The Spirits #12: The Gin & It
~ My Shopping List Fiasco ~ Your Feedback Sought! ~ Me and My Gin ~ Lager Lager Lager Lager Sausages ~ Unlived Lives ~
~ THE GIN & IT ~
25ml Italian vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters (optional)
Don’t try to be too fancy with this one. Make it in a tumbler, over ice, and stir by swilling it around the glass. Or serve up if that’s the sort of mood you’re in. Drop in a slice of lemon. Or don’t! I don’t mind. You will find a tot (>10ml) of most fruity/herby liqueurs works in this too.
What? Hang on - didn’t I? Yes. Music first and I’ll explain.
YEAH I KNOW. Sorry. I put the *wrong shopping list* at the end of last week’s dispatch. If you follow these things conscientiously - and why wouldn’t you? - then you may even have got in some light rum especially and lined up your homemade grenadine, orange liqueur and French vermouth! In which case you will be wondering what I’m doing pissing around with gin and Italian vermouth instead of making the aforeshadowed El Presidente.
Well. Last Friday was a stressful mid-December tangle of deadlines and babies and general rnnghgh. I wrote that list at the last possible moment and then changed my mind in a sudden paroxysm of indecision. But somehow it lingered in my mind that the Gin & It was the cocktail I had plumped for. I thus spent the last week thinking about Gin & Its, sourcing songs for an ‘&’ themed playlist, reading the complete plays of Terrence Rattigan on the hunt for Gin & It refs, mentally drafting this post, and most importantly: drinking Gin & Its. It was only when I sat down to set fingers to keyboard at 9pm last night that I realised my blunder. And frankly, at that point, I couldn’t be arsed to conjure fresh aperçus, fresh playlists, fresh photos. Besides: I’d run out of French vermouth.
So here we are! Could be worse? Once, I wrote “FUCKINGHAM PALACE” in the Evening Standard and it got published. Also, this is a cocktail newsletter, not a surgeon’s pre-amputation checklist, and people commit errors on a much grander scale that this and just pretend that’s what they mean to do all along, I mean, take Great Britain, which four years ago… Ah, but I forget: this a politics free-zone.
Anyway, I decided to press on with the Gin & It for three reasons. One, it contains ingredients we have used many times before - so I assume it’s going to be within easy improvisational reach. (In fact, this is the entire point of the Gin & It). Two, alcohol keeps, so any light rum purchased will not go to waste. I’ve included a couple of consolatory light rum cocktails down the page - yeah, you’re welcome - and we will come to the El Presidente at some point in the not too distant future. It will be worth the wait; it is an outstanding cocktail.
And the third reason for doing the Gin & It? I suddenly realised it was basically Christmas and the Gin & It for me is the taste of Christmas. “It” stands for Italian vermouth, which has a certain lebkuchen-like spicy warmth to it, as especially when combined with cinnamon-esque Angostura and gin. But what I mean is, the Gin & It is the taste of Christmas as it is rather than Christmas as it is supposed to be. It’s not a special-occasion cocktail like, say, the Ramos Gin Fizz or Champagne Cocktail. It’s a things-going-slightly-awry cocktail. A half-cut mid-morning cocktail. A prematurely congratulate yourself cocktail… only to realise you still have a zillion things still to do, even without all the Tiers and Bubble stress. It is almost certainly what I will bung together for myself while cooking Christmas lunch; and what I’ll console myself with as I scrape sweet potato gratin off the bottom of the oven at 3.16pm in a steamed up kitchen.
Is it even a cocktail? Open to debate. It is near-identical to the Martinez, which was the 19th century precursor to the more famous Martini only made with Italian vermouth. It might also be termed a Sweet Martini. I’ve read a bunch of attempts by Americans to account for these names; but I suspect it’s another example of our old friend convergent evolution (see the Charlie Pie). The Gin & It is the product of British rather than American drinking traditions. I’m sure I read it was Agatha Christie’s favourite somewhere. It turns up a lot in vintage English murder mysteries (“A week later Freddy Arbuthnot showed up, dropping by at the cocktail hour, and accepting gin and It”… from Dorothy L. Sayers). My impression is, you could order it in a pub during that era and they would probably know what you were talking about - handy should you find yourself in some sort of ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ situation over the festive period.
