Bar Hotel Cafe Royal London
Published on Jun 23, 2018 07:46 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByKaren Anand

All of a sudden, gin has taken the world by storm. From Mongolia to Manhattan, trendy bars are now serving G&T as their pouring drink and handcrafted gins have become a must on any decent bar menu, whether it’s 5 star or a hole in the wall.

It started with the re-emergence of the Negroni a couple of years ago. Martinis have now made a come-back along with the very retro Gimlet. I was in Old Town Swindon, about an hour from London and not a particularly ‘happening’ part of the world, when we stumbled upon Magnum wine shop on Wood Street. It had a large central section with what must have been over a hundred different brands of gins and looked more like alchemy than alcohol. Sarah Philip, the very knowledgeable manager, told us that the demand for new and different boutique gins with different botanicals is definitely on the increase. Small artisanal producers keep cropping up every day and everything sells from the classic Gordons, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Hendricks to the less known, Arbikie AK’s, Pink Pepper, Fifty Eight, Elephant, Monkey 47 and Nikka.

Such a tonic!

And no longer are they just poured with Schwepps tonic and served with a slice of lemon. The Green Bar in the Hotel Cafe Royal on Regent Street in London specialises in ‘Botanicals and Tonics’. They serve Nikka with dehydrated orange, grapefruit peel and marjoram with Mediterranean Tonic Water (yes, the tonic water seems to matter too), a most refreshing ‘gin journey’ of Elephant gin muddled with ginger and lemongrass with Thomas Henry Tonic Water and Monkey 47 with Blackberries with Elderflower Tonic.

I once had the most delicious gin-based cocktail at Daniel Boulud’s Bar Pleiades in New York. The alcohol (a Dutch gin I subsequently discovered) was mentioned as just ‘Nolet’ on the menu – such is the sophistication of gin drinking today. So what exactly is gin? It is simply a spirit distilled from natural grain neutral spirit and infused with botanicals which could range from lemon and orange peel to rose, caraway, coriander seed, elderflower and pepper. It almost always has juniper berry.

Sarah Philip manager at Magnum wine shop
Sarah Philip manager at Magnum wine shop

The production of gin is said to have started in Holland in the 17th century for medicinal purposes. Juniper was added to make it more palatable. It also gave rise to the British saying ‘Dutch courage’ since it was given to British troops during the Thirty Years war. By the early 18th century, gin was openly distilled in London.

The Green Bar celebrates the diverse history of the location and Café Royal’s history, taking inspiration from the Café Royal cocktail book created in 1937 and used by London’s leading barmen since. The menu features botanicals and tonics alongside classic cocktail concoctions. The botanicals and tonics are the signature cocktails of the Green Bar where expert bartenders mix up your favoured G&T from a handpicked selection of gins, paired with the finest tonics and accompaniments to match any taste.

Meet the new shrub

I met the Green Bar manager and mixolologist Derren King, who customises gin cocktails according to your preference and mood. I chose the G&T with elephant gin infused with lemongrass, Thomas Henry Indian tonic and fresh ginger. Deliciously refreshing, served in a big round globe wine glass. The drink that won us all over that evening (there is always a ‘star’) was Cirque (or circus in English), a cocktail of pink pepper gin, vanilla bitter, angostura bitter, Peychaud’s bitters, pomegranate ‘champagned’ shrub and lime juice. It was served in an old fashioned champagne coupe and had a thin layer of froth on it rather like a ‘sour’. Lovely! It hit the spot on a dark, damp evening in London.

The Green bar at hotel Cafe Royal London
The Green bar at hotel Cafe Royal London

I asked Derren what a ‘shrub’ is. He explains... a shrub is a beverage made of fruit juice, sugar and vinegar. Prior to the invention of refrigeration, a shrub syrup was a means of preserving fruit long past its picking. Shrubs were popular in Colonial America, mixed with cool water to provide a pick-me-up on hot summer days. A proper shrub has a flavour that’s both tart and sweet, so it stimulates the appetite while quenching thirst. Some shrub recipes are prepared using alcohol that steeps with the fruit, acid, and sugar. At Green Bar they make a pomegranate shrub using fresh pomegranate juice, champagne vinegar and sugar which in addition to the pink pepper gin and bitters, making this one of the most balanced delicious cocktails ever. Here’s the recipe.

Le Cirque:

20 ml pink pepper gin

20 ml lime juice

20 ml pomegranate and champagne shrub

10 ml angostura bitter

10 ml vanilla bitter

15ml Peychaud Bitter

Pour everything into a shaker with ice. Strain and serve in a coupe glass.

How to speak gin

For those who really want to get up to speed on gin drinking, here are some terms you have to know, courtesy Hendrick’s gin tasting terminology:

The whiff

The olfactory experience that occurs when inhaling the aromatic atmosphere surrounding an opened bottle (the neat plop of a cork being free enhances “the whiff” substantially).

The tinkle

Both of sound and the play of light as gin is poured into a glass. Graceful technique can exalt the tinkle to new heights

The tongue-jig

The giddy geeling of gin dancing within the mouth (no music required!).

The kick

The initial tasting, when the notes of the flavour begin to make themselves heard. Usage example: “I say, old bean, this little number kicks a smidgeon beedy barkit wi’ a rather marvellous birl, eh?”

The glint

An elusive sparkle in the eye of the taster, often accompanied by an almost sinister simile as he or she comes to a full realisation of the relative majesty of the gin in question, and the quiet anticipation of a continued liaison.

Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.

This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on July 8.

From HT Brunch, June 24, 2018

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