It’s Mixology Monday again and this week’s challenge – ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ – sees me joining up with another Taiwan-based beverage enthusiast, Tearroir, and making a Taiwanese tea-infused Scotch drink which I’ve named the Sucha Rob Roy.

MxMo is a monthly gathering of cocktail bloggers, and this month, hosted by Ed at Wordsmithing Pantagruel, sees us making something with one or more significant ingredients which must be green. (Edit: Summary now up here.)  I’d just bought my first bottle of good, smoky Islay Scotch and couldn’t help but think ‘Green tea would be good infused in this!’ Well I wasn’t the first to think of infusing Scotch with tea, of course, and further research also led me to see that MxMo had already used ‘tea’ as a theme. No matter. I was keen to try my local Taiwan tea with some Caledonian peat-juice.

Not only am I a beginner when it comes to Scotch, but I know nothing about tea, which is a crying shame, as, being in Taiwan, I live right in the middle of one of the very best tea-growing countries on the planet. Some of the best high-mountain oolongs and other teas are grown within easy driving distance of my home.

So that’s where I turned to local expat operation Tearroir for help. Not only do they sell some of Taiwan’s finest tea, but their mission is to try and let Western tea-drinkers have the same informed, appreciative experience of drinking tea that wine-lovers have drinking wine.

Last weekend I had a great lunch with one of Tearroir’s founders, Austin, to learn something about Taiwan tea. Austin first came to Taiwan to further his Chinese studies, but ended up spending more time in mountainside teahouses than in the classroom, and, incidentally, learning more Chinese from tea masters – happy to talk for hours about their passion – than he did from his professors. On his return to Taiwan, Austin knew he was going to do something involving tea, and after meeting oenophile, David, they had the idea of not just selling some of Taiwan’s teas, but also trying to help develop a tea-appreciation culture similar to that which exists for wine.

I love the way Tearroir’s passion for tea matches the passion for spirits and cocktails held by those of us involved in, or influenced by, the ‘craft cocktail movement’, so this week’s cooperation with Tearroir goes further than just picking up some tea from them.

But, I did pick up some tea. The first is called Tie Guanyin, which means something like ‘Iron Buddha’ in Chinese. It’s a tea which is very similar to (and often thought of as being) a dark, heavily roasted, high-mountain Oolong. My novice taste buds got an immediate impression of good deep earthiness (a taste I love in spirits), then some richness, and some pleasant, slightly bitter tannins.

The second tea I tried was Pu-er tea, (Pu-er Cha)which is made in China (Yunnan), but, in this case, undergoes extensive ‘post-fermentation’ and aging for 15 years in Taiwan, which gives it its distinctive characteristics. An aged tea with an aged spirit seemed like a good choice. On tasting this tea, I was even more impressed than with the Tie Guanyin. I loved it. It also had some clay-like earthiness, but seemed much deeper and richer, with more complexity and a heavenly aftertaste.

Next I started to infuse the tea in the Scotch – a bottle of Islay Bowmore 12-Year. My online research gave infusion times ranging from two minutes to two weeks, so I was really not sure if I was going to get a good result first try. With that in mind, I only infused a small 180 ml, (giving me a result of about 150 ml) of each tea, which didn’t leave much room for experimenting with different cocktails.

I started with the Tie Guanyin, adding a level tablespoon to the Scotch in a sealed jar (the leaves are very tight, almost like peppercorns, so this is quite a lot) and shaking a little now and then. After ten minutes the taste was already detectable, and I stopped it and strained it at twenty. It’s by far the easiest infusion I’ve ever done.

The Pu-erCha is much looser and leafier, so I added a 1/4  cup. After an hour there was little effect, so I left it for two. Unfortunately, it was a little long. An hour and a half would have been much better.

I left both infusions a few days to mellow. I’m not sure if that was necessary, but I was out of time anyway, and wanted to get into some cocktail-tasting fresh, later in the week.

The Tie Guanyin was the clear winner of the two. Sipping it neat, the first impression is all smoky Scotch, but then a strong clear earthy tea aftertaste comes through, rising delightfully and giving a warm flush to the sides of the mouth. I love it. It truly exceeded my expectations. It made me think pleasantly of fresh rain on deep grey granite.

The Pu-er Cha was less successfully. I’d let it become too bitter, and it was not a nice sipper. Also, the flavours just didn’t really match those of the Scotch as well.

