Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Obsession with Juniper Berries

It started at the Zig Zag Cafe. I thought I hated Gin, but then I had it without tonic. It turns out that I hate tonic. The Zig Zag is an amazing bar with an equally amazing bartender. About a year ago, my friend Robin and I got an education from the bartender, Murray, on all things Gin. I had a cocktail that night called the Aviation. It's an old recipe, but one that highlights the great aromatic qualities of Gin. It's mixed with Creme de Violette, lemon and Maraschino liquor. Murray also gave us a taste of Dry Fly Gin from Spokane. I liked it. A lot. There was something appealing about the woodsy, floral - almost eucalyptus, flavor of Gin that really surprised me.

A few months later, I tried a Vesper cocktail. Again. The Gin. Plus some Vodka and Lillet Blanc mixed in for an amazingly sweet but herbal cocktail.

Next, I bought some Gin for my home bar. Then, I started drinking Gin martinis. I was hooked on Gin, without entirely realizing that a large part of its appeal comes from juniper.

I tried mixing Gin with soda, but found that Gin really came to life when mixed with something with enough floral flavors to stand up to the flavors of Gin. Sure, a slice of cucumber or lemon twist helps, but I knew there had to be something more interesting than soda - but less disgusting than tonic - to mix with Gin.

Enter Dry Soda, based in Seattle. I first read about this company a couple of years ago and have seen their sodas popping up on menus around town. I bought a sampler of their four initial flavors last summer: lemongrass, lavender, kumquat and rhubarb. They were all amazing. I'd say I liked the lemongrass and lavender flavors the least, but could see how they would be tasty with the right meal or mixed into the right drink. The rhubarb was good, but then I tried the kumquat. And then I tried with kumquat with...you guessed it, Gin. Bingo. They were born to be together.

So, with my appreciation for Gin fully matured...I started noticing it everywhere. My February/March issue of Fine Cooking came in the mail with a cocktail recipe. They hardly ever have cocktail recipes in that magazine. But they did in that issue, a recipe for a Gin cocktail. The Martinez is thought to be the predecessor of the Martini. It is made with Gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur and bitters. It looks like my beloved Manhattan, but pow! It's Gin. And it's delicious.

In February, Seattle Magazine had a great article about the craft distillery explosion taking place in Washington State. Turns out that Dry Fly isn't the only local distillery making Gin. It also turns out that I can support local businesses and enjoy Gin at the same time.

It's now been over a year since I first embraced Gin, and I have started to take it for granted. I got a bottle of Hendricks for my birthday and have been ordering Gin cocktails (instead of my usual Bourbon) for months. In the last week though, a veritable onslaught of juniper bombarded me. Notice I say juniper and not Gin.

It started when I went to buy some Dry Soda and noticed a new flavor on the shelves...Juniper. It took a quick inner monologue for me to realize what I was dealing with. It went something like this, "Juniper, that's that hedge most people want to rip out of their yard. Oh, and there are juniper berries too. My parents sometimes use those in Scandinavian dishes. Juniper, yeah. Wha...wait. Juniper...that is what's in GIN." Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!

I tried the juniper Dry Soda - plain, out of the bottle last night. It was delicious. Kind of subtle and more sweet than I expected. Of course, I expected to mix it with Gin, but decided against it. I will definitely buy it again...perhaps in bulk, as I can imagine myself sitting on the deck on sunny Saturday afternoons sipping on Gin/Juniper cocktails. Gin and tonics are so 20th century...

The onslaught continued when the newspaper had an article about craft distilleries too. A distillery in Woodinville - practically my backyard - makes Gin. And good Gin at that. Somehow I missed this distillery in the other article. It's so close I could even ride my bike there!

Then, the food editor of the newspaper wrote about Dry Soda's juniper flavor on her blog. She suggests substituting it for tonic in your Gin cocktail too.

And finally, in the Sunday paper there was an article titled Juniper berries can add pop to everything from sauerkraut to virgin gin. That did it. Juniper is part of my culinary zeitgeist now. I may even try making the virgin gin recipe from the article. It would at least make Vodka more interesting....

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