Thursday, March 20, 2008

We Get Mail

The other day, unbidden, a bottle of gin arrived at the door. The doorbell ran, I went downstairs, signed off with the UPS mail. My wife said, "What was it?" "Gin," I said. It was Zuidam, a Dutch-born gin that's been on the market for a few years. The company offers a dry gin and a Genever gin (the kind the Dutch drink—and that I love), both made by distiller Fred van Zuidam.

Zuidam is made in a somewhat different way that other gins. Where most potions distill their botanicals all together in a bunch, Zuidam distills each of its nine botanicals separately and then creates a blend of all nine, the way a winemaker would create a blend from various vats of wine made from different varietals. Fair enough. Sounds like an interesting approach. The nine botanicals Zuidam uses are Juniper berries and iris root from Italy; coriander from Morocco; angelica root; oranges and lemons from Spain; whole bean vanilla from Madagascar; licorice root from India; and cardamom pods from Ceylon.

I was sent the dry gin. I assumed they meant for me to try it, so I did. I first made a Gibson—a simple enough cocktail that I thought would show off the gin's qualities. First off, there was a lot going in in the olfactory department. Juniper, lemon, orange, cardamon and vanilla were all coming through strongly. There was plenty going on in the palate, too. It had a creamy mouthfeel (as the wine folks say), with a citrus pinch from the lemon and lime. A smooth, milky, silky Gibson.

Truthfully, it made me think of all the souped-up vodkas you see today. And the Gibson reminded me of a vodka Gibson or Martini. It was too slick, too surface, too whoring after my attention and taste buds. I like a more austere, subtle gin; or, if it must be showy spirit, I like a unique one like Hendrick's, which features flavors you'd never expect in vodka. The presence of vanilla should have been a tip-off as to Zuidam's approach. According to press materials, the makers are quite proud of their unusual use of vanilla in a gin. It's a flavor wine and spirit makers reach for when they want to make a sudden and unsubtle impact.

I wanted to give Zuidam another chance. I thought it might perform better as part of a richer, more complex drink, so I fixed myself a Ramos Gin Fizz. Sure enough, the riot of flavors in Zuidam worked better as part of the creamy, zesty carnival that is an RG Fizz. It was contributing an extra component to the cocktail that was not unwelcome. I will continue experimenting with the gin.

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