I tried both of these in Old-Fashioneds (of which the Tie Guanyin was fine, but not spectacular),  and a couple of other drinks each, but I’ll jump to the one that I thought was the winner, and my MxMo submission:

Sucha Rob Roy

2 oz Tie Guanyin tea-infused Islay Scotch

1 oz sweet vermouth

1/2 – 1 tsp Green Chartreuse

1 dash Fees Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Bitters

tea leaf garnish (optional)

Stir all with ice. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Optionally, garnish with a tea leaf.

The Bobby Burns is a Rob Roy variation with added Benedictine. I used Green Chartreuse instead, as I thought the herbal grassiness would go nicely (and to add to the ‘green’ MxMo theme), and used the Fees Whiskey-Barrel-Aged for my bitters for similar reasons (but Angostura or, certainly, orange would have suited nicely, too). The Rob Roy itself is a Manhattan variation of course, and this was honestly the best, most complex Manhattan-style drink I’ve had.

There were so many delicious layers of complementary flavour, each coming through clearly. The smoke of the Scotch, the pepper of the bitters, the herbal tones of the Chartreuse (slightly too dominant at 1 tsp – 1/2 would probably be better), and finally, and most satisfyingly, the deep earthiness of the Tie Guanyin tea for an impressively solid aftertaste.

The name ‘Sucha’ (soo-char) is a bit of Chinese abbreviation from the words for Scotland and tea.

My results with the Tie Guanyin infusion and the Sucha Rob Roy, leave me more than happy with my experiment.

The Pu-er Cha didn’t infuse quite as well (although it may have with a bit less infusion-time), but I still managed to make one very nice cocktail out of it.

Bonus cocktail:

Tea Lily

1 1/2 oz Pu-er Cha infused Islay Scotch

3/4 oz Lillet Blanc

1/2 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1 dash orange bitters

Stir all with ice. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and, optionally, a tea leaf.

This was actually very good, having pulled out the big guns – Lillet and St Germain are both divine potions, the latter with a reputation of being able to tame some of the wildest flavours. It worked in this case. The tea lily is a delicious, floral drink. It’s sweet overall, but the smoke, and strong tea flavours are still clearly there.

Final Conclusions: Infusing Taiwanese tea into smoky Scotch can really pay off, and is quick and easy to do. Of course, if you want to try, don’t hesitate to contact Tearroir to get some fine quality Tawian teas.

And if you like this post, please check out some of the other contributors to Mixology Monday. Most of them know a lot more about cocktails than I do.

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This is a follow-up to my last post, about the Number 8 Bourbon Shop in Taipei.

Firstly, I forgot to thank Papercut from Taiwan’s expat forums, Forumosa, who found this shop in the first place.

Secondly, about an hour after making the post, and saying how I really wanted to get some Woodford Reserve, I had a class cancellation so I rushed off to the Number 8 for a Bourbon splurge. I restocked on Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek, and I bought my first bottle of Woodford Reserve (Distiller’s Select). Here’s my swag:

Bourbon in hand, I popped into my local, the Green Hornet.

A few patrons, including brewer, Jason, and owner, Peter, joined me for a little Bourbon tasting and comparison. We didn’t do anything fancy – just straight, from glasses.

First was the Maker’s Mark. It’s smooth and there’s the expected Bourbon tastes – caramel and the like. But for me, it’s a little dull, a little weak. That seemed to be the consensus of the group too. It’s definitely not a bad Bourbon though, and does a hell of a lot better than Jim Beam for a mixer.

Next, we tried the Knob Creek. I’ve been a fan of this for a while. We all thought it had much more complexity and strength than the Maker’s. The 50% ABV must help there.

Finally, was the one I’d been working up to – the Woodford Reserve. I was in love from the smell onwards. Jason couldn’t get his nose out of the glass, he liked it so much. You just need to sniff this next to other Bourbons to know that it is something special. And the taste doesn’t let you down in the slightest.

Woodford Reserve is a boisterous, complex and delicious Bourbon. It has clear vanilla flavours, some aggressive wood (almost smoky) tones, and a nice touch of fruit, which Jason identified as pear. Woodford was a clear winner for the group of us.

Over the weekend I experimented with it a little more in a few mixed drinks at home.

