Saturday, August 31, 2013

Gin Tasting

I can remember the first time I ever drank gin. I was at the home of Ferdinand and Darcy McGrath, where several us from out of town gathered that December night for an evening of feasting. After dinner, the feasting transitioned to poker. I don't remember if I actually played poker or not, but what I do remember is sitting next to David Suetterlein, who was drinking Tanqueray and tonic. I was 21, a new drinker, and at that point in my life I knew I liked beer and wine, but it never really crossed my mind to drink liquor. But I remember taking a sip of David's drink, and then another, and then another. Finally, I had to get my own.

From that night on, gin and tonic became my new drink. I loved ordering it at bars, even though some people said it was an old man drink. One night, I was out at Ceviche with my friend Katy, maybe the first time I ever went to a "cool" bar, and we both got excited when we realized that we both drank gin and tonics. It was a bonding moment. Katy ordered for us, and introduced me to Hendrick's, asking for cucumber instead of lime.

These days, I'm more likely to drink a gin martini or gin fizz than a gin and tonic. To me, making cocktails is like cooking. I think of alcohol the way I think of food--just another opportunity for exciting (and classic) flavor combinations.

Whenever I travel to different parts of the country, I'm always curious to see (and try!) what different beers are available. And now that I live in North Carolina, I went to the liquor store to see if they had any bottles I couldn't get in PA. I was pleased to see several brands of artisinal gins that I've read about but never saw in my local state store. I picked up a bottle of Death's Door gin from Washington Island, Wisconsin.

Once home, I decided to make good use of the other gins I had in stock--Hendricks and Bluecoat (from PA!)--and do a side-by-side gin tasting. The reason gin is so unique is that the liquor is infused with botanicals--juniper for sure, but then it's up to the distiller. Coriander, lavender, orris root, angelica root, licorice, fennel, caraway, cardamom, citrus peel...all of these and more make their way in various combinations into gin (The Botanist gin, from Scotland--like Hendricks--advertises the use of "22 Native Botanicals").

So, here are my tasting notes for the three different gins:
This is the gin I found most difficult to describe. I've been drinking it all summer, and a way to codify its flavors has eluded me for months. The gin is light-bodied and you can taste the juniper. There seems to be a whisper of citrus, and it tastes the most classically of gin than the other two. I like it in a gin rickey.

This gin has a lower alcohol content than others (44% compared to 47%), and you can definitely tell the difference. Hendrick's is smooth and an almost silky texture. It tastes very notably of coriander. Hendrick's is classically served with cucumber, but after noticing the strong coriander notes, I love to try it with orange.

Death's Door
When I was in Montana last summer, I found some juniper berries on a hike. I enjoyed eating them, and even brought some back with me. Death's Door tastes exactly of those wild Montana junipers. It is noticeably different from the usual juniper taste of gin--more woodsy and resinous. Death's Door advertises that they use wild Washington Island juniper berries, so maybe that makes a difference. In any case, I love this gin for the taste memory of Montana hiking.

No comments: