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.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gin Blossoms

Drinks, Music, and Faces

   The Drink 

       Last September,  I  had the good fortune to stay at the Stage Neck Inn located in picturesque York, Maine. Aside from the breathtaking landscape, fantastic memories, and great meals, I will forever remember the Gin Blossom served up there.  The bartender had the inestimable good sense to soak a bunch of cherries in gin for the better part of two days.  The gin was pink and the cherries were blanched white.  The cocktail was memorable.  I sipped two while sitting in an Adirondack chair placed on the lawn overlooking the Atlantic.  I recall the bright warming sun wrapping me against the cool crisp September air.  It was a piece of heaven on earth for a short time.

     Now, there appear to be as many recipes for a Gin Blossom as there are days in the year.  The commonality seems to be gin, and citrus. I think the addition of cherries hearkening to the blossoming of the cherry trees in spring is a nice touch.  The concoction which I had, definitely had grapefruit juice and so I  have included the recipe below.    Other variations of the recipe include apricot or peach liqueur for the St. Germain, and vermouth or champagne for the grapefruit juice.   Hopefully I will have the opportunity to return to the inn sometime soon and commit that recipe to memory.

  •      2 oz. Gin                                                                 Combine with ice in a shaker.
  •      1/2 oz. St. Germain Elderflower liqueur                  Serve on the rocks
  •      1.5 oz. grapefruit juice                                            Garnish with cherries

  The Band

      You may also be familiar with the term Gin Blossoms from the American Rock band formed in 1987 in Tempe, Arizona.  They exploded onto the music scene with the hit song "Hey Jealousy" from their first major label album, New Miserable Experience (1992).  Unfortunately, the song's author and band co-founder ended up getting fired and then committing suicide.  This led to the follow up album titled Congratulations, I'm Sorry (1996).  Despite the rather inauspicious history, they had a number of billboard hits:

  • Found Out About You
  • Follow You Down
  • Til I Hear It From You

   The Condition 

An interesting thing about the band is that they got their name from a caption under a picture of W.C. Fields, the poster child for the skin condition associated with alcohol consumption know as the gin blossom. Actually, the condition is termed rosacea, and is a skin condition associated with small superficial blood vessels usually on the face and neck.  It is not necessarily caused by alcohol and occurs in teetotalers as well.  It may progress to raised red bumps and in extreme cases, rhinophyma.  This is the large red lobulated nose that W.C. Fields famously referred to as his "gin blossom."  He was particularly famous for his one liners: 

  • A man's got to believe in something.  I believe I'll have another drink.
  • I don't drink anymore, on the other hand, I don't drink any less.
  • A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the courtesy to thank her.

You can drink gin blossoms or listen to them, but try to avoid developing them if at all possible.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Winter of Despair

A Tale of Two Mindsets

   Well, I have gone and hijacked the title of this post from the opening line of Charles Dickens' classic A Tale of Two Cities. The full quote is one of the most iconic opening lines in all of literature.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . ."

      What Dickens plays with here is the use of anaphora, the repetition of phrases in subsequent clauses.  In doing so, he places equal weight on each of the subjects in the clause. Through his marvelous use of language, Dickens suggests a balance in this struggle between the juxtaposed themes- wisdom/foolishness, hope/despair, etc.  From the beginning title and opening line, right through to the end, Dickens is consistent is this motif of duality.   I have personally chosen to view this winter in the same light.  Although there has been much cause for despair in the wintry mess, there has also been moments of hope and fulfillment.

What Dickens plays with here is the use of anaphora, the repetition of phrases in subsequent clauses.  In doing so, he places equal weight on each of the subjects in the clause. Through his marvelous use of language, Dickens suggests a balance in this struggle between the juxtaposed themes- wisdom/foolishness, hope/despair, etc.  From the beginning title and opening line, right through to the end, Dickens is consistent is this motif of duality.   I have personally chosen to view this winter in the same light.  Although there has been much cause for despair in the wintry mess, there have also been moments of hope and fulfillment.

