A proper Martini is made with gin, stirred, never shaken. Vodka has no taste and no smell. Shake it up with ice and you get overly diluted alcohol. That’s boring.
Gin is everything vodka isn’t. The flavours and aromas from the botanicals, citrus, herbs and spices offer excitement and the promise of adventure to far flung places, home to exotic ingredients.
But gin has had a bad rap. A few hundred years before the TV series Desperate Housewives popularised overindulging in white wine as a tranquillising suburban pastime, people used to produce alcohol at home, keep it in bathtubs, add turpentine, call it gin, drink it and sell it. It was cheap, nasty and contributed to many social ills.
Women in England stayed home and drank themselves to oblivion - and that’s how the term “Mother’s Ruin” came to be.
The men? They were too busy getting cirrhosis of the liver in one of the 10000 gin houses in England to worry about what was going on at home.
Fast forward to 1800. Taxes and lots of laws made the alcohol business difficult to run, so bar owners became circus ring-masters.
They converted their bars into exhibition halls, known as blind pigs or blind tigers. There they displayed strange beasts and charged thirsty patrons a fee to see the animals.
The attraction was the free drink that came with your entrance ticket.
I recently assembled a tasting panel to sample a few local gins, including Step 5, Wixworth and Geometric Gin.
There are around 100 more local gins and we’ll try get to all of them over the next year. Email me if you want to help us.
We tasted the gins on their own and with different tonic waters.
The best thing to happen to the gin industry in South Africa isn’t a gin, but the range of Symmetry tonics. There are three variants: floral, citrus and spice.
They’re made in Franschhoek with natural ingredients, contain a quarter of the sugar used in commercial tonics and provide flavours to complement a wide range of gins. They’ll change the way you make your G&T.
Pour a healthy measure of gin, add sparkling water and the tonic, (which is in concentrated form) and you’ve got summer in a glass. A 500ml bottle gives you 15 to 20 drinks.
On to the gins. The winning combination was Wixworth with Symmetry floral tonic. Wixworth is the brainchild of Craig Dore and the team at The Really Grand Brand Company, better known for giving us Glenmorangie, Ardbeg and Jack Daniels.
Wixworth tastes like I think gin should - juniper-forward, dry with rich botanicals. There’s a strong sustainability focus, with the indigenous Renosterbos otanical a key ingredient. It was recently launched at the not-so-secret-anymore Secret Gin Bar behind Honest Chocolate in Wale Street.
The same venue hosted Jean-Baptiste Cristini, who, together with wine fundis Andrea and Chris Mullineaux and the Leeu Collection’s Anajit Singh, is behind The Geometric Drinks Company, producer of Geometric Gin and Symmetry Tonics.
Sustainability is key for the people at Geometric (named to raise awareness about the geometric tortoise, a highly endangered animal) so we can enjoy the drinks with a clear conscience.
Step 5 Gin, named after Step 5, the best part of the poem The Drunkard’s Progress, is a true example of an exotic experience in a glass. The incredible flavours come from Italian juniper, Malaysian lemon grass, Seville orange, Indian coriander and Belgian angelica root.
A couple of cocktail legends crafted this classy product for cultured palates. Get the tools to make your drinks from www.thespiritmerchant.com, a venture involving master mixologist Kurt Schlechter, the man behind Cause & Effect, a new Brandy bar soon to open in Cape Town
Join me for a drink: [email protected] and @bernardgwhisky.