Author Archive

How To Turn Vodka Into Gin (And Why You Would Want To Do This Damn-Fool Thing)

- January 27th, 2015

I know this sounds crazy in North America, where gin and vodka are in the same price bracket.

After all, why would you go to all the time, trouble and expense — with no guarantee of outcome success — of converting vodka into gin when you can simply buy a 750 ml bottle of Gilbey’s London Dry Gin for $24.95 or Gordon’s Dry Gin for $25.95 compared to paying $ 24.95 for Polar Ice or Silent Sam Vodka or  $26.95 for a bottle of Stolichnaya or Absolut Vodka? (Those are LCBO prices and you’d be paying much, much less for all of those bottles in many parts of the U.S.,  but the price equivalency is still the same.)

It’s an entirely different matter on the other side of the Atlantic where cheap-cheap-cheap vodka is produced everywhere — and I mean everywhere — from Ireland to Turkey, not just in Russia and Eastern Europe. (I should remind you that all alcohol is much cheaper in Europe than here, except for Denmark and Norway which are about the same or a bit more expensive than Canada).

Gin, in contrast, is an increasingly popular cocktail liquor and high demand in this case equals high prices. Because of the ever-growing appetite for gin and its huge profit margins, small craft gin distillers are popping up all over Europe, especially in Britain.

For the most part, you can get a very nice vodka in Europe for about a third the price of a decent gin. That’s why vodka-into-gin is much more akin to a water-into-wine alchemy experience there than it would be in North America.

So it’s not particularly surprising that a recipe that popped up a couple of weeks ago on Britain’s Guardian newspaper website (its Word of Mouth lifestyle blog, to be precise) for making your own gin from vodka is garnering a lot of interest at the moment.

Author Andy Hamilton even tells you how to match the flavours of particular gin brands by adding or emphasizing different herb and fruit ingredients. A Tanqueray taste, for example, requires the addition of cucumbers, while oranges impart Beefeater’s zippier flavour. The taste of Hendricks, a very hip — and more expensive — brand at the moment, requires the infusion of both cucumber and rose petals along with all the other ingredients.

(Hamilton — described as “a forager, brewer, imbiber and the author of Booze For Free” — even tells you how to whip up your own tonic water for thoroughly homemade G&Ts.)

Andy-Hamilton-homemade-gin-and-tonic

Andy Hamilton‘s photo of his homemade gin and tonic from the Guardian website.

 

I’m not going to give you the full recipes here. They’re not really mine to give — you have to go to the Guardian website for that.

But I am going to mention some of the ingredients for the basic recipe, just to point out how complicated (and probably expensive) the vodka-to-gin transformative process is. I really doubt that anyone on this side of the Atlantic except the most ardent, showy ginophile or an obsessive alcoholic hobbyist is going to be tempted to try the experiment. I certainly wouldn’t.

(Perhaps I spoke too soon about who would try this: Here’s a link to an American foodie website that gives its own recipe for homemade gin — and raves about the superior taste quality of the homemade variety. The Hungry Mouse dissertation by Jessie Cross is actually far more thorough than Andy Hamilton’s, so you might want to jump straight here if you’re getting the itch to make your own gin. I’m sticking with Andy Hamilton, though, because (a) I came across his piece first and (b) I’m not planning to make the stuff anyway. If you’re absolutely determined to pursue this fool venture, you might also want to consider this homemade gin kit, one of many you can apparently buy online: You’re already nuts, so why not go all the way.)

Juniper-berries

Back to the ingredients…

For starters, turning 750 ml of vodka into an equivalent amount of gin requires a minimum of two tablespoons of fresh juniper berries, more if you like a more forward piney taste to your gin.

The juniper berry is not technically a berry but the fleshy seed shell for the coniferous juniper tree. Juniper trees grow all over the world, but the species in North America don’t produce a berry that has the right taste for gin (even though a few U.S. distilleries are trying to create an “American gin” taste using them). You need European berries for the authentic gin flavour and I can’t remember the last time I saw fresh juniper berries — of any sort — for sale in the herb and veggie section of my local supermarket. I really don’t know where you’d find them, but good luck, mate, if you’re foolish enough to embark on this mad science.

