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.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day and Mother's Ruin

Gin History, Craze, and Riots 

Hogarth's "Gin Lane"


     The history of gin and it's humble beginnings as a medicinal libation in Holland to its current day ubiquity in the fine spirit industry is a curious tale indeed.  As discussed is a previous post, gin has its roots in the Lowlands as a medicinal known as Jenever. British troops fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years' War were given 'Dutch Courage' during the long campaigns in the damp weather for the warming properties of gin. Eventually they started bringing it back home with them, where it was already often sold in chemists' shops. Distillation was taking place in a small way in England, but it now began on a much greater scale, and the new drink became a firm favorite with the poor.  What entailed was a story of politics, profits, and taxes that would rival any modern day intrigue.  

     Not surprisingly, gin became popular in England when Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne in 1688.  Through a series of statutes, he actively encouraged the distillation of  spirits in England.  Anyone could now distill gin by simply posting a notice in public and just waiting ten days.  By the end of the century, England was at war with France. So, to protect the economy and help the war effort, the government put a heavy duty on the import of spirits and lifted restrictions on domestic spirit production.  It was an attempt to supplant French made brandy with English gin.  In the early 18th century, eager to create a domestic market for corn, Parliament effectively deregulated the distillation and sale of intoxicating spirits — especially gin.  In doing so, they created a healthy market for poor quality grain – which greatly benefited the many landowners who sat in Parliament. The resulting trade also created a rich source of tax revenue.  Politics, taxes and manipulation permeate history.

   Gin Craze 

      The result of these policies was a boom to the burgeoning gin industry that led to a boom in crime, beggary and infant mortality. Women, in particular, seemed to favor gin and bought it from pharmacists as a medicinal drink. It was mixed with warm water to 'soothe the nerves' and was often known as Mother's Ruin.  This first half of the 18th century in England was marked by the Gin Craze.  In 1735, a commission of Middlesex justices reported: “Unhappy mothers habituate themselves to these distilled liquors, whose children are born weak and sickly, and often look shrivel’d and old, as though they numbered many years. Others again give it to their children…and learn them even before they can go to taste and approve this certain destroyer.”

      As public outcry grew, the government was forced to take action. The 1736 Gin Act taxed retail sales at 20 shillings a gallon and made selling gin without a £50 annual licence illegal. In the next seven years, only two licences were taken out. Whereas reputable sellers were put out of business, bootleggers thrived. Their gin, which went by colorful names such as ‘Ladies Delight’ and ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, was more likely to be flavored with turpentine than juniper. At worst, it was poisonous, containing horrifying ingredients such as sulphuric acid. This was akin to the illegal bootleggers production of bathtub gin during the prohibition years of the early 21st century in the United States.   Hogarth's engraving "Gin Lane" (pictured above)is a well known image of the gin craze, and is often paired with "Beer Street", creating a contrast between the miserable lives of gin drinkers and the healthy and enjoyable lives of beer drinkers.  I could not imagine a more false juxtaposition.

Gin Riots

      The Gin Act of 1736 led to the Gin Riots led by an angered population of gin enthusiasts and fueled by this increased production of bootleg gin.  Eventually, a more reasonable legislative effort in 1751 began to curb the rampart drunkenness of the multitudes.  It was aided by rising food costs and decreased wages leaving less disposable income to purchase Mother's Ruin. Prominent anti-gin campaigners of the day included Henry Fielding, whose 1751 'Enquiry into the Late Increase in Robbers' blamed gin consumption for both increased crime and increased ill health among children.  The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, for which Fielding is much better known is, however, a far better read.  

      So, as I enjoy a Mother's Day dinner out with the family at a nice restaurant, I will order that most eloquent of drinks- The Martini, and ruminate on the somewhat lowly and tumultuous history of it's main ingredient, gin.


Ironically, I will have a Martini made of
 Mother's Ruin
Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Bees Honey

Bees, Bears, and Barr Hill Gin

   Honey Bees

   With the warmer weather beginning to exert it's effect upon us, Mother Nature is kicking into high gear as well, with a round of activity by everything under the sun.  The pear and cherry trees have blossomed and the bulbs have sprung up.  All of this flowering activity is a cue for the honey bees to ramp up their production.  In their honey making travails, bees have been inserted into the role of fertilizer for many plants.  I hadn't given that too much thought until recently being queried by my son about it.  It was not the father/son birds/bees talk, but more related to the theory of evolution.  He wondered how bees and flowering plants could have evolved at the exact same time.  It seems more than a bit statistically improbable and incongruous how a mutually dependent system could develop simultaneously.  It seems miraculous?  I'm sure people with more time on their hands than me have worked out a plausible explanation.  As for me, I'll sit back and enjoy the fruits of the honey bee's labor.


     While honey is a staple food source for the bee,  bears find it simply irresistible, or so it would seem.  Some researchers actually believe it is the protein rich bee larvae that the bears are after.  In any event, I know of one bear that absolutely enjoys honey simply for the pure sweet taste. Only one literary allusion  comes to mind when thinking of honey and bears and that can be none other than Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.  He doesn't quite achieve his goal of obtaining any honey in chapter one despite a rather clever plan of camouflaging himself as a rain cloud beneath a blue balloon meant to blend in with the sky.  As he floats up to the hive, he notes, "I think the bees suspect something!"  He is, of course, rescued by Christopher Robbins, honeyless.

