Now that spring has started to pop up, it seems that everyone has their mind on gin. Just last week I attended a gin symposium, was invited to a gin lunch, and was reminded of a major gin figure’s birthday. Ginny gin gin—I do love gin, and apparently other people have it on their minds as well. So, to bring it all together, I have for you a gin anecdote, a wee bit of history and a recipe for my juniper-loving friends out there.
Gin appears in a mind-numbing number of cocktails, mostly because it has been around forever and is adored by our colony-founding forebears in England. Originally a Dutch distillate, the English developed the style that we most often associate with gin—that is to say London Dry. 99% of the gins you find on supermarket and liquor store shelves are in the London Dry style, or are a variation thereupon: a neutral grain spirit base which has been flavored or distilled with juniper and a mixture of other botanicals. Herbaceous, crisp, clear and decidedly not sweet, gin is the basis for the Martini, Corpse Reviver #2, Last Word, Alamagoozlum, Negroni and host of other delicious cocktails, including every gin drinker’s staple: the gin and tonic.
I first encountered gin as a child, when I saw the bottle of Tanqueray that lived in my parents liquor cabinet. (I’ve always enjoyed the bottle itself from an aesthetic point of view, so it is perhaps no wonder that I became a gin drinker.) My father is a very no-frills kind of guy and, aside from the occasional rum and Coke, Bloody Mary or vodka-tonic, he drinks his liquor on the rocks. I didn’t realize until I was much older that other people did not drink Tanqueray straight, with ice and two cocktail onions. It didn’t even occur to me that there were people who didn’t like gin, since I was surrounded by gin drinkers. Fast forward to the early 2000s and you can see how poorly I fared in the Los Angeles bar scene, attempting to order drinks at bars stocked with vodka and Heineken when my comfort zone was Gimlets, blended scotch and Coors Lite. As you may have guessed by now, I was (and remain) decidedly unhip.
These days I have embraced my love of gin and wallow in it, so I was excited to hear that my first love (in gin), Tanqueray, celebrated founder Charles Tanqueray’s 200th birthday over the weekend. It’s a rather scary gin for novices to try cold turkey, so I’ve prepped a tipple that will help smooth out its heavy juniper and citrus flavors. This recipe came my way via Eric Alperin of The Varnish, who discovered this version of the Orange Blossom in David Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. This preparation was widely known during Prohibition as a way to disguise the taste of rotgut bathtub gin, but this particular recipe works hard to keep this from being just a gin Screwdriver.
2 oz Tanqueray gin
1 oz fresh orange juice
½ oz simple syrup
3 drops orange flower water
Shake all the ingredients together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze a wedge of lime over the top, and garnish with a fresh lime wedge.
It seems like it shouldn’t work, given the heavy herbal quality of gin (especially Tanqueray), but the addition of the orange flower water and the squeeze of lime really send this one over the edge. The sweetness and citrus liven up the otherwise savory character of the gin, while the orange flower water teases out some floral notes and deepens the orange flavor. I don’t think this will supplant a Tanqueray and tonic in the everyday drinking lineup, but it is certainly a nice drink to toast the birthday of Mr. Tanqueray and his fine legacy. Sköl!