Most gin origin stories start with genever, aka jenever, aka “Holland gin.” Genever has a sweet, funky, somewhat malty flavor in addition to the juniper note. (Juniper was originally added as a flavoring to mask the bad flavor results of primitive distilling techniques.) Genever is still made today in the Netherlands, and Mrs. Wonk brought me back several bottles from her recent trip there. Most genevers come in cylindrical brown clay bottles—easily recognizable on a back bar or in a retail store. In his book Imbibe, David Wondrich points out that genever was likely what was meant by “gin” in the first wave of cocktails that came about in the mid-1800s.
While the Dutch were making genever, UK distillers were making what later became known as “Old Tom” gin. Like genever, it’s juniper flavored and sweet, but nowhere near as malty. The Old Tom name allegedly comes from a picture of black cat — “Tom” –that hung outside a London bar. Imbibers would push coins through a slot in the wall and receive a shot of the gin in return through a pipe connecting the bartender to patrons outside.
Around 1900, London Dry-style gins began to dominate the gin world. More recently, “New American” or “New Western” style gins have come to the foreground, partially because hundreds of new distilleries have opened in the US in recent years, and gin is a relatively quick and simple spirit to make, leading to sales sooner rather than following the many years of barrel aging often required for other spirits. Looking to distinguish themselves, the wave of small gin distilleries emphasize their own unique flavor profiles, often leaving the juniper in the background. With all the established London Dry gins and all sorts of New Western style gins vying for attention, Old Tom gins weren’t getting much love, at least not here in the United States.
Things took a turn in 2007, when in collaboration with David Wondrich, Hayman’s introduced an Old Tom gin. Since then, a few more Old Toms have popped up – others I’ve had first-hand experience with include Ransom, Sound Spirits, and Jensen. With the recent release of the Tanquery’s Old Tom gin it’s interesting to see a much bigger player enter the market. Let’s see how Tanqueray Old Tom fares.
Coming in at 94.6 proof, the Tanqueray Old Tom is delightfully smooth. It starts out with lime and juniper and ends with a bit of pepper. Compared to the Hayman’s Old Tom that I tasted it side-by-side with, the Tanqueray had more aromatic definition. I could easily sip the Tanqueray with just a big ice cube in a glass. I used it in two classic cocktails known for specifying Old Tom style gin, and both were very enjoyable, not only to myself but Mrs. Wonk (an Old Tom fangirl from her first discovery) and a friend who seeks out good gins.
First up is the Martinez, considered a precursor to the Martini and with strong similarities to a Manhattan. As usual, recipes for the Martinez are all over the map, ratio wise, so I experimented to come up with proportions that provide balance while keeping most of the gin flavors readily discernible:
- 2 oz Tanqueray Old Tom Gin
- 1.25 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
- 0.125 oz maraschino liqueur (e.g. Luxardo)
- 4 dashes orange bitters (I used Bittercube)
Stir with ice, serve in chilled coupe.
The second recipe is the Casino Cocktail, a very gin-forward drink that despite its miniscule amount of lemon and maraschino, is extremely nice and not gin overkill. The gin sweetness is just enough to balance out the tart lemon, giving the classic sweet/sour combination that doesn’t dominate the base spirit like in so many other cocktails.
- 2 oz Tanqueray Old Tom Gin
- 0.125 oz lemon juice
- 0.125 oz maraschino liqueur (e.g. Luxardo)
- 4 dashes orange bitters (I used Bittercube)Shake with ice, strain into chilled coupe.
Tanqueray says their Old Tom is a limited edition, but at 100,000 bottles, I’m not worried it will become scarce anytime soon. The one liter bottle is a nice surprise – Other mainline Tanqueray products come in either 750ml or 1.75L here in the US, and I much prefer the one liter format for its optimal use of shelf space. The bottle is the traditional Tanqueray shape, patterned after a cocktail shaker. Where the normal green Tanqueray bottle has a red insignia seal near the top, the Old Tom’s seal is blue, a small detail, but appreciated.
Pricewise, the Tanqueray Old Tom goes for between $31 and $35 at my usual U.S. sources. That may seem a little expensive, but that’s for a liter, not the usual 750ml bottle size. It works out to an equivalent of $24 for 750ml, about $4 more than your basic Tanqueray London Dry, but at the bottom end of the price scale compared to other available Old Toms for the same quantity. For a gin I enjoy this much, that’s a bargain.
Disclosure: I was provided a sample bottle for review purposes, but all opinions are strictly my own.
The Jungle Bird is a relatively recent addition to the Tiki canon, originating at the Aviary Bar in the Kuala Lumpur Hilton in 1978. It’s solidly identifiable as Tiki, and the beginner home bartender can execute it without all sorts of “exotic” ingredients that show up in more complex Tiki drinks, such as falernum, orgeat, or pimento dram. Like many Tiki drinks, the Jungle Bird recipe has evolved over time, and I’m continuing the tradition here.
As it appears in Beachbum Berry’s Remixed, the Jungle Bird recipe goes like this:
Of all the classic Tiki drinks (and I can seriously wonk out over the 1944 Mai Tai), a well-executed Jet Pilot with its mix of falernum, rich cinnamon syrup, and Jamaican rum funk is Tiki Valhalla. A descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s “Test Pilot,” the name personifies the ethos of the jet-age 1950s, but also conveys the slight preemptive warning that this drink “goes to 11.”