(By the way, gin actually takes its name from a short form of the French and Dutch words for “juniper” — “genievre” in French and “jenever” in Dutch. That’s also why you’ll see some “Geneva” gins — nothing to do with Switzerland, just another corruption of “genievre.” And the cotton gin has nothing to do with drinking gin: The cotton gin, a rather simple machine for separating raw cotton fibre from its nasty seeds but one which revolutionized the cotton industry, got its name as the shortened version of the word “engine.” I’m a sucker for etymology, but enough of that now.)

The Dutch are credited with inventing gin in the 17th Century — initially as a health drink and remedy for rheumatism (so they said) — before shipping it off to England, where it was blamed for corrupting the morals of the nation’s entire working class for the better part of two centuries. Funny how the elite always think they can accommodate and manage their own vices but see the exact same vices as doom purveyors when adopted by the less financially and socially well-endowed.

So juniper berries are, indeed, the chief ingredient that turn base alcohol into gin. Now comes the complicated part.

The other ingredients Andy Hamilton recommends for concocting homemade gin are a little easier to find than juniper berries but still make a surprisingly long list: fennel seeds, allspice, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, peppercorns, bay leaf, lavender, rosemary, dried grapefruit peel, dried lemon peel. Sounds like seasoning for my slow-cooker stew, apart from the lavender.

Homemade-Gin-Ingredients-The-Hungry-Mouse-Flat

Here is an illustration of gin flavour ingredients from that American food website I mentioned earlier, The Hungry Mouse. These are exactly the same ingredients Andy Hamilton uses, but he adds dried grapefruit peel.

 

Hamilton’s recipe for making tonic water is almost as complex and includes “28g cinchoa bark.” Where, I ask you, does one find cinchoa bark?

Still, it’s an interesting look inside a gin bottle and gives you a better sense of what’s involved in the craft.

I pretty much stick to wine these days, apart from the occasional Scotch, Irish or brandy, but I do enjoy a long, cold glass of gin and tonic on a hot summer day.

But you can keep your homemade concoctions. I’d much prefer a tall Tanqueray and Schweppes on ice with a bit of lime, please. Cheers.

gin_and_tonic

 

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What You Probably Don’t Know About Robbie Burns

- January 25th, 2015

Robert-Burns

Today — Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015 — is Robbie Burns Day.

Or, to be more precise, Burns Night (as they call it in Scotland).

Scots and Scottish wannabes around the world will be celebrating the life and genius of Scotland’s greatest poet long into the wee hours by dressing up in strange outfits and eating even stranger food and probably getting ridiculously drunk as they try (usually with mixed success) to sing Rabbie’s lovely songs at Burns Suppers.

(Granted, some Burns assemblies are held on more convenient dates adjacent to Jan. 25 — but a real Burns Supper is always held on Jan. 25.)

Despite all that, the cult of Robbie Burns has taken on a rather stodgy, conservative mien over the centuries, even though the man himself was anything but stodgy or conservative.

In honour of the real Rabbie, I’m going to tell you some things about the man that you might not know — and that probably won’t go down well with the boring old drunks in kilts and other members of the Scottish or any other establishment who have appropriated Robert Burns for their own purposes.

Tough. It’s Rabbie’s day — and night — not theirs.

For starters, Robbie Burns had at least 13 children with at least five different women, only one of whom — Jean Armour — was ever his wife.

Most of the children (nine) were borne by the stoic Jean, but only three of those survived infancy and childhood. Three of his four (known) illegitimate children survived, however, and all three of those bastards had children of their own (whereas only two of the legitimate offspring had kids — and not as many), so most people today claiming descendancy from Robbie Burns come from the “natural” side of the family tree. Among those is fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger.

There are quite a few of Robbie’s direct descendants in Canada, mostly with B.C. roots and most bearing the names Hutchison or Sabourin. and, yes, they’re from the illegitimate lineage.

Robbie was no hypocrite and never tried to cover up his philandering and resultant progeny. Quite the reverse. One of Robbie’s poems is entitled “The Poet’s Welcome To His Illegitimate Child” and includes the verse:

What tho’ they ca’ me fornicator,

An’ tease my name in kintra clatter:

The mair they talk I ‘m kenn’d the better,

E’en let them clash!