Old-Fashioned: A bit of a let-down. Something in this Bourbon fights with the Old-Fashioned. I prefer the Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark makes a good Old-Fashioned if you spice it up with something like Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters.

Manhattan: I’ve had great Manhattans with the Maker’s, Knob Creek and even Jim Beam. My first thought was that the Woodford wasn’t any great improvement on these. Then, further through the glass (made 2:1, Bourbon and Vermouth with orange bitters), I started noticing the distinctive qualities of the Woodford. Mighty fine Manhattan.

Whiskey Sour: I made up some sweet and sour mix of water, sugar and lemon juice to make identical (mini) sours with only the Bourbon different, to try side by side. I also made one with Rittenhouse Rye (sadly unavailable in Taiwan) for comparison. All were nice with their own qualities to recommend them. Maker’s was smooth, Knob Creek better, and Woodford the most interesting. No surprises there. But the Rye was my favourite. It’s earthier, rawer and, well, just more (not ‘manly’, I promised myself not to perpetuate this ridiculous practice of ascribing gender to drinks), um, rugged.

Conclusions

Maker’s Mark: Smooth, but a little simple for me. Probably good for ‘beginners’ or when nondescriptness is the quality you’re looking for.

Knob Creek: My pick for a typical-profile Bourbon for mixed drinks. More interesting than the Maker’s and strong enough to stand-up to other ingredients.

Woodford Reserve: The whiskey that made a Bourbon fan out of me. Far and away the best sipper. Wonderful, strong, distinctive flavors. This is premium whiskey for a fraction of what you’d pay for premium Scotch. Highly recommended. On the other hand, when it comes to making cocktails – use with caution. It’s unusual qualities, that make it a great sipper, mean that cocktails might turn out differently from what was intended. This could be good or bad.
Edit: In addition to the Number 8 Bourbon shop, I’ve been informed that the Woodford Reserve is now available again (and cheaper) in Taipei at RT Mart. It’s a great value buy.

Weekend before last I got another obscure aperitif wine. At least, I thought it was rather obscure. Turns out, it still sells quite well (albeit with a demographic skewed towards the elderly and particularly women of a certain age), was incredibly popular in the 30s, and was advertised like crazy in France up until at least the 70s and 80s.

Dubonnet (pronounced Doo-bon-ay) is a bitter-sweet fortified aperitif wine. It’s somewhat similar to sweet sherry, port, or vermouth. In fact it is sometimes classified as a vermouth, and goes well as an interesting (but different) substitute for Italian vermouth in drinks like the Manhattan. It’s made by blending fortified wine with various herbs and spices including quinine, making it what the French call a ‘Quinquina’ (of which Lillet Blanc is another example).

While the Brits were drinking gin and tonic to get their quinine, the French army also gave incentives to anyone who could come up with new ways to make the bitter medicine palatable to their troops serving in malaria-prone areas. One winning formula was that invented by pharmacist Joseph Dubonnet in 1846. It was to become the official drink of the French Foreign Legion. No old lady’s drink in those days.

Madame Dubonnet's Pussy

Apparently it became popular when Madame Dubonnet began serving it to society friends. A picture of her beloved cat still appears on the bottle today. Maybe this is her.

In the 1930s, at the height of Dubonnet’s popularity there were massive advertising campaigns. Apparently the word ‘Dubonnet’ can still be seen on old buildings across France and French Colonial Africa. There were also some great Art Deco posters, some featuring the slogan “Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnet” which probably means something in French.

Then in the late 1970s, after the brand’s purchase by Ricard, there was a new wave of advertising, this time featuring American actress Pia Zadora, and a new slogan “Do you Dubonnet?” These advertisements are the pinnacle of wonderful Eurotrash cheese. By this time, following a sometimes violent feud between the Dubonnet sons, the company had split into French and American branches. Pia Zadora’s husband, 31 years older than her, was a major shareholder in the American branch.

Forward to the oo’s and Dubonnet is now firmly established as the drink of old ladies. One old lady in particular. Queen Elizabeth II, got the habit from her mother who took it one part to one with gin on the rocks. QE2 likes hers two parts to one of gin with a slice of lemon. This was firmly established in a 2007 documentary where the royal steward of the cellars spells out exactly how to make the monarch’s favourite tipple. Apparently a large spike in Dubonnet sales quickly followed.

