gin punch

Gin punch: a giant cocktail served in a bowl

posted in: Cocktails, Gin and Juniper | 0

We all like a cocktail. But 200 years before the term was invented, we had to resort to other creative ways of getting our alcohol fix. In those days, there were no cocktail glasses, fancy recipes or bartender’s tools in those days – so they turned to punch! In its earliest days, in the 18th century, a typical punch would contain ingredients that were considered exotic for the time. Often, these would include fruits that seem normal to us now, but which were extremely rare and expensive three centuries ago.
These included rare treats such as oranges from Asia, fragrant spices from the East and sugar, all the way from the Caribbean, which became the perfect match for the strong flavours of rum and brandy. The trouble was that rum and brandy were very expensive. On the other hand, English gin was increasingly affordable. It wasn’t long before gin became recognised as a better value concoction than some of its contemporary spirits and that was when it entered the mainstream world of punch.

A drink for the middle classes

The relative accessibility and affordability of gin quickly made punch more accessible to the burgeoning English middle classes.
However, strangely enough, the 18th century reveals no published gin punch recipes at all. According to a contemporaneous journal, “a hornful of punch should be administered to cattle in a bid to cure their distemper”. This is a clear indication that in those early days punch was initially considered something of low quality and not of much use to actual humans. However, towards the end of the 18th century, reports of its human medicinal qualities began to appear alongside suggestions that it could help to treat a variety of ailments. Gin Punch was soon believed to be a cure-all for everything from dissolving kidney stones, to curing Berri-Berri. It was also (bizarrely) considered a great way to encourage toxins to leave the body efficiently, in the form of sweat.

1776: the punch revolution

In 1776, at around the same time as the American’s were plotting their revolution, diarist James Boswell wrote (after a particularly good night on the town) that he: “drank rather too much gin punch. It was a new experience to me and I liked it much”.
By the end of the 18th century gin punch had elevated itself from its humble position at the heart of the local gin palace, into something more fitting. This elevation made it suitable for the more sophisticated and rarified atmosphere of London’s gentleman’s clubs. Stalwarts such as the Garrick or Limmer’s Hotel became the places that finally established punch as a popular and respectable, middle class drink. In fact, one of the first gin recipes at the turn of the 18th century, sounds rather nice (but very strong):
two pints of gin, oranges, lemons, orange sugar syrup and white wine.

Punch goes upmarket

A few decades later, London’s Garrick Club added a new twist to its own “house punch” – soda water. The original Garrick Club Punch recipe called for:

half a pint of gin, lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, maraschino, a pint and a quarter of water and two bottles of iced soda water.

It didn’t take very long for its fame to spread around London and before you know it, punches and punch bowls were popping up everywhere. Over time, these punches evolved into more complex single serve variants which were popularised by Americans in the 1870s. They gave them personal names such as the John Collins and the classic Tom Collins. By the end of the century, punch had been truly established in English culture and English Dry Gin had become a mainstay of many of the best punches. But why is punch served in a punch bowl?

Why is punch served in a bowl?

It’s simple, really. As strong punch loosened inhibitions, it helped reserved Englishmen come out of their shell. It helped them to add a little well-lubricated wit to social gatherings, political discussions and business occasions. Drinking punch was always a fabulous social occasion and gathering around the punch bowl ended up becoming the popular focus for many a high spirited evening, loosening inhibitions and encouraging conviviality, conversation and sharing in a way that had never been seen before.

From simple punch bowl to sophisticated cocktails

These days, punches have fallen out of fashion, but that’s a real shame since these simple-to-make, sociable drinks can be a lot of fun. And they can be deceptively strong. Over the years, people’s tastes evolved once more and the simple punch bowl morphed slowly into the next big alcoholic fad in the 19th century – cocktails. Bartenders began to mix drinks to suit their specific customers and the approach to alcohol became increasingly bespoke and sophisticated. Now, the cocktail is definitely king – of that there is no doubt. But there are still some great gin punches out there – and it would be a great shame to let this fabulously simple tradition die out. Check out our recent article on a classic New Year’s Eve punch. And here’s another variant on the gin punch for when the weather gets a bit better.

