Martini Quotes

"I'm not talking a cup of cheap gin splashed over an ice cube.

I'm talking satin, fire and ice; Fred Astaire in a glass; surgical cleanliness, insight.. comfort; redemption and absolution. I'm talking MARTINI.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Mansions and Caves


Gilded Glory

      Looking back on a recent visit to the Newport Mansions which are situated on the scenic Rhode Island coast, I am struck by two thoughts.  While the utter decadence is impressive and stunning, even more moving is the way these people and this Gilded Age faded from glory.  The mansions sit there, perched with an unabashed grandiosity, like a peacock in full display, aloof but not necessarily condescending, standing as the epitome of American grandeur and opulence.  These edifices speak of an age when class and respect were paramount in society.  Ostentatious?  Perhaps, but I think the populace of the past were more accepting of the "rich," for it was they, the industrialists, that brought the ravaged post civil war country to the forefront of the modern world, matching the accomplishments of Old World European money with American grit and ingenuity.  To a certain extent, those with less will tend to resent those with more, but in today’s world, it goes a bit further in that those with less feel the “right” to be given more without necessarily working for, or taking the risk for that gain which is, in essence, the basis of the capitalistic system that was, and is, a foundation of this country. Socioeconomics aside, these mansions provide a fascinating glimpse into a sort of storybook time in American history.      

 The above pictured residence, "The Breakers", was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt who amassed the family fortune in steamships and railroads.  This was but a "summer cottage" for the Vanderbilt family who would have to suffer through a Newport summer on a mere 125,00 sq. ft. residence.  That wall panels of the Morning Room were gilded in platinum speaks to the level of detail and grandeur.  That each sink had three faucets, one hot, one cold, and one for salt water speaks to it.  That the immensity of the solid marble tub required it to be filled and emptied three times before it would maintain the necessary heat speaks to it.  The architectural planning and engineering which forged this building that housed the innumerable guests and parties remains an example of the preeminent status of the families who dwelt in the mansions of the Gilded Age.  However, were those edifices actual persons, they would have made for a great tragic novel.  Times changed as they always do.  The societal clique that formed the fabric of life around the mansions moved on to other circles and the maintenance became more and more of a drain on the families.  The once great symbols of status and culture were labeled “white elephants” and became passe. They surely would have passed into obscurity had it not been for the Newport Preservation Society which bought and now maintains the mansions.  At one point, an unoccupied Rosecliff Mansion fell victim to burst water pipes during a frigid winter.  The great ballroom was flooded with water which eventually froze leaving the place in tatters and she sold for a mere 165,000 USD- exactly what I paid for my one acre lot of land.  Oh how the mighty fall.

    Humble Hollow 

      Standing in stark contrast to the Newport Mansions is a humble cave in Ireland known as St. Kevin's bed where the aforementioned occupant lived as a hermit for some seven secluded years after his ordination.  As legend has it, he was led there by an angel.  In fact, there are many legends attributable to St. Kevin, but one of the more interesting ones is how, while holding his arm out of the cave, a blackbird came to rest on it and lay its egg.  St. Kevin then maintained that outstretched arm until such time as the fledgling hatched.  Besides the religious connotations of the legend, it has spawned two significant offspring.  One, it is the basis of the famous poem, 'St Kevin and the Blackbird' by Nobel prizewinner Seamus Heaney, but more germane to this blog is the inspiration behind Glendalough Gin.

Glendalough Gin

      -"For us, the story of Kevin and the blackbird, shown on our bottle, sums up the strength of character needed to turn your back on a privileged birth, break out on your own and still succeed on your own terms."