Liz at Balmoral - Dubonnet on the left

Disaster almost struck two years later when the Queen visited the MCC to see the men in white wield the willow. Someone had forgotten to bring the Dubonnet! A butler was dispatched to buy a bottle but was temporarily barred from re-entry due to Lords’ strict no spirits policy. Luckily things were smoothed over and the Queen was not forced to endure the horror of watching cricket whilst entirely sober.

On to the cocktails:

The Dubonnet Cocktail

This is just Gin and Dubonnet. There are varying ratios and serving techniques though. I’ve nicknamed these according to the rule that each has to contain the letter ‘z’.

1 1/2 oz gin

1 1/2 oz Dubonnet

lemon and/or orange twist

Shake and strain this into a cocktail glass, and I dub it the Pia Zadora.

But I tried mine the way the Queen Mother took it. 50/50 shaken and strained on the rocks. So this is getting called a Queen Mumz. (Sorry, I had to get a ‘z’ in there).

The Queen Mumz wasn’t the best. The gin was fighting the Dubonnet a bit too much. I used Tanqueray. It might work better with a less Junipery gin like Plymouth. Otherwise try one of the next variations.

1 3/4 oz gin

3/4 oz Dubonnet

4 drops orange bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon and/or orange twist.

This one gets the name The Zaza – an alternative moniker for the Dubonnet cocktail after a Broadway play that was popular at the time of its invention.

This was a much better drink. I guess it’s a martini variation, really, with Dubonnet instead of (regular) vermouth. I think allowing the gin supremacy led to a better drink than their clashing in the Queen Mumz. The bitters worked very well too, even with the already bitter Dubonnet. I’ll definitely be trying this again.

Finally, you can go the other way, and let the Dubonnet win out. This is the way Queen Elizabeth takes hers. So:

The Lizzie Windsor

1 oz gin (Gordon’s if possible)

2 oz Dubonnet

lemon slice

Lightly stir in a small glass goblet or wine glass. Add two large ice cubes and one seedless lemon slice.

I tracked down the 2007 documentary on the Royals which shows the steward of the cellars making this for the Queen, and these are his specifications. I managed to make out that Gordon’s was the brand of gin used. It is made by ‘royal appointment’ or something, so that stands to reason (although I had heard that the Royals preferred Booth’s – maybe that was in the past).

This is also a very good drink. The Dubonnet stands out and the gin (I used Tanqueray again) gives it a good kick. Very good in fact.

Gin isn’t the only thing that Dubonnet goes with. If you think of it as a sweet (but bitter) Vermouth, Bourbon or Rye are obvious choices.

Dubonnet Manhattan

1 1/2 oz rye or bourbon

1 1/2 oz Dubonnet

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

This really was very good. I used Rittenhouse Rye and didn’t add a cherry. It was basically just a delicious Manhattan (which is one of my favourite drinks at the moment, even though I don’t have any Vermouth at home yet).

The Dubonnet Manhattan leads to another, souped-up version – the Dandy.

Dandy

1 1/2 oz rye whiskey

1 1/2 oz Dubonnet

3 dashes orange bitters

1 dash Angostura Bitters

3 dashes Cointreau

1 piece of lemon peel

1 piece of orange peel

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon and orange peel.

This was the best of the lot. A delicious citrusy Manhattan-like cocktail. Dubonnet also goes very well with orange, so I think the orange bitters and Cointreau really worked well in this.

Dubonnet is rich round and fruity, so aside from cocktails, or sipping straight, you can make some refreshing highballs.

The Appetizer Cocktail is equal parts Dubonnet and fresh orange juice strained into a cocktail glass, but I misremembered this and made it in a tall glass packed with crushed ice. It was really good and refreshing with the fruity flavours of the Dubonnet mixing very well with the juice.

Dubonnet Highball

2 oz Dubonnet

1/4 oz lemon juice

soda

Stir Dubonnet and lemon juice in a tall glass with crushed ice. Fill to the brim with more crushed ice and add soda. Garnish with lemon wheel.

This is the perfect vehicle for showing off the Dubonnet as it is and makes for a wonderful refresher.

Conclusions: Dubonnet’s a great drink. I liked the Zaza best (Dubonnet Martini) and the Dandy, with the Highball being the most refreshing.

Note: In Taipei, you can buy Dubonnet at the Drinks chain and at the liquor store on Jinfu Rd, Jingmei.