Curtin Boys In The Triple G
     The construction of the Triple G (Glacial Gin Garden) has been a great family effort. I suspect that events such as these will leave pleasantly indelible  memories for my boys. Turning the boundless amounts of snow into a humble abode plays right into Dicken's theme.  Just as the country of France arose from the dreadfully gory times of the French Revolution,  the Triple G arose from the inglorious piles of snow thrown upon us by Mother Nature.  I am certain that some day my children will have similar times with their offspring as well.  Who knows, maybe I will even be around to enjoy them as well.


       Charles Dickens, like most good writers and men of taste, seems to have an affinity for gin, his favorite gin beverage being the Gin Punch.   Sidney Carton and Attorney Stryver are cited as guzzling punch while working on a case.   As you may recall, Sidney Carton is the character who utters the famous last line of the novel.  The brilliance of Dickens continues right through to the finale as he continues to maintain his use of anaphora and the duality of themes.  As Carton ascends to the guillotine in order to save Charles Darnay, he utters another classic last line in literature:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.

And having read the book twice, that seems a fitting end.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Running of the Bulls


AP photo jose vicente
Benjamin Miller Gored at Carnaval del Toro
     While perusing the nightly news, or actually the 24/7 news of today's Internet, I ran across the story of the unfortunate lad who got a little too close to the running of the bulls.  This got me MartiniMusing and   Hemingway naturally came to mind.  He was a great admirer of the Spanish bullfights.  Naturally, Hemingway led me down the path to the Martini.  A story such as this is not an uncommon one, with a number of episodes occurring at each of the bullfighting festivals throughout Spain. As disturbing as it is, you have to admire the ingenuity of this particular bull.  He actually first pantsed the guy and then gored him.  It can only be described as embarrassing, disturbing, disgusting and mischievous all rolled into one.  It appears to have been a classic case of the college student studying abroad getting a taste of European life or more specifically the Spanish bullfight scene.  This unfettered desire to run with the bulls I believe to be entirely put upon the shoulders of my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway Stamp


     Papa Hemingway considered himself quite the aficionado of the bullfighting scene.  He wrote Death in the Afternoon detailing the spectacle and nobility of the bullfighting tradition.  He also recounted it, rather brilliantly I might add, in The Sun Also Rises.  In that particular case, however, the running of the bulls was at the San Fermin festival at Pamplona.  There was much drinking involved, some trout fishing, and then some more drinking. The story chronicles Jake Barnes' journey through his emasculated life in post war Europe.  The novel ends with Jake saying to his unattainable love interest, Lady Brett- "Yes, I said.  Isn't it pretty to think so?"  This is one of the most pithy final lines ever written, succinctly expressing the impenetrable wall between Jake and Brett individually, and the lost generation and people in general, delivered in a cynical and bitter tone.  With thoughts like that running around in his head, is it any wonder that Hemingway was such a prolific drinker?

Bulldog Gin

Bulldog Gin
    Hemingway liked a dry Martini, a very dry Martin - Montgomery style.  I am not certain what, if any, brand of gin Hemingway was enamored with, but I think the name of this one and the fact that the word bull is in there somehow might have swayed him if he were around today.  Bulldog Gin was launched in 2007 in today's modern craft gin market.  It is distilled  4 times and utilizes 12 botanicals.  It derives it's name from Winston Churchill, the British Bulldog, himself a prolific gin enthusiast.  He also liked a dry Martini, or actually just a very cold glass of gin.  He is famously noted to have said that the only way to make a Martini was to pour a glass of ice cold gin and bow in the direction of France (in deference to the vermouth). Similarly, the practice of just looking at the vermouth bottle while pouring the gin has been attributed to Churchill as well.  There are a lot of alleged Churchill quotes out there!  

The Botanicals

Dragon Eye- from China, related to the lychee fruit.  It imparts a sweet light flavor.

White Poppy- from Turkey, it adds a sweet nutty flavor.

Lotus Leaves- from China, adding a flowery, perfume flavor.

Lemon- for citrus flavor

Almond- distinctly sweet nutty flavor 

Cassia- similar to cinnamon

Lavender- from France, it is related to mint imparts a flowery bouquet

Orris- from Italy, sweet and woody

Liquorice- we all know what liquorice tastes like.