Gin Punch recipe

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Cut and combine all the fruits into a large punchbowl
  2. Add the gin, juice, syrups, creme de framboise (or alternative fruit liqueur) and water
  3. Refrigerate for 4-5 hours
  4. Before serving: add ice, fill to top with cava and stir
  5. Ladle into punch glasses with plenty of fruit (and ice)
  6. Repeat frequently!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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5 kinds of gin

5 kinds of gin: do you know the difference?

5 kinds of gin, really?

When most people think of gin, they think of England. It’s the classic, buttoned up English drink with hints of Empire, straw hats and times past.  But you couldn’t be more wrong. 
While it is true that the English adapted and popularised this juniper juice in the 18th century, its origins are not British at all, but Dutch.  Before it hit our shores, a drop of Dutch Courage (gin) was administered to calm the jagged nerves of those about to go into battle. The Brits liked this Jenever gin and wanted some for themselves.  But they altered forever the rich, almost smoky taste of the original by adapting the recipe. The result is what we now think of as traditional English gin styles, such as London Dry, Old Tom and Plymouth gin.  

The gin revolution begins

Now, fast forward to the 2010s, when the good people of Barcelona spotted a way of pumping up the style and invented the copa of gin (otherwise known as the Gin Tonic).  For the first time, gin and tonics were lovingly complemented with garnishes, herbs and exotic fruit to bring out the drink’s deeper aromas and flavours.  Once these gin pioneers had kick-started the gin revolution, small batch distillers and mixologists started to reappraise this extraordinary drink.
A decade later, there are more than 250 craft distilleries in the UK alone cranking out exceptional gins.  Craft distillers are pushing the boundaries of mixology further than ever.  Spain is not far behind with hundreds more dotted around the country. And Germany is a big player too. Even the Japanese are on the bandwagon! 

How many have you tried?

Genever gin

Genever ginThis is where it all began. Genever gin is the forerunner of modern gin. First heard of in 16th century Holland it is much maltier and more savoury than contemporary gins. This is due to the fact that it is distilled from malt wine spirits instead of neutral grain. It also works really well in a gin old-fashioned.  Originally, Genever was made by distilling malt to 50% ABV and then adding herbs to disguise the bitter taste, but it’s got much better since then. These days, there are two main types: Jonge Genever (Young Genever) has a neutral taste with a slight aroma of juniper and malt wine.  The second style is Oude Genever (Old Genever), aged in wood and with a maltier, smokier taste that is more reminiscent of whisky.

London Dry

London Dry ginContrary to popular opinion, London Dry gin doesn’t have to come from London. Or even the UK.  It is simply the name of a style that originated there in the aftermath of the genever wave. It is a very juniper forward style (as you would expect) and generally has citrus, angelica root and coriander as its other key flavours. Often bottled at high proof levels, this gin is great for cocktails, which is why it has become one of the most widely known gin styles on the planet.  This style became dominant and originally became known as Dry Gin to contrast it with its sweeter cousin, Old Tom.  London Dry gin has some additional rules to regular distilled gin.  It must be flavoured exclusively with distilled natural botanicals. No additional flavourings can be added after the distillation process.  In fact, nothing can be added except for neutral spirit, water and a maximum of 0.1 g of sugar per litre.

Old Tom

Old Tom ginA sweet style that developed in the 19th century this gin got its name from its secret history. In order to avoid paying taxes on gin, a certain Captain Dudley Bradstreet from London started selling bootleg gin. He advised people to look for it under the sign of the cat, where he had cleverly placed a lead pipe attached to a funnel on the inside. Customers would put money in the slot and he would dispatch their gin down the pipe directly into their glass, bottle (or even mouth!). Over time, the practice caught on and others started to change their door knockers or signs to feature an Old Tom Cat. Old Tom gin is a sweeter, maltier gin and is sometimes barrel-aged for flavour. It has become a classic ingredient for bartenders and mixologists around the world because it is such a versatile cocktail ingredient and features prominently in classic cocktails such as the Tom Collins.