B & B and a Little BS

February 21, 2012

It got pretty cold the week before last so I turned to a great winter warmer – B & B, or Bénédictine and Brandy.

It’s a stunningly simple drink to make (equal parts brandy and Bénédictine) but exceedingly delicious.

I’d been meaning to make this for a long time – since hearing about it on QI actually – but ran out of brandy about two days before I bought Bénédictine.

You see QI ran an interesting story about Bénédictine. Apparently the Burnley Miner’s Club in Lancashire is the biggest seller of the liqueur in the world. They all drink B & B’s and Benny and ‘Ot (equal parts Bénédictine and hot water) instead of the more expected pints of lager. Lancashire regiments were based near the abbey where Bénédictine is made in World War One. The troops aquired a taste for it, brought it back with them, and kept drinking it right up until the pleasant day.

Bullshit, I’m afraid. A little further digging finds that this account is largely unsubstantiated. Lancastrians might enjoy Bénédictine, but this tale, since reported very often, dates back to a single, dubious 1994 newspaper report. Oh well, nice story.

Bénédictine itself has been made by Benedictine monks in the Fecamp Abbey in France for 500 years now. The recipe was invented by a monk called Dom Bernardo Vincelli from 27 herbs and spices, and made  by the monks until it was lost in the French Revolution. Upon presenting the fruits of his labour to the abbot, Dom Bernado received the reply “Deo Optimo Maximo (Oh God, most good, most great)”, which is why the Bénédictine bottle still prominently features the letters D.O.M. After the recipe was lost in the French Revolution, it was unearthed in the 1860s by wine merchant Alexandre Le Grand. He found it in an ancient grimoire in his family library. He revived the lost liquid, and never looked back.

Bullshit, but incredibly good marketing. It seems that Le Grand made up the recipe himself, with the help of a chemist and that Dom Bernardo Vincelli never existed. Oh well, nice story.

B & B

1 1/2 oz Cognac

1 1/2 oz Bénédictine

Stir lightly in an old-fashioned glass with a few ice cubes.

Some recipes call for this drink to be served warm. I’ve tried it, and think that ice is better, even on a cold day. Sometimes a coupe or martini glass is called for. The rocks glass feels better to me. I’ve seen a recipe saying to float the brandy on top. This isn’t a good idea. It tastes much better mixed. Bénédictine even sells a pre-mixed version in some parts apparently.

The drink is great. Bénédictine is sweet without being cloying, and deliciously herbal with nice grassy tastes and spices. It goes together beautifully with VSOP Cognac (I used Courvoisier; a bottle I’m really starting to like). I also tried it with a dash of St Germaine Elderflower. That was delicious too, adding a floral quality to the herbal. Really, this is a hard drink to cock up. It’s certainly a new favourite.

In Taiwan Cognac is dead easy to find, and despite Courvoisier being one of the cheapest VSOP offerings, it works great in cocktails. You can find it at Carrefour, RT Mart etc for about 1000NT. Bénédictine is a little harder to find, but I’m fairly sure they have it at Breeze Supermarket, and I’ve seen it at a few liquor stores, such as Cape Wine and Spirits (Drinks don’t carry it).

Cynar for my Valentine!

February 14, 2012

It’s Valentine’s Day so I need to make something romantic, and nothing says Valentine’s Day like artichoke hearts.

Er, let’s that again. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like an obscure, bitter, mud-brown, digestive aid.

Um, Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a fine Italian liqueur. Oh, and hearts equals Valentine’s, right?

It’s Cynar! It’s pronounced ‘chee-NARR’. I tried some in the weekend with tonic (pictured above), and loved it. The author of my ‘Encyclopedia of Wine, Beer and Spirits’ describes it as a ‘drink for the brave’ and one of the low points of his visit to Venice. In Boozehound, even Jason Wilson, who loves this stuff, calls this bitter drink an acquired taste which takes a little getting used to. Well, with that kind of publicity, I just had to try it, and a friend was good enough to bring some back for me after a trip to LA.

Naturally I approached it with some trepidation. The first sip, from the bottle didn’t leave much of an impression, except that I was surprised by its lack of bitter awfulness. Later I mixed it up with some tonic (Schweppes), crushed ice and a lemon wedge. It was wonderful! Bitter, yes, and I like that, but also sweet. And then there’s the artichokes. I don’t know what artichokes taste like, but I bet it’s not this. Cynar is very round, and fruity tasting, with a not unpleasant bitter aftertaste. The taste is deep and flavourful.

