Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Mourning Cocktail

I was recently in London for the launch of Beefeater 24, the venerable old gin distillery's new creation, and its bid to compete in the super-premium gin category—the world of Tanqueray 10 and (shudder) Bombay Sapphire.

The new gin is the work of Beefeater master distiller Desmond Payne. It's funny to think that this is the first distillate Payne has ever come up with, given that he's spent 40 years making gin, first at Plymouth, then at Beefeater. But such is the case, and it's hard to imagine a more experienced hand going at the task.

Not to take away from Payne's achievement, which is considerable, but the formula of Beefeater 24 is pretty simple. He basically took the botanical cocktail found in regular Beefeater (including Lemon and Orange peel, Juniper, Angelica Root, Angelica Seeds, Coriander Seeds, Liquorice, Almonds, Orris Root), and added three new botanicals: Japanese Sencha tea, Chinese Green teas and Spanish grapefruit peel. Tea is fairly pronounced on the nose and palate of the resultant brew, as you might guess (though it was the foundation of the familiar Beefeater bouquet that struck me first when I dunked my nose into the glass). And there's a singular, subtle tannic hit in the finish, which is very long. It makes for an interesting gin, a thought-provoking gin, and certainly a gin unlike any other I've encountered.

I was given many opportunities to sample the 24 in various cocktails, of course. I was surprised how well it showed in a basic Gin & Tonic; the tea element added an interior layer of depth to a drink that can be a pretty simple affair, taste-wise. It works really well in this cocktail. As for a Martini made with 24, my attitude made a progress through a couple nights. The first time I drank one, I liked it, but was troubled by the fact that the drink was rendered so every-so-slightly unusual that I keep thinking about how it tasted rather then simply enjoying the way it tasted. The following night, however, when I had another such Martini, I admired it much more. It had a regal bearing, a certain weight to it, and I liked the flavor edge the 24 gave the cocktail rather than being simply distracted by it. I suspect I will grow more fond of 24 Martinis as I continue to sample them.

The launch offered more unfamiliar cocktails, devised by the likes of Sasha Petraske and Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. A couple drinks emphasized the tea aspect of 24 by adding further tea-influenced ingredients. These were not my favorites. I felt they took the wrong tack; by pointing emphatically to the tea botanicals, the libations made 24 out to be a more simplistic product that it is. (They also made for unpleasantly tannic cocktails.) My thoughts are still percolating on the matter, but I have a feeling that 24 will perform best when it takes a step back in a cocktail, adding a flavor dimension that informs, but does not bully or command, the tastebuds—exactly as it did in the Gin & Tonic.

Following these thoughts, I paged through a book of classic gin cocktails, looking for one that might welcome 24 as a playmate. I stopped at the Obituary Cocktail. Of course, I thought. Moreso than a Martini, 24 need not have the pressure of bearing the weight of the drink's success on its shoulders. It has both vermouth and absinthe to contend with. Plus the various herbs and plants in absinthe might marry well with the botanical mix in absinthe.

I mixed one up, using 2 oz. of 24, 1/4 oz. of vermouth and 1/4 oz. of absinthe (I used the Pernod, which I'm liking best these days). Sure enough, it was the best Obituary Cocktail I had ever stirred, one of dignity and profundity, one with a lot going on. I'm no great mixologist, but I figure the use of the new Beefeater 24 instead of regular gin is a change of ingredients of sorts, so I gave the drink a new name: The Mourning Cocktail. (Mourning as in Obituary, and also a play on Morning, as in when you might drink tea.)

Here's the recipe:


2 oz. Beefeater 24
1/4 oz. dry vermouth
1/4 oz. Pernod absinthe

I'll probably be writing some more about Beefeater 24 in the future—it's now on the shelves in the UK, but won't reach the U.S. until March—but those are thoughts for now. Until I see how it works in a Bijou.

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