Continue reading “Lost Over Jamaica – Jet Pilot inspired Tiki”
- 1 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Licor
- 1 oz blanco tequila
- 1 oz strawberry shrub (recipe here)
Recently Mrs Wonk and I were at Seattle’s Staple and Fancy Mercantile for dinner, and I ordered an interesting sounding drink with pisco and strawberry shrub. My first sip was so good that I immediately knew I was going to make my own strawberry shrub, then reverse engineer the recipe and start making my own twists on it. A shrub in this context has nothing to do with big leafy plant in your backyard. Rather, it’s just a mixture of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Yeah, vinegar. Keep reading – it’s delicious.
Shrubs are one of those trendy ingredients that pop up in a fair number of drinks at craft cocktail bars and restaurants. Pok Pok restaurant in Portland has built a buzz around their “drinking vinegars” which are delicious, but really just shrub with a more descriptive name. A lot of folks are unfamiliar with shrubs, and to be honest, even after a lot of reading about shrubs, I hesitated to dive in and make my own. With several different shrubs and interesting cocktails under my belt now, I can without hesitation recommend making your own shrubs for cocktail experimentation.
Any number of great web sites and blogs out there talk about making shrubs, the history and theory behind them, and interesting recipe variations. What I do well (or so I’m told…) is take vast quantities of information and boil it down to the essentials so a curious person can start building their own understanding. Here’s my “just enough to get started and make your own” introduction to shrubs and using it in a really tasty cocktail.
The making of shrubs goes back hundreds of years and really took off in colonial America. Before the advent of refrigeration, fruit was soaked in vinegar to make it last longer before it spoiled. After straining out the preserved fruit, the remaining liquid was mixed with sugar to form a sort of syrup that’s both tart and sweet.
Shrubs have three great properties that are ideal for making at home:
- You can make shrub with just about any edible plant that has juice in it — and I’ve even read about shrubs made using vegetables. (Haven’t gone there yet myself…)
- You can easily mix and match flavors by using multiple fruits or spices. Just pick an interesting flavor combination, and it’s highly likely to work.
- Shrubs are shelf stable. The fruit juice, sugar, and vinegar over time create a stable ecosystem where mold can’t flourish. I’ve kept shrubs for many months on my countertop and they still taste as good or better than the day I made them.
Today, shrubs are made in a variety of different ways. Some use heat, some don’t, but the essential elements remain the same: Fruit juice extracted from fresh fruit, sugar, and vinegar. There’s somewhat general consensus that “cold process” shrub has the best flavor. In very simple terms, it goes like this:
- Obtain equal amount of chopped up fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Thus, if you have one cup of chopped peaches, you’ll need one cup of vinegar and one cup of sugar. Yes – really that much vinegar. Trust me.
- Mix the fruit and sugar in a bowl, mason jar, or appropriate non-reactive vessel. Mix well. It may look like a litter box at first, but press on.
- Wait a day or so, mixing occasionally. You’ll notice that the originally slightly moist sugar gets wetter and wetter. This is the hydrophilic nature of sugar in action: Sugar loves nearby moisture and draws it in. When mixed together, sugar literally draws out the fruit’s juices. It’s intense to see just how much juice can be extracted from a seemingly sturdy piece of fruit.
- Add in the vinegar. Let it sit for another day or two, mixing occasionally.
- Strain out the fruit using a fine strainer, cheesecloth, coffee filter, or equivalent.
- Place the liquid in whatever container you’re using to store it. Let it sit for 2 or more days to let it settle. But feel free to take occasional samples.
- Sample the leftover fruit. If you like the taste, eat it. If not, chuck it. I happen to like it—especially pineapple.
Expressed in the simplest possible terms, cold process shrub is this:
- Mix fruit and sugar. Let sit.
- Add vinegar. Let sit.
Expressed that way, there really shouldn’t be any trepidation about making your first shrub. While fruit and sugar are pretty hard to mess up, the one variable you need to be aware of is vinegar selection. There’s a ton of different types of vinegars out there. In general, distilled white vinegar should be avoided as it can be harsh. Beyond that, use your brain and your taste buds. I’ve successfully used apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, and white wine vinegar. Some folks even use balsamic vinegar. If you’re making your first shrub, white wine vinegar is a good, safe (and cost effective) choice.
For the cocktail below, here’s what I used for the batch of shrub:
- 1 cup chopped strawberries
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
Yields about 2 cups of shrub.
To the cocktail!
Because of the vinegar and sugar content, shrub can be a pretty intense flavor. For that reason, I tend towards 2 part of a base spirit to 1 part of shrub, with assorted accent flavors. While nailing down the pisco/shrub cocktail, it suddenly occurred to me that American whiskeys (bourbon, rye, etc…) can go really well with strawberry. A bit of lime juice pushes things nicely towards the tart side, and then the cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) blends with the strawberry flavor to bring it all home. If you use a less sweet cassis, you might need to add a wee bit of simple syrup to match the sweetness to your particular palate.
Kentucky Strawberry Bush
- 2 oz bourbon or rye (I use Rittenhouse Bonded Rye)
- 1 oz strawberry shrub (see recipe above)
- 0.5 oz lime juice (or lemon in a pinch)
- 0.5 oz cassis or other sweet berry liqueur
Build in glass, fill with crushed ice. Garnish with mint.