Juniper- from Italy, that wonderful piney flavor which makes gin, gin

Angelica- earthy aroma, used to bind the flavors together

Coriander- a sweet, citrus flavor

     The first thing that grabs you when you look at Bulldog Gin is obviously the bottle.  It exudes a tough, brawny character.  Open the bottle however and be prepared for a bit of a shock.  You are not thrown back by a forward juniper flavor, but instead greeted with a more balanced, floral and citrus bouquet.  The taste is a nice balance of juniper and citrus with definite floral notes of lavender coming through.  The earthy botanicals are always there in the background, not overpowering.  The finish is smooth, as you would expect with 40% ABV.  If you'd like to see another opinion you can try The Gin Is In, where you can always find an informative review.

    I mixed up a Bulldog Martini with an olive.  I will go back and forth on the issue of garnishes. Sometimes I like to "cut " the floral gins with a lemon peel and sometimes with the brine of the olive. You can't go wrong here as people's palettes do differ.  If I had some fresh thyme, I believe this would have been the best choice.  But, I will save that for another day. 

    So if your going to run with the bulls, I suggest garnering a little "Dutch Courage" with a Bulldog Martini.


Make sure you wear some appropriate protective clothing!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Outdoor Martini Bar

If You Can't Beat 'em, Join 'em

    As winter continues to leave a seemingly indelible mark on my psyche, I have to force myself to forge on with the anticipation of better things to come.  With close to six feet of snow on the ground in the last week and more in the forecast, spring appears a very long way off indeed.  However, I have decided to stop complaining about this infamously historic winter here in New England, despite the fact that there is good reason to continue doing so.  There is much to decry- the school closings, the horrendous traffic, work interruptions as well as that cabin fever thing.   The world is a vast place and a myriad of people inhabit environs as intemperate as this.  Surely the Inuits of North America and the people of Siberia would be a little amused at all the whining going on around here about the weather.  I wondered how to embrace this wintry madness.

     So as I begin to dig out from the second blizzard of 2015 (are you listening Al Gore?), I remembered watching a program about an ice hotel and thinking to myself, "who in their right mind would actually pay money to stay at such a place?"  Sure, the drinks at the bar would stay cold.  My Martini would never have to worry about a slow warm death.  Not that it does now mind you.  But, that would seem to be the only advantage.  Imagine sleeping on a block of ice?  I don't care how many reindeer skin blankets they put on the damn thing.  The places are kept cold, about -5 C.   From what I can find, there are about a dozen of these extraordinarily elaborate igloos about the world from Canada to Sweden and beyond.  Even Japan has entered the fray.  

     At a much more reasonable scale, the ice bar has made an appearance.  Nearly every major city has one of these novelty filling stations, serving mostly as a tourist attraction, but a fun night out nonetheless. The bar, sofas, chairs, and tables are all carved from ice as are typically the glasses. After paying admission, one dons gloves and a parka.  Some ice bars, such as the Frost Ice Bar in Boston, offer boot rentals to keep the feet warm.  And, for those truly unprepared, there are hats for purchase in the gift shop.  The Frost Bar makes a nice gin potable-The Lion and The Unicorn. Concocted with Farmer's Organic Gin, Pavan, Lillet, and Blue Curacao, it is named after the statues at the State House in Boston which serve as symbols of the British Crown which were torn down and burned during the American Revolution and then later rebuilt.  Fortunately, our differences have been resolved.

     More reasonable still is TC's Triple G, aka Glacial Gin Garden.  Admission is free and the gin is grand- top notch stuff, while the ice is courtesy of nature.  Although, I realized that the ice is totally superfluous at these frigid temperatures obviating the need for a shaker.  Still, it helps to complete the picture.