Plymouth gin

Plymouth ginSmoother than its London relative this is generally produced in the south of England and is a lower strength gin than its big city neighbour. Juniper is less dominant in Plymouth gins, making it a great gin for drinking neat or in a Martini.  Plymouth gin can only be made at the Plymouth Gin Distillery in the beautiful South West of England and pops up frequently on bartenders shelves all over the world. It has a long history, dating back to that late 18th century.  It is the only gin to have its own geographical indication and is still made in the oldest operating gin distillery in the world.  This classic gin is still produced in an ancient still that has been operating for 150 years and it has a subtle, full-bodied flavour which avoids any bitter botanicals.  The result is a an earthy tasting gin with hints of orange and cardamom and a soft, smooth finish with a hint of spice. There are two versions of Plymouth gin – the original (41.2 ABV) and their Navy Strength version (which comes in at a hefty 57% ABV).

Contemporary gin

Contemporary gin The gin revolution that blew in earlier this decade has resulted in a contemporary international selection that could have only been imagined a decade ago. Now, contemporary gin makers are dispensing with tradition and experimenting with new flavours and techniques that are challenging everything we thought we knew about this traditional drink. From the UK to Spain and from Japan to Latin America there’s something for everyone – you are only limited by your imagination.



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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a martini glass with the james bond background

Dukes Bar, London: where James Bond would drink

There’s a little bar, very discreet, tucked away in a quiet corner of Mayfair. It sits inside a classic Mayfair Hotel. You’d probably never know it was there. Welcome to Dukes Bar.

This bar is famous for one very special thing, the simple classic drink that they do extremely well and that they make with proper old-fashioned style. Dukes Bar has been serving dry martinis for 112 years now, so the bartenders know their stuff. It’s the sort of place that James Bond would go to meet M for a quiet drink. In fact, it was the preferred haunt of Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, so no wonder his hero was partial to a dry Martini. And if the walls could speak, what stories we’d hear.

This is the perfect place to meet a lover or to seal a secret deal. The sort of place where the white-jacketed waiters see everything but say nothing. It’s a place that doesn’t need to advertise itself. It likes things just the way they are. This place has built its reputation over more than a century. And news of its delights has spread in the best way possible. By word of mouth.

Small, intimate and stylish, in a very British gentleman’s club kind of way, you can sit on small, round tables, overstuffed sofas or gorgeous leather armchairs.

Getting trollied

Spread over three rooms, Dukes Bar does things the way it has always done them: with oodles of crusty British style, discretion and just a modest touch of panache.

The main thing to know is that you should always order your Martinis from the trolley list. Someone will wheel a small trolley to your table. From it, you’ll be offered a selection of 2-3 spirits served from bottles so cold they could stick to your hands. Straight from the freezer to your table, the icy gin is poured directly into a Martini glass that has shared the freezer space to become equally cool.

Alongside your preferred gin, your bartender will offer you a choice of vermouth (made in house) or a selection of bitters along with a small bowl of fruit. Your drink will be stirred in front of you (no hurry here) and garnished from the fruit bowl.

This is cocktail heaven, the old fashioned way.

They source their lemons directly from a supplier on the Amalfi coast of Italy and if you’re looking for food, the dish of the day appears to be salty nuts. This is not a place to come to eat. You come here to drink.
Slowly.

There’s no music, no television and the crowd are engaged in a quiet conversational hum. Oil paintings hang on the walls. This is a 20th century bar oozing with 19th century atmosphere.

But those Martinis – I keep coming back to those Martinis

The real reason people in the know come to this bar is for those Martinis – rightly considered amongst the best in the world.

On their trolley, Plymouth Gin (paid link) is offered for the Martini base. They then wave a bottle of home made vermouth in the general direction of France and add three olives from Sicily or, if you prefer, a very thin slice of those Amalfi lemons. But they have others available too, including Sacred Gin (paid link), which they claim was Ian Fleming’s favourite.

As they say at Dukes: “One is alright, two are too many, three are not enough”.

The delicate dance of the Dry Martini

The making of the Martini here is a performance all of its own, more like a dance than a job. The white jacketed, black tied, mostly Italian waiters have it down to a fine art. After 112 years, Dukes has had plenty of practice.

So, if you’re looking for an intimate place with heritage and pedigree, if you want to spend the evening quietly sipping the best dry martini in the world while speculating which one of your fellow drinkers will be heading back to MI5 with a hangover in the morning, then this is the place.

You are going back to the source – and you won’t be disappointed.

Dukes Hotel, 35 St. James’ Place, London SW1A 1NY


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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