You can see it now. The backdrop is the inside an old red-brick building housing a gleaming modern copper still. The guy, wearing skinny jeans and an old check shirt, is mid 30s with a beard of which Grizzly Adams would be proud. He is holding a glass up to the light, as if he is inspecting a rare diamond for clarity. He’s not, he’s looking at one of the easiest to produce spirits, gin.
In recent years, here in Ireland, there has been an explosion in craft distilleries all wanting to produce excellent Irish whiskey. The problem with excellent whiskey is that it takes many years in the barrel to mature. The lad in the check shirt may want to produce whiskey, but, he has to eat. He can’t afford to wait for years so he does one of two things. He creates an ‘artisinal’ whiskey brand and buys in trade spirit to get him over the few years while his own stuff is in the barrel. Alternately he makes gin to pay the bills while his fledgling whiskey business gets maturing.
Side note on gin bull: When a gin producer talks about “botanicals” many revere his (or her) great understanding of spirit lore and art. “Botanical” means ‘relating to plants’. One adds juniper berries and a few other things to flavour the spirit. There really is little mystique about it. By grouping the flavourings as ’botanicals’ raises the ‘art’ to a level beyond its merit.
Gin has become a real trendy drink here in Dublin. I see hipsters (and others) swilling it, from vast balloon glasses with far too much ice, arguing the merits of the various brands and also the fresh botanicals that should be added by the barman.
I had a bowl of gin recently in a top hotel on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green. It was served with three large slices of cucumber. I was told it was the best one can get (Hendrick’s and Fever Tree). All I could taste was cucumber. Cold, vaguely alcoholic, fizzy cucumber. I could have bought a large box of cucumbers for the price we paid.
Others regale me with tales of gin and tonic with grapefruit or chilli or even strawberries. I have tried some of these and remain unimpressed. To my mind, this is the worst excess of fashion and the gin thing will pass as soon as the bearded ones get some whiskey out of the barrel and manage to sell that as having some heritage.
In the meantime, here’s a recipe for Pork Belly, Juniper and Gin.
- 1.25kg pork belly (free range, rare breed, top quality)
- 3 teaspoons juniper berries
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 measure (Irish size 35mm) gin
- Zest of a lime
Pour a kettle of boiling water over the skin of the pork. This tightens it and helps with later crisping. Pat it dry with paper towels. Cut a diamond pattern in the skin. Grind the juniper berries with the salt and pepper.
Rub the meat all over with the mixture. Zest the lime and rub this all over the meat too.
Place it in a roasting pan. Pour the measure of gin over the meat. Leave it to rest in a fridge for a couple of hours. Oil the skin side of the meat (I used spray oil).
Place it in a 220ºC oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 180ºC and roast for a further 40 minutes. If necessary, turn the heat back up for the final ten minutes to really crisp the skin. Remove from the oven and let it rest for ten minutes.
Make a gin based gravy from the pan juices if you wish. The juniper makes for a lovely umami sauce. Slice and dish out the pork. It is really wonderful.
Serve it with whatever vegetable takes your fancy. Just don’t serve it with cucumber. Please, no cucumber. Some fool will make it a fashion thing….
Footnote on making a decent gin and tonic.
You will need the following:
- A highball glass
- A measure and a half (about 50ml) of good gin
- Lots of ice cubes
- A small bottle of tonic
- A lime
Place the glass in your freezer for 10 minutes. Take it out and fill it to about 3/4 full with ice. Add the gin. Rub the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime. Add it to the glass. Add the tonic of your choice. Enjoy a gin and tonic as it should be. I’m not trying to be prescriptive here but, some of the nonsense that’s going on with gin, fruits and vegetables needs to be called for what it is. Nonsense.