Barr Hill Gin                                   
It seems that with each passing day, a new gin comes to market with a unique flavor due to a dizzying array of botanicals employed in the production.  As one who appreciates the fine nuances of gin, an inordinate amount of time is spent sampling our chosen spirit, utilizing the palate to extract the origins of all those flavors.  Well, Barr Hill Gin produced by Caledonia Spirits from Vermont have circumvented the process of harvesting all those botanicals.  They have simply harnessed the bees of Vermont to provide an ever changing flavor of honey- talk about cheap labor! The formula is simple, neutral spirit for alcohol, juniper(because otherwise it's not gin) and honey. The honey is added at the end imparting a sweetness and a slightly amber hue.   I have sampled it in a Martini with a lemon twist.  It is quite sweet and extraordinarily smooth for a 90 proof gin.  The honey really balances the juniper and alcohol, but the sweetness may not suit everyone's taste.  The packaging is in line with the bee motif with the bottle sealed with bee's wax.  There is a fine write up by Boston Magazine, but you should really taste it for yourself.

I wonder what the bees would think of all this.
Enjoy your honey, one way or another!

Friday, April 17, 2015


Beaches, Books, and Whales


     Growing up on a beach town located on the East coast, summertime meant  heading over to the local beach for a little summer fun and relaxation while soaking up the sun. Maybe I would bring a good book or the radio, and enjoy the fresh salt air with the smell of coconut tanning oil wafting up.  All that was missing was a nice Martini, which I had not yet acquired a taste for, nor would I have been allowed to drink on the public beach.  And from this backdrop of shoreline reminiscences I encountered two recent news stories which caught my eye.  One of them was about a sperm whale which washed up on the California coast while the other story (how to put this delicately?) relates to a recent story posted on yahoo about a plus size blogger showing off her new swimsuit that has "gone viral."  At the risk of sounding somewhat insensitive, my mind linked these two seemingly disparate stories.


      Now before you go and start attacking me for a reference to the plus size blogger in the same post about a beached whale, let me say this:  It was actually the icon associated with the Yahoo story that first got my attention. It was a picture which referenced A Brave New World, that wonderful novel by Aldous Huxley.  The title of the novel is taken from Shakespeare's play, The Tempest.  In it, the character Miranda, who has lived on an isolated island, famously asserts the following lines upon meeting outsiders who come to the island:

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in't.

In Huxley's novel, there is a similar moment, when the character John "the savage", who was brought up in an isolated "reservation", is brought back to the "modern" world.  There is irony aplenty in that utterance and I recommend you read the novel in it's entirety.  I believe the Yahoo writers have gone a bit overboard in equating this woman's shunning of social and fashion norms as John's refusal to submit  his ethos to "A Brave New World".  To her credit, the plus sized blogger rightly distanced herself from the brave label.  I think it borders on sacrilegious to mention such a fine novel in the same light as a discussion about the relative merits of a morbidly obese woman donning a bathing suit.  Such is the state of affairs in our own brave new world.


      This past Wednesday, at Mori Point in Sharp Park State Beach located in Pacifica, California, biologists and veterinarians arrived to investigate the likely cause of death of the sperm whale which washed ashore.  The whale had no broken bones, and though there was evidence of some hemorrhaging, it wasn’t enough to indicate being hit by a ship or other blunt-force trauma, according to the Marine Mammal Center. Likewise, there was no mention of harpoons.  What would have really made this story enthralling was if the whale were white and the skeleton of Captain Ahab was lashed to his carcass.  So apparently the White Whale, Moby Dick, may still be on the loose.  

      I queried google on Moby Dick, Herman Melville, and Gin.  Low and behold, there it was! I have read the novel twice and somehow glanced over this passage.  Perhaps watching the cinematic attempts to recreate the novel  have sullied my memory of the reading.  Surely I would have remembered the mention of this before. It is a recount of a manifest for the Dutch Whaling fleet. 
that I found a long detailed list of the outfits for the larders and cellars of 180 sail of Dutch whalemen; from which list, as translated by Dr. Snodhead, I transcribe the following:
400,000 lbs. of beef. 60,000 lbs. Friesland pork. 150,000 lbs. of stock fish. 550,000 lbs. of biscuit. 72,000 lbs. of soft bread. 2,800 firkins of butter. 20,000 lbs. Texel & Leyden cheese. 144,000 lbs. cheese (probably an inferior article). 550 ankers of Geneva. 10,800 barrels of beer.  Most statistical tables are parchingly dry in the reading; not so in the present case, however, where the reader is flooded with whole pipes, barrels, quarts, and gills of good gin and good cheer.
I did a little calculating and that 550 ankers of geneva is roughly 21000 liters!  For 180 men on a typical 3 month whale hunt, that would be about 1.3 liters of genever per day.  How they managed to sail the vessel, let alone hunt, kill, and process the whales, is beyond me.  I think that this warrants an experiment aboard one of those whale watching cruises.  Call Me Ishmael!

