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Needless to say, everyone stared. The bartender got down an ancient bottle of Beefeater gin and got out an equally ancient single-serving bottle of Canada Dry tonic. She drank a sip and handed it to me to try. I took a sip...
...and spat it on the floor. It tasted, to paraphrase my friend Nathan, like fellating a pine tree.
Fortunately, my tastes have changed, I live in a place where gin is a common enough order, and most of all, gin, and the availability of better gin, has come a long way since that day in the Checkered Flag. I love gin now, to the point where drinking a vodka "martini" the other night was like drinking cleaning solvent.
This week's Dueling Dishes is six gins: Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick's, Martin Miller's, Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength and New Amsterdam. Tanqueray, which I know well, was left out because the cheapest bottle was too much for the budget.
Each one was tasted alone and in a gin and tonic. Gin and tonic, incidentally, requires lemon, not lime. If you don't think so, just order it with lemon next time and see: the lemon integrates into the drink perfectly, whereas the lime always asserts its own flavor and isn't harmonic with the tonic. (What terrible poetry.)
The cheapest of the cheap gins, this is named after the Queen's guards, who ate beef every day when to do so was very uncommon. While juniper is a desired, even primary taste in gin, this was oppressively junipery and cast my mind right back to Kerry and her Iowa cocktail. There is no sublety.
If anything, adding tonic to this made it taste even worse. The tonic accentuated the alcoholic harshness and brought forward an unpleasant, tinny, medicinal aftertaste. This gin is cheap, and there's a reason: it is the Popov of the gin world.
Known for its distinctive blue bottle (the bottle is blue, the liquid is clear), this had enough juniper to be assertive, with a slightly astringent bite at the back of the mouth, but the principal flavor in this was herbal.
When mixed with tonic, the astringency moved to the middle of the mouth. The powerful hit of herbs was diminished slightly and replaced with a surprising fruitiness that masked the bitter edge of the tonic water. This gin makes an excellent mixer.