An auld wife’s tongue’s a feckless matter

To gi’e ane fash.

Basically he’s saying, “Drag my name through the mud all you want, but the more you badmouth me, the more famous I become.”

I’d like to say Robbie came up with the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but that honour probably goes to a Roman emperor — or a Greek god.

Here’s how his friend Allan Cunningham remembered Robert Burns decades after his death: “Burns in his youth was tall and sinewy, with coarse swarthy features, and a ready word of wit or of kindness for all. The man differed little from the lad; his form was vigorous, his limbs shapely, his knees firmly knit, his arms muscular and round, his hands large, his fingers long and he stood five feet ten inches high.”

Robbie Burns didn’t care a fig for many of the niceties of high society even though he was welcomed in the finest homes of Edinburgh and Glasgow and carried himself with a natural grace and dignity (even when terribly drunk, so they said).

And even though he made his living for a while as an excise officer (tax collector), Burns was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution and a radical critic of the establishments of both church and state in Britain (although, for some reason, he wasn’t an anti-royalist).

Despite his radical egalitarian outlook, Robbie Burns almost moved to Jamaica in 1786 to take a job as a bookkeeper and overseer on a slave plantation. In fact, he published his first book of poetry to pay for his passage to Jamaica.

His luggage was already on its way to Greenock (where the ship on which he was to sail was docked) when the enthusiastic reception of his book of poetry convinced Burns to remain in Scotland and pursue his literary career there.

His most widely known verses are probably “Auld Lang Syne” and “Scots What Hae,” but plenty of other Burns songs and poems are deeply entrenched in Scottish and English-language culture.

Abraham Lincoln could — and did — recite Burns poems for hours on end (sometimes to the regret of his friends).  And Bob Dylan says he considers Robbie Burns his single greatest influence, specifically citing “A Red, Red Rose.”

The title of John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice And Men” was lifted from the Burns poem “To A Mouse:”

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie…

The best laid schemes o’ mice and men

Gang aft agley.

And J.D. Salinger’s novel Catcher In The Rye also takes its title from Burns — although with a twist.

Burns’ rather saucy song “Comin Thru The Rye” (about a rural seduction) includes the verse:

Gin a body meet a body

Comin thro’ the rye,

Gin a body kiss a body,

Need a body cry?

Which, in English, is usually sung as:

When a body meet a body

Comin thru the rye

If a body kiss a body

Need a body cry?

But Holden Caulfield, the young hero of Catcher in The Rye, misremembered the line as “When a body catch a body coming through the rye.” So, in his dream of saving children from falling over a cliff as they ran through a field of rye, Holden was the Catcher In The Rye.

Robbie Burns was quite a young man when he died — 37. Victorian writers tried to blame his death on dissolution and depravity but the real cause seems to have been complications resulting from the extraction of some bad teeth.

Infection ensued and endocarditis resulted — bacterial inflammation of the heart which, in the end, killed him.

Robbie Burns died on the morning of July 21, 1796, and was buried on July 25 — the same day his youngest son, Maxwell, was born.

The very first Robbie Burns Supper was held on Jan. 29, 1802, at The Mother Club in Greenock, Scotland — because that’s the date the participants thought he was born. By the following year, they had discovered his true birthday and held their second commemorative supper on Jan. 25 — the principal date of all subsequent Burns Nights.

Now….

I have to tell you Robbie Burns had a big head, a very big head — for the time.

I’m not sure exactly what difference that really makes, but 200 years ago they thought that was a big deal. In fact, by the 1830s, they thought it was a very big deal, as big as Robbie Burns’ head.

When Robbie died in 1796, he was buried in a grave in a churchyard. But within 20 years, his fame had grown and Robbie’s remains were exhumed and transported to an elaborate mausoleum for re-burial/re-encryption/re-whatever.

Nothing happened at that time, but…

About 20 years later — in 1834 — Robbie Burns’s beloved but hard-done-by widow, Jean Armour, died. So Jean — immortalized in many poems — was going to be laid to rest in the same crypt as the dear, departed Robbie.

But by this time the “science” of phrenology — the determination of an individual’s character and mental capacity based on the physical study of their skulls — had become a mania in Europe. So (of course) a team of crack phrenologists — the scientific whiz kids of their day — were on hand to study Robbie Burns’s skeletal skull when the tomb was opened to receive Jean Armour’s remains.