      To go along with our summer whale theme, you might want to try The Filthy Liar Syrup, which is a premade mixer for your favorite gin.  It is produced by  White Whale Mixers.
This cocktail mixer was handmade in Durham, North Carolina by White Whale. Made from lychee fruit and rosemary, the Filthy Liar Syrup adds a floral fruit flavor with an herbal kick to gin drinks.
8 fluid oz.
Pure filtered water, sugar, lychee juice, rosemary oil, clove, organic lime juice, natural flavors.
Each bottle makes 8 cocktails.

Looking forward to my next trip to the beach this summer, hopefully with no decomposing whales or questionable fashion statements.  Unfortunately Martinis are typically forbidden on public beaches,  something seems incredibly wrong with that.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Martian Martinis

The Mission

      While trying to decide which sci-fi adventure to watch with the boys tonight, and finally deciding on Prometheus,  I was introduced to the Mars One mission project. How I missed this one I don't know, but my boys are all very well versed on the subject. Apparently, someone has come up with an idea to start a human colony on Mars.  It is still in the early planning phases with an anticipated landing date perhaps in 2028 or so.   At first glance, it seems like the kind of thing that would suit me, but alas, the deadline has passed.  My 11 year old, Hunter, seemed genuinely concerned that Dad might want to leave his family for the angry red planet, but his older brothers recognized it as more of dad's whimsical and somewhat meandering musings.    

The Selection Process

      The selection process for astronauts began several years ago and they currently aren't accepting new applicants. So it would seem that I've missed the boat, or spacecraft in this case.   According to the website,"The astronauts must be intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy." So far, so good, I'm thinking.  The only age criteria is 18 years or older, so that's not a problem.  Next are certain, what I would call, vague characteristics:

  1. resiliency
  2. adaptability
  3. curiosity
  4. ability to trust
  5. creativity/resourcefulness
I might have to bluff my way through some of those interview questions, especially number 4, but I think I could do it.  The only real problem as I see it (pardon the pun) would be the eyesight requirement which does need to be normal 20/20 vision.  Unfortunately, I've had to resort to the "cheaters" in recent years in order to read the fine print.  I suppose vision correction surgery would be necessary, or perhaps I could just blow them away with my survival skills culled from watching all those survival shows, like Man vs. Wild and Dual Survival.

Martian Martinis

      I have to admit that my real motivation for wanting to go to Mars is the prospect of starting the first Martian gin distillery.  I'm thinking this would be the ultimate small batch craft distillery.  Who in the gin world wouldn't want to procure a bottle of Martian gin?
Forget Martin Miller sending his spirits to Iceland for the water, I'm going to the Martian polar ice caps!  In terms of construction,  it should be simple enough.  I'm sure there would be plenty of engineering know how on board.  There would be plenty of time to work out all the details, as I would have to wait for the botanicals to grow in the greenhouse anyway.  I would like to proof it out beyond even a navy strength gin, perhaps 130 or so.  After all, navies only sail the seven seas and I'm going all the way to Mars!  It seems like the right thing to do.  This could be even better then my outdoor martini bar!

One remaining obstacle however is the vermouth.  I do not have a sufficient knowledge of it's production and I fear that it would prove too high a hurdle to overcome. Hopefully, someone will just bring the vermouth.  On the other hand, Mars is known for being exceptionally dry.  It only stands to reason then, that a Martian Martini should be made similarly arid.  So instead of looking in the direction of France or Italy in deference to the vermouth, I could bow to Earth when making my Martian Martini!  

I hope I'm not too old for the second wave of Mars astronauts.
Does Anyone Have a Good Name for a Martian Gin? 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fools

Fools, Chaucer and Welles


    In trying to trace the roots of April Fool's Day, the path through history to the truth is anything but clear.  It is reminiscent of the history of Valentine's Day, a seemingly obvious holiday in honor of Saint Valentinus. But, in reality, there is more fiction than fact to the story.  One commonly held belief is that April Fool's Day dates back to that most famous Pope Gregory XIII.  When in 1582 he supplanted the Julian Calendar with the modern Gregorian one, he not only reset Spring, he also changed the beginning of the New Year.  In the Julian calendar, people typically celebrated the beginning of the new year with the start of spring which was celebrated at the end of march or the beginning of April.  In the Gregorian calendar, the new year clearly began on January 1.  Lacking 24 hour news, cell phones, and email, the news was a little slow to circulate.  Those negligent to the changes were still celebrating the onset of the new year on April 1.  The more enlightened crowd looked at those who were remiss as a bit silly and dubbed them "April Fools".  

     Whether this is the true origin of April Fool's Day or not, I cannot say for certain.  There are some other dark horse theories out there, which I am typically inclined to side with, but in this case, I'll go with the crowd favorite.  Besides, I like to go with the Popes.  I am hoping that perhaps it may lessen my time in Purgatorio.


      Geoffrey Chaucer, or at least his enthusiasts, can not stop from trying to weave themselves into history.  First, it was the initial literary mention of Valentines Day, and now the first mention of April Fools Day.  What next, did Chaucer first chronicle Easter? I think not.  In any event, there is a common misconception that the first reference to April Fool's Day dates back to The Canterbury Tales, written circa 1392.
      In the Nun's Priest's Tale, Chaucer tells the story of the vain cock, Chauntecler, who falls for the tricks of a fox, and as a consequence is almost eaten. The narrator describes the tale as occurring:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also

Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.