For those of you considering your own outdoor martini bar, I just wanted to point out a few snags that I encountered:
  • Unfortunately, -5 Fahrenheit is nothing like -5 Celsius. 
  • Mittens may stick to the shaker.  
  • I was concerned the steel olive skewers would do the same and so decided on a lemon peel garnish. 
  • Lip balm definitely changes the flavor of the Martini
As the saying goes:
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," or better yet use the lemon and make a Martini!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day

Martyrdom, Lupercalia, and Chaucer

     Well, it is nearly upon us, the American Greeting card company's favorite day.  As we all prepare to declare our love and amorous intentions with cards, chocolates, flowers, romantic dinner reservations and such, let's step back and take a look at the origin of Valentine's Day.  The more that I research certain topics of which I thought I had a fair bit of knowledge, the more I find myself wading through a quagmire.  It seems that a good story may stand on equal ground with fact in what is passed down as History.  And, a lot of what is passed down in history draws much on the art of embellishment.  In this regard, Valentine's Day, the history of gin and the Martini genesis  share a thread of commonality. 

     One aspect of Valentine's Day is known with certainty.  The day was named to commemorate the life and martyrdom of St. Valentine, or Valentinus.  But who exactly was he? Well, we don't actually know for sure, as there have been several of that name.   However, Valentine's Day  was created to honor at least two Saints Valentinus.   Saint Valentinus of Rome is associated with the popular legend that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. Emperor Claudius II came to believe that bachelors proved to be better soldiers than married men, and he thus banned the practice.   Enter St. Valentine who continued to join young lovers in holy matrimony .  Claudius had him imprisoned and later put to death.  While imprisoned, he healed the daughter of his jailer, restoring her sight.  An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed "Your Valentine".  The other Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian for providing succor to the Christians.  
     Both Valentines were buried on the Via Flaminia which may have led to some of the confusion.  The traipsing about the countryside with religious relics was an important part of the spread of Christianity.  It is entirely possible that their lives and stories became intertwined.  As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church, when revamping their liturgical calendar stated "Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14." And, it is likely that a fair amount of story telling and subsequent oral tradition led to many of the legends of St Valentine(s). Remember also, that at this time, the early Middle Ages had been referred to as the Dark Ages characterising a general lack of learning or education.  Under these conditions rumor and embellishment flourished. 

Romulus and Remus
     Another popular story connected to the history of Valentine's Day is that it was created to overshadow the Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia.   Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on the ides of February(13th or 14th) to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility.  It also to paid homage to the founders of Rome.  The twins, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned to the wilds around the hills of what is present day Rome.  They were found and raised by a she-wolf in the surrounding mountains. They eventually grew up, and began to build heir own city.  Remus mocked his brother, Romulus, because his  buildings were so small and inferior. Romulus in his anger, killed his brother and founded Rome, a case of sibling rivalry taken to a whole new level.  The festival began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog.  Young men were led to the altar, to be anointed with the sacrificial blood.  The sacrificial feast followed, after which the young men dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats.  They carried strips of the cloth bathed in the blood of the sacrificial animals and ran around the walls of the old Palatine city. The ladies would line up on their route to receive lashes on their bared bottoms from these whips.  This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.  Pope Gelasius I was said to have then  introduced Valentine's Day to supplant the influence of Lupercalia .  Although one could try and connect the dots, it appears to be historically inaccurate when placed under the microscope.  
 How then do we jump ahead from a martyred priest to the notion of romance?  It is now widely attributed to the poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer of The Canterbury Tales fame.  His poem, Parliament of Fowls, is widely quoted as being the first reference to Saint Valentine's Day as a romantic time.  I think it is highly likely that there were, in fact, earlier traditions connecting Valentine and romance that preceded Chaucer’s reference but which simply, for whatever reason, did not survive to the modern day.  The following excerpt shows the lines purported to relate Valentines Day as a romantic holiday.  It seems a stretch in that it only associates  birds' mating season with the date in question.  

"And there was not any bird that is created through procreation that was not ready in her presence to hear her and receive her judgment. For this was Saint Valentine's day, when every bird of every kind that men can imagine comes to this place to choose his mate. And they made an exceedingly great noise; and earth and sea and the trees and all the lakes were so full that there was scarcely room for me to stand, so full was the entire place. And just as Alan, in The Complaint of Nature, describes Nature in her features and attire, so might men find her in reality. 318
This noble empress, full of grace, bade every bird take his station, as they were accustomed to stand always on Saint Valentine's day from year to year. That is to say, the birds of prey were set highest, and then the little birds who eat, as nature inclines them, worms or other things of which I speak not; but water-fowls sat the lowest in the dale; and birds that live on seed sat upon the grass, so many that it was a marvel to see." 