Cynar is quite low-proof, at 16.5% ABV. It is made in Italy where it is drunk both as an aperitif, and a digestif, usually on the rocks, or with soda. I read that in some parts it is drunk with orange, so I tried that too. Also very nice, but I like the tonic better. For mixing, it has recently been used as a substitute for Campari or other Aperol (Italian bitter liqueurs) in drinks like the Negroni. I have yet to try that, but am very keen.

So tonight, for Valentine’s Day (well nominally so), I mixed it with some fancy Italian lemonade. I’d been looking for this bitter Italian soda called Chinotto, which is made by San Pellegrino who make the well-known mineral water. I didn’t find it, but picked up a couple of cans of their Limonata at Jason’s. It’s a dry, sour, very delicious lemonade, and it mixed very well with the Cynar. I thought it at least the equal of tonic as a mixer, and perhaps more refreshing (but just maybe the tonic brought out the flavour a little more). My wife, on the other hand, had an expression which changed rapidly from intrigue to revulsion. Oops. But on reflection (and after mixing it up a little more) she said it was fairly good, but the unexpected bitterness reminded her of Chinese medicine and a Chinese medicine drink you get in night markets.

I, however, am hooked on this stuff and recommend it very strongly. Their advertising from the 60s is pretty cool too:

Last weekend was hot and sunny (in the middle of winter) – the perfect time for Gin and Tonics! I’d just bought three different styles of gin on my recent trip to New Zealand, and a bottle of Tanqueray from Carrefour. I was planning some taste comparisons anyway, and when my wife expressed interest it was all go.

Methodology

We poured an ounce of the gins into small glasses, sniffed, sipped and compared. Then we added a little water to what was left in each glass to dilute a little, possibly bring out some flavour, and so as to able to discern the differences a little more clearly without being distracted by high alcohol contents.

Next we made mini-G’nT’s with an ounce of each of the gins, crushed ice, 2 ounces of Schweppes tonic, and half a lemon wheel squeezed and thrown in. We then took turns blind tasting these.

Notes

These four gins are not just different brands; they are different classes altogether (something like Scotch, Irish, Bourbon and Rye Whisk(e)ys). So it wasn’t anything like a quality test. I was rather comparing the different styles and learning to identify them.

Disclaimer: I am a shit taste tester. It’s true. I’m just not very good at identifying tastes, and even worse at describing them (dancing about architecture and all that). Whilst I never expect to be great at tasting, I do hope to improve, and any feedback on this process is much appreciated.

Gin Number One: Tanqueray (47%)

This was my first time trying Tanqueray and I loved it. Tanqueray, like the vast majority of gins sold these days, is ‘London Dry’ style. Apparently the predominant flavours are juniper, coriander and angelica root. I couldn’t identify these either by smell or taste, but the presence of botanicals was very clear (and I later figured out how to identify the juniper).

My wife and I both really liked this, and the G’n’T was (I thought) clearly the best of the lot. It was exactly what the ideal of a Gin and Tonic is for me.

(I mentioned the 47% ABV as it is bottled at quite a lower percentage in some markets (tax reasons), although serious gin drinkers always recommend the higher level).

Gin Number Two: Plymouth Gin (41.2%)


Plymouth Gin is both a style and a brand. EU regulations say that only gins produced in the Plymouth region can call themselves ‘Plymouth’ and there is only one distillery in the region, and that is exactly what it calls itself (but it also known as Black Friars after the monastery that used to stand on the site, where, apparently some of the ‘pilgrims’ stayed before setting sail for America. Perhaps this accounts for the Mayflower on the (new) bottle). Plymouth was the big port for the British Empire, of course, and while it was decided that sailors should drink rum, the officers were to drink gin. I guess this led to the upper-crust image that Gin and Tonics have had. Naturally, as the navy sailed the tropics, they had to ward off malaria, and the quinine-heavy tonic water was added to the gin, making what is probably the greatest liquid invention of mankind (or of the British Empire, at least). Plymouth was also the favoured gin of Winston Churchill.