There is some ambiguity as to the translation.  While some scholars associate the 32 days to the start of March, others ascribe it to the end of the month.  Thus, it either pertains to April 1, or May 3.  Because the Nun's Priest Tale is essentially the story of a prank perpetrated upon the "foolish" cock by the sly fox, it is easy to see why choosing the date of April 1 would conveniently fit this theory.  If it is a reference to April Fool's Day, then it would be the earliest recorded reference to the day. However, Chaucer's choice of words is extremely ambiguous, and most scholars think he meant May 3, since that would be "thritty dayes and two" after March "was complet."


      Perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated upon the American public, the current presidency notwithstanding, was the radio production of The War of the Worlds, written by H.G. Wells.  The book portrays an alien invasion of Earth.  The radio show was produced by a young Orson Welles and aired as a Halloween episode on October 30, 1938.  As the show was aired without commercial interruption, and was portrayed as a series of newscast bulletins, the show had a very real atmosphere about it.   A large number of people were duped by the show, lighting up the switchboards of the local authorities.  Welles gained significant notoriety and went on to a rather illustrious career in show business, producing and directing Citizen Kane, as well as The Magnificent Ambersons.  As some of you may recall from a previous post, Orson Welles was famously quoted on his take on the Negroni, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other."    I take exception with his description of gin as being bad for you.  We all know that it is actually quite medicinal.   But what did he know, he pulled an April fools joke on Halloween!

And so tonight, in honor of  Welles, Chaucer, and Pope Gregory XIII, I will have a vodka martini.

April's Fools!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mescal, Malcolm, and Martinis


     Mescal is definitely not gin.  But, it is the drink of choice for that most inebriated of characters,The Consul, in one of my favorite novels of all time Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, who did, in fact, enjoy his Bols London dry gin.  Mescal is actually quite closely related to tequila, but whereas tequila is mostly distilled from the blue agave plant, mescal is produced by harvesting the maguey plant, which is a somewhat different although a closely related agave.  The piña, or heart, of the plant is removed and cooked, traditionally in earthen pit ovens.  This underground roasting imparts a smoky flavor to the final product. From this cooked piña , a mash is produced which is allowed to ferment, and subsequently distilled to produce the spirit known as Mescal.  The plant can be found throughout Mexico, but it is in and around the town of Oaxaca that mescal is typically associated and it is here that Malcolm Lowry settled down for a while forming the backdrop for his opus.


      For those of you unfamiliar with this author, Clarence Malcolm Lowry was born in New Brighton, England in 1909.  He grew up in a well to do family on a small estate.   He established his drinking career at the tender age of 14 and remained an alcohol enthusiast until the end.  Being a bit of a free spirit, he wanted to see the world and decided going to sea would suit his fancy.  He petitioned his father who acquiesced.  So in May of 1927, rather than enter Cambridge, he set sail as a deckhand on the S.S. Pyrrhus headed to the far east.  His experience asea paid off and gave him the material for his first novel, Ultramarine.  On his return, he did eventually attend Cambridge from whence he graduated in 1931 with an honors degree in English.

      With a turbulent marriage in tow, Lowry moved to Mexico, arriving in the city of Cuernavaca on November 2, 1936, the Day of the Dead, a sort of Mexican Halloween,  in a final attempt to salvage their marriage. Lowry continued to drink heavily, though he also poured more energy into his writing.  His wife eventually left him. Alone in Oaxaca, Lowry entered into another period of dark alcoholic excess, culminating in his being deported from the country.  Imagine being deported from a country because you drink too much.  Something about that just doesn't seem right, particularly in Mexico. 

      A troubled Malcolm Lowry died in a rented cottage in the village of Ripe, Sussex, where he was living with his second wife. The coroner's verdict was "death by misadventure", and the causes of death given as inhalation of stomach contents, barbiturate poisoning, and excessive consumption of alcohol.  The exact circumstances of his death are the subject of some debate, and much nefarious conjecture.  

     I have read Under the Volcano three times now and remain firmly convinced that it will take several more readings to fully capture the depth of symbolism ensconced within the text.  I refer to a book such as this as wet, as every page seems to drip with symbolism .  There have been books, reviews and entire classes dedicated to the study of the text, so I wont waste your time here.  I refer you to the Malcolm Lowry Project for that.  

      Much of the story in the novel is autobiographical, shadowing both his life and ultimately his death.  The text is rich with allusion to many a significant literary greats including Dante', Milton, Goethe, and many others.  To me, it is a perfect novel about a perfectly tragic character written by a perfectly tragic author.  And so I offer up a tribute to the Consul, Goeffrey Firmin, and his human counterpart, Malcolm Lowry:

The Oaxacan Martini
  • 2 oz  Mescal
  • 1 oz  Extra Dry Vermouth
  • .5 oz Olive Juice

Enjoy your spirits and try not to get deported.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Anesthesia Martini

Anesthesia, and  Recipes


     As I look back to the start of my medical career as a fledgling resident in Anesthesia, I recall having a certain amount of trepidation.  I can distinctly remember how I was uneasy with the thought of choosing the type of anesthesia for a particular type of surgery.  Should a total knee replacement patient have a general anesthetic or a spinal anesthetic, or what about an epidural, which would also provide post operative pain control?  My anesthesia chairman and mentor, Dr. Paul Levesque said, "It is not cook book anesthesia, Dr. Curtin."  I have always remembered that statement.  I came to realize that as a consultant in anesthesia, I was expected to use my knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology to tailor an anesthetic plan for a particular patient for a particular surgery.  Patient conditions will change, surgical procedures will change, the medications will change, and the combinations seem infinite. 