And as a British drink, it’s not overly fussy. Would mostly have been served without ice, I suspect. David Embury gives an Americanised recipe in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948) with three parts gin to one part vermouth, but classes it as “one of His Britannic Majesty’s gin drinks” (along side the Gin and Tonic): “In Europe the proportions are half and half and the drink is not iced.” The entry for Gin-and-It in Good Drinks by the English food writer Ambrose Heath (1939) says quite simply: “Gin and Italian vermouth in varying proportions.” Yes. Varying proportions. Think of it as a straightforward, vernacular sort of drink, to be served unfussily, maybe with a slice of lemon as opposed to a twist - though hopefully with some ice? Standards. Its cousins are Gin & Dubonnet (the Queen’s favourite) and Gin & French [vermouth].
My point is, cocktails involve a modicum of precision. The Gin & It does not. It’s a drink to be drunk rather than served - and a drink to be fooled around with. You’ll find it’s hard to mess up, the core constituents being so naturally harmonious. Sometimes I splash in some bitters, sometimes not. Sometimes, I’ll squeeze in a clementine. O add a splash of absinthe or kummel or cassis something like that. As long as someone grants me the mercy of a 5 o’clock nap - all will be well.
In honour of the majestic combination of gin and Italian vermouth, some duos, combos, twosomes, couples, bedfellows, co-conspirators.
CW: the last song is a real downer… but WHAT a downer.
📯 PROMOTION 📯
The Spirits comes to you in association with The Social Supermarket - the UK’s leading social enterprise marketplace.
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YOUR FEEDBACK SOUGHT
Hi! Well, I hope you’ve been enjoying reading / using these newsletters as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. And drinking them.
Some Christmas housekeeping. What I think I will do is a brief mailout on Christmas Eve, a special occasion cocktail (see below)… and then another one to celebrate the end of 2020, ridiculous year, probably involving champagne.
Also: lots of people have asked about my book - it appears to have sold out of its print run. Hopefully more supplies will arrive in the New Year (and who knows, maybe a second edition will be in order?) but I’m afraid it’s too late for Christmas. Which is a bummer.
And then, as regards January… well, I would love your ideas / opinions / thoughts. There’s still a gazillion more cocktails to write about. But perhaps you would like some non-alcoholic drinks in the mix? Perhaps would you like the Spirits to rebrand itself as You Got This! and have me lead a communal exercise sesssion each Friday? Or how do we feel about buying more bottles of booze… making our own syrups / infusions… non-booze other recipes…? Hit me up.
If you’re REALLY keen, I am also considering a Spirits+ type affair - a more in-depth extra posting for the committed cocktaileur, the dedicated amateur, the keeper of Bénédictine. Paid for - but cheap. I’m thinking based around a particular ingredient as opposed to a cocktail, so as to serve as more of a buying guide. What to do with… Amer Picon! Green Chartreuse! Pisco! That sort of thing. Again: I’d be interested to hear thoughts on this: just reply to this message.
And sincere thanks for reading, tweeting, messaging, commenting, mixing. It’s really brightened up Friday evenings for me, I hope it has for you.
I promised you Rum Specials:
~ THE BACARDI SPECIAL ~
25ml light rum
15ml lime juice
Shake hard with plenty of ice and fine-strain into a cold cocktail glass. No garnish required. Doesn’t need to be ‘Bacardi’ rum either. NB: a mere ‘Bacardi’ cocktail is 50ml light rum, no gin.
~ THE MARY PICKFORD ~
40ml light rum
40ml pineapple juice
Shake hard with plenty of ice and fine-strain into a cold cocktail glass. Cherry garnish. If the maraschino is a problem, add some cherry juice from the jar, or maybe just a dash more grenadine.
~ RUM AND IT ~
50ml light rum
25ml Italian vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
As above. But with rum not gin.
WHAT I’M READING
John Lanchester on Neanderthals (LRB).
Oli Franklin Wells on Julia Donaldson (Guardian).
We’ve been buying more lager and less soap. (Guardian).
What if you could do it all over? (New Yorker).
The 21 Club Is History by David Coggins. (The Contender). (NB I met David in Italy on a press trip a few years’ back: he was a Campari drinker in a sea of Prosecco sippers. He writes magically and knowledgably about men’s style, road trips, fly-fishing, the instutions of old New York, etc - and his newsletter is old-school good. I reckon you’ll like it.)
OK. Let’s not get this wrong again. Next week is Christmas so we’re going to go fancy, i.e. the opposite of the above. So pay attention:
an egg (white)
orange flower water (again!)
vanilla extract (non-essential… but nice)
single cream (NB: I always use Lacto-Free cream for this as I’m a Lactose-Intolerant man.)
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