Thursday, February 10, 2011

Martini Bowl 2011





When you can’t attend the Super Bowl, what’s the next best thing? 

Why the Martini Bowl, of course!

Every Super Bowl weekend, Union Square Wines & Spirits holds the Martini Bowl, pitting a variety of gins against sundry vodkas.  I have been attending this event for the past five years and usually like to try an equal amount of both spirits.  This year, however, I inexplicably stuck to a gin-only tasting.  Sorry to disappoint you vodka lovers, but you can check out the menu below to see what was offered. 




Interestingly, of the eight gins that I tasted this year, only two were from England, one from Scotland and the rest were made in the U.S.A. – five from New York and one from California.  When tasting gin, I generally try to find out not only the number of botanicals used, but also, what kind, as they can impact the taste – sometimes subtle, occasionally not.  Nonetheless, it can be the combination used that tends to make a good gin stand out, not merely the amount.   One surprise from this year was something that was being marketed as a “gin liqueur”, the only one of that kind I’d ever heard.  The big disappointment, however, was the fact that nothing from the genever family was represented among the gin varieties. 




I began this year’s tasting with Breuckelen Distilling Gin.  The name is pronounced like the borough of New York City, “Brooklyn” – no coincidence, because that’s where it’s made.  The reason for the spelling is a bit of a nod to history – the borough of Brooklyn was originally named “Breuckelen” by the Dutch, its founders.  Eventually, the spelling changed to “Brooklyn”, as it is referred to today.  Breuckelen Gin is 90 proof, utilizing ginger and grapefruit among its botanicals, in addition to the standard juniper.  They highly recommend using their product in classic cocktails such as a Martinez or Negroni.  Recently, The New York Times published an article about the controversy between this Sunset Park based company and a competitor by a similar name, Brooklyn Gin; I asked the company representative about this but she said that she was under a gag order and was therefore unable to comment.  If you’re interested in reading more about this story, here’s a link to the Times’ piece:


Pride of Place in Every Drop 


Second was Seneca Drums Gin, from the Finger Lakes region of New York.  An 86 proof gin, it claims 11 botanicals including lemon and orange peels, dill, black pepper, anise and cucumber in addition to juniper.  They served a tasty and refreshing cocktail called The Corpse Reviver which may be made as follows:

  • 1 oz. Seneca Drums Gin
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. Lillet blanc
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon
  • 1-3 drops absinthe or pastis (they used Pernod)

Combine all ingredients, shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with a cherry.

Next up was DH Krahn Gin.  Made in Mountainview, California, this 80 proof gin’s botanicals include both lemon and orange peel in addition to grapefruit peel as well as Thai ginger and juniper.  I tried it both on its own and in a martini with dry vermouth; alone, it had something of a tangy taste, which I’m somewhat unaccustomed to with a gin.  If this is kind of flavor is something you might not find too off-putting, then Krahn might be worth a try.

This was followed by Hayman’s Old Tom Gin.  Finally, a true London gin!  This was served two ways – on its own and in a Martinez.  Another 80 proof gin, this was made by people who used to work for Beefeater, the oldest gin.  On its own, Hayman’s owes its remarkably sweet taste to the sugar that is used as one of its ingredients; because of this, I could imagine just sipping this with a little ice on a summer day, without any tonic water.  Botanicals include citrus, anise and coriander, among others. 

Have you ever heard of something called a gin liqueur?  Well, to be honest, neither have I – until this day, when I was treated to Averell Damson, which indeed bills itself as a gin liqueur.  Like Seneca Drums, this also comes from Finger Lakes, New York.  At 66 proof, it has a lower alcohol content precisely because it is a liqueur, but compared to other liqueurs, it’s relatively high in alcohol.  You wouldn’t know it was a gin by looking at it because it’s so dark – getting the color from plums, which give it a rather strong scent.  The manufacturer recommends this as a digestif, or after-dinner drink. 

A very familiar London dry gin was next – Bulldog, a perennial participant in the Martini Bowl, frequent winner, and long time personal favorite of mine.  Most notable for its wonderfully prominent citrus taste, this 80 proof gin was served in a cocktail called The London Cider – two parts warmed apple cider, one part gin and a little cinnamon.  Unfortunately, the cider overwhelmed the gin and I thought the drink was a little weak; if you want to try making it yourself, you might want to try it with equal parts of cider and gin so you can taste more of the liquor.  An even better cocktail for Bulldog – and one you needn’t wait until summer for – is London Lemonade:  fill a shaker with ice, then add 2-3 ounces of lemon juice (freshly squeezed, if possible), 2 ounces of Bulldog and 1 ounce of St-Germain elderflower liqueur – shake, then pour into a Collins glass and top with a sparkling wine of your choice.

Comb 9 Gin had the highest alcohol content of any gin presented on this afternoon at 94 proof.  Made here in New York, it distinguishes itself as the world’s only gin distilled from honey.  It was served in a cocktail called Boardwalk Empire, although why and how they felt it had a connection with the HBO TV show by the same name, I honestly have no idea whatsoever.  If you want to try your hand at it, however, here’s the recipe:

  • 2 ounces Comb 9 Gin
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • 3/4 ounce of St-Germain Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 5 raspberries


Muddle the raspberries and grapefruit juice in a shaker.  Add vermouth, St-Germain and Comb 9; fill the shaker with ice, then shake for 20 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass.  For those of you who don’t like grapefruit juice or simply aren’t allowed to drink it (any fellow Lipitor patients out there?), they recommend substituting the grapefruit juice with lemon juice. 

Finally, there was Scotland’s offering, Hendrick’s Gin.  An 88 proof gin, this is not exactly what I would refer to as a “starter” gin for people who may be new to the spirit – while I like it, I must admit that it’s something of an acquired taste because it’s unusually spicy for a gin.  It was served in an utterly outstanding cocktail, once again utilizing my favorite liqueur, St-Germain; the drink was called Hendrick’s Elderflower Martini and can be made as follows:

  • 2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
  • 1/2 ounce St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 3-5 dashes of orange bitters (they used Regan’s)

Directions are pretty straightforward – everything (except the bitters) goes into a shaker of ice; shake and strain into a cocktail (martini) glass, then add the bitters.  This one is an absolute MUST – people who tried it were recommending it to others so strongly that they skipped the order of the tasting just to try this cocktail … and I don’t blame them.  I highly recommend this one. 

So who officially won this year’s Martini Bowl?  Quite frankly, I have no idea.  However, my choice for the day – the one I bought, given the tasting promoted all of the spirits with a 15% discount for the day – was Hayman’s Old Tom Gin.  As for the vodka?  Well, maybe I’ll get to those next year.

That’s about it for this year’s Martini Bowl.  Until next time, as usual, please remember the immortal words of the great French philosopher Rene Descartes, who said, “I drink, therefore, I am!”

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