I inadvertently got my start in understanding gin from my mother. She’s a herbalist so I learnt about herbs and flowers and flavours from as early as I can remember. I taste the difference between echinacea angustifolia and echinacea purpurea from ten paces, but I also learned about things like liquorice root and angelica and cardamom and juniper. I learned about essential oils and how they are made through distillation. I learned about the volatility of natural oils, how scent profiles, and indeed flavour profiles, are made up of top, middle and base notes. All the techniques I use to critique gin, all learned at my mother’s knee.
So for Mother’s Day I wanted to design a cocktail especially for my mum. She’s quite particular about what she likes. Nothing too sweet and nothing too strong, but she loves flowers. So I started with flowers; lavender and elderflower. Cocktails are about balancing sweet, sour and strong, so sweet if from homemade lavender syrup, and St Germain Elderflower liqueur, the sour from a dash of lemon juice and the strong from (wait for it…) gin!
30mL lavender syrup *
15mL St Germain Elderflower liqueur
7.5mL fresh lemon juice
15mL gin, a light flavoured clean gin like Bombay Sapphire will work well
Sparkling mineral water
Combine syrup, liqueur, juice and gin in a tall glass with lots of ice, stir gently. Top up glass with chilled sparkling mineral water. If you, or your mum, have a sweet tooth you can leave out the lemon juice and use a good cloudy lemonade instead of mineral water. Serve with a twist of lemon peel as a garnish, or with a lavender flower if you have one.
*To make a small batch of lavender syrup combine 50g of sugar with 50mL of boiling water and a handful of dried lavender flowers. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and leave for about five minutes then strain out the lavender flower. Chill before using. The syrup will last for about 2 weeks in the fridge. And I recommend putting it in the fridge straight away for helpful gentleman gin drinkers clean up the kitchen and throw it out.
I’m loving this video of the Aviation Gin Closet Flair competition. Particularly pleased to see two women in the competition, it’s rare to see women in the mix in bar comps for some reason. But what I really want to know is, after all that showing off, did the cocktails taste any good?
When you order a martini do you ask for it shaken or stirred?
Many people will tell you there is a definitive answer and call you a philistine if you disagree, and maybe they are right, but tosh to them, drink it how you like!
How do I like a martini? Stirred and filthy dirty. I’ve heard people say you should stir a martini because shaking it bruises the juniper in the gin. Maybe it does, but it sounds a bit princess and the pea to me. What you do notice is that the ice breaks into smaller chips and waters down the martini when you shake the cocktail. I prefer the strong hit of a stirred martini, but if you prefer a lighter, shaken martini go for it! And don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing wrong.
This is how I like my classic martini:
45mL gin, any good gin, my preferred is Bombay Sapphire or Hendrick’s
Splash of dry vermouth
4 Sicilian green olives
2-3 teaspoons of brine from the olives
Handful of ice cubes
Put the ice cubes and vermouth in the cocktail shaker, swirl the vermouth around and pour off the excess. Add the gin and brine a spoonful and a time, taste as you go, it’s very salty. Stir and strain into a chilled martini glass, garish with the olives and drink!
Last night, in honour of World Gin Day, I tried a new (to me) gin; No. 3 London Dry Gin. It’s that one in the dark green bottle with a silver key set into to the front. It appears to be named for the original address of the distillery, 3 St James Rd, London, but according to the bottle it is now distilled and bottled in Holland. Which I guess is appropriate as it is the original home of gin.
I have developed a bit of a method for tasting new gins, I’m sure it’s not the right way, if there even is such a thing, but it works for me. I taste a few drops of the gin straight to see what I can taste, then I work out how I want to drink it: a martini? Gin and tonic? An experimental cocktail? No.3 tastes most strongly of cardamom, which I love.
When I was growing up, my Dad’s favourite cake was a cardamom coffee cake, which he was only allowed to have once a year for his birthday as my mother was so horrified at the amount of butter in it. I, on the other hand, spent years and years as a child trying to figure out why it didn’t have coffee in it!
I also spent a bit of time in India as a child and I loved ilayaci (Hindi for cardamom) cream biscuits, spiced chai and kulfi (pistachio and cardamom ice cream). Even though cardamom is a curry spice, I associate it with sweets. So I chose to mix it with a wee splash of St Germain elderflower liqueur, stirred with ice, served in a purple martini glass with burnt lime peel. On a cold winter night it was beautifully warming, yet with the spicy-sweet balance of cardamom, elderflower and lime it had a freshness that kept me up well past bedtime.