The first seminar I attended at Tales of the Cocktail this year was called “Prohibition & Gin” but I think perhaps a better title might have been “Gin & Prohibition.” It was mostly a history of gin, with Prohibition as simply one chapter in the story. That was a minor disappointment, as I find the Prohibition experiment very interesting, but that’s a mere quibble, as the seminar was quite fascinating.
Simon Ford was the ringleader. David Wondrich and Nick Strangeway played supporting roles.
In this session, I learned that gin is like Quaalude — that is to say, it was a purported aid to health that no one really took for health reasons. I also learned that William of Orange brought gin to popularity in England after the Glorious Revolution; that early gin was often flavored with turpentine; that vodka became more popular than gin (in the USA, I think) in 1967, the year I was born; and that Snoop Dogg is the godfather of gin.
We discussed the popularity and reputed medicinal uses of the juniper berry. We passed some around and smelled them, which was new to me. What do they smell like? They smell like gin.
And we tasted a variety of gins.
We started with Genever and moved on to Old Tom and Plymouth and then a facsimile of “bathtub gin” which had been concocted by adding juniper essence to moonshine.
What about Prohibition? It seems that these dark days in America were actually a boon to the rest of the world. Outlawing booze created a diaspora, as it were, with bartenders and the like fleeing the States and taking their craft abroad. It’s sort of like Prohibition was a big swizzle stick that mixed up the global cocktail culture. This was very interesting; I only wish they’d spent more time on this particular era.
We sampled some Beefeater as an example of a classic London dry gin, and to cap it all off we had a Satan’s Whiskers cocktail, which was of course delicious.
I also learned that nail polish remover is the national drink of Australia, but I think David may have been joking about that. I loved David’s story about ordering a dry gin martini as a young punk rocker.
David also referenced the notion of gin as “juniper flavored vodka.” More about that later.