It was a long day at work. And evil birds attacked my garden. And I brought home a thousand pounds of wood flooring -- give or take a few hundred. And there are two top shelf varieties of gin in the pantry. Solution? A taste test.
Up to this point, my reigning favorite gin has been Citadelle. It's a good gin, and it makes a good martini. But it's important to try new products and see if you've been missing something, so a while back I picked up a bottle of Plymouth Gin, reputedly the favorite of Churchill, FDR, Hitchcock, Ian Fleming, and for many years the official supplier to the Royal Navy.
Plymouth is definitely a good gin. It doesn't mask its Juniper taste, but the Juniper is not overpowering, as it so often is in a bottom shelf gin. There's a very slight hint of an herbal-ish sweetness to it, but it's still quite dry. And it does indeed make a good martini. I don't think it's quite as good as Citadelle when drunk straight up, though. What, you never drink gin straight? Well, one has to do it once in a while if one wants to understand how the gin itself tastes.
The other day I stopped on the way home from vespers to pick up a new bottle of gin -- two in fact since I was out of the bottom shelf Burnett's which is used for Gin & Tonics around here. And since I can't recall that I've actually bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire before (though I've stocked their London Dry Gin) I decided to pick a bottle of that up.
The Sapphire is fairly different from the Plymouth. Plymouth is a classic gin. It doesn't fool around. It's smooth and well made and classy, but it doesn't really attempt to be more than a gin. Sapphire is 6% stronger at 47% alcohol, but still quite smooth when sipped straight -- something of a feat, I'd say. The flavor is much more balanced and soothing. There's juniper in there, yes, but it's roughly equal with the other herbal notes.
As I think about it, it strikes me more and more that Sapphire tastes very much like a mixed martini tastes when made with a more traditional gin like Plymouth. (My martini consists of 1.5oz gin, 0.5 oz vermouth and one dash of orange bitters. With the olive, of course.) Perhaps this works ideally if you're one of those sorts who believes a good martini is the "very dry" variety where you mist the glass with vermouth, or swirl the vermouth around and then pour it out. To my mind, however, it's not right to simply drop an olive in gin and call it a martini. The vermouth is definitely a part of the drink -- as is the rounded, icy taste that comes from a good shake with ice.
I'll have to mix up a martini to see how Sapphire holds up under those conditions. Right now, I'm wondering if it will seem a little timid in martini form. But if you like to shake gin over ice and drop an olive in, Sapphire is clearly the way to go. Still, with my standard recipe, I think Plymouth would be a good addition to the cupboard, or I may simply go back to Citadelle, after my time wondering far and wide.
(And if you think a martini can be chocolate or apple flavored, my buddy Dante has a place for you...)