Its origins are gauzy, its first recipe apparently lost. This has provided mixmasters almost 150 years of opportunity to improvise, riff, and commit various acts of mischief.
So, for our second installment in this series, I decided to check out the most popular recipe I could find.
Google, make me a Gin Daisy
For this I turned to Brother Google — the world’s always-on vast repository of knowledge, first refuge of rookie drinkmakers, and our most ubiquitous source of misinformation.
When Google presents search results, the order is based on a complex secret algorithm. But its most important component is the number of other sites that link to a particular page. The thinking: If a lot of other people think something is valuable, it’s valuable.
Why my brain connects a beverage dating from the Napoleonic wars with a thunderously flavorful contempory-style gin
Not long ago I was at D.C.’s New Columbia Distilleries, a young and ambitious gin mill, makers of the ascendant artisanal brand Green Hat gin.
Let me rush to admit I love the stuff — it’s an unapologetic powerhouse in the contemporary style, rich with botanicals, citrus, and florals.
Yet it’s very well-crafted. A distillation that in other hands might have become an idiot flavor riot lands in the glass as an intriguing, complex elixir.
With Fever Tree it makes a magnificent gin & tonic, and it diverts an Aviation delightfully from its flight plan.
An explosion in the glass
At my most recent visit I tasted a newer product, Green Hat Navy Strength gin.
There’s a wonderful story, possibly true, about British sailors fearing that the ship’s officers would water down the day’s ration of gin. When alcohol reaches 114 proof, it is said, will explode gunpowder. And so the sailors would attempt to ignite the gin. If it exploded it was cheers all around, and mutiny was put off for another day.
Speaking of exploding, that’s pretty much what happens when you drink Green Hat Navy Strength, which is indeed bottled at 114 proof. It’s got all the flavor complexity of the flagship product, plus more, plus — let’s be plain — a giant wave of ethyl at the snout.
But mellowed on a fat ice cube it opens wide, and you taste all kinds of spices and citrus, something sweet. Plus, I think, some pepper. Anise, maybe.
This is not a bad thing, but a surprise nonetheless. Genever is to gin what Neanderthal is to homo sapiens — a bit wobbly as a first go, but full of promise and destined to develop into greater things.
This week’s fast, easy, and effective recipe. Hey, you’ve got only an hour.
This was my gateway cocktail, a classic. Equal parts of three ubiquitous ingredients, so it’s easy to gather the booze and assemble fast, with zero risk of screwing up.
.75 oz gin
Any London dry is fine
.75 oz Campari
One of the bitterest of the at-any-county-liquor-store aperitifs
.75 oz sweet vermouth
aka Italian or red vermouth
Fast build: Add all ingredients over ice in Old Fashioned glass. Stir gently. Orange peel garnish. Lemon will work in a pinch.
You can also stir the ingredients in a mixing glass and strain over fresh ice. I find there’s virtually no difference in outcome.
If this makes me a vulgarian, I accept the title.
Quickie happy tweaks
Note: Each of the following at least slightly unsettles a classically balanced drink, but provides a different profile.
Use a flavor-rich American small-batch gin. My favorite of this type, D.C.’s Green Hat, can stand up to the other two ingredients.
Some people make this with Hendrick’s gin. For me, its subtle, eccentric [cucumber!], soft notes are completely wasted here. But Hendricks’ own “Unusual Negroni” recipe splits the Campari with Aperol [see below]. I haven’t tried this. Who knows?
Try Carpano Antica vermouth. Dark, herbal, a bit dense. Adds big body to the drink. Expensive, sadly.
Feeling frisky? Go way off script and do equal parts gin and Punt e Mes, a dark, bitter, brown vermouth that acts as both the sweet and the bitter in one swoop. Some try 3 equal parts and replace the sweet vermouth with Punt e Mes. But that slides the drink toward a bitterness I can’t abide. Add a bit of regular sweet vermouth as needed.
Campari too bitter for you? Swap in Aperol, a sweeter apertif, with less of that woolen tongue thing you get with a potent bitter.
Aperol edges the drink’s color from ruby toward orange.
Aperol also has lower alcohol by volume [11%], yielding an in-the-glass ABV of around 30.
Dial down the buzz even more: Cut the gin, top with soda. This devolves the drink into an “Americano.”
Frisky fact: The Americano was the first drink ordered by Bond, James Bond in Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale.
A more elegant look: Stir and serve up, in a coupe.
Impress your happy hour friends with these fun facts
The widely circulated story is that the Italian Count Negroni ordered the first one in Florence in 1919. A boozehound, he asked for gin to be added to his Americano. The rest is history.
Or myth. Most cocktail Creation Stories carry a strong whiff of bullshit at the nose. For what it’s worth, here is a rollicking takedown of the story, from a culinary perspective, by Food Republic.
Freaky fact-ish thing: Whether he invented the Negroni or not, the good Count developed a preference for strong liquor when he was an American rodeo clown. That is what at the Washington Post we used to call a story “too good to check.”
There is not one Gin Daisy. There are many. But this one is a great place to start.
Not long ago, in one of those slightly embarrassing episodes that can happen when ordering a third adult beverage of the evening, I learned something about a drink I thought I knew well. Suffice to say it involved a mis-heard order, a mis-tasted drink, and my own ignorance that a Gin Daisy, in some formulations, includes grenadine.
It all ended amicably, and the drink as ultimately delivered and consumed was a revelation.
And so I began poking around in the turf of the Gin Daisy. I soon discovered that, like so many long-tenured cocktails, it’s not really one drink but a cluster of several drinks lassoed by the same name, some of them quite unlike the others.
I can’t promise I won’t inflict both regular readers of A Measured Spirit with the findings of my Daisy investigations. In fact, sadly, I can promise that I will.
But to start almost randomly, here’s one that was immediately interesting, mostly because it seemed like the esteemed Difford’s had committed a misprint. How could a well-balanced drink have two shots of a single base liquor and so little of the modifiers?
So: On the menu I see a Ramos Gin Fizz [ca. 1888, New Orleans], a hard-to-spot classic I’ve been warned to order only when in good hands. It requires the fairly obscure ingredient orange blossom water, for one thing, and between 3 and 12 [!] minutes of vigorous — even “violent,” as some recipes say — shaking.
So much shaking, in fact, that 19th century accounts report that the tins were passed among multiple bartenders, as no man working alone could possibly produce the amount of agitation required.
Martinis aren’t much more interesting than the people who drink them. Time to give the snooty kid a good hard wedgie.
It’s not that I hate Martinis exactly. It’s more that they’re tedious, like a salad at Cosi or an episode of CSI. You know what you’re getting. They accomplish what they set out to do.
They should call any mixture of gin and vermouth a “Meh-tini.”
And of course the name Martini has been desecrated since the late Clinton administration by the reckless use of flavored vodkas and day-glo sweeteners, resulting in happy hour chalkboards nationwide filled with several varieties of “[WTF]-tinis” for $5.
Then there are the cultural connotations of the drink: haughty, heeled well, self-satisfied — “classy,” as interpreted by those who view it from below.
As creator Harry Craddock [him again] said, “Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again.”
1 oz gin
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz lemon juice
Rinse glass with absinthe, dump out excess. Shake all other ingredients, strain, and plunk a brandied cherry into the well of the glass like a depth charge, and contemplate the possibilities of revival.