The One About The Juniper
A Little Dutch Courage
Photo by Laure Noverraz on Unsplash
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Yes, I know that summer is fading and gin is a summer drink but for some of us it’s a year-round option if we’re not drinking bourbon so….let me give you a bit of history.
The name gin is derived from either the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, both of which which mean “juniper.” Because in order for any distilled spirit to be considered “gin” it must be juniper-forward. And remember, a “juniper” is essentially a pine tree—an evergreen. Gin is “piney” smelling and tasting, or it’s not really gin.
By the mid 17th century, numerous small Dutch and Flemish distillers had popularized the re-distillation of malt spirit or wine with juniper, anise, caraway, coriander and other spices, which were sold in pharmacies and used to treat medical issues like kidney ailments, lumbago, stomach ailments, gallstones, and gout. It was discovered in Holland by English troops who were fighting against the Spanish in the Eighty Years’ War who noticed its calming effects before battle, which is the origin of the term “Dutch courage.”
It was used as a wholly unsuccessful but perhaps numbing-you-to-the-reality-of-it remedy for the Black Plague. In tropical British colonies gin was used to mask the bitter flavor of quinine, which was the only effective anti-malarial compound at the time. Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form tonic water and the resulting mix became the origin of today’s popular gin and tonic combination. Yes, that Schweppes in your fridge still contains a smidge of quinine. It says so right on the bottle.
In a satirical study by Bernard Mandeville called The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick [sic] Benefits he writes: “Nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the health or the vigilance and industry of the poor, than the infamous liquor, the name of which, derived from Juniper in Dutch…shrunk into a monosyllable, intoxicating Gin…It charms the unactive, the desperate and crazy of either sex, and makes the starving sot behold his rags and nakedness with stupid indolence. It is a fiery lake that sets the brain in flame, burns up the entrails, and scorches every part within; and, at the same time, a Lethe of oblivion, in which the wretch immersed drowns.”
Well, then. Sign me up.
In my diligence to provide my 89% Unfiltered readers with the most reliable information possible about my topics, I spent some quality time with Alyssa Hughes, production manager at a small distillery that specializes in this infamous, monosyllabic, intoxicant. We talked about the specifics of distillation, a process that takes basic alcohol and transforms it, some might say magically (distillation owes a lot to ancient alchemy), into a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) form via forcing condensation (steam) from the originally fermented liquid, and then pulling that steam back into liquid form. To get high ABV alcohol, you have to physically separate alcohol from water using evaporation and condensation—aka distilling. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water (173 F vs. 212 F), distillers can evaporate the alcohol (mostly) by itself, collect the vapors into a tube and use cold temperatures to force the alcohol to condense back into liquid.
There are two methods for doing this. Pot stills are what our great-great granddaddies used during Prohibition in the backyard to make their version of liquor. It’s a process that uses a pot and a long tube that pulls the ethanol evaporating off the water up and into another vessel, viola, booze. And usually a much higher ABV, not to mention with the sort of congeners—that stuff we talked about back when we were talking about hangover remedies—that can make the next morning a little rough around the edges.
Column distilling is a more refined method in which the mash, or wash, is continuously injected into a column, with steam constantly rising up to meet it. The steam is programmed to be at the perfect temperature to strip alcohol from the wash and leave undesired compounds behind as it rises up through the column. Yes, I said the word “column” three times back there. Be calm. It was necessary. There are plates in the column that can be adjusted to refine the final result to much more specific ABVs than pot stills.
The thing that makes a gin a gin are the essential botanicals that can be added straight into the fermented mash in the main vessel of the still. Others are added in a “basket” which is a stainless steel add-on that allows steam to flow through and infuse the mash, without breaking the adjuncts down and causing a mess in the final liquid. For gin, those must include juniper, but in these days of the Craft Cocktail, that is merely the beginning.
Alyssa taught me a lot about distilling gin, including some new words about distilling that I like and am therefore sharing with you. The head, heart, and tails of distilling basically mean the methanol (that stuff you don’t want because it will, you know, kill you if you drink it) is the head. The heart is the key portion of the process. It’s the portion of the distillation you want. The tail is also known as fusel oils for their oily texture) can come at the end or tail of the distillation run, and are often discarded, or sent back in for redistilling.
The distillery I visited in Ann Arbor has seasonal versions of gin. The Winter gin is my favorite, as it’s closest to the London dry style I prefer—heavily juniper or pine forward with not a ton of other ingredients not the least of which is cacao nibs and orange zest to create a holiday taste. Mind you, there is an entire Norwegian spruce tree in the this one. The Spring gin is like drinking a flower garden—heavy on the hibiscus (hence the pink hue), along with a distinct punch of honeydew melon. It’s delicious.
After that, things get really crazy. If you were to drink the experience of a farmer’s market, that would be the Summer gin. It’s chock full of yummy stuff—tomatoes (on the vine, no lie), watermelon, peaches, raspberry and strawberries, plus a boat load of steamed herbs including mint and basil. But hold your horses. The Fall gin has even more going on. You’ll taste cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, and even a touch of … wait for it, moss. The thought was to have a sort of “fall day” experience when drinking it. It works. And they age it in bourbon barrels so it’s a lovely amber color.
