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    The Reader’s Choice Finals – Hendrick’s Gin versus No. 209 Gin

    This is it – the finals. Out of the initial sixteen gins selected, these were the two that you deemed best. Your final task here is to pick one over the other. Will be be the lesser known No. 209 gin from San Francisco? Or will it be the popular Scottish Gin, Hendrick’s?

    The choice is yours.  You have one week to vote.

    [poll id="18"]

    The History of the Martini

    Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

     (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

    For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

    There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

    11. Gin Punch
    (From a recipe by Soyer.)
    1/2 Pint of old gin.
    1 gill of maraschino
    The juice of two lemons.
    The rind of half of a lemon.
    Four ounces of syrup.
    1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
    Ice Well.

    This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

    He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

    Martinez Cocktail.
    (Use small bar-glass.)
    Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
    2 dashes of Maraschino.
    1 pony of Old Tom gin.
    1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
    2 small lumps of ice.

    Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
    glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

    This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

    57 Martini Cocktail

    (Use a large bar glass)

    Fill the glass up with ice;
    2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
    2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
    1 dash of Curaçoa;
    1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
    1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

    stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

    However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

    Turf Club Cocktail

    Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
    One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
    One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
    Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

    This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

    From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899

    Martini:

    1/2 c Tom gin,

    1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

    1 tsp orange bitters,

    serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

    A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

    Martini Cocktail

    A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

    In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

    “Golf Cocktail”

    Extra Dry

    There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

    A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

    That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

    By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

    So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

    The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #2: Bombay Sapphire vs. No. 209

    Vote!

    [poll id="17"]

    The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #1: Hendrick’s vs. Leopold’s

    Vote!

    [poll id="16"]

    The Final Gin of my Final Four

    I’ve been sitting on this decision for two weeks, when I first compared Knickerbocker Gin to Leopold Bros. The problem? They were both quite excellent, and choosing one meant not giving the other its fair due.

    Let me be clear, these are two very different types of gin, with Knickerbocker eschewing the traditional London Dry recipes, trying (and succeeding) to do something different. Leopold goes the opposite route, instead focusing on paying attention to the details of a traditional distillation. Knickerbocker is heavy on the botanicals, Leopold Bros. focused on perfecting the process of a classic recipe.

    That’s not to say that Knickerbocker is not as well distilled as Leopold Bros. It sits very smoothly on the palate, and has no rough edges to the spirit that other gins have shown themselves to have in previous head-to-head.

    So why did I choose Knickerbocker? It was that same bugaboo I came across in a previous tasting – Knickerbocker was interesting. Or, at least, it was one smidgen more interesting the Leopolds, which was also quite interesting.  The flavor profile of Knickerbocker provided something new and different. Yes, yes, the juniper was there, but it played with its citrus notes a little more, and the other botanicals, including cardamon, coriander,  were more assertive, but balanced quite nicely.

    I have a feeling that if Knickerbocker ends up being my number one gin, then Leopold’s will be the second best gin in this exercise. Had it gone head to head with a different gin, I suspect Leopold’s would be in the final four as well.

    But they didn’t, so they’re not. It’s Knickerbocker by a hair.

    The Third of My Final Four Gins

    One of the things that filling a 16-gin-bracket-in-order-to-determine-one’s-favorite accomplishes is that it allows one to see their predilections a more clarity. I’ve already seen this once so far in this endeavor, where I’ve come to terms with the fact that an alcohol-heavy spirit is a bug and not a feature for me. I’ve given my reasons for this before – alcohol numbs the palate, making it hard to taste the complexities within – but I recognize that ultimately this is a subjective preference based off of my own ability (or non-ability, in this case) to taste well with a higher ABV in tow.

    I use this as an example to better support my second predilection that I’ve come across – I like “interesting” drinks. Imagine my discomfort as I sit here writing this line, without a clear definition of what “interesting” actually means. I admit that there’s no one consistent definition, and that puts my critical palate even more in question.

    Take, for example, the third gin that I’ve put in my final four - Bulldog. I like it because it’s well made, it has a nice balance, and that there is no one flavor that smacks one repeatedly over the head.  Alas, these are the same characteristics that describe No. 209, to which I was comparing Bulldog.  So what differentiates the two? Well, Bulldog is interesting to me. It’s interesting because it has subtlety and nuance, a rarity in the gin world.  It uses different botanicals than No. 209, other than the standard juniper. It presents itself as a London Dry Gin, a more conservative gin style than No. 209′s  New Western Dry Gin style, and it does so with panache.

    Yes, panache.

    I drink Bulldog, and I don’t feel as if it’s off to the juniper races with other more popular gins. I get the sense that the folks at Bulldog are looking to do their own thing, but they don’t need to shout about it.  I like No. 209, but I’ve tasted their flavor profile – juniper with citrus- in other gins. Bulldog seems to show restraint, a great characteristic to have in a market full of “look at me! Look at me!” type gins.

    And this makes them interesting. So their gin goes into my final four.

    The Reader’s Final Four Gins

    So the votes have been tallied, the polls closed, and the Reader’s bracket now is a little more filled out. The result? We (and when I say “we”, what I mean is “you”) have the final four brands of gin that will go up against one another.

    The four? Batch No. 209, Bombay Sapphire, Leopold’s Small Batch,  and Hendrick’s. Overall, not a bad selection of gin there.

    The next step? Once I find time and get off of my duff to do my own taste tests and fill out my bracket, we’ll get down to the nittiest of gritties: Determine which is the best gin.

    The match-ups will be

    Batch No. 209

    vs.

    Bombay Sapphire

    and the undercard will be:

    Leopold’s Small Batch

    vs.

     Hendrick’s