      It is like that when one considers the Martini.  With the Martini, there are several ingredients to contemplate; the gin, vermouth, water, and garnish.  The water is out of our control.  That is in the hands of the distillers, but it remains important nonetheless, consider Martin Miller's Gin for example.  When creating a Martini, a balancing act is necessary to merge the flavor of the gin and it's botanicals with the vermouth and garnish.   As a youth, it seemed as if my friends and I would always be arguing about "the best."  There was always a best group, the fastest car, the best job, the coolest thing.    As I got a bit older, I began to realize that things are more about a enjoying a variety rather than an absolute best or worst.  There are shades of grey and I make no allusion to that absolutely trashy novel with no value in literature whatsoever. 

      I may not be a culinary genius, and I'm sure chef Ramsay would toss me out of Hell's Kitchen for one reason or another. That being said, I consider myself a good cook with a good sense of combining flavors.   I attribute this to my Italian heritage from the maternal side of the family.  The town in which I grew up was approximately 90% Italian.  For most of my youth, I believed everyone was in some way Italian and Roman Catholic. Life was good, simple, and safe.  Some of my earliest memories are remembrances from the kitchen- my mother's and grandmother's.  Although most of the time I was being chased around it with a wooden spoon!  

      Next time you are contemplating executing a Martini, consider it as a chef would deliberate executing a dish.  Just as you would balance sweet, sour, salt, savory, heat in your food, examine the ingredients to the Martini in a similar light.  The botanicals of gin come into play in an ever expanding assortment.  Lemon, pepper, licorice are all common accompaniments to the juniper in gin.  They tend to be softened by the vermouth.  Try playing those flavors against the garnish.  The traditional garnish chosen for the martini is an briny olive, or two or three, and the cocktail onion for a Gibson Martini, but there are others. There is the lemon twist.  Newer additions are the bleu cheese stuffed olive as well as the savory herbs lavender and thyme.  I had a bartender make me a Hendricks martini with a cucumber garnish which was absolutely divine.  I approach making a Martini, as I would any dish.  It is a fusion of flavors with an expression of love.  
As you can see, being an anesthesiologist, a chef, and a Martini mixologist are similar in a some ways.  I invite everyone to be a bit of an anesthesiologist when it comes to the Martini. Remember, gin was originally used for medicinal purposes, and in high enough doses, 

alcohol is an anesthetic!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

La Primavera

Calendars, Races, and Gin

The Season

      Spring at last!   Although having broken the all time snowfall record just a few days ago, there is a bitter irony in that statement. But it is the appreciation of  Pit and Irony that make for a rich life or at least that's what Bill  was trying to convey to Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises.  The title of said novel was quite brilliantly played by Hemingway.  It is based on a quote in the Old Testament by Ecclesiastes -   "What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose."  Herein lies much of Hemingway's personal philosophy, that man may be battered and lost, such as the post war generation, but man is not destroyed, but perseveres- "abideth for ever."  Well, this winter has certainly battered more than a few hardy New Englanders, but we March on, Spring has arrived, if only in calendar format.

     Spring in the astronomical sense is referred to as the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere.  The term Equinox is derived from the Latin aeques or equal, and nox meaning night.  At this time of year, the sun passes directly over the equator and the length of daylight to night is equal.  Although strictly speaking, there is some variation due to light refraction.   That being said, the vernal equinox has always been prominent in the calendar.

      The calendar which is in use today was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  Prior to the Gregorian calendar was the Julian calendar, created by none other than that most famous Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar.  His want of control over all things, which led him to cross the Rubicon in 49 BC, extended from the terrestrial world to the celestial skies in 45 BC when he created his own calendar.  He set the spring equinox on March 25.  This calendar was slightly longer than a solar calendar year which lead to the spring falling progressively earlier in the year.  By 1500 AD, it had reached March 11.  Pope Gregory the XIII would have none of that.  The problem with the Julian calendar was that it became possible for Easter to fall prior to the equinox which was contrary to the Council of Nicaea and thus the Gregorian calendar was instituted to right the ship.

The Race

 With the start of spring comes the beginning of the classics season in cycling. While the road cycling season has continued to expand, starting in January in the Tour Down Under in Australia (where else?), the cycling traditionalists recognize only Milan- San Remo as the true start to the season held on the third Saturday of March.  La Classicissima is commonly referred to as La Primavera, Italian for Spring or literally first green.  It is the longest one day professional race at 298 km.  That, my friends, is a long day in the saddle.  At roughly the halfway point, the riders traverse through the Turchino Tunnel, cut through a cliff in the Orba valley.  This is where the race really begins and has always stood as a psychological on the race.  It was here that Il Campionissimo Fausto Coppi attacked the peleton on March 19, 1946, and came out of the tunnel with the lead which he held all the way to the end... 150 km of solo attack with 200 other riders trying to chase him down.  It remains one of the great wins in all of cycling lore.  As Milan San Remo signals the birth of the cycling season, the win by Coppi signaled the emergence of Italy from the fractured elements of the war.