The “scientists” were delighted with the state of Robbie’s 40-year-dead skull. It still had mainly dark (but with a few grey) hairs attached to it. They cleaned those extraneous appendages off and make their “scientific” measurements.

And found that Robbie Burns had a very large head — for the time. Here are drawings made of Robert Burns’ skull from that examination.

Robert-Burns-skull

Here’s a link to an 1834 report on that study as compiled by one of the examiners, George Combe, and published as “The Phrenological Development of Robert Burns” later in 1834.

All sorts of evaluations of Robbie’s character were made based on those measured studies and most of them concluded that Robbie was a big brain in every way. Here’s a taste:

“The Skull indicates the combination of strong animal passions, with equally powerful moral emotions. If the natural morality had been less, the endowment of the propensities is sufficient to have constituted a character of the most desperate description. The combination, as it exists, bespeaks a mind extremely subject to contending emotions—capable of great good or great evil—and encompassed with vast difficulties in preserving a steady, even, onward course of practical morality…”

Now, we all know today that’s complete and utter bullshit. You can’t evaluate a human being’s soul by the size of their heads and the bumps thereon. (But, of course, half the scientific “truths” we take to be gospel today  will be proven malarkey in 50 — maybe even five — years too.)

Still, numbers don’t lie. And the phrenologists measured Robbie Burns’s head every which way and concluded he had a very big head — compared to the average Scot of the time.

The phrenologists determined that Robbie Burns’s head was 22 and 1/4 inches in circumference. And that was considered large for the time.

Now I, personally, in this day and age, don’t consider that so big. Granted, humans have evolved. But I don’t consider my brain to be bigger than Robbie Burns’s.

Yet I have a bigger head than Robbie Burns. I just measured it and my skull comes in at an even 23 inches. That’s including hair, but I squeezed tight.

I don’t really know what to make of that. If I am called on to make a toast to Robbie Burns tonight, I will simply say:

“I may have a bigger head than Robbie Burns, but no man has a bigger heart or a grander soul. I raise my glass to the immortal memory of Robert Burns.”

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Was I Wrong About John Tory? Maybe…

- January 21st, 2015

Tory-Dec2014

I’ve said some terrible, terrible things about John Tory over the years.

I’ve also said nice things too, but they’ve usually come as a condescending pat on the back after a serious face-slapping.

Here’s my typical stance on John Tory from back in 2010 (and later repeated in this 2013 Nosey Parker blog post if you want to delve deeper into my antipathy):

“John Tory is a really nice guy (I can tell you that from personal experience) with a razor-sharp intellect and great skills as a committee member, a facilitator and a mediator.

“But he’s a complete loser as a frontline street brawler and he has the political survival instincts of a rabbit.”

Doesn’t sound too, too bad really — but that was just the friendly warm-up to a piece listing “10 or 20 or 100 reasons why John Tory should, in my opinion, forever forgo the idea of running for mayor of Toronto or dogcatcher of Dogpatch or grand poobah of LOWB Lodge No. 26 or whatever.”

Here’s a bit more from that 2010 assessment:

“Tory has always reminded me of former (briefly, because of his own ineptitude) PM Joe Clark, a political junkie, a nice guy with a good mind, and a complete putz when it came to making the right political decision. Neither of them has the deep, driving gut feeling that they know the ‘right’ thing to do in any given crisis — sometimes even when the ‘right’ thing they know in their guts isn’t the thing they would rationally choose to do based simply on calculation and inclination…

“Tory’s decision (to not run for mayor in 2010) did not ‘open the field up’ — it just reduced the field of losers by one.

“Yesterday I heard John Tory described as ‘charismatic’ and ‘the best mayor Toronto never had.’ He is neither. He might have made a better mayor than David Miller. Maybe not. We’ll never know. But John Tory was never ‘best’ at anything in politics except ‘second best.’ I know that sounds rough and unfair, but politics is rough and unfair. John Tory took his lumps but never had the royal jelly to turn them into political sugar.”

So that’s been my very consistent stance on candidate John Tory through his long and disastrous political losing streak.

Right up until he finally won the mayor’s job, that is.

