As the month draws to a close, for many it will be the end of a long dry month, alcohol free to recover from the excesses of Christmas and New Year. I am not going to argue about the health benefits, charity fund raising or any of the other things associated with dry January. I am simply going to introduce the concept of Ginuary. Gin has a long history and a bad reputation- the gin addled mothers of the slums of Victorian England made that so (see Hogarth). It was cheap, plentiful and it annihilated reality for a good few hours. Considering the reality of the Victoria slum, I am not sure that it is so surprising people wanted out. It also tasted so foul that people were required to invent cocktails in order to knock back enough of the stuff to pass out without their eyes exploding. Of course, middle class laudanum (morphia and wine) parties were so much more the thing for getting elegantly wasted and addicted to a drug that had the added bonus of helping you fit into that 18 inch waisted corset. No wonder swooning was such a popular past time amongst young ladies. Back to the gin. In recent years, not only has gin been rehabilitated, it has become positively hipster, with a proliferation of artisan gins, and knocking back a g&t made with Gordons assures your place back in the slums. I like gin in its many brands, and in many different drinks. So being the lovely person that I am, I bought a monkey a gin cocktail making class and a spare ticket for someone to accompany the monkey. It wasn’t spare, it was for me.
We went to the bar with no name (I told you it was hipster) which fortunately does have an address (69 Colebrook Row, Islington, London) which usually operates as a speakeasy style bar serving classic and ‘interesting’ cocktails. I can’t say what it is like in the evening as I have never been- it is extremely popular but you are only allowed in if there are seats available and I always forget to book. This seating policy makes sense when you go in and realise the bar is the size of your living room, if you have a small living room. I was expecting it to be like wine tasting- a splash in a glass and you’re done. I was wrong.
Starting with the history of gin and a taste of ginevra (the base) and actual gin, the barman in charge set out the programme. They would make several classic gin cocktails at the bar and we would taste them. If the cocktail tickled our taste buds then we could go up to the bar and make our own. No limits. Well hello! A lovely lemony Tom Collins was up first, and so was I… Several drinks later they started keeping it simple by mixing up several classic martinis including the olive martini (put an olive in it), the lemon martini (add lemon peel) and the pickled onion martini (put a pickled onion it- like alcoholic pickled onion monster munch). My favourite was the olive martini, which didn’t surprise as I do love a dirty martini (essentially gin with a splash of olive juice). For those of you wondering, Martini the spirit is actually a vermouth, and martini the cocktail is vermouth and gin. The more vermouth you add, the wetter your martini. For an extremely dry martini, you add a bit of vermouth to an ice cold glass, swirl it around and toss the vermouth in the sink, fill the glass with gin, and you’re done. I told you it was simple, so simple a baby could make it- convenient for the Victorians who used to give their babies gin to stop them doing inconvenient things like crying.
My find of the class was somewhat unexpected- the Negroni. As we learned it was named after the Count Negroni who upon finding his usual cocktail just wasn’t quite thing went to his personal bartender to complain. Not only did his cocktail only contain a measley two types of booze (Campari and Martini Rosso). it was being topped up with the distinctly non-alcoholic soda water. Thinking hard on how to deal with both of these issues, the solution became obvious. Replace the soda water with gin!
So here is the recipe:
Glass with cubed ice
25ml Martini Rosso
25 ml gin
Pour each shot into the glass in the order listed. Stir (definitely not shaken).
Boozy as hell but highly recommended if you like things on the bitter side of life. A bit like me.