Picture this: it’s mid-to-late afternoon, the working day is coming to a close. Overhead, there is a bright blue sky, the sun still beating rather hard, asserting its power and authority over a scorched land where even ants cower from the intense heat. In the distance, in one direction, rolling mountains stand statuesque like cricketers in the outfield waiting to be called into action. In the other direction, the land turns from rock to sand, tapering off as beach turns into the sea, seemingly discarding sunbathers, scattering them across sun loungers.
In the middle of all this is you, perched high atop a hill, sitting in a comfortable chair on your balcony, a copy of Ruchir Sharma’s Breakout Nations on one side and a much-thumbed edition of Tuhin A. Sinha’s The Edge Of Desire on the other. Folded on your lap is a daily copy of Mint. While you gaze across the landscape, you can feel a thirst for something refreshing, yet with a kick.
At this moment, there are plenty of options, depending on what one has at hand. At the right time, a bottle of cold (and I mean very cold) beer is fine. A Kingfisher or a Kalyani chilled can provide one of the best and most refreshing post-work drinks there is. Simple yet effective, a cold beer cannot be misdirected if the aim is to quench thirst after a long, hard day.
However, we’re after something more classy, given the circumstances described at the start of this piece. Yes, beer has its place, but so ubiquitous is ale that if you really want to be premium, sit proudly in your manor and quench your thirst like a king, then you should probably reach for a spirit, and in this searing heat, my choice would be gin.
Last month, I wrote of my conversion to gin. Whisky is still the king in my house—a regal drink, the Bentley of spirits. But gin is the delicate little plaything—the sports car to take out and have fun with, the Aston Martin of drinks, if you will. Over the next few issues, I’m going to give you some tips and tricks on drinking gin, starting with ‘‘confidence” this month—a big thing when drinking any branded spirit.
When it comes to gin, I need you to be in agreement with me on one thing here: that not all gins are the same. Far from it; each gin has its own unique balance and blend of flavours, built around a core of juniper, which can vary wildly. I promise you, if you try Bombay Sapphire, Gordons, Beefeater and Tanqueray neat, side-by-side, you will have a revelation. The flavour profile of each of these has been carefully chosen so as not to be the same as their rivals.
Spend some time with each of these brands. Once you have chosen the gin you like, then you need to remember the name. This is vital for three reasons:
Firstly, you like it more than you like the other gin in the market.
Secondly, howsoever you choose to drink your gin—and we shall come to it more next month—when you are in a bar, it is simply not good enough to order a ‘‘gin and tonic”, for example. If you order a non-specific brand of spirit at a bar, you may as well have changed in the dark and left in whatever selection of your (or your wife’s) clothes that was picked out at random.
Learn which brands you like and do your best to order them. If nothing else, it will show the bar staff that you have knowledge in that area and it will make it a lot harder for them to give you something cheap in the mix and hope you won’t notice. Asking a bartender subtly if they’re sure the gin in your martini is the standard Beefeater Original and not the Beefeater 24 as ordered will show them that you are not to be messed with. (FYI, if the answer is that the gin is the desired brand, you can always retort with something like: ‘‘Excellent, thank you, sir; I usually take it a little more chilled than this at home,” to save any embarrassment.)
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, knowledge is key when visiting the house of someone you want to impress or assert your importance upon. Arriving at a dinner party at your boss’s house, if you are greeted with a cold glass of gin and tonic, it is fair to enquire, in front of the group, as to the origin of the gin. If the choice does not match your own, you can give a small sigh under your breath and, with great authority, casually utter a phrase such as, ‘‘Ah, an interesting choice, I’ve not had this gin for a while. Personally, I find the additional citrus elements in Tanqueray work for me in a G&T. But...this does seem to hit the spot for a first drink of the evening.” At this moment, you must take a sip and then wince ever so slightly as you swallow, no matter how tasty the drink may be.
For those who can hear you, you have become a beacon of information; you have shown your depth of knowledge in a lesser-known subject and, if pressed further, you can simply retort with this get-out-of-jail-free quote: ‘‘Of course, it’s important to know what you’re consuming, as much as it’s important to know what you’re wearing. Now tell me about those cufflinks/earrings/shoes...” Instantly, you have diverted the pressure away from you, on to someone else and thrown down the gauntlet of ‘‘expert” for them to pick up and run with.
These same rules could be applied to vodka (which has a much narrower flavour difference between brands), rum and, of course, whisky (the broadest of all the flavour profiles across the category and probably the most important spirit when it comes to understanding the flavour differences in the brands). So do go away and do your ‘‘research”, responsibly. And if you happen to bump in to me in a bar soon and enquire about the contents of my glass, I expect your response to be, ‘‘Ah, an interesting choice. Not what I would have chosen...now, tell me about those shoes you’re wearing.”
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant and co-founder of the website Caskstrength.net
He is on Twitter at @WeHeartWhisky
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