Friday, August 25, 2017

Miraculous Mysteries with a Gin and It

'Miraculous Mysteries' (edited by Martin Edwards) is a collection of locked door and other equally impossible crimes. I tend to think of these sort of puzzles as the ultimate expression of golden age detective fiction - the puzzle is all that matters, and though sometimes the solution and/or culprit are easy enough to guess it in no way diminishes the fun of finding out how the author will decide to resolve the problem they have set. That fun for both the reader and the author is a key part of these stories is evident from the way that in a couple of the examples Edwards chose for this collection the mystery is a hypothetical puzzle set by the detective (I found this unexpectedly satisfying). Reading them is rather like (successfully) doing a crossword.

I wondered about finding a drink that in some way did something unexpected, but decided instead to consider the Gin and It. The first time I saw this mentioned in a book I didn't really know what it was, eventually I realised the It stood for Italian. The drink is simplicity itself - it's 3 parts Gin to 1 part Italian vermouth, stirred over ice, and strained into a martini glass.

There's something about the combination of gin and vermouth that really makes me feel like I'm tasting those inter war years- probably because I've mostly discovered them reading vintage crime and thrillers. There's something about the smell as well that recalls certain equally vintage scents.

Traditionally French vermouth signified dry, and Italian sweet (I'm currently sipping a gin and Spanish because that's where my sweet vermouth is currently from, and it's the most glorious coppery gold colour depending on how the light catches it). Non of the recipes I've looked at specify what colour the vermouth should be, but I like the idea of going with something like Martini Rosso even if just for the colour.

There's a lot of macho nonsense talked about having Martinis so dry that the vermouth is merely waved at the gin. If you want to drink neat gin that's fine with me (do choose your Gin wisely if that's the route you're taking) but I find it quite hard work. Experiance suggests that most people actually prefer a 'wetter' martini, and if you're new to them the slightly sweeter Gin and It is a great place to start.

I'm not normally very fussy about shaking or stirring, I just want my drink cold (ice is essentially the key to a good cocktail) but Martinis should be stirred, the shaken thing is allegedly down to a joke between Ian Fleming and a bar tender who refused to shake them. The reason being that when you shake things the ice breaks and melts relatively quickly, shake it and your drink will be diluted, stir with a lot of ice and it will be much less so. Some people talk about the gin being bruised when you shake, but I doubt there's any actual science behind that.

For me the point in stirring here is that every drink deserves to be made with a certain amount of care, and the ritual of stirring is quietly satisfying.

The beauty of the 'Gin and It' or martinis generally is in their simplicity, and in using a good quality gin (doesn't have to be some £40 odd extra special bottle, just something well made and smooth, Martin Millers would be my first choice) and vermouth that hasn't lurked at the back of a cupboard for months on end quietly oxidising all the while.

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