I ordered a Martini last night. I was engaged in conversation and wasn’t watching the bartender as she poured me a stiff, ice-cold concoction that she then gingerly placed on the table in front of me. My mouth watered a little bit. But as I carefully raised the precariously filled glass to my lips, I could tell something was amiss.
“What kind of gin is this,” I asked?
“Ohhh,” came the reply, “you wanted a gin Martini…”
“Yes, please, a Martini with gin,” I said, as dryly as possible.
Few perfumes are as seductive as the aroma of the juniper berry. My co-worker Maggie Ruggiero also understands the pine-berries’ haunting coax: She braised beef short ribs in juniper-laden red wine to surprisingly sophisticated effect. The resin-heavy broth transforms would-be standard pub fare into a debutante’s delight of a dinner. It’s special. So special, in fact, that I decided to cook her recipe at home. After dinner, the only remains were the cleaned bones and 2 tablespoons of leftover juniper berries.
Of course, I would have saved the berries for the next time I cooked Maggie’s short ribs, except I was out of gin. So I decided to try and make some.
Making gin, as it turns out, is not so hard. There are several different methods and the simplest (also the one that does not include a complicated vapor infusion) is no more difficult than making iced tea: Soak juniper berries (available in the spice aisle of most grocery stores) and a handful of other spices in a neutral spirit (vodka), then strain and enjoy. You’ll end up with an unclarified, rustic version of London’s finest.
After only a few tries I have a recipe that I’m excited about. Its complexity rivals the finest gins on the market, some of which cost four times as much as a lowly bottle of vodka.
To find a recipe that works best for your taste, try adding different aromatics for different lengths of time. Just remember: Gin’s not gin without the juniper.
Ian’s Gin Recipe
1 (750ml) bottle of inexpensive vodka
2 Tbsp juniper berries
3/4 tsp coriander seed
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp fennel seed
3 green cardamom pods
2 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1 (3-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
1 (2-inch-long) fresh lemon or lime peel
1 (1-inch) sprig fresh lavender
Infuse juniper in the vodka overnight. Add remaining spices and herbs in the morning and let infuse all day. When you get home from work, strain out the botanicals and start making your favorite gin cocktails.