A characteristic of Irish Gins is their use of locally foraged, fresh botanicals that impart a sweet grassy fragrance evocative of the Irish countryside and Glendalough Gin is no exception to this rule.  In this case, the locally foraged botanicals enter the still just 24 hours after being harvested.  The more hardy herbs are macerated in the pot while the delicate varieties are hung in a basket above.  The botanicals in this case include licorice root and bark, lemon, elderflower, red clover, yarrow, ox eye daisy, wild raspberry, blackberry leaves, wild rose, watermint, sweet woodruff, lemon balm, sweet cicely, lady’s bedstraw and bell heather.  The result is a decidedly herbal/floral Gin.  The flavor is less juniper forward than your classical London dry with a somewhat softer more spruce like taste reminiscent of Wire Works Gin.  Glendalough is replete with grassy, herbal notes with a hint of cooling lent from the licorice and mint flavors perhaps.  This is a modern style Gin with a lot of flavor.  This makes a simply marvelous Martini, however with such a wide flavor profile, I recommend skipping the Vermouth entirely-ice cold Gin and three olives will suffice!

Whether you live in a mansion or a cave,
Enjoy your Martini my friends!  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Roses and Martinis



      -A mixture of flowers, herbs, and spices that is usually kept in a jar and used for scent.
      So goes the definition from Merriam Webster dictionary.  The origin of the word potpourri is actually derived from the French meaning "rotten pot".  This is in reference to the term which the French troops occupying Burgos, Spain applied to the local stew-olla podrida during the Napoleonic occupation of 1808-1813.  Over the years, the term for a stew of mixed meats became associated with the stew of mixed flowers and herbs. Potpourri has been in use since ancient times for the scenting of rooms.  Local herbs and flowers were gathered and then spread across the floor to dry.  Sometimes salt was added, and occasionally this was allowed to ferment for a period of time before being placed in pots and jars.  In more modern times, the mixture was fortified with perfume, but in order for the scent to last, a binding agent must be added to the mix.  That binder is none other than orris root, the same ingredient used in Gin to bind the flavors.  Fermentation, botanicals, and flavor binders provide an interesting parallel between Gin and potpourri.  The list of possible ingredients is lengthy, however many of them are the same botanicals used in the production of Gin.  There may be orange or lemon peel, herbs such as rosemary, cinnamon and allspice, and various plants including  juniper, jasmine, lavender, mint and, of course, the Rose.


Roses and Daggers

      In a sense, it is the Rose which is intricate to the story of Romeo and Juliet.  In this case, the rose plays the part of the respective surnames of our characters, embodying their feuding families and thus their tragic star-crossed love which was never meant to be (or not to be?...)  During one of their balcony conversations Juliet pleads with Romeo to forgo his name-that it is their families that are enemies and that he should forsake the Montague name or she,Capulet, for what's in a name.  The beauty of the rose does not change if the name is altered.  She loves him and that is sufficient. 
 -"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" 

As the final scene plays out, Romeo, thinking that Juliet is dead,  is despondent and takes his own life by swallowing a vial of poison.  When Juliet finds him dead, she tries to kill herself by kissing Romeo hoping there is scant enough poison left to do her in as well. Failing that, she stabs herself with Romeo's "happy dagger"--Shakespeare just can't resist the double entendre.

Roses and Cucumbers

     I dare say that for the average young adult growing up in the 70s and 80s, Gin was looked upon with a bit of disdain in these parts. It was fair enough to mix up in a gin and tonic or a gimlet, but few would consider drinking it neat, purely for its flavor profile. "Pine tree in a bottle" was a description of the uninitiated which was heard with some frequency. Tangueray was the ubiquitous brand and frequently the sole proprietor on the bar room shelf.  It represented the typical London Dry Gin recipe which was of course Juniper forward in flavor.  Bombay Sapphire was then launched in 1987 and expanded the repertoire of botanicals bridging the gap to what would become a new genre of Gin.  But it was Hendrick's Gin that shifted the taste and flavor profile and ushered in the modern era floral variety of Gin.        
       Hendrick's Gin originates from Scotland and was introduced in 1999.  It is produced in small batches of 450 Liters through a rather unique process.  Hendrick’s is the melding of two different spirits from two distinct stills: the Bennet still, a pot variety of still, and the Carter-Head still.  While botanicals are steeped in the Bennet still,  the Carter-Head uses a copper basket to infuse flavor into the spirit.  The two are then carefully combined to produce the right flavor profile. Many of the botanicals in Hendrick's Gin are common to other Gins such as Bombay Sapphire and include Lemon, Cubeb berry, Orris root, Caraway, Chamomile, Coriander, Angelica, Orange, Yarrow,  Elderflower and of course Juniper.  They provide ample flavor in and of themselves, but it is cucumbers and Rose, specifically Bulgarian Rosa Damascena that sealed the deal.  The musky rose flavor permeates but does not overpower the decidedly balanced aromatic profile.  The cucumber is not a flavor which stands up for itself, but contributes to the "clean" character of this Gin.  It is brought forward with a bit of garnish from the same. The veritable potpourri of botanicals lend a smooth, clean, and balanced profile with just the right amount of Juniper and citrus notes.  In a very crude sense, Gin in general, and Hendrick's in particular, is a combination of alcohol infused with potpourri, that little botanical mesh bag sometimes found in a ladies underwear drawer.   