The Gin 

      Gin is the perfect spirit for ushering in the Spring season. The juniper flavor with it's piney aroma speaks to the outdoors and fresh air.  The exotic botanicals give an earthy note that peels back the cold frost to expose something fresh and new. Spring 44 Gin seems to fit the bill nicely.  The distillery is located in Colorado and utilizes artesian spring water from the Rocky Mountains.  Water is, in fact, the main component in gin, and every other spirit for that matter.  It's importance is vastly under-appreciated in regards to the overall contribution to taste.  Martin Millers Gin has a similar take on water quality and sources theirs from Iceland.  In addition to the crisp, fresh, Rocky Mountain water, the botanicals include Juniper, Coriander, Nutmeg, and Agave Nectar.   For a review check out The Gin Is In.  But, I recommend a personal tasting in an ice cold Martini to toast in the Spring.

Here's to warm temperatures and cold gin!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saint Patrick's Day


      March 17 is nearly upon us and I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at the history of Saint Patrick for which we have much to be thankful for.  Two Latin letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by St. Patrick. These are the Declaration (Latin: Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin: Epistola),from which come the only generally accepted details of his life.  He was born a Roman-Britain towards the end of the fourth century, some dating it as 385 AD.  He was  born to a privileged family and his father was the local deacon.  At an early age he was abducted by raiders who sold him into slavery in what was then mostly pagan Ireland.  He was held captive for six years generally employed tending sheep.  He stated that he felt he was told by God to flee to the coast in order to escape. He is said to have walked 200 miles in order to effect his escape. 

     Upon his return to his homeland,  he saw an angel in a dream telling him to return to Ireland to convert the pagans to Christianity.  He began his studies for the clergy which took him the next 15 years to complete.  He became a bishop and received his blessing from the Pope to complete his missionary calling in Ireland.

     Saint Patrick was very resourceful in his use of local customs to enlighten the pagan people of Eire.  He utilized the symbols of the pagans which allowed them to more easily understand what he was trying to teach and to gain their acceptance.  For example, he would use bonfires during gatherings just as the pagans did.  The symbol of the sun was also very prominent in their beliefs.  One of the theories as to the origin of the Celtic Cross is that St. Patrick incorporated the round sun symbol of the pagan belief system into the more standard Christian Cross which is now the Celtic Cross that we see today.  He is also associated with the three lobed shamrock.  Saint Patrick is said to have used this native plant  to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the pagans.

      As much of the lore of the ancient Irish was handed down by oral tradition, much of that history has been  exaggerated or misunderstood.  For instance, St. Patrick was famously known for ridding the Emerald Isle of snakes.  In actuality, there probably never were any snakes in Ireland  to begin with.  The story really relates the symbolic eradication of pagan beliefs which were commonly associated with the symbol of the snake.

With that history in mind, we will soon be filling the taverns with beer enthusiasts and the streets with parades.  The City of Chicago will be turning their river green, and green dye will be added to the taps around the world, for it seems that everyone is a bit Irish for a day.  
      A cursory glance a few years ago revealed a couple of distilleries producing gin on the Emerald Isle.  But, the craft gin Renaissance that has been spreading the world over has as strong a presence in Ireland as anywhere.  Putting their rich whiskey distilling heritage to task, there are now a number of fine gins coming out of Ireland today.  To date, I have only had the opportunity to sample Dingle, which I previously discussed and recommended as a wonderful balanced gin with a taste that really attempts and succeeds in incorporating the local flavors of the land.  Others on the list include Cork Dry Gin, Glendalough, Blackwater, and Shortcross.  I am looking forward to giving them all a try.

Why not celebrate Saint Patrick's Day by expanding your palate beyond the green beer and try  a green Martini- The Emerald Isle?

  • Start with a nice Irish Gin
  • Substitute a little Creme de Menthe for the vermouth, 
  • add a dash of bitters or two. 
  • Garnish with a mint leave.

Erin Go Bragh!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Ides of March

Julius Caesar, Juniper, and the Martini

Caesar and the Ides of March

As most people know, the Ides of March is another name for the 15th day in the month of March.  However, few know how important the Ides was to classical history.  In the Roman Republic, Rome's society and government before the rise of Augustus (Octavian) Caesar, the Ides of March was a major holiday of celebration.  Each month on the Roman calendar had "its own ides", but March (Martius) was special in that it was the first month of the year on the oldest Roman calendar.  Therefore, the Ides of March was usually the first full moon of the year for the Romans and so the celebrations during the month have been compared to our present day New Year's celebrations.  Though the fact that March meant a new year was a big deal, an even greater deal concerning the Ides of March particularly was that it was the feast or celebration of the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter (Iuppiter).  So, when the 15th of March came around, Jupiter's priest would lead sheep to be sacrificed at the citadel (arx) in Rome.  As the sheep were led, waves of crowds would gather and cheer on the sacrifice.  Of course, food and drink (alcoholic) was aplenty and common people enjoyed picnicking throughout the day.  

