Making spirits bright and laughing all the way. Patrick Leclezio prepares for some festive season fun.
First published in Prestige Magazine (December 2017 edition).
Another year is set to bite the dust. This period always gets me thinking about the elapsing of time, and about how moments in life come and go with a disconcerting haste. We can get melancholy about it of course, but what’s the point. This passing is inevitable, it is beyond our control. What we do with our time however is another matter, and something over which we should exert our most diligent influence, particularly in the weeks ahead, when we all-too-briefly get to shrug off our work obligations and focus on what really matters – our friends, our families, our loved ones, and ourselves. This is a column about liquor though, so I’ll limit my counsel to the overall sentiment and more specifically to the decorative cherries to which it is dedicated i.e. the inspiring drinks that’ll add a finishing touch to your experiences and festivities this season. Cheers, sláinte, l’chaim, gesondheid! Make the most of it.
The Gin Box
The gin revolution, whilst much covered in these pages, especially as manifest in the country, and particularly in the Cape, keeps on keeping on, outstripping my ability to stay current; I always seem to be a few newcomers behind. It’s worth considering, given this effusive flow, how gin is so prevalent over here. The Cape Floristic Region is one of six worldwide, the only one entirely contained in a single country, and home to an incredible diversity of plant species, numbering some 9000, a large proportion of which (69%) are unique to the region. It is a botanical paradise, generally, but for an aspirant gin-maker specifically – and it goes some way to explaining the rapid local propagation of new and interesting gins. If you’re overwhelmed, as you’d unstintingly be forgiven for feeling, and unable to see the wood for the trees, then the Gin Box may be just the thing for you. This enterprising concept delivers to your doorstep monthly, bi-monthly (each R650), or once-off (R750), a carefully selected small-batch craft gin, accompanied by all sorts of delicious treats and useful gin-related information, including tasting notes and cocktail recipes.
The December / Christmas box is a treasure trove. The gins, there are three – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – each in a 200ml bottle, are bespoke limited editions developed for the Gin Box by the highly regarded Hope on Hopkins distillery. Each is delightful in its own right, each I’d be happy to drink at any time of year, but its Christmassy flavours of spice, nuts, and soft citrus make it an ideal complement for the festive season. It’s worth noting that the botanicals actually feature frankincense and myrrh, and that the gold version is lightly aged in oak to give the liquid its eponymous tinge. The box is stuffed with all sorts of other goodies, including two bottles of Goldberg Japanese Yuzu tonic, distinctly different from the Indian version with its sweeter, citrus overtones; some dried fruit garnishes; and a few food items – notable amongst these being the decadent “Fat Santa Bar” from The Counter (yum!).
Remy Martin’s flagship cognac is the ultimate luxury spirit, possessing a pedigree and an essence unmatched by any other drink. Its inspirations date back to the Battle of Jarnac in 1569, to the discovery of metal flask on the battlefield that would serve as the model for its renowned, meticulously-crafted, Baccarat decanter. The Louis “Treize” (French for 13), as it’s referred to, was launched in 1874 and has been continuously produced ever since, inexorably enhancing its reputation as it climbed to the presiding status that it enjoys today. The liquid itself is a blend with up to 1200 distinct Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie, the youngest matured for a minimum of 40 years, the oldest, incredibly, for over a century. When I first encountered it I was expecting an oaky character, being at a loss to understand how the cellar masters could restrain the wood on a product with such an extended maturation. I was wrong. There’s wood of course, but it’s one of many chimes in this multipart melody. The “secret” is the tierçon, a special type of cask employed in the maturation. Made from Limousin oak, with finer staves than typical casks, they are restored but never replaced. These casks, in my view of it – the Remy people don’t use this term – are largely exhausted, having little of their oak elements left to impart – leaving the maturation to persist via the chemical reactions in the liquid and the interaction of the liquid with its environment as they breathe. The result is tantalising and transfixing, a rare phenomenon of awe-inspiring depth and complexity – all the benefits of old age but without its drawbacks. The Louis XIII earns its chops and then some.
Our sunny alfresco South African Christmases demand a sunny alfresco cocktail, the kind that you mix up in a jug and serve under blue skies on a lawn. Enter the ho-ho-ho merry Cointreau Fizz. I’d never considered triple sec as anything other than a sidekick ingredient, Tonto to the Tequila Lone Ranger in my margarita, before chancing upon the Fizz – which promptly prompted me to revaluate my impressions. It’s simple, delicious and healthy, the sweet spirit offsetting tangy lime for a perfect balance.
2 ½ parts Cointreau
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
5 parts sparkling water
Fill a jug with ice, add Cointreau and lime, top off with sparkling water, and garnish with an orange wheel or any sweet juicy fruit.