Sunday, September 14, 2008

the improved gin cocktail

The theme for this month's Mixology Monday (MxMo XXXI) is 19th century cocktails as chosen by the Bibulo.us blog. The theme was a little bit of a challenge since most of my cocktail books start their focus in the 1910s to 1930s; however, I did have access to Jerry Thomas' Bartending Guide (or How to Mix Drinks) online and as well as to David Wondrich's Imbibe which tells a good history of Thomas. We had already made a few drinks from these sources including the Weeper's Joy and others, and I wanted to try something new.

The drink I went with was the Improved Gin Cocktail. The improved part comes from an 1876 update of Jerry Thomas' book. Two major "improvements" over the Fancy Gin Cocktail were the use of maraschino instead of curacao and the use of absinthe. Absinthe, much like in the last year or so in this country, was the popular fad during the 1870s and 1880s. A dash or more was added to cocktails to add some extra complexity to the drink besides the standard use of absinthe as a base liqueur.

Improved Gin Cocktail
• 2 oz Gin (1 small wine glass)
• 1 tsp Gomme Syrup (3 dashes)
• 1/2 tsp Maraschino Liqueur (2 dashes)
• 1/4 tsp Absinthe (1 dash)
• 2 dashes Boker's Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass which has the rim coated with a slice of lemon. Twist lemon peel over top to express the oil. The Jerry Thomas measurements are in parenthesis while the Wondrich interpretation is on the left.

Ingredients notes: for a gin, we used Boomsma Oude Genever gin which would approximate some of the gin being used in this period. Oude Genever is a Dutch style that is rather malty and tastes like a light whiskey mixed with the juniper notes of modern day gin. Luxardo Maraschino and Versinthe absinthe rounded out the other store bought ingredients. The gomme syrup I had made after a major hunt for gum arabic which I ended up buying online before I was alerted that it was available in a local Indian spice shop under a different name (I believe it was Indian gum, and it was in crystals instead of a fine powder). And lastly, the Boker's Bitters were the first bitters that I made and bottled at home; I wrote about the process in this blog entry. A bottle of my Boker's is at the bar at Rendezvous in Cambridge, MA, if you're in town and curious. Angostura Bitters would make a fine store-bought substitute for the Boker's, and simple syrup for the gomme syrup as well.

I found that the absinthe and the bitters made for a good pairing, and these tastes were balanced out by the sweetness and smoothness of the gomme syrup and maraschino. The gin gave a good base for the rest of the ingredients without overpowering the drink with its flavor. Andrea's seemed rather pleased with her Improved Gin Cocktail, and she commented that her first sip tasted like an old-fashioned cherry cough drop.

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