     In 18th century England, Valentine's Day evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering candy, and sending greeting cards.   Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.   Let it suffice to say that a rather dubious string of connections has been made to arrive at our present day celebration of Valentine's Day.  I think we must all agree that our present day celebration of Valentine's day is far better than it's rather suspect past.

     As we all must do from time to time, I will have to compromise a bit to the fairer sex.  As much as I love gin and the classic martini, for one night I will have to cross that line and make an exception.  I offer up two cocktails for your enjoyment.  One is a Valentine's Martini made with (gulp) vodka, and the other is a gin cocktail.  

The Sweetheart Martini


1.5 oz  vodka
2 oz cranberry juice 
1 oz grand mariner 
Squeeze of fresh lime juice


1. Shake all ingredients with ice in a shaker. 
2. Strain and serve in a martini glass
2. Garnish raspberries, strawberries, or even white chocolate 

Tanqueray Rouge


1.25 oz. gin (recommended: Tanqueray London Dry)
1 oz. simple syrup
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. pomegranate juice
1 spiral lemon peel


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and pomegranate juice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass.
  3. Garnish with lemon peel spiral.

Enjoy the evening!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Top Ten Things To Do Whilst Enjoying A Martini

10.  Poolside - Being the middle of winter in New England, and there being 5 feet of snow on the ground with another 2 feet in the forecast, this definitely comes in at  number 10 on the list.  If I would have composed this list during a balmier season, it would have most certainly  been higher on the list. The cool icy nature of the Martini against a backdrop of summer fun are enticing indeed.  I am anxiously looking forward to the time when I can enjoy an ice cold Martini while manning the grill in the outdoor kitchen with Jimmy Buffet playing in the background.  While the kids enthusiastically take advantage of the 85 degree water in the pool, I prefer a nice soak in the bubbling spa with its relaxing water massage.

9.   Fireside -  On a related note, my favorite activity after a dip in the spa is relaxing in an Adirondack chair by the fire.  Sipping a Martini by the fire is a sublime undertaking.  As the evening air begins to chill, the dancing flames of the campfire bring back the warmth.  Sitting back, enjoying the stars, hearkens back to a more primordial time as the flames conjure up a connection with our past.  The Martini completes the journey.

8.   Philosophical musings are a natural extension then.  Sit by the fire, look up at the stars, enjoy the Martini and wonder.  What is your place in the universe and the nature of existence?    So many great minds have pondered so many perplexing things.  From Aristotle and Aquinas to Locke, Kant, and Nietzsche, to name but a few, all embarked on a journey of examination of human understanding.  But, how many of them were able to enjoy a really good Martini?   Does religion help to make sense of it all, or, is the Martini in itself enough?  Martini existentialism - a new branch of philosophy is born.  
"Zen martini: A martini with no vermouth at all. And no gin, either."   P.J. O'Rourke

7.    Conversation :con·ver·sa·tion 
  1. the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.
    "the two men were deep in conversation"
    synonyms:discussion, talk, chat, gossip, tete-a-tete, heart-to-heart, exchange, dialogue 
Nothing loosens the lips and lubricates the machinations of the mind like a good Martini.     

6.    Cooking and mixing a fine Martini go hand in hand.  The process is complementary.  Consider the ingredients, the aromas, and how they come together.   Next time you are preparing dinner (I would not recommend a Martini for breakfast), allow yourself the pleasure of a Martini.  It gets the culinary juices flowing.  It aids in bringing the taste buds to life.  Should your recipe not turn out quite as intended, you always have the olive to fall back on.  "If it wasn't for the olives in his martinis he'd starve to death."
Milton Berle

5.   Music - More specifically, I am referring to the listening enjoyment of music.  Trying to drink a Martini while playing music is likely to lead to spillage, which is something to be avoided at all cost. This is one that can be combined with many of those already listed.  I especially enjoy listening to some music while practicing the culinary arts.  The genre is not so important so much as your affinity for it. Though I could not really envision a circumstance where listening to rap while sipping a Martini is acceptable.

