Countries, like people, have their favourite tipple. Gin is probably best associated with England, the country that gave it birth back in the late seventeenth century. Some 30 years later, London had 1500 working stills and more than 6000 places to buy gin. Over the years, its popularity waned. Vodka and whiskey took over. Yes, it had occasional flits with fame. Who doesn’t remember the line from the movie Casablanca when Bogart’s Rick Blaine wonders: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
In the last couple of years, gin has been enjoying quite the revival in Britain with gin parlours opening up all over the place and craft distilleries experimenting with botanical additives. [Useless fact: statistics show that the Philippines is the country with the world’s highest per capita gin consumption… I’d never have made that association.]
There is something very stiff-upper-lippish about the G&T that goes hand in hand with the upper-class insouciance so redolent in period pieces. I think it’s the tonic that promotes it from the working-class gin-swiller to the pre-prandial gentry. And even tonics are enjoying regeneration. But perhaps the heat is getting to me.
I was once rather fond of my gin, with Ireland’s Cork Dry Gin my bottle of choice. Anyone visiting me from home would be asked to include a bottle along with the Tayto crisps and the Barry’s teabags. In Alaska, I was introduced to Bombay Sapphire, and later in London, it was the quintessential Gordons.
I’ve just come back from a trip to the UK that took in Oxford, Durham, Bath, St Ives, and Bristol, a trip on which I rediscovered the joys of the juniper. The standard fare of Tanqueray and Hendricks (both produced in Scotland) are still on the shelves, but beside them are craft gins like Tarquin (Cornwall) and Brennan and Brown (Cheltenham). And the question of the day is how they should be served. Lime, cucumber, orange peel, and lemon, respectively. [Brennan and Brown already comes with an interesting hint of ginger.] I’m now particularly fond of Tarquin, served in a balloon glass with some orange-peel ice cubes. Another craving has been born.
Other countries have their favourites, too. Cachaça in Brazil. Rum in Barbados. Rakija in Serbia. Each nation has its special spirit, a liquid thread in the fabric of its cultural make-up. Coincidentally, Ethiopia and Eritrea have a fondness for a honey-mead wine known as tej (which is also Hungarian for milk).
In Ireland, summer is typically cider time. The weather is too hot (if you can call 24 degrees hot!) for Guinness. The nights are too long for shorts. And if you retire to the pub on a sunny afternoon after a hike or a walk or a bike ride, you want something long and cold. Cider, particularly Bulmers (known to the rest of the world as Magners because of some weird branding issue), served in a pint glass over ice would seem to be the choice of many. I know it’s mine.
Here in Hungary, with the temperatures soaring into the high 30s, the seven types of wine spritzer are even more popular than usual, with the hosszúlépés (1 dl wine: 2 dl soda) giving way to the vice házmester (2 dl wine: 3 dl soda) as more liquid intake is needed. Bottles of rosé and siphons of szoda are commonplace in a country where even the most he of he-men thinks nothing of drinking a girly drink in public. And that’s refreshing in more ways than one.
First published in the Budapest Times 24 July 2015