By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
It’s unlikely that you know the name “Hugh Williams”. Yet, as Master Distiller of Tanqueray/Gordon’s, Hugh was instrumental in maintaining the modern London Dry flavor profile until his retirement a few years back. I was lucky enough to work with Hugh while researching my history of gin book (in stores spring 2012!!). Frankly, I could not have written it without his generous and vital input. Hugh schooled me in the essential botanicals from the point-of-view of a distiller, not a textbook. He related stories he had heard about the London Blitz during World War II that left the distillery in ruins and shared his exhaustive, personal research into the history of Gordon’s. He read the chapters on Britain and British gin, offering valuable tweaks and comments.
But enough about his knowledge. I love Hugh for far more reasons than that. Along with being a Master Distiller, he is a home winemaker and gourmet cook; our e-mails would often be exchanges about last night’s dinner (as he says, “I can’t get away from recipes.”) or a new bottle of vino. Anyone who loves food and drink like Hugh is a man to cherish. Further, he is opinionated, as you will see below in his answers; no newfangled products for Hugh, he is an old school gin man through and through. But most of all, he has the most delightful sense of humor I know. Hugh, you are a brilliant teacher, a proper gentleman and a friend.
By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” – Patrick Suskind, Perfume
In the Bay of Bengal lies an archipelago of islands known as the Andamans. The sea breeze flows across the warm, tropical sands and rainfall come heavily during monsoon season. The islands are home to the aboriginal Ongee people, whose lives are structured not by what they see or feel or hear, but by what they smell: the shifting odors of the various flowers as they bloom create a literal “calendar of scents” that chart the year. Each season is named for a specific odor; each season has a unique “aroma-force”. Moreover, the Ongee don’t ask “How are you?”, but rather, “How is your nose?” as a form of greeting. Their world is defined by how it smells.
This past week, for Mixology Monday, we challenged colleagues to create a drink around the theme “Come to Your Senses”. And, while visual presentation played a major role, it’s no surprise that many of the drinks relied on our sense of smell with smoke-filled glassware, aromatic herbs like mint and basil, and potent ingredients like orange flower water and hops. There’s no question that a cocktail that smells good tastes even better.
a 12 Bottle Bar original
3 oz Gin-Key Lime Sorbet
2-3 dozen Micro Melon Balls
2 oz Leopold’s Gin
4 oz Tonic
1 large stalk Mint
Make the sorbet per the Hot-Frozen Gin Fizz recipe, substituting key lime juice for the lemon
Scoop out the melon balls, making them small enough to fit through the boba straw
When the sorbet is ready, add approximately 3 ounces of it to the bottom of a large glass
Return the glass to the freezer, allowing the sorbet to set and the glass to thoroughly chill
Just before serving, add the melon balls to the glass
When serving, pre-mix the gin and tonic, then add to the glass
Add the mint and boba straw
* * *
If there’s one thing I can tell you, having run through a number of drinks for today’s Mixology Monday post, it’s that if you’re dead set on serving your drink in a scientific beaker or flask, don’t make the drink yellow. It’s a small point but one which I quickly realized as I poured a pineapple syrup-based cocktail into my vessel of choice. As this month’s theme is “Come to Your Senses” – chosen by us, given that Paul Clarke was kind enough to allow us to host the August mixer – and the goal is to create a drink which inspires a sense beyond just taste, a beaker full of frothy golden liquid arouses reactions best left unspoken.
Fortunately for everyone involved, we ditched the pineapple and went in a different direction. As the ones who set the theme, we of course figured that we should challenge ourselves to incorporate as many of the five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing – as possible into our entry. This meant breaking out the molecular mixology playbook and working our way through gels, foams, mists, solids, cotton candy, deconstruction, reconstruction, and many other big words. After several false starts and abandoned recipes (the pineapple concoction), we decided to think outside the science kit.
The road winding above the rocky seaside had been so twisty and the night so endlessly black that Jonathan Harker himself may well have turned around, assuming that no good could be met at the end of such a journey. Yet there, in the warm salty air of a Costa Brava summer night, the spark for 12 Bottle Bar was lit as Lesley and I cozied up behind a table at what was the most unassuming, yet exclusive restaurant in the world. El Bulli. It’s been said that each year, somewhere between 800,000 and several million people (depending upon which source you believe) applied for the 8,000 reservations available annually; yet, despite all the clamor and all the accolades, El Bulli was a money loser, and, after 24 years, chef/owner Ferran Adria finally announced that he would be scuttling the restaurant in pursuit of new horizons. Well, the final weekend of the great El Bulli is here, and we couldn’t let it pass by without an appropriate salute of appreciation and gratitude. Continue reading