Now I didn’t change my opinion just because Tory finally won something. Far from it — I applauded Tory’s victory, but only because it meant that neither Olivia Chow nor Doug Ford got to wear the mayor’s chain of office and possibly hurt Toronto even more than Tory was capable of doing.

I still didn’t hold out much hope for anything good to come from John Tory’s term in office. I thought he would probably strut and preen and pontificate and service his friends and clients on Bay Street … and not actually do much to deal with the real problems eating away at our big, bumptious city.

It’s been less than two months since Tory assumed office, so it’s way too early in the going to draw a definitive conclusion, but I’ve already come to a tentative preliminary assessment.

I may have misjudged John Tory.

I’m not 100% convinced yet, but I have to admit I’m already very impressed by the many things the new mayor has done in just a few short weeks to improve the quality of life in Toronto, to make it easier for citizens to get around, to sort out some of the city’s administrative chaos — and  he’s done it quickly and confidently, efficiently and productively, without fuss or blather or wasted effort.

Just do it. That seems to be Mayor John Tory’s motto.

And he’s more than willing to take informed advice and admit when his previous positions are proven wrong by the reality of the situations he faces as mayor.

But mostly I’m impressed by how decisive and cut-to-the-core-of-the-matter he’s been.

I had been expecting Tory to be more than a little wishy-washy, to let the status quo slide along sluggishly, to push tough decisions off into endless committee debate and staff reports.

He’s done none of that — so far. He’s been tough and assertive without being brash or a bully. He’s grabbed the bull by the horns without shovelling the bull. He’s taking a few chances and calculated risks to shift the playing field without being reckless or irresponsible.

And he’s done it with relative good humour, excellent PR savvy, (perhaps genuine) modesty and charm, admirable consensus building, sharp calculation and undeniable energy. And all without taking his eye off his long-term goals for the city’s advancement.

Now some or all of that may change in the coming months and years. The current state of affairs may just be the exciting days and hot nights of a political honeymoon. Tory may get bogged down in the endless, inevitable political squabbles and personal pettiness of real-life council stable-mucking. He may lose his way and revert to the tepid, ineffectual behaviour I had previously been ascribing to him.

But I don’t think so. I certainly hope not, anyway.

I am truly coming to believe that the John Tory we see now is the mayor we’re going to get for the next four years (at least).

And, if that’s the case, I will be overjoyed to eat crow, to take back my terrible words, to admit my (continued) failure as a political prognosticator and student of human nature … and to apologize profoundly, profusely and genuinely to Mayor John Tory for all the bad things I’ve said about him over the years.

We haven’t reached that point yet, but it may be coming.

As I said before, two months is really too short a time to make a conclusive shift in judgement. I’m going to give it at least six months, maybe even the first year, before I jump to new conclusions with both feet.

After all, Rob Ford did some pretty impressive things during his first year as mayor — before going haywire, alienating even his friends on council, and choosing bombast, chicanery and self-inflation (not to mention drug abuse) over real leadership and accomplishment.

And Tory has a lot of big-ticket, controversial issues to deal with in his first year as mayor — from his own SmartTrack transit plan to the future of the Gardiner Expressway and the island airport to the inevitable fallout from the Pan Am Games to full privatization of garbage collection and a new round of municipal labour contract negotiations in the fall.

UPDATE: I’m going through Tory’s proposed city budget right now and I have more than a few concerns. He really seems to be going off in 30 different directions — and throwing money in every one of those 30 directions. Hmmm. We’ll see. Maybe he’s just trying to get a few of his many proposals passed. Maybe he’s striking while the iron is hot and getting some needed cash infusions into areas he’s concerned have been neglected in the Ford years. Maybe he’s … you get my drift. Why am I suddenly making shit up to defend a guy I was calling a loser short days ago? I want to hear HIM explain the where-as and what-fors.

So we’ll see. But at least now I’m looking forward to John Tory’s first term as mayor with more hope and optimism and not with so much cynicism and trepidation (although some still lingers).

Don’t let us down, John. I would much prefer that I ended up being the failure rather than you.

 

There Is No Middle Ground

- January 18th, 2015

I am mad as hell.

And sad. And more than a little ashamed to be part of the human species at the moment. And I have a cold, dark hole in my soul right now.

