Some say, “You eat with your eyes.” I don’t know about you, but until my eyes start sporting incisors, I’ll continue to use my mouth. Especially when drinking cocktails.
I was recently at a bar that specialized in herbal concoctions and ordered a Rosemary Gimlet. I’ve been focusing a little more on gin these days, favoring an ice-cold martini over my usual whiskey or rye-based drinks. Partially because I was in the states and people kept making Manhattans and other cocktails way too sweet. One said-to-be reputable bar served me a Manhattan with extra maraschino cherry juice in the glass. If I wasn’t so respectful of bartenders, I would have lept over the bar and made her stop. What’s up with that?
I tend to like my cocktails on the tangy or on the rugged side, rather than too fruity or sweet. Herbs, I can go either way on. Rosemary in particular, is one of those herbs that if you use a little too much of it, the taste can be medicinal. But when I saw it paired with gin and lime juice on a bar menu in New York, I figured it would be a nice combination for a winter cocktail. And after my first sip, I was convinced that it was.
The only issue I had with the one that I’d ordered was that it was served in a thick glass, shaped like a deep cone tapering downward, resting on a base with no stem. It was more appropriate to what you might find at an airport lounge rather than an upscale cocktail bar, where drinks were going for $14 a pop, plus tax and tip. While chatting with the barman, I did mention that the cocktail was tasty, but the glass could have used an updating. He replied that that’s what they had on hand, which seemed a shame.
We may not be able to eat with our eyes (and if you can, please share a video…or, er, maybe not…), but how a cocktail tastes can depend on the glass. At least to me. Just like we all have our own favorite coffee cup, a cocktail glass provides a visceral experience that can’t always be explained. Wine pros will talk about how the shape of the glass focuses certain flavors of the wine to specific parts of your tongue that will enhance the experience, which is probably true. So is it too hard to want a cocktail in a proper glass? (And unless you’re from the south, hold the jam jars!)
A friend of mine told me about going to a swanky hotel in Manhattan for a martini, and her favorite part was the glass. She described it as having a curved shape, like a typical martini glass, but at the very top, right before the rim, the glass curved in just a little bit, which she reiterated with the tips of her index fingers cocking inwards. From that tiny gesture, I could tell exactly how that cold martini tasted as it slipped through her lips.
Ditto with a gimlet. Icy gin needs to be served in a stemmed glass, as your hands will warm the drink. When I’m roaming through thrift stores and flea markets, I pick up cocktail glasses when I see ones that interest me. For some reason, cocktail glasses tend to get broken more often than other glasses, which may be why some people just give up and use jam jars. (Spoiler: Those French “working glasses” that they sell for drinks in America, no one uses for drinks in France.) But being a thrifty guy, I buy cocktail glasses when they’re $1 a pop, if I can, and treat myself to a proper glass. Like the ones here that I bought at a Goodwill shop.
The name “Gimlet” sounds like something that might be sipped in a more genteel era, when the proper glass was de rigeur. Modern tastes now swap out fresh lime juice for the sweetened bottled stuff. And unless I didn’t get the memo, you can use any kind of gin that you like. I picked up this bottle of dry rye gin, made by St. George Spirits, perhaps hoping to capture some of the former glory of the rye whiskey-based Manhattans that I knew and loved so well.
I knew the Jörg Rupf, the German founder of the company, back when he was tinkering away with his oak barrels and distiller, in a hangar, making eau-de-vies and other spirits that few in America had ever heard of. (He once made a holly berry eau-de-vie that was kind of wacky, for Christmas. He also laughed about how little business he did: At the time, his biggest restaurant account went through 1/2 bottle of liquor every two months.) Now the company has shifted hands, right about the time cocktails reemerged in America, and seems to be going gangbusters.
Although Jörg has retired, the new team is doing some very interesting things, like this gin. I found the rye a bit too “present” for a martini, but was spot-on in this gimlet. But feel free to use a favorite gin, because you should always judge a liquor by the flavor, not by the bottle. Unless, of course, you drink with your eyes.
[This recipe is featured in my book Drinking French…now available!]