4.     Reading - I have always rather enjoyed a good read even in the B.M.(Before Martini) era.  I do not know if getting a little older has anything to do with it, but I have a new found appreciation of many of the classics that I read in my youth.  If you are so inclined, I highly recommend Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.  He was a prodigious drinker, which ultimately led to his death.  Lowry reputedly wrote his own epitaph: "Here lies Malcolm Lowry, late of the Bowery, whose prose was flowery, and often glowery. He lived nightly, and drank daily, and died playing the ukulele."   

3.    Writing  There is something about authorship and drinking that seem to be inseparable. There are probably none so famous for their proclivity towards alcohol as "Papa" Hemingway, whose propensity for the bottle is legendary.  One of his more noteworthy libations was the Montgomery Martini.  It has been said that Field Marshall Montgomery would not attack an opposing force without a 15 to 1 superiority.  This ratio became the inspiration  for the aforementioned Martini moniker.

2.    Sweet loving - Need I say more?

     Well, apparently that was only nine things to do whilst enjoying a Martini.  After a couple, I guess I lost track.  I suppose that I should do a Top 10 Things to Avoid Whilst Enjoying a Martini.  I will have to put mathematics at the top of that list.  

Besides, can you think of a better way to end it than with some sweet loving?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Martin Millers Gin

Water is the driving force of Nature- Leonardo DaVinci

     Water, it is the basis for life as we know it. When astronomers first looked to Mars wondering whether there could be life there, what captured their attention?  They looked at the polar ice caps, they imagined the canals of Mars and then postulated that life could have possibly existed there once, simply because there may have been liquid water.  Our own Earth is awash (pardon the pun) with water, about 70 percent.  It was from the oceans, the primordial stew, that cells formed, progressed to multi cellular organisms, and crawled onto land.  At least that is the theory of evolution.  Water makes up about 65 percent of human body weight on average.  But, more importantly, it makes up more than fifty percent of the gin that we all love so much and contributes to the ultimate cocktail, the Martini.

     The importance of water as an ingredient to gin seems to be greatly overlooked. Perhaps that was Martin Miller's thought when he decided that he would distill his spirit in England, but send it to Iceland for the final dilution.  It might seem like a silly idea at first glance, but nonetheless there is some logic in it.  This stands in sharp contrast to Monsieur Rick's reason for coming to Casablanca.......

     Martin Miller's Gin is distilled from neutral grain spirits, utilizing the middle third of the distillate, known as the heart, like most quality gins do.  The botanicals are not kept in a "gin basket" but are instead steeped to draw out the flavor.  One unusual step in the process is that the citrus flavorings are held separate from the other botanicals.  The belief is that the citrus notes, being added separately and at the end are not muted by the other more earthly aromed botanicals.  This is to lend a brighter, crisper citrus note.

The Botanicals

  • Juniper
  • Florentine Iris
  • Coriander
  • Angelica
  • Liquorice
  • Cassia Bark
  • Lemon, lime, orange


     What one notices on first inspection of the bottle is the 40 % ABV.  This is a little light in regards to alcohol content of most gins.  They do produce another version, Westbourne Strength, which is closer to the mark at 45.2% ABV.  I will have to save that for another day. In terms of aroma, the citrus really stands out.  The juniper and peppery coriander are also evident.  On the palette, all three continue to dominate.  There is also a little licorice that sneaks in as well.  I do not know if the process of holding back the citrus until the end is responsible, but the citrus component is clearly the most noticeable.  The finish is smooth as one would expect from the low alcohol percent, with juniper and coriander tailing away.  

After a neat tasting, I proceeded to a Martini.  The battle between citrus, juniper and peppery overtones were somewhat muted by the scant vermouth that I added.  I rubbed the glass with grapefruit rind and used it as a garnish.  How could I resist with orange, lemon, and lime already in the mix. 

