Back at the turn of the century, a bunch of Irish friends were making semi-regular trips to France to purchase wine by the bootload. They’d make a weekend of it, stretch out the buying spree to include everything French. I was never invited for two reasons (a) I didn’t drink wine and (b) I didn’t like olives. The fact that I wasn’t living in the country then may also have had something to do with it.
Around the same time, in Oxford, the one and only RG, talked me into sharing a bottle of white wine with him one evening and the rest, as the man says, is history. But I’ve never quite mastered any sort of appreciation for red wine, partly due to an overindulgence in hot port in Anchorage one evening that has left me marked for life. I can’t sit beside an open bag of wine gums without feeling nauseous.
Early this month, I was in Castle Leslie with said same Irish friends. As we sat down to a five-course dinner in our private dining room, it was soon clear that everyone but me was drinking red wine. What to do? Get a bottle of white for myself? I couldn’t be that obvious.
I’d been a little late to dinner so missed the cocktail order. Instead, I chose one of the 88 gins from an extensive menu curated by Food and Beverages Manager John Matthews. No. 209. From the only distillery in the world that is ‘situated over water’. Based on Pier 50 in San Francisco, it’s quadruple distilled and gets its name from the fact that it’s the 209th distillery to be licensed in the states. And it was rather delicious. [Note to anyone interested: I have a birthday coming up this year!]
Matthews dropped by to see how we were all doing (the service in CL is second to none) and asked if anyone was on the gin. Of course I was. And then he rocked my world by telling me that it’s his belief that gin can accompany a meal just was well as wine. Imagine. A different gin every course. Who needs wine, I thought to myself. I’d be happy to be a guinea pig for this little experiment.
My 209 went rather nicely with venison starter. But for mains, I was torn between the beef and the pork (pork belly and pigs cheek). For the beef, he recommended an English gin from Birmingham’s Langley distillery – Botanic (served with lime and juniper berries). Or was it the Scottish Botanist (served with thyme and lemon)? And for the pork, it was another English number, the single-distilled Hoxton gin. Made using only alcohol from French summer wheat (who knew?) its recipe includes coconut, grapefruit, juniper, iris, tarragon and ginger. This I had to try. So I went for the pork and savoured the gin. And while it was certainly different, the No. 209 was still winning.
I’m a great lover of cannoli and can’t pass it up on those rare occasions it makes a dessert menu. And for this, it was another American gin – Deaths Door (served with pear and cracked coriander. And while the spirit was willing, the body was weak. I was tired, too tired to appreciate another gin. Looking it up later, I see that it has had mixed reviews. And I also see that it’s in Wisconsin, a part of the world I will be in pretty soon – so I might just have to visit in person.
It was a lovely experiment and one I could repeat. I’d have to eat slower though and take longer between courses. Gin isn’t something to be rushed.
It’s been a week crammed with fine dining and notable wines – a good week that included a Black Tie event, some good theatre, and plenty of socialising. Add this to lasting memories of Matthew’s Gin Menu (featuring gins from Ireland, Holland, Australia, Colombia, Spain, Germany, England, Scotland, France, Norway, and the USA) and I have plenty to be grateful for. He also tipped me off to the Ginvent calendar from the Masters of Malt who can send a sample bottle of new gin for every day in Advent. Did I mention that I have a birthday coming up this year 🙂