How to pair gin with dinner
I’m a gin drinker. When there was an explosion of crafted, nuanced and elegant gins in the UK, US and elsewhere, I quickly threw over my teenage crush of Gordons and Schweppes and ran off into the sunset with new gin loves; Hendricks, Plymouth, Tanqueray 10, No 3, Portobello Road, Sipsmith, Sacred and more, partnered with a tonic which sounds like it comes out of the African bush. Gin cocktails, when made well, can make the earth move. But my ‘go to’ is a Thursday night gin and tonic, with good crisps such as Kettle Chips. An aperitif yes – but paired with dinner instead of wine…. surely a recipe for a messy break up?
Jared Brown knows his gin. He knows his cocktails. In fact his knowledge about food, wine, distilling, cooking, history, marketing, writing, publishing, keeping chickens and all manner of topics, plus the odd juicy and totally unprintable story, make him a mesmerising raconteur. His wife Anistatia Miller has a similarly formidable palate and intellect, and together they’ve written and published scores of titles on alcoholic drinks including the seminal and lauded two-volume Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink. Jared is Master Distiller for Sipsmith, the first gin distillery of its kind to open in London since 1820 (after which several more new traditional gin distillers have followed). He presided over our gin-centric dinner at the head of a long table in the private dining room at The Reform Social & Grill at the Lakes and accounted for his motivation and fascination with spirits by saying,
If I leave this world with people drinking better than they did my job will be done.
He’s bored by distillers who talk about the science, percentages and processes (although clearly he knows his stuff) and cites his training as a chef and his background in the restaurant trade as the driving force. “Gin, for me, starts with dirt underneath my fingernails.” He grows botanicals in his garden in the Cotswolds (he’s originally from upstate New York) but lost over a hundred varieties when he started rearing chickens, although he seems to have forgiven them, “Cute chickens, that like a cuddle.”
We start with a Red Snapper Granitée aka a gin-based Bloody Mary made with Portobello Road accompanied by a short history of the drink. It had the perfect balance of smooth, savoury and spice but without the usual oily, throat grazing vodka kick. This was paired with gin-cured salmon with cucumber and dill, an attractive if underwhelming dish. However, slightly sweet smoky fish and the flavours in the cocktail are known to be complementary – a Canadian cocktail variation called a Bloody Caesar is made with Clamato juice.
An excellent roast wood pigeon salad with hazelnut, chicory and gin vinaigrette followed with a glorious cocktail called a Martinez. Superceded by the Martini, this was all the rage in 1934 in New York where the most popular garnish was a hazelnut slowly steeped in Maraschino liqueur. Jared had speeded up the process to create some of the latter by using the restaurant’s sous vide machine. This cocktail is made with gin, sweet vermouth, a touch of Curaçao and sometimes orange bitters. The gin used was Chase Elegant which Jared compared to “a voluptuous farm girl with unshaven armpits; a slightly rough spirit in a world of over-smooth drinks”.
Our seared scallop with gin and honey butter was a very clever dish (usually I never choose scallops in Dubai), the herbal aromatics from three parts Noilly Prat vermouth in the Reverse Martini (a favourite drink of Julia Child) and the cardamon and grapefruit notes of London No. 3, from Berry, Brothers and Rudd, were a great match with fish.
Of all the food and drink pairings the moist, pink, grilled duck breast with pear and juniper and the Jai Alai, was the most surprising and stunning. Sacred Red Vermouth and Bols Genever 1820 have joined my gin wish list to recreate this mellow, plummy, aromatic cocktail with citrus notes, so perfect with the duck.
Sadly I had to leave before the pudding of chocolate tart with gin and lime paired with the Mr. Chaplin, a combination of Sipsmith Sloe Gin and Sipsmith VJOP (Very Junipery Over Proof). I consulted a friend afterwards but her memory was very hazy once it got to dessert! Jared continued to share his extensive knowledge and weave his web of spellbinding stories (some gossip column-worthy tales too) and, had I not been flying to Georgia that night, I would have stayed to soak up every last word along with every last drop of the magical concoctions.
Where to drink gin in Dubai
- The Reform Social & Grill – ask Mark to make your cocktail. I recommend a Cloverleaf (made with Sipsmith sloe gin, mint and Fevertree elderflower tonic) or a Tom Collins (ask for it unsweet). He’s a truly gifted mixologist and they have an extensive range of gins.
- The bar at Mint Leaf of London was the source of an earlier amazing gin tasting with some stellar creations (although I hear a rumour that complete gin-nerd Martin has left).
- Hakkasan has always led the way with their stock of gin, importing brands such as Monkey 47 and Sipsmith directly before they were generally available.
- There’s a Hendricks bar at the Four Seasons Jumeirah, which I have yet to visit.
- Up and coming is Ginter – a bar serving over 25 gins which opens at the new Intercontinental Dubai Marina in May.
- MMI is pioneering the gin movement in the UAE and sells everything from restrained Darnley’s View, the acclaimed Bulldog, to exotic Ophir in their shops. Follow the hashtag #ginspiration for events and news.
- You can order Sacred gin on your way through the airport (terminals 1 and 3) via Le Clos.
I was a guest of MMI and Reform for this event but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Gin fan like me? See you at the next one.
Convinced by cocktail pairing with dinner? What’s your favourite gin (people ask me this all the time… I’ll tell you next time)? Let me know in the comments….