But mainly mad.

At ISIS, of course, or whatever that bunch of murderous, blasphemous cultists want to call themselves.

It really is true — a picture tells more than a thousand words. More than a million words.

More than anything except being there at the moment and seeing a bunch of masked psychopaths hurling a terrified, tortured, bound and defenceless human being from a rooftop to his death on a street far below. As a crowd — maybe involuntary, probably voluntary — waited and watched.

You know the picture I’m talking about. The one all over the place on social media and creeping into mainstream consciousness as a part of ISIS’s deliberate, manipulative, sophisticated campaign to spread its message of fear and loathing, terror and intimidation as far and as wide as the tentacles of the Internet reach.

And it’s effective. I don’t think anyone in his or her right mind can look at the picture of that poor man plummeting to his death and not shudder with anguish and revulsion. And burning-hot anger.

I know. I know. I know. One of the many purposes of disseminating that photo — and the other photos of crucifixions and stoning deaths —is to alienate and divide Western civilization from mainstream Muslims, to make an absolute and unequivocal  dividing line between Us and Them, all of us and all of them. One side or the other.

And I know, I know, I know that so many other terrible, horrible, monstrous inhumanities are happening constantly  throughout the world. Thousands dying. Millions in fear. At the hands — or at the orders — of ISIS. And al Qaeda. And Boko Haram. And Bashir Assad. And King Abdullah. And Vladimir Putin. And Barack Obama. And all the others.

But this photo, more than anything else we know or believe, DOES draw a line in the sand. There is no equivocation. There is no explanation. There is no wiggle room.

You are either on the side of the people who threw that poor man to his death from a rooftop. Or you are not. No ifs, ands or buts.

I don’t care if you’re a Muslim imam or a Pentecostal preacher, if you think it’s right and just to throw a human being from the top of an eight-storey building because he’s gay, you’re on the side of ISIS.

If you’re not on the side of ISIS, you have to say — loudly and clearly — THAT IS WRONG, IT BREAKS MY HEART AND I STAND AGAINST THE MONSTERS WHO WOULD DO THAT.

That is the dividing line. And everyone has to step in one direction or the other.

 

 

How To Turn Vodka Into Gin

- January 18th, 2015

I know this sounds crazy in North America, where gin and vodka are in the same price bracket.

After all, why would you go to all the time, trouble and expense — with no guarantee of outcome success — of converting vodka into gin when you can simply buy a 750 ml bottle of Gilbey’s London Dry Gin for $24.95 or Gordon’s Dry Gin for $25.95 compared to paying $ 24.95 for Polar Ice or Silent Sam Vodka or  $26.95 for a bottle of Stolichnaya or Absolut Vodka? (Those are LCBO prices and you’d be paying much, much less for all of those bottles in many parts of the U.S.,  but the price equivalency is still the same.)

It’s an entirely different matter on the other side of the Atlantic where cheap-cheap-cheap vodka is produced everywhere — and I mean everywhere — from Ireland to Turkey, not just in Russia and Eastern Europe. (I should remind you that all alcohol is much cheaper in Europe than here, except for Denmark and Norway which are about the same or a bit more expensive than Canada).

Gin, in contrast, is an increasingly popular cocktail liquor and high demand in this case equals high prices. Because of the ever-growing appetite for gin and its huge profit margins, small craft gin distillers are popping up all over Europe, especially in Britain.

For the most part, you can get a very nice vodka in Europe for about a third the price of a decent gin. That’s why vodka-into-gin is much more akin to a water-into-wine alchemy experience there than it would be in North America.

So it’s not particularly surprising that a recipe that popped up a couple of weeks ago on Britain’s Guardian newspaper website (its Word of Mouth lifestyle blog, to be precise) for making your own gin from vodka is garnering a lot of interest at the moment.

Author Andy Hamilton even tells you how to match the flavours of particular gin brands by adding or emphasizing different herb and fruit ingredients. A Tanqueray taste, for example, requires the addition of cucumbers, while oranges impart Beefeater’s zippier flavour. The taste of Hendricks, a very hip — and more expensive — brand at the moment, requires the infusion of both cucumber and rose petals along with all the other ingredients.

