It’s International Women’s Day–Ladies, What’s In Your Glass?

It sounds like a fabricated holiday designed to sell more greeting cards, doesn’t it? But International Women’s Day (IWD) has been around longer than any of us: in 1909, women from 17 countries came together for the first International Conference of Working Women. After much more evolution and revolution, the United Nations finally, in 1975, established March 8 as International Women’s Day.

It does have a purpose, but first – do these history lessons make anyone else thirsty?

You’ll have to pardon me for setting aside my wineglass this evening. The sun’s shining here in Cleveland, and that means just one thing:

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Oh yeah. As soon as I can walk outside without a heavy sweater, my gin and tonic craving sets in. Gin has been quenching thirsts since the 14th century, when the first recipe for “Genever” was recorded in a Dutch encyclopedia. In 1585 it was known as “Dutch courage,” and by the 1700s, “gin tonic” was a common cure.

By law, the dominant flavor in gin must be juniper, but you’ll find other botanicals in the mix: coriander, angelica, quinine (a bitter medicinal from the bark of the chinchona tree), cardamom, cassia bark (you know it as cinnamon) and orris root, the dried root of the iris.

This cocktail was started in India by the British army. Quinine had been used for years to help prevent and treat malaria – a big problem in the tropics. Soldiers were given a periodic gin allowance, so they added it to their quinine, along with sugar, water and lime. (Today’s commercially produced tonic water uses less of the nasty-tasting quinine.)

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So why limes? Presumably because they were cheap and plentiful. If you order a gin and tonic in the U.K., though, it’s likely to be garnished with a lemon wedge rather than lime, which I think tastes awful. A “g & t” made with Hendrick’s Gin usually is garnished with a slice of cucumber.

Popular culture loves a gin and tonic. James Bond’s recipe in the book Dr. No called for the juice of an entire lime for each drink. Billy Joel sings about “Piano Man,” “making love to his tonic and gin.”

The best bartenders use a “balloon glass,” shaped like a little bowl, because it concentrates the gin’s fragrant aromas at the opening of the glass – just like a good wineglass. I use rocks glasses, but I may invest in some balloons.

The recipe for my best g & t? Start with four ice cubes in the glass, and smoosh a thick wedge of lime around the rim (though I was told by my nephew last week that he doesn’t like pulp on his lips – picky, picky). Squeeze the juice from the wedge into the glass, then drop the wedge in. Add about an inch of gin (oh, don’t be such a prude – the glass has those big ice cubes in it!), then fill it to the top with tonic.

I like New Amsterdam gin – it has a great taste and it’s half the cost of the gins most people order. And I buy diet tonic (zero calories compared to about 90 for a serving of regular tonic). It has a bit more sodium than regular, but it’s a small tradeoff.

Before I forget, the purpose of International Women’s Day: to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and, these days, it’s also a call for gender parity.

I’ll drink to that.

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Sloe Gin = not a real gin because it’s not made with juniper as the dominant flavor; sloe gin is made from “sloe berries,” a relative of the plum. But there is a liqueur called Pacharán made with sloe and juniper in the Basque region of Spain.

Cheers!

Mary

[Photos courtesy of Fred Wenzel and Spencer E. Holtaway, Creative Commons]

What Will Frank and Claire Drink This Weekend?

Stock the liquor cabinet, order some Freddy’s BBQ and put on your best Carolina drawl: it’s time to binge-watch House of Cards, our annual visit with Frank and Claire Underwood. They’re the coldest, most immoral, power-wielding, sexually-all-over-the-place President and First Lady in U.S. history, and I’ve missed them like crazy.

Cuddly they are not – but they do drink with class. Besides, what’s a dead body or two (or three) when the country’s future is at stake? It’s an election year for President Underwood and after a long day of campaigning, he reaches for his favorite 93-proof hooch: Blanton’s Single-Barrel Bourbon.

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Produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, Blanton’s is a star in the $2.7-billion U.S. wholesale market, thanks in part to President Underwood. (Bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the country, but in reality, 95 percent is produced in Kentucky – a state that boasts more barrels of aging bourbon than people.)

Underwood takes his bourbon neat – no mix, no ice to cool it down, not even a twist of lemon. By law, bourbon must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn, and that’s the taste he likes, with the characteristic Blanton’s undertone of rye. Occasionally, we’ve also seen him sipping Bushmills Irish Whiskey, but bourbon is his first choice.

Put another drink in front of him, though, and of course he’ll accept. We watched him and Claire knocking back shots of $750,000 vodka, a gift from Russian President Viktor Petrov, in Season 3’s third episode. That gold-encased bottle was fake, but it was inspired by the very real Russo Baltique Vodka, which you can add to your cart for a mere 750,000 Euros – about $825,000 U.S.

Claire hasn’t made any drink famous yet. We’ve noticed her (and Frank) sipping Champagne, white wine, red wine – whatever she’s served. Since Viognier is Virginia’s signature grape, she may request it for political reasons, and because it makes a fine wine. This season, we’ll try to notice what’s in her glass when she gets cozy in her cashmere bathrobe.

Wine Lingo of the Day: Mash bill = actually liquor lingo, mash bill describes the grain mixture for a distilled beverage. For bourbon, the mash bill would be at least 51 percent corn; the remainder would be rye, wheat or malted barley in any combination.

Cheers!

Mary

[Photo courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]