     As I see it, there have been two gin markets out there in terms of London dry gins.  The classic gin is very much a juniper forward beverage, sticking to it's origins in Genever.  The juniper dominates with the other botanicals to provide a more balanced background.  The newer gins are more "balanced", utilizing a dizzying array of flavors to stand up against the piney juniper taste and aroma.  The juniper is a bit more muted, but present nonetheless. Martin Miller's Gin seems to play the middle, if you will.  The juniper is forward, but there is a play between it and the strong citrus overtones.  The sum, then, is a juniper forward gin of the traditional style, with bold balancing citrus tones to match, with an earthly aromatic background. Perhaps this is why this gin has garnered so many tasting awards.

Now if only I could get my ice cubes from Iceland.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Caorunn Temptation

Scottish Craft Gin

    Caorunn is a small batch gin crafted in the modern style using traditional techniques.  Pronounced "ka-roon", it takes it's name for the Celtic word for Rowan berry which is one of the botanicals used in the recipe.  Although it is technically classified as a London dry gin, it is a much more balanced gin.  One could argue that it is the forward juniper flavor that makes gin what it is, nonetheless the evolution of gin continues.  The distillery uses what is listed as six classical gin botanicals as well as five Celtic botanicals.  Some of these are shared with Dingle, the Irish gin discussed previously in Dingle Dangle.  But what I find most interesting is the inclusion of Apple, specifically, the Coul Blush Apple.  This really sets this gin apart.  What was the Gin Master thinking?  I can only imagine two scenarios.  Either he was going for a balancing act between the juniper and earthy botanicals , or perhaps, he was devilishly trying to tempt us with the apple, a modern day gin brewing Eve.

    Now, Caorunn is a relative new kid on the block, but, it is produced at Balmenach Distillery, which was first licensed in 1824 by James MacGregor for the production of Scotch whisky.  The distillery is delightfully situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. This area is known for the natural springs which provide the water for the distillery and is the natural basis for Balmenach spirits.  
"The skills and knowledge of spirit distilling have been passed from father to son in Balmenach throughout the past 2 centuries and traditional processes are still used to produce whisky.  One of the distillers, namely Simon Buley is also a gin aficionado and for a while had played with the idea of making a truly Scottish Gin at the working malt whisky distillery. He wanted especially to use the ancient skills and recipes of spirit making and to harness the uniquely pure Scottish Highland water of the surrounding Haughs and the age old Celtic botanicals that grow on the surrounding hills of Balmenach Distillery." - says the website.

     Here then is the Gin Master at work with the unique Copper Berry Chamber that was made in the 1920s.  It is a round chamber with copper frame and carries 4 trays. The botanicals are spread on the trays, allowing the grain spirit vapour to meet the botanicals over the largest possible surface area during the infusion process and to pick up the aromas and flavours of the botanicals.

Celtic Botanicals

Rowan Berry 
From the old Gaelic word Caorunn or Rhuda-an. This piquant red berry has inspired Celtic medicines and recipes for generations. It forms the very soul of Caorunn.

Bog Myrtle This fragrant plant conjures up images of Highland walks. It infuses a soft, sweet resinous aroma to Caorunn Gin.

Heather Heather is an integral part of the Highland landscape. With its subtle perfumed undertones with a nuance of honey it is also an integral part of Caorunn gin.

Coul Blush Apple First fruited in Coul, Ross-shire in 1827 this is a Celtic creation. Its clean, sweet, aromatic taste forms a perfectly balanced compliment to our other ingredients.

Dandelion Leaf Since ancient Celtic times the Dandelion has been used as a herb. It lends Caorunn just a hint of sharpness

Traditional Botanicals

Juniper Berries Juniper berries are at the heart of our handcrafted Scottish Gin. They have been lending their subtle bittersweet aroma to gin since the 17th Century.

Coriander Seed The spicy, sweet aroma of these seeds conjures images of dishes full of exoticism and warmth. They add a subtle flavour of pine and pepper to Caorunn Gin.

Orange Peel Orange peel adds to the crisp refreshing flavour of Caorunn Gin. With its pleasant sweet odour and slight hint of bitterness it makes the perfect companion to our carefully chosen Celtic Botanicals.

Lemon Peel Lemon peel is an essential flavour of Caorunn Gin with its fragrant citrus top notes and aromatic bitter taste.

Angelica Root Fabled for centuries in Chinese medicine as a healing herb this enigmatic root also provides a sweet warm taste to Caorunn Gin.