(Hamilton — described as “a forager, brewer, imbiber and the author of Booze For Free” — even tells you how to whip up your own tonic water for thoroughly homemade G&Ts.)

Andy-Hamilton-homemade-gin-and-tonic

Andy Hamilton‘s photo of his homemade gin and tonic from the Guardian website.

 

I’m not going to give you the full recipes here. They’re not really mine to give — you have to go to the Guardian website for that.

But I am going to mention some of the ingredients for the basic recipe, just to point out how complicated (and probably expensive) the vodka-to-gin transformative process is. I really doubt that anyone on this side of the Atlantic except the most ardent, showy ginophile or an obsessive alcoholic hobbyist is going to be tempted to try the experiment. I certainly wouldn’t.

(Perhaps I spoke too soon about who would try this: Here’s a link to an American foodie website that gives its own recipe for homemade gin — and raves about the superior taste quality of the homemade variety. The Hungry Mouse dissertation by Jessie Cross is actually far more thorough than Andy Hamilton’s, so you might want to jump straight here if you’re getting the itch to make your own gin. I’m sticking with Andy Hamilton, though, because (a) I came across his piece first and (b) I’m not planning to make the stuff anyway. If you’re absolutely determined to pursue this fool venture, you might also want to consider this homemade gin kit, one of many you can apparently buy online: You’re already nuts, so why not go all the way.)

Juniper-berries

Back to the ingredients…

For starters, turning 750 ml of vodka into an equivalent amount of gin requires a minimum of two tablespoons of fresh juniper berries, more if you like a more forward piney taste to your gin.

The juniper berry is not technically a berry but the fleshy seed shell for the coniferous juniper tree. Juniper trees grow all over the world, but the species in North America don’t produce a berry that has the right taste for gin (even though a few U.S. distilleries are trying to create an “American gin” taste using them). You need European berries for the authentic gin flavour and I can’t remember the last time I saw fresh juniper berries — of any sort — for sale in the herb and veggie section of my local supermarket. I really don’t know where you’d find them, but good luck, mate, if you’re foolish enough to embark on this mad science.

(By the way, gin actually takes its name from a short form of the French and Dutch words for “juniper” — “genievre” in French and “jenever” in Dutch. That’s also why you’ll see some “Geneva” gins — nothing to do with Switzerland, just another corruption of “genievre.” And the cotton gin has nothing to do with drinking gin: The cotton gin, a rather simple machine for separating raw cotton fibre from its nasty seeds but one which revolutionized the cotton industry, got its name as the shortened version of the word “engine.” I’m a sucker for etymology, but enough of that now.)

The Dutch are credited with inventing gin in the 17th Century — initially as a health drink and remedy for rheumatism (so they said) — before shipping it off to England, where it was blamed for corrupting the morals of the nation’s entire working class for the better part of two centuries. Funny how the elite always think they can accommodate and manage their own vices but see the exact same vices as doom purveyors when adopted by the less financially and socially well-endowed.

So juniper berries are, indeed, the chief ingredient that turn base alcohol into gin. Now comes the complicated part.

The other ingredients Andy Hamilton recommends for concocting homemade gin are a little easier to find than juniper berries but still make a surprisingly long list: fennel seeds, allspice, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, peppercorns, bay leaf, lavender, rosemary, dried grapefruit peel, dried lemon peel. Sounds like seasoning for my slow-cooker stew, apart from the lavender.

Homemade-Gin-Ingredients-The-Hungry-Mouse-Flat

Here is an illustration of gin flavour ingredients from that American food website I mention earlier, The Hungry Mouse. These are exactly the same ingredients Andy Hamilton uses, but he adds dried grapefruit peel.

 

Hamilton’s recipe for making tonic water is almost as complex and includes “28g cinchoa bark.” Where, I ask you, does one find cinchoa bark?

Still, it’s an interesting look inside a gin bottle and gives you a better sense of what’s involved in the craft.

I pretty much stick to wine these days, apart from the occasional Scotch, Irish or brandy, but I do enjoy a long, cold glass of gin and tonic on a hot summer day.

But you can keep your homemade concoctions. I’d much prefer a tall Tanqueray and Schweppes on ice with a bit of lime, please. Cheers.

gin_and_tonic

 

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