Stirred, not shaken

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The Independent Culture
Enjoying The Famous Grouse Scotch whisky as I do, I could not wait to get my hands on the same distiller's new product, Gloag's London Dry Gin, which makes its bow in the supermarkets on Wednesday. New gins appear on the shelf about as often as pearls in oysters.

It's not that Gloag's perfumed bouquet and creamy body will change my life, just that I lusted for an excuse to break out the gin and tonics. Heaven knows, we have waited long enough to unfold the garden furniture and watch the sun refract in the fresh, hard ice as the aroma of lemons blends with oily perfumes of sin - sorry, gin.

Keep your gin cold (even in the freezer, so long as it does not stay there for weeks). Don't be mean with the ice, nor too heavy-handed with the slice of lemon - remember, there are lemon and orange flavours in the gin itself. The peels are used in most dry gins, along with coriander, which can have a citrous aroma and flavour. Gloag's has a slight coriander accent in its bouquet, less in its palate, but some spicy notes in the finish. Its arrival is a reminder that not all gins taste alike.

Apart from their defining ingredient, juniper, along with the citrus and coriander, most gins also have the iris-like orris root, which is said by distillers to help retain the other flavours in the drink, just as it does in potpourri. Then there is angelica root, sweet of aroma and almost tartly dry in finish. Exotic ingredients such as almonds, nutmeg and cinnamon are optional, and can make all the difference.

Notwithstanding newcomers, my favourite base for a G and T is Beefeater - it uses both the root and the seed of angelica, the latter adding an almost hoppy aroma, and is a flowery, complex, long gin. Desmond Payne, the distillery manager, once told me that he appraised more than 120 samples of juniper berries each harvest to be sure he found the best for the job. He wanted berries that were full of fresh, fruity oils, and he found them in Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.

He also confessed a fondness for the bigger berries of Moroccan juniper, which bring their distinctively peppery note to Nicholson's gin. This hard-to-find gin is the heaviest and most aromatic I have tasted. I have enjoyed it with a splash of water before a steak-and-kidney dinner at one of my favourite pubs, Sherlock's Home (sic). The snag is that this pub is in Minneapolis.

If I can't find Nicholson's, I might go for Booth's, with notes of cedar and a faintly straw-like colour. Or Plymouth Gin, with its slightly sour, rooty earthiness. This is the one to have with Angostura bitters as a pink gin.

The blue-bottled Bombay Sapphire was the last newcomer. This was launched in the late Eighties, though the regular Bombay Gin had been around for 30 years before that, and the recipe is said to have colonial origins. The key ingredients in Bombay Sapphire are the highly aromatic berries of the cubeb bush, from Java, and the peppery grains of paradise, from West Africa. These are intended to create a dryish character, though I find Sapphire rather sweet. A stylish young woman of my acquaintance tells me it smells of satsumas.

Whenever I venture into bars favoured by the young and modish, I am delighted to see that the gin-based martini cocktail is back in style. The correct way to make a martini is to use lots of gin and scarcely any vermouth. The latter can be the dry white Martini and Rossi's vermouth, but I prefer the more flowery Noilly Prat.

Here's how to achieve a proper martini. Fill a mixing glass or large tumbler with ice and cover with vermouth. Then drain it down the sink. Now pour gin over the ice, and stir (don't shake - that causes too much dilution, whatever James Bond says). Strain the gin into a chilled cocktail glass. There should be no ice in the glass itself. A sliver (or "twist") of lemon can be floated on the surface. Slices of lemon are not encouraged. Green, unstuffed olives are OK, especially if you are hungry. A whimsical friend of mine favours the twist of lemon after "a light, elegant day", the olive after "richer experiences".

But which gin? One could argue for a North American brand such as Seagrams, which is stronger in orange than in juniper. Or even the lemony, but strangely smoky, Cork Dry Gin. The biggest martini I ever had was in Tangier, but I cannot remember whether the syrupy gin was the one from Minorca or its cousin from Malaga. Neither of these has the firm, clean, straight-ahead juniper character of Reval, from Tallin, Estonia.

My favourite martini gin is Tanqueray Export strength, which has a medicinal, juniper dryness. At 47.3 per cent alcohol, this is the most potent silver mallet. I greatly prefer the similar, mintier Gordon's to some of the lower-priced gins and supermarket brands, which taste as though the flavours were added as essences. Nor do I react well to being asked whether I want my martini made with gin or vodka. Others disagree. In New York's Waldorf-Astoria recently, I saw people raising huge, ten-ounce martini glasses containing the oddest combinations: Stolichnaya vodka with a few drops of Captain Morgan dark rum; The Glenlivet with hazelnut liqueur; Hennessy Cognac with a cinnamon stick; vodka darkened with chocolate.

Unfazed by such oddities, head barman Mark Wood told me: "When I walk through the room, those big, elegant, frosted glasses are everywhere. They are so big that I want to jump in. It's like a sea of martinis".