Overall, the Ides of March of the Roman Republic was a time of social unity in Rome.  However, the Ides of March took on a whole new historical meaning in the year 44 B.C. (That's right, none of that politically correct BCE crap), when Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Forum.  Led by Politicians Brutus and Cassius, over 50 senators took place in killing Caesar, as he was stabbed 23 times before falling to his death.  Of course, most people who have heard of Caesar's assassination often know William Shakespeare's famous line of, "et tu, Brute?" (Literally translated from Latin as "Even you, Brutus?") from his drama Julius Caesar, proclaimed by Caesar as his life is ended.  Most historians will deem Caesar's death as the end of the Roman Republic and the start of the Roman Empire.  After his death, civil wars broke out in Rome.  Caesar's nephew, Octavian, set out with a goal of vengeance for his uncle.  He first executed 300 Roman senators and then led a series of military victories.  Most noted were the victories of Octavian over Cassius and Brutus at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C., and his final victory at the naval Battle of Actium in 34 B.C. over Mark Antony.  After these victories, Octavian took the name Augustus and founded the Roman Empire, making the Ides of March the origin for the Roman Empire!  In the new Empire, many people saw the Ides of March as a day to remember Rome's rebirth into a stronger region.  However, the day remained dedicated to Jupiter, and so the Ides was never truly devoted to celebrating the newfound empire.  So, what many people would call a typical day is really one enveloped in rich, Roman history.

The preceding primer in Roman History as it relates to the Ides of March is courtesy of my guest blogger, Drew Curtin, currently a Latin II Honors scholar at Boston College High School.  He is also my videographer and video editor for the various videos included in previous posts, such as The Outdoor Martini Bar, The Winter of Despair,  and The Olio.   Drew maintains a YouTube channel at ClubHeroes. 


      The ancient Romans used juniper berries as a cheap domestically-produced substitute for the expensive black pepper.  They also utilized the berries and it's oil for purification ceremonies and the treatment of stomach ailments.  Fast forwarding a bit, it was around the 11th century that Italian monks began producing a spirit with local botanicals and Juniper berries.   The Italian Juniper has a soft, smooth piney aroma with a slightly citrus note.  Today, the Italian sourced Juniper is a favorite ingredient of the craft gin industry.

The Martini

     There are a number of stories that claim rights to the origin of the Martini.  I have looked at some of these in a past postThe Martini Genesis.  In one of these stories, the martini was created in 1912 at the New York Knickerbocker Hotel by Martini di Arma di Taggia, an Italian immigrant bartender. According to the story, one Martini di Arma di Taggia mixed dry vermouth and gin together and the mixture gained the favor of John D. Rockefeller. It is unclear whether this story holds any water, but there does seem to be an Italian stream that flows from Rome to the Juniper to the Martini.

Had Caesar, Cassius and Brutus had a three martini lunch, perhaps the whole of western civilization would  have turned out differently.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Me and My Uncle

The Family and  Gin

Uncle Val

      As I am want to do from time to time, I took a tour of the local liquor stores in search of something new to be found in the gin section. Having espied Uncle Val's Botanical Gin, I decided to take it home and give it a try.  The number of  craft gins seem to be multiplying exponentially, which is a good thing.  With so many choices how can one decide?  It's better to consider your choice as an adventure of different tastes rather than a choice of absolute good vs. evil.  This isn't the garden of Eden after all. 

      You probably are familiar with Sebastiani Winery started by Samuele Sebastiani 110 years ago.  But now, a fourth generation Sebastiani, August, began 35 Maple Street as the spirits division of the famous wine company family.  Company president August Sebastiani named the handcrafted, small-batch gin after a favorite uncle, Valerio Cecchetti, who is a retired physician near Lucca, Italy. “In addition to being a highly regarded doctor, Uncle Val is a great cook and avid gardener. The botanicals we selected for this unique gin — juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage and lavender — are the same as those Uncle Val likes to use in his cooking and grows in his home garden,” Sebastiani said.

Uncle Mike

      There must be something about uncles and gin that go together like a good gin and tonic.  I have to give credit to my own Uncle Mike who introduced me to gin at the evening campfires on the many hunting and fishing trips we went on along with my father.  He would always bring a bottle of Tangueray to make his "medicine".  He would make a gin and tonic with it and add a splash of Squirt to top it off. As I got older, I was given charge of making the "medicine" and eventually enjoying it myself.  Good Memories....

Grateful Dead 

      Uncles heading out on eye opening and sometimes life changing adventures with their nephews is a recurring theme among songwriters. The Grateful Dead made famous the song "Me and My Uncle" which was actually written by John Phillips of  The Mamas and the Papas.  The narrator and his uncle traverse the southwest back in the days of the old wild west.  A poker game leads to a brouhaha and the pair escape with the gold. Unfortunately, there is no gin drinking involved, as whiskey was the pervasive drink of choice in that environment.  Jimmy Buffet strikes a similar chord, pardon the pun, with "Pascagoula Run."  

     Getting back to Uncle Val,  the gin is distilled 5 times from grain.  They are really going for a clarified product here.  It is then passed through lava rock, a natural filter, to purify the spirit. There are actually 3 varieties produced- Botanical, Restorative, and Pepper. The herbs for the botanical variety include Juniper, lemon, sage, lavender and cucumber and are infused by steeping them in the neutral spirit with a bag just as you would with tea.  The spirit is cut with water from the cascade mountains, then bottled and labeled by hand. 

