Laura Macfehin tries three different New Zealand gins in three classic cocktails— the Gimlet, the Gibson and the dangerously coy Orange Blossom!
After being almost completely replaced by vodka in the late sixties, gin has had a real upswing in popularity in the last decade. Crafty folks in distilleries around the globe have brought gin back into favour with small batch runs using old methods and new interesting botanicals. Not one to be left out of the party New Zealand has been producing some fine gins using some of our own native flora to give it a distinctly antipodean flair.
Here’s looking at you…
I was first introduced to gimlets by Philip Marlowe, who, in The Long Goodbye, bonds with the sad and unreliable Terry Lennox at Victor’s bar over the correct way the cocktail should be prepared. Lennox complains to Marlowe that “they don’t know how to make them here… [w]hat they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else.” And that melancholic reflection on the state of their drinks stands in for a lament for a lost code of conduct amongst men; one that has left Marlowe and Lennox adrift as throwbacks out of step with the time they are living in.
Obviously reading Chandler 40 years after it came out and in the maudlin atmosphere of the late 90s I could identify with melancholic throwbacks; and so buoyed by the two-ingredient ease of achieving something so evocatively authentic I threw my arms around the gimlet and did not look back. Their simplicity made them easy to order even in bars not versed in cocktail culture, and after many iterations over the years I agree with Lennox that the 1:1 recipe of gin to Roses Lime is still supreme. If you do ever want to get fancy on it the best way I think is just to get a really nice gin and make your own cordial.
Reid-ing you loud and clear
Reid+Reid is a really nice gin. Actually it is a really, really nice gin. So nice that after buying a bottle on a Friday by Monday (and with help from my very game family as testers) there was only about 2oz left in the bottle. Still that is enough for a gimlet so I tipped it in a shaker with some ice-cubes, added the required cordial , stirred briskly and strained into a glass. Reid+Reid gin is not the only New Zealand gin using native botanicals but (and please correct me if I’m wrong) it is the only one using three—horopito, manuka and kawakawa. The manuka has an almost medicinal herbiness that plays very nicely with the standard gin flavours of juniper and coriander, while the horopito and kawakawa add a peppery punchiness. It is a very sophisticated drink and makes a gimlet that is not so much ‘jaded-detective-in-a-dive-bar’ as ‘newly-single-Betty-Draper-in-Manhattan’. Very good.
Okay—there are people who will say that putting a pickled onion in your drink is uncouth and makes you some kind of monster. There may also be some significant overlap in the people who say this and people who will be up against the wall after the revolution. Because I contest that the Gibson is one of the very finest cocktail creations of last century. As with most early 20th century cocktails there is debate over how this came about but quite possibly it was named after the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson who asked his bartender for something a little different and had an onion instead of an olive plopped in his martini. Because that is what a Gibson is really—a martini with an onion in it. A statement which belies how incredibly yum this drink is!
To get this drink right you do need to follow a few simple rules. As with a martini everything needs to be very cold. Your vermouth should be in the fridge already, but put your shaker, glass and even your gin in the freezer until everything is nice and chilly. Because I like being able to taste the vermouth I make my Gibsons a little ‘wetter’ than I make my martinis. Rogue Society is an extremely smooth gin just right for Gibson mixing—the mix of botanicals is strong enough to stand up to the higher quantity of vermouth without fighting with it. It comes in a very appealing bottle—easily achieving Cary Grant levels of suavity while having a heft that could come in handy should the night get too bumpy.
My perfect mix for Gibsons is 1 ¾ oz gin to 1 ½oz vermouth—almost a 1:1 ratio. Stir in your cold shaker with a couple of ice-cubes and strain into your chilled glass. Finally, skewer 1 or 2 tiny, perfectly crunchy cocktail onions and drop them in. This is not the moment for your big, mushy pickled onions. They have to be crisp and zingy like Bette Davis delivering a barbed one liner. Seriously I love Gibsons so much they might even be my desert island cocktail. So unless you have a serious aversion to onions I ask you not to knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em.
Laid back… (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind)
Last but by no means least on the list is the flapper favourite- the Orange Blossom! Well before Snoop got in on the act Americans were sippin’ on gin and juice prohibition style. The Orange Blossom has a somewhat notorious part in popular culture—despite the innocent name the orange blossom has been present in some less than lugubrious circumstances—perhaps simply because it was such a go to in the 1920s. Legend has it that Zelda Fitzgerald was found wandering lost on a golf course after drinking a thermos of orange blossoms. Zelda was singing “You can throw a silver dollar upon ground, And it’ll roll, because it’s round…” which you can’t really argue with. This actually happened to me with a thermos of orange blossoms many years ago—although it was my own living room not a golf course. Zelda was singing “You can throw a Silver dollar upon ground, And it’ll roll, because it’s round…” which you can’t really argue with.
Orange blossoms were also what Virginia Rappe reportedly got drunk on before her scandalous death in the room of Fatty Arbuckle in 1921, and what director William Desmond Taylor drank with Mabel Normand just hours before his (to this day unsolved) murder in 1922. Recipes abound for this seemingly simple drink—from a basic gin and orange juice combo to mixtures involving triple sec, orange blossom water, simple syrup, vermouth, lime juice and grenadine. My favourite falls somewhere in the middle—the only addition I like to make is vermouth (yeah I know—I always like to add vermouth). The main way in which to elevate this drink is with the juice component. This is one of those situations where fresh is best- freshly squeezed orange juice somehow sends this drink through the stratosphere – to the point where it becomes a different drink altogether.
Personally I think this drink is already sweet enough and pretty enough without the addition of simple syrup or grenadine. Instead, squeeze yourself 1 ½ oz orange (mandarin is also yummy) juice. Add to an ice filled shaker or mixing glass with 1 ½ oz gin and 1 ½ oz vermouth. Lighthouse Gin is perfect for orange blossoms—with naval orange and lemon notes it is has a wonderful citrussy base already. One of New Zealand’s original small batch gins Lighthouse is a fabulous all-rounder; something that early Hollywood innovators would have approved of I am sure! Swizzle your orange blossom, strain into a glass, and try not to get into any trouble.
Disclaimer! I have no affiliation with any of these companies and bought all my own booze myself. I will always tell when goods reviewed have been gifted and my opinions are always my own!
Let me know what you think- have any New Zealand made spirits impressed you recently? What is your favourite classic cocktail?
For more info on the gins mentioned here, check out
If you are interested in the William Desmond Taylor case I can recommend the book on King Vidor’s investigation into his murder ‘A Cast of Killers‘ by Sidney Kirkpatrick as a starting point.