A change of drinks for a change of seasons. PATRICK LECLEZIO gets set for some sunshine.
First published in Prestige Magazine (October 2017 edition).
There’s something primal about the anticipation of summer – maybe because we depended on it for our survival, or maybe because after long, bleak winters it’s what made life worth living. Whatever the reason it’s an excitement that’s programmed deep within us. Benson and Hedges tapped into this emotion with the soundtrack for their cricket commercials in the 1990’s. I didn’t and never would smoke, and I didn’t really attend live matches at the time, but regardless I found that imploring incantation incredibly relevant and evocative. It was a summons – for sunshine, freedom, and good times – that gripped me at the core. I subscribe to the view that life is short and that we should enthusiastically make the most of any given moment, but it’s easy to get distracted, hypnotised by the tedium of everyday life. Summer is the clarion. A reminder that we should suck the marrow from every juicy bone presented to us – or more specific to our modest purposes here: drink the drinks that make the whole world sing. So, as we hear that rousing chant all around us [come on summer], let’s fill our glasses with right stuff [come on summer], and get ready to celebrate the season in style [come on summer, come on!].
Nothing says summer quite like gin – and it’s comforting to note, as we contemplate this sentiment, that the “gin boom” has furnished us with a magnificent selection, ready to be harnessed to the purpose. One of the latest to emerge, after a long and considered development, is Wixworth. Whilst there may be veritable flood, each gin, by virtue of its choice and combination of botanicals, has the potential to stand out and be distinctive – and Wixworth is no exception in this regard. Ironically though I think it distinguishes itself most in its adherence to tradition (and regulations), rather than its individuality. In an era of boundary pushing (and crossing!), juniper-recessive (if not absent) gins, Wixworth is a true London Dry Gin, out and proud brandishing its predominating juniper essence. This is the style that in the sweltering outposts of the British Empire gave birth to the gin and tonic, so in equipping ourselves for the conditions that made its name, it’s clearly not to be taken lightly. London Dry it may be, but it’s also avidly South African; its use of Renosterbos in particular, a local shrub that was historically added to river water to mask its brackish taste, unmistakably binds its identity to the country. Wixworth’s style and substance, the latter evidenced in a crisp pine and citrus flavour, makes it an ideal gin on which to ride this summer’s rolling swells.
With gin in play you’ll invariably need tonic, its trusty sidekick. When I first started drinking GnT’s I was astounded and dismayed by the amount of sugar in tonic. It’s there to check the bitterness of the quinine, but health-wise you may as well be drinking coke. There’s further concern, because tonic is largely water, in that a disproportionate share of what you’re buying is invested in packaging (mostly disposable and environmentally unfriendly). Enter the tonic cordial, and Symmetry in particular. By using cinchona bark (the source of the quinine) instead of the quinine extract alone Symmetry balances its typical bitterness with the bark’s other components, mitigating the requirement for excessive sugar. The pack delivers approximately 12 servings in concentrated form, as opposed to the four that you’d get from a litre bottle of the regular stuff. The format has enabled both the bottle and closure to be significantly upweighted, each made from glass and reusable as a carafe and wine stopper respectively. This is well and good, but if the flavour doesn’t measure up then it’s all for nothing – and it’s in this sphere that Symmetry arguably shines brightest, being constituted from a hand-picked selection of local botanicals that have been expertly crafted into a range comprising three variants: Citrus, Spice and Floral. A word of caution: you don’t want these full-flavoured tonics to overpower your specific gin, so choose the one that’s most complementary. Some experimentation may be required to get this right – luckily you’ve got a whole summer to work at it.
Snow Leopard vodka
Vodka is the world’s most internationally popular spirit: there are more people drinking it across a broad swathe of countries than any other. It’s also the one drink where lack of flavour (or subtlety of flavour, as one would have it) has wrought a crushing advantage – defining a versatility that’s largely responsible for this widespread appeal. This makes it the ideal summer spirit, a willingly assimilating partner for any number of tall, cool, refreshing mixers. Whatever your preference, vodka will enhance it. In Snow Leopard we have an exponent that straddles the fine vodka line between no flavour and too much flavour – it offers a little something when drunk neat, but it doesn’t interfere when mixed. The unusual use of spelt grain, an expensive ancient wheat hybrid more commonly employed by jenever rather than vodka distillers, lends a rich and creamy mouthfeel, and everything about it from the concept to its packaging to the liquid itself, suggests a high quality, well-made vodka. The clincher for me though is its commitment to nature conservation, dedicating a significant 15% of its profits to the preservation of the critically endangered Snow Leopard, and highlighting its plight. I like the idea of kicking my feet back and watching a late sunset with glass in hand, I like it even more knowing it’s doing some good in the world.
My tastes run to strong cocktails. And my favourite cocktail ingredient is lime, which happens to be perfectly suited to summer. The Gimlet, neatly encompassing both those attributes, is a tried and tested classic that’s been persistently drunk for almost a century. Most importantly it’s simple and delicious. If you want to shake things up (no pun intended) and try something different, then look no further.
Add two and half tots of Wixworth gin, one tot of fresh lime juice, and half a tot to a tot of simple syrup (according to taste) into a cocktail shaker loaded with ice. Stir or swirl, and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lime wedge or a cucumber wheel.