Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Blame It On the A-a-a-a-a-alcohol
What do you get when you marry a cheap bottle of vodka to a host of different botanicals? Sounds like a bad joke, I know, but that is what I set out to discover when I undertook making my own gin. Now, before you roll your eyes and think "how pretentious..." to yourself, hear me out. I have long marveled the ingenuity with which we (like how I lumped myself in there?), as the human race, have come up with some of the finest contributions to the food world, both before and after the proverbial sliced bread. I mean, come on, what Swiss yodeler came up with the brilliant idea of heating up some curds, then pressing them in a mold and cave ageing for a bit, thereby giving us Gruyere, a cheese beloved for its versatility, adding savoriness and extra yum to just about anything it touches? Or any cheese for that matter-doesn't it just wow you that so many different textures and tastes could come of what is basically animal milk and rennet? Or any of the other variations of cow's milk- don't get me started on the joys of butter, clotted cream, creme fraiche, cream cheese, etc. Then there's the legend of the goatherd who discovered the mysterious beans that made his goats jump, roasted them over the fire, ground them, and brewed them in boiling water, thereby producing the first official cup of coffee and spawning an entire industry that now employs my husband and pays our monthly bills (as well as hooking him body and soul). Beer, wine, all 450 million kinds of cheeses (or at least that's how it feels walking down the 4 Aisles of cheese at the grocery here in Wisconsin), and liquor have all sprung out of the alchemy of genius, and while I make no claims as to the latter, I do, however, have a hankering for learning more about the different processes by which we arrive at culinary and libation greatness. I stumbled recently on an article about gin that piqued my interest and since it gave an interesting recipe for a kitchen gin that is no more difficult than brewing iced tea, I decided to give it a shot. So I piled the kids into the burley and biked to the liquor store for a bottle of neutral spirits, in this case, a 40 proof vodka. On the way home, we stopped by the co-op and took advantage of their bulk spices, grabbing what I didn't already have growing out back. Ryan seemed a little dubious at first, but got excited when he saw everything laid out.
We had about one shot left in our bottle of Bombay gin, so we sampled it before starting our own; right away, we could both taste the juniper, which is the primary ingredient in gin.
The other aromatics can be played around with, but you don't have gin without juniper. After filtering and straining the herbs out, you are left with a somewhat muddier gin that what you'd purchase. Maybe it was because I took a lot of time to scratch and sniff everything before I added it to the bottle, but with the first sip after filtering, I could definitely taste at least a few of the herbs, which was exciting because a). before this point in time, I had no clue what made gin gin and b). I really have an atrocious palate for someone who likes food and drink so much.
In this recessionary climate, when the budget for "luxury" items (which in our household, includes liquor) is stretched thin or non-existent, it was quite a treat to unlid, after 24 hours, a complex, and dare I say sweet gin that rivaled an expensive bottle at the store. Sharing the first gin and tonics of the season, using our own spirits, with dear friends under the twinkling stars was about as good as it gets.
Jeremy and Hansi, holding baby Jasper before taking our drinks out under the pergola.