I have become puritanical when it comes to cocktails, and I blame it on the gin. Before, I could easily be led astray, so long as what you were giving me was not sweet, or, just a little sweet. I've been lured by mint muddled with sugar; in the tropics I've sworn fealty to guava juice and rum. And was I game last year when a trusted bartender slipped me a Thai concoction that included crushed betel nut leaf, a leaf that tastes like clove oil just before it makes your tongue go numb? I was.
This, however, was not the turning point; the moment when I said, enough with other boozes, I'm a gin girl. This moment came last summer, when my husband and I were working 14-hour days, and wanted something cold and potent when we got home, and beer wasn't going to cut it.
"Gin and tonic?" he asked one night, and that was it; we were hooked. We weren't buying any sort of fancy gin, mostly Seagram's Extra Dry, in the biggest bottles we could find, which never seemed big enough, a condition that caused me to once tell my husband that what we needed, was a leg of gin.
But never mind that. The drinking of gin turned out to have the ancillary effect of putting me off other spirits. The rums, the whiskeys, the tequilas; that pear eau de vie a friend bought from Germany; the ersatz bottle of absinthe: all were too sweet or too smoky. And don't get me started on vodka, the good girl of the booze world, the one who claims to be everybody's friend, but who, in fact, brings nothing to the party but a little burn. Bah; go away.
No, it's gin for me, complicated gin; gin which starts out its life as vodka, but, because it senses the vicissitudes and beauty of the world, forms alliances with juniper and cardamom, angelica and fennel, almond and cumin and seemingly anything else distillers see fit to introduce.
I say seemingly because, since last summer's initial gin fling, we've tried others; we are always intrigued, and I don't think we're alone. There something of a gin renaissance going on, a renaissance nicely covered last month in a New York Times article that gets my vote for best headline: No, Really, It Was Tough: 4 People, 80 Martinis. The panel was specifically trying gins based on how they'd taste in a 5:1 gin-to-vermouth martini, and judging them accordingly. The number one pick turned out to be Plymouth Gin, a gin made in the UK in the world's oldest working gin distillery, and which the Times' writers described as "Subtle and elegant with crisp, lingering flavors of citrus and juniper."
I bought a bottle that day. Not because I planned on a martini; while I love them, I love them the way Dorothy Parker loved them, and so take my poison with a lot of ice and a little tonic.
Or so I thought. While I adored the Plymouth, which tasted of deep cold water, and was fragrant with juniper and lemon peel but not distractingly so, I was distracted by the tonic.
"Too sweet," I said to my husband, who mixed me up a gin & soda with a few shakes of some homemade tonic our buddy had made. Better, much, but still...
The next night, I went straight gin & soda, with a wedge of lime. The night after that, I gave up the lime. Now, I could taste the gin, which is after all, what I'd wanted.
To date, I've tried five more gins: Tanqueray London Dry Gin, the British standard-bearer, deeply crisp, with a metallic ting and a big juniper hit. Hendrick's, from Scotland, clean and with a floral/cucumber quality. Aviation Gin, from Portland, Oregon, with has a soft quality that's to some people's taste, if not to mine, and a flavor that always reminds me of wintergreen gum. Broker's, which I think my husband bought because the bottle wore a bowler hat, and which had a nice, neutral, bold flavor. And a new favorite, from France, Citadelle, which has 19 botanicals and is thus green and wintry and also, and what I need in a gin, extremely crisp. An elegant gin I would be happy to drink every evening.
Except when I am drinking the Plymouth.
Nancy Rommelmann is a columnist and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Bon Appetit and other publications, and a frequent contributor to Portland Food & Drink. She is the author of several books, including %%AMAZON=014026373X Everything You Pretend to Know About Food And Are Afraid Someone Will Ask,%% and the recently completed memoir, Leaving Los Angeles. Her personal blog can be read here.