You can do some crazy stuff with these multi-ingredient gins. However, it’s hard to argue with the classics. If you’re looking for that quintessential summer gin fun drink, allow me to introduce you to a Tom Collins (gin, sugar water, lemon and club soda); a Vespa—my go-to martini that combines two parts gin to a half part vodka, Lillet blanc (a kind of wine aperitif), and a lemon peel; or one of my absolute favorites, the French 75. If you haven’t had one of these babies, get yourself to a solid cocktail bar and order one, like, tonight. It’s essentially a Tom C. but with the addition of sparkling wine. It’s super delicious, bubbly, and fun.
Also, for the Official Record, a Real Martini is made with gin. If you want yours made with vodka, you have to order it that way.
Now, get out there, move beyond the G&T and enjoy either one of the classics, or something new and whacky, with the pine tree forward, ancient plague remedy turned malaria preventative—gin.
As for audio books….I have a thruple of recommendations for you, all over the board, genre-wise but that’s how I roll so…onward!
A quickie reminder of my pretty basic ratings scale. It has thumbs, not stars.
First off, I finished the marathon that was my listening history lesson: Alexander Hamilton. Shew. It was…a lot but presented in such a way that 92.9999% of the time I felt as though I was listening to a book of historical fiction. This book blew away everything I thought I knew about Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others. It also reminded me, or perhaps simply reinforced to me, that we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past. The early days of the United States were not so very united. Political gossip and “fake news” ruled the front pages, the infighting was brutal (and many times deadly) and basically broke down along lines that will seem pretty familiar to anyone paying attention today. The men who were in control for the bulk of our history inherited their wealth and power. While others (e.g. The eponymous A Dot Ham) came from nothing, did what they thought was right for the country (even if they were kind of stupid when it came to their personal lives), and were straight up accused of being elitist—-by the ACTUAL elitists.
It’s mind boggling, really. And even though I knew the ending, it did not make it any easier to hear. I highly recommend diving into this, taking your time and listening carefully to how things started. Maybe if more of us did this, we could change the whole “how it’s going” thing we’re dealing with now.
Also, side note, my two late summer obsessions collided when my bae Boyd Crowder quoted Mr. Jefferson when he was signing papers at bank (banks, you will either already know or learn are one of the Hamilton’s creations for the country). “Thomas Jefferson said that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies,” Boyd quips, as he passes the papers back to the confused looking banker lady. I jumped up off the couch, nearly spilling my gin in the process, and pointed at the TV and shouted, “He only hated banks because he hated Alexander!” To the surprise of my dogs, and the hubs who is now listening to the book at my repeated insistence.
Four Plus Thumbs Up In all Categories.
I had the end of one of my fav cop/detective procedurals ready to go once I learned that Eliza Hamilton lived to 90-something years old. I started listening to the Sean Duffy series way back, at the recommendation of another of my fav authors, Don Winslow. Adrian McKinty has become more famous for his non Belfast (ok Carrickfergus, where the author’s sister owns a pub that I WILL visit someday) set series recently with good reason. The Chain and The Island are both excellent thrillers. However, I would consider Sean Duffy in the top 5 of my personal book boyfriends, a list I just added to by one (see above. A dot Ham. What a dreamboat, am I right?).
In this final book of the series, Sean is approaching semi-retirement thanks to a serious scare in the previous book when he and his family were attacked at their home. He’s got the house set up in Scotland where he will ultimately land once he gets past this one last case.
The case is about a woman, which is a common theme. Mr. Duffy is nothing if not a champion of downtrodden, sometimes murdered, females. He’s also a Catholic cop living in Northern Ireland. In the 70’s, 80’s, and early nineties. So he’s basically a walking-around target for a lot of baddies. The history of The Troubles infuses this series in a way that is fascinating and has driven me to read more about it. And like most single-hero/heroine driven thriller/mystery/paramilitary/procedurals (see also: Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher, Myron Bolitar, Stephanie Plum, Kay Scarpetta) the character really is the story. Their quirks, habits, turns of phrase and supporting cast who loves them are what keeps you coming back. And this series is definitely that. Worth every minute and every vodka gimlet in a pint glass, or Guinness. Always Guinness.
4 Thumbs Up and extra thumbs for the narrator Gerard Doyle.
Finally, I listened to an adorable romcom called The Comback by Lily Chu, narrated by Phillipa Soo, who played Eliza Hamilton in the original Broadway cast. See how I did that??
It’s the story of a driven Canadian young woman of Chinese descent who’s an OCD workaholic, determined to make partner at her law firm to please her father who ends up falling for a K Pop star. The catch is, she doesn’t know K Pop from a hole in the ground so the dude who shows up at her apartment to “recover from a breakup” according to her roommate and his cousin is a complete unknown to her. Until he’s not. And let the fandom freak out …. while Ari is thrust into a whole new world.
There is a fair bit to unpack, as it’s a 12 hour listen but it moves at an appropriate pace, and Ariadne’s character arc is satisfying and realistic. And it made me want to go back to Toronto! What a great city.
The Comeback is funny, relatable, PG13, and super enjoyable.
Plus the narration is 👩🏻🍳💋.
Four Thumbs Up.
What I’ve got queued up:
I’m in a bit of a bind, honestly. I’m trying to decide if I care enough about the folks left behind in Chuck Wendig’s The Wanderers to pay for the sequel. Or if I should jump into something lighter. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to A Boy and His Dog, by Chloe Holiday. Stay tuned for my thumbs’ opinions on that one soon along with this little gem:
Have a great weekend!
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