Friday, 23 November 2012

Gin and Teatime

When a fellow Gin loving friend pointed out to me an offer on Living Social for G & Teatime I wasted no time in signing us both up.  An afternoon of gin, cakes and cocktails.  What could be better? The location was the Upstairs Wine Bar at The Prime Cuts restaurant.  Not somewhere I had been before but I was very pleasantly surprised by what lay at the top of the stairs. Stylish decor, fantastic ambiance, knowledgeable and friendly staff  Stark contrast to the complete lack of kerb appeal and somewhat dubious location. A real hidden gem of a bar.
One everyone had arrived we were taken through to our own private room where heaving tables of loaded cakestands and teapots full of gin punch greeted us. First fascinating fact of the day was that the word Punch comes from the Hindi word panch which means five and the drink should be made from 5 different ingredients. Sour. Sweet. Strong. Weak. Spice. Our gin punch was made as follows

1 of Sour - lemon and lime juice
2 of Sweet - gomme/sugar syrup
3 of Strong - GIN

4 of Weak - apple juice 
5 Spice - star anise
Tasted amazingly good and I loved discovering the history behind the name. Going to try this one at home.

As we sipped our punch our hosts for the afternoon Blair and Claire introduced themselves and explained what was going to be happening.  First up a bit of history about the origins of gin. Initially a herbal medicine the name is derived from the Dutch Jenever. In the first half of the 18th century the Gin Craze flourished in London and a total of 8 Gin Acts were passed by government in an attempt to quell the carnage of the likes of Gin Lane. 

But what makes gin gin? In a word Juniper. This is the key ingredient in any gin but is only one of literally hundreds of other berries, herbs, roots and spices that can be used to give each gin its distinctive flavour.  Collectively these flavourings are known in the trade as botanicals.
Gin Lane
Now to the serious business of tasting. Hayman's 1850 Reserve Gin. Pretty sure I've never drunk straight gin before and the first mouthful was a bit of a shock to the system even after nosing. Following distillation this gin is stored in whisky barrels to give it a mellow and smooth style. The key botanicals are Juniper and Coriander. By the time the second mouthful was swirled around my mouth I was already feeling mellow. Spitoons were issued incase anyone didn't want to finish their sample before moving on to the next. True Aberdeonians had no requirement for them.
Next on the menu was G'Vine. This is a French Gin distilled from grapes which is unusual as most gin is made from grain spirit. Lots of tasters really liked this one but it didn't really do anything for me. Plenty of botanicals. Green grape flowers, juniper, ginger, liquorice, cassia bark, cardamom, coriander, cubeb berries, nutmeg and lime. 
Tanquery London Dry Gin was the only one of the four which I had tasted before but again never straight. Four botanicals - Juniper, Coriander, Angelica and Liquorish.  Last but not least Martin Millers. This was probably my favourite. Or perhaps by the forth glass anything could have been my favourite. Amazing story behind it and a huge carbon footprint in front of it. Three gents got together to discuss just how good a gin they could make with no practical, fiscal or geographical restrictions.The botanicals of choice are orange and lemon peel, coriander, liquorise, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, angelica and orris root.  It then goes on a journey. 3000 mile round trip to Iceland. There the purest, softest glacial waters are added to reach bottling strength. This one is going on my Christmas list.
Basil, Grapefruit, Lime, Coriander, Lemon
At last it was time for some tonic with our gin and the option to add our own exclusive mix of botanicals to create the perfect G & T. But there's another vital ingredient  Ice. Lots and lots of it. Up until now I would have made the mistake of only adding a couple of cubes for fear of dilution. In fact the opposite is true. The more ice you add the less dilution. Took me a while to get my head around it.  Next it was time for slapping our botanicals.  No, not a euphemism, but the act of smacking your basil or corriander leaves on the palm of you hand to release the flavours. I chose grapefruit and basil for mine and it was surprisingly nice.  The basil really added something special to the mix.
G&T with Grapefruit and Basil
To round off the afternoon it was Martini time. A classic combination of gin and vermouth served with a twist of lemon. Whilst 007 may like his shaken not stirred traditionalists may not agree with him. Another top tip is to run the lemon zest around both the rim and the stem of the cocktail glass to deposit some of the oil and fragrance.
Martini Time
90 minutes had passed in a flash.  A thoroughly enjoyable and informative experience. We headed back through to upstairs wine bar with the intention of sampling one of the recomended gins. The Botanist. Alas the rest of the tasting class had got there before us so we had a long wait to be served. In the interim I spotted an amazing looking cocktail being made. Hugo Martin. Elderflower syrup, mint leaves and prosecco. Three of my favourite ingredients swayed me off the course of further gin.  Amazing cocktail which I will be attempting to recreate at home. K stayed on track and had a Botanist and Tonic.
Hugo Martin
If gin is not your tipple of choice then all is not lost as the Drinking Class Family also do a range of other tasting events covering Whisky, Rum, Tequila and Absainthe. Meantime their gin logo has been stored away in my memory banks in the unlikely event that I ever decide to get a tattoo. What better than Mother's Ruin permanently inked on my arm.

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