The style of Plymouth Gin is supposed to be a bit less dry than London Dry and people usually find it smoother. The first impression was that the spiciness of the botanicals was much more restrained than in the Tanqueray. Having learnt to identify the taste of juniper, I can clearly detect it in the Plymouth, but it’s a lot more subtle. In fact, that’s it in a nutshell. Overall this has all the complexity of the Tanqueray, but is a lot more subtle (and thus, I guess, smoother).

This was my wife’s favourite of all four gins. It made a decent G’n’T too, but I thought the Tanqueray was way ahead on this score.

Gin Number Three: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (40%)

Old Tom gin is pretty special in cocktail circles these days, as (along with Genever) it was the style of gin called for in nearly all pre-prohibition mixed drinks. The difficulty was that until about five years ago, it hadn’t been available for several decades. Hayman’s are one of a few distilleries to revive this style based on old recipes. They are also the most readily available and versatile of the modern Old Tom gins. The story of Old Tom goes that after being brought into disrepute as the swill of the working classes (thanks to the elimination of taxes by William of Orange who wanted more trade with his native Netherlands where gin came from), gin was made illegal in many areas of England. One or more sly bartenders erected wooden ‘Old Tom’ signs outside their houses in the shape of black cats, with hidden pipes inside. In one of the earliest examples of the vending machine, sneaky customers would insert a penny in a hole on the sign, put their mouths to the cat’s paw, and receive a shot of gin poured by the bartender inside.

Old Tom is a clearly sweeter stlye of gin than London Dry. Early British gin was generally of pretty low quality, and sweetened to mask this. The habit of sweetening persisted even after the gin got better, and thus, the Old Tom style. This gin tasted quite similar to the Plymouth Gin, but with a clear extra sweetness which was pleasant and certainly not overdone or at all cloying. In fact we both thought it was an excellent drink. The G’n’T was fine, but like the Plymouth, I found it quite bland compared to the Tanqueray. The Tom Collins is probably the better relatively straight-up alternative for Old Tom.

Gin Number 4: Bokma Oude Genever (40%)

Genever (aka Jenever, Dutch Gin, Holland Gin) isn’t really gin, at least not as we know it today, but its ancestor, so it’s markedly different from the other gins we tried. Genever is distilled from a ‘malt wine’ made from grain mash, so it takes on woody, smokey, and malty tastes similar to whiskey.

The difference from the other gins was clear right from the first smell. The malty, whiskey taste comes through clearly, but it also tastes gin-like (the juniper is also fairly clear) making for a very interesting, and rather tasty earthy gin. That was what I thought, anyway. My wife, on the other hand, really didn’t like stuff, but she basically doesn’t like any dark spirits that remind her of medicinal tastes.

Genever wasn’t really made for a Gin and Tonic. The Dutch usually drink it ice-cold and straight. That said, the G’n’T was an interesting drink, that I quite enjoyed. I later tried the Bokma in a classic ‘Gin Cocktail’ and it was great.

Oh, as a side note, while in New Zealand I heard Genever referred to as ‘Square Gin’ a couple of times. I wonder if this is due to the shape of the Bokma bottle, and whether it is called this elsewhere.

The Gin and Tonic Tasting

As a fun exercise, having tasted the gins straight, and diluted with a little water, we made them all into little Gin and Tonics (with 1 oz gin, 2 oz Schweppes, crushed ice and half a lemon wheel squeezed and added). Using different coloured straws, we took turns mixing them up and have the other identify the drinks. It was a little harder than I thought, but given the very different styles of gin, still rather easy. I got them all right pretty quickly, and my wife just mixed up the Plymouth and the Old Tom. She then took these as her favourites to finish off, leaving me with my favourite – the Tanqueray – and the most interesting – the Bokma.

They were all nice drinks, no doubt, but the Tanqueray Gin and Tonic was easily the best of the lot – close to the perfect drink for me, yet one of the easiest (and cheapest) to make.

Conclusions

Tanqueray is my new favourite gin and THE choice for a G’n’T. Plymouth can be lauded for its subtlety, but I preferred the upfront nature of the dry. I’ll keep Plymouth for Pink Gins. I really liked the added sweetness of the Old Tom and look forward to trying it in more classic cocktails that call for it. The Bokma was a really interesting spirit, and I also look forward to getting acquainted with it, probably mostly in very simple ‘almost straight’ recipes. Overall, I find all four of these essential to my drinks collection, and am extremely pleased that I chose them.

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