      To date, I have only had the opportunity to sample the botanical variety.  This gin offers a very up front citrus taste which is balanced with the sage and lavender.  It tails to a cucumber freshness, all with a juniper background that is always present but not primary in taste.  This is somewhat unique among gins, as you don't get any of the otherwise ubiquitous pepper, coriander, or anise flavors common to most gins.  This is one best had neat with a twist in my opinion.  I look forward to tasting the other varieties- The pepper sounds most intriguing.  As he always referred to it as medicine, I think Uncle Mike would prefer the Restorative.  


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gold Thievery, Espionage, and the Martini

The Heist

     The theft of $5 million in gold bars passed by the bottom of the screen on the news ticker with little ado.  An armored car made an unscheduled stop on a "dark stretch of highway" in North Carolina.  It was reported that one of the guards thought he smelled gasoline and was feeling nauseous.  The driver pulled over presumably to let the ill appearing guard out of the vehicle to vomit.  Amazingly, at that very second, they were accosted by the robbers who shouted "Policia" interestingly enough speaking Spanish.  The authorities are a bit suspicious of this story, as well they should be, for the guards also speak mostly Spanish - coincidence I think not.  The authorities are waiting to clear up the stories with the help of interpreters.   It will be interesting to see if more of these surreptitious gold heists begin to occur.  The story eerily recalled to me the characters in Atlas Shrugged.  I would not be surprised to find out that the ringleader of the heist was none other than Ragnar Danneskjold, the pirate of the novel.  

The Pirate

      Ayn Rand  was born in Russia in 1905 and grew up at the time of the Russian revolutions. She witnessed first hand the social ruin that ensued and her novel about that epoch, We The Living,  is largely autobiographical.  Her final novel, which she considered her opus, is Atlas Shrugged.  For those unfamiliar with the novel, I highly recommend that you give it your time.  It is basically the story of the death of capitalistic innovation and entrepreneurialship, as it is hijacked by an ever increasing socialistic government and society in general. Sound familiar???? The three great minds that represent the hope of the return to a future representative democratic society are Francisco d'Anconio, who inherits and runs the worlds biggest mines, John Gault the mastermind, and Ragnar Danneskjold the pirate.  Although it was written in 1957, like all great novel it's themes are universal and timeless.

     In the novel, the general feeling of the population, and thus the government who needed their support to stay in power, was that every man would work according to his ability, but be paid according to his need.  This is a clear reference from The Communist Manifesto by Obama, I mean Karl Marx.  Ragnar was determined to fight this injustice by declaring war on "the looters" and repaying "the producers" the money that was robbed of them through unfair taxation policies.  He plundered government ships sending goods bought with tax money to foreign countries.  Ragnar discusses the legend of Robin Hood in the book, and how the folklore has become distorted and simplified over time to the story of a hero stealing from the rich to give to the poor. In actuality he was taking unjust government taxes and distributing them as charity. In Ragnar's world, he is trying to reverse the injustice of the government system albeit for somewhat different ideals.  In all of his privateering activities, he never accepted any form of fiat currency and only dealt with gold, the universal and enduring currency.  

Here is what Francisco d'Antonio,another main character in the novel had to say about gold:

Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it.

      It is clear that Rand is suspicious of governments, which I suppose is natural given her personal history of loss during the Russian Revolutions.  That governments in general, and the US in particular, went off the gold standard, was concerning to her.  Whether you believe in the gold standard or not, Atlas Shrugged is a great read nonetheless.


      I would be remiss to start a discussion about gold in a martini blog without mentioning Auric Goldfinger from the James Bond film series.  Goldfinger was probably one of my favorite movies in the Bond series.  Auric plotted to set off a nuclear device within Fort Knox, making worthless the US Gold Supply.  As we were taken off the Gold Standard in 1933 by FDR, and I am not an economist by trade, it is unclear what, if anything,  this would have actually meant.  Be that as it may, it did make for an interesting plot.

      Perhaps one of the great lines in all the James Bond series came from this film as Auric had Bond strapped to a table with a laser slowly creeping up to slice him in half.
Bond inquired, "Do you expect me to talk?"
and Auric, half amused at the assumption retorted,
"No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

     As we all know, Bond was a Martini drinker, forever linked with his catchphrase,"shaken not stirred."  The first mention of him ordering something close to a true Martini  was in the book Casino Royale.  That cocktail, known as the Vesper, is basically a hybrid martini, made with gin and vodka, and a French aperitif wine instead of vermouth. Bond orders up:
“A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”  Why he would add vodka to a perfectly good gin is beyond me, but then again he's the guy who's been with the likes of Honey Ryder, Plenty O'Toole, Holly Goodhead and Pussy Galore.

Martini Gold

      I have surveyed the Internet and found several brands of gin which actualcontain gold flakes. Perhaps adding gold flakes to an already perfect cocktail would be considered "Gilding the Lilly", but I would certainly like to give it a try.

If anyone can locate me a bottle, 
I would surely love to have a gold inspired Martini.