Cassia Bark Like Coriander seed this exotic spice lends its fragrant aroma to Caorunn Gin. Its sweetish taste is reminiscent of cinnamon but with more delicate flavour and depth of character.

     To the nose, there is a light pine with a citrus aroma.  The taste is very balanced.  I think that this is the least juniper flavored gin that I have sampled.  The sweetness of the apple is evident which is backed with those sweet bog botanicals as well.  The juniper is in the background with the citrus and cinnamon flavors coming through.  The finish is smooth, lacking any kick.  This one reminds me of Dingle, as they share many of the same ingredients, but with the addition of that sweetness.  It makes a fine dry martini.  As mentioned previously, if you are one of those juniper forward types, this might not be the gin for you.  But, on the other hand, if you are feeling a little adventuresome and would like to get off the beaten path, then Coaruun is very tempting indeed!

How do you like them apples?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Aristotle, Tragedy, and the Martini

     Although the mind of Aristotle is clearly genius, this statement does present me with a bit of a dilemma, but I love it nonetheless.
     What Aristotle said of Greek tragedy in the "Poetics" is also true of the Martini. “Having passed through many changes, it found its natural form; and there it stopped.” …. I am not arguing that there is a natural recipe for the Martini, a natural proportion of gin to vermouth. I am arguing that there is a natural form, which comprises the essential qualities of the Martini… Its pleasure, which is not voluptuous but astringent, can only be expressed by oxymoron: sensuous coldness, opulent dryness, mysterious clarity, alluring purity.
—Lowell Edmunds, Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail 
     This got me thinking.  What other connection might the Martini have with Greek Tragedy?  It has always seemed to me that the Martini possesses something that is inherently aesthetic.  It has both form and substance, Apollo and Dionysus.   The use of the these as they relate to Greek Tragedy was expounded upon by Friedrich Nietzsche in  The Birth of Tragedy published in 1872.   His major premise here was that the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian elements  form dramatic arts, or tragedies. He goes on to argue that this fusion has not been achieved since the ancient Greek tragedians.  Not to go off on a tangent, but from here, Nietzsche impugns Socrates for the imparting of rationalism and dialogue into tragedy, claiming that the infusion of ethics and reason robs tragedy of its foundation, namely the fragile balance of the Dionysian and Apollonian.  Next he attacks Jesus for spreading the concept of pity, creates the ubermensch to overcome these two problems of man, and the next thing we know a guy named Adolf misappropriates these ideas- the rest is history.  
     Aristotle defined Tragedy thusly: “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.” 
     May I dare to sit upon the stage with Aristotle for a moment, I would suggest the addition of Hope as a requisite to the tragedy.  Perhaps Aristotle recognized hope as the prerequisite to pity, fear, and despair.  Are not the depths of these emotions all the more deeper because of the underlying hope of overcoming them, and does that not make the katharsis that much sweeter?  I don't know. I am not that well read in Aristotelian philosophy nor do I read Greek.  
     In any event, let us consider the Martini as a classic tragedy.   That the Martini has great characters is obvious, likewise the interplay between them and ones palate clearly represents a wonderful plot.  As for the diction, a perfectly assembled Martini will speak to me quite eloquently indeed.  Concerning thought, Aristotle discusses how speeches reveal character.  Not only does a fine Martini have character, it tends to reveal something about the character of the drinker as well.  Now, melody is a little more difficult to put one's finger on.  As the Martini does not have an accompanying orchestra, I will lump this together with diction.  Lastly, we are left with spectacle.  Nothing more need be said here, for surely the Martini exudes spectacle.  
    The culmination of the Greek Tragedy as defined by Aristotle is Katharsis, or a "purging". The emotions of pity and fear aroused by the tragedy can be experienced in an aesthetic form and thus released, or purged.  So, next time you are taking in some Sophocles or a Martini, enjoy the Apollonian and Dionysian elements and savor them.  Martinis in particular should be taken in slowly and enjoyed.  Too many Martinis in too short a time is a recipe for disaster.  
It's far better that the purging take place on an aesthetic level rather than a physical one.