Consider that whilst enjoying a Hendrick's Martini!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Girls, Girls, Girls

     Flapper Girls

       I try not to live in a romantic state of disbelief or fall victim to unrealistic expectations of the relationships between the sexes.  After all, men and women are fundamentally different in a number of ways but nothing bridges that gap quite like the Martini.  Say what you will about the allure of alcohol, or the feelings it imbues. There is nothing so unsexy as someone who is drunk, but there is nothing so sensual as one who has had a Martini, has developed that warmth of expression, and who remains lucid in their thoughts and feelings. As important as I think it is to root oneself in reality, I do allow myself at least one "fantasy"- I would have liked to have lived in the time of the Roaring Twenties, the glittering Jazz Age, when speakeasies- gin fueled- ruled the nights.  I am particularly enamored of the flapper girls, those short haired, hip twisting, Martini drinking sirens that seem to jump from the pages of F Scott Fitzgerald into my lap......

Crazy Girls

      Feeling a bit romantic, I picked up Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald thinking I could find there a beautiful love story to satisfy my yearning.  After all, the title would seem to indicate an amorous tale.  Page after page I kept up hope that something romantic and rapturous would occur.  As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong. There is not one iota of tenderness in the entire novel. It seems that perhaps I made a rather sophomoric error in appraising the title.  I think the night referred to here is a bit more dark and permanent, an escape from reality that is not necessarily restorative. Fitzgerald and the main character in the novel, Dick Driver, found their "night" in the bottom of a bottle.        

       While he derived his fame from The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald considered Tender is the Night his finest novel, I think perhaps because it struck so close to home. There are a number of striking similarities between the characters in the novel, Dick and Nicole Driver and the real life tragic lives of Fitzgerald and his schizophrenic wife, Zelda.  The title of the novel is derived from the poem Ode to a Nightingale by Keats.  As Keats sits in a chair watching and listening to a nightingale, he has a burning, almost desperate desire to leave "The weariness, the fever, and the fret, Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;" and travel into the deep forest where darkness rules and "tender is the night".  Fitzgerald develops a further spiel on the title in that Dick Driver, the main character and a psychiatrist,  develops "nightingale syndrome" which is loosely defined as occurring when a caregiver falls in love with the patient perhaps in an attempt to keep the patient safe. This is precisely what happens in the novel as Dick marries Nicole, his patient become wife. Unfortunately,  the relationship can't last as once the patient is cured, the basis of the relationship has no merit.  And so, Dick wallows along a path of self destructive behavior and alcoholism while Nicole now cured, remarries after their divorce.  

Gin Girls

       The gin girls of the modern era exude a certain allure and sex appeal which is a rather new phenomenon.  The Roaring Twenties with its flapper girls and speakeasies stand in stark contrast to the poor wenches of 18th century England.  Back then, living conditions were difficult and Gin was cheap. Cheap gin in old England was seen as a plague upon old Britannia a scourge upon the land and its subsequent taxation led to the gin riots.  Maternal alcoholism ran rampant leading the term Mother's Ruin to be attached to Gin.  Today it seems chardonnay has supplanted that role.   So the question is this, does the the pretty girl make the drink sexy or, rather, is the cocktail so beguiling that the Martini transforms the girl into a vixen ?  I suppose any beverage in and of itself really can't exude a sex appeal, but if I could steal a bit from Hemingway-

Isn't it pretty to think so?