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.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Bathtub Gin

Gin, Prohibition, and the Roaring Twenties

     Bathtub gin made it's debut during that most heinous of times in U.S. History - Prohibition.  Alcohol consumption actually increased during prohibition - another example of the government getting in the way of good old fashioned human behavior. This spurred on the underground market of bootlegging, speakeasies and corruption led by the infamous Al Capone.  The 18th amendment would not be repealed until 1933, making for a prolonged "dry spell".  Ironically, this inspired the back room production of what may be called the world's most anhydrous spirit. Typically, the amateur bootlegger would combine grain alcohol, water, and flavorings including juniper. Due to the size of the bottle, the water would have to be added from the bathtub tap. Sometimes the mixing would actually be done in the tub, hence the term bathtub gin.  

     The production was not exactly performed under the most rigidly controlled conditions. The alcohol was either acquired from other bootleggers or from medical suppliers.  The process of turning denatured alcohol into a drinkable spirit proved too difficult for some.  The amateur bootlegger sometimes got it wrong and produced poisonous concoctions which led to both blindness and/or death.  After production, the gin was sold to individuals or illicit night clubs.  There, it fueled the Roaring Twenties, with flapper girls, the Jazz Era and speakeasies, the background to one of my favorite American novels, The Great Gatsby.

     Many gin cocktails owe their existence to bathtub gin, as they were created in order to mask the unpleasant taste.  As one might imagine, throwing some juniper berries in a bathtub full of grain alcohol might not be the most soporific of beverages.  Speakeasy bartenders were encouraged to invent new recipes that would be more palatable to the customers.  There was an explosion of new cocktails that ensued.  Some examples include:

  • Bee’s Knees: A spoonful of honey, plus lemon and orange juice, would have taken the edge off bathtub gin in this 1920s cocktail. Today’s craft gins lend a much-welcome complexity to this sweet-tart recipe
  • Southside: It was said that it was the drink of Al Capone and his gang.” The drink is typically made with gin, lime, mint and simple syrup.  Substitute rum for the gin and this is a mojito.
  • Tuxedo #2: Created in the late 1800s, this drink resurfaced during the 1920s. Do the main ingredients — gin and vermouth — sound familiar? It’s a cousin of the Martini. Add a dash of maraschino liqueur, bitters and dose of absinthe, and you have yourself a Tuxedo #2.

     Now, traditional gin is not a distillation of grain alcohol and juniper berries, but rather a steeping between the two.  As with all alcoholic spirits, a carbohydrate substrate is allowed to ferment producing alcohol.  That mash, as its called, is put into a still of varying size and heated.  Distillation is the separation of substances based primarily on their respective boiling points.  The still is fired to a set temperature allowing the alcohol to vaporize.  As it cools, the alcohol is returned to the liquid state.  This production of a neutral grain spirit is essentially how vodka is produced.  Gin, however, takes the process one step further.  

The flavor of juniper berries is then introduced imparting the characteristic juniper flavor. Although, juniper is the predominant sine qua non of gin botanicals, numerous others are added producing the subtle variations among the various gin producers of the world.  These botanicals are usually placed in a basket over the vaporizing liquid allowing the heated alcohol to release and subsequently capture the organic flavors.  There are a multitude of variations to the botanical "secret recipes".  Some are distilled multiple times such as Tangueray which is distilled four times.  Even the water added to bring the alcohol content down to a palatable level imparts a certain degree of flavor.  It is these combinations of distillate purity, botanical flavoring, and water that are combined to culminate in the multitude of gins that we are fortunate enough to enjoy in the world today.

Regardless of the fact that so much American history is "instilled" in bathtub gin,

I prefer drinking it in the tub rather than making it there .

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