Eric Akis: Gin cocktails fit for a royal holiday

Eric Akis

The Victoria Day long weekend is almost here and if you want to toast the occasion in a royal way, get out the gin. I’ve used it in three splendid cocktails, including one our monarch would enjoy.

Gin is made by distilling a neutral-tasting spirit made from grain, then infusing it with the taste of aromatic ingredients. Those ingredients include juniper berries and other botanicals, such as citrus peels, fennel, licorice, anise, caraway, cassia bark, angelica root and/or coriander seeds. What types and how many botanicals are used depend on the distiller’s recipe, which can vary greatly from maker to maker.

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Because of its diverse and interesting flavour profile, gin has long been popular in cocktails.

According to several sources, the one Queen Elizabeth prefers is gin and Dubonnet, a cocktail her late mother also enjoyed. It has a royal, purplish hue, with ice cubes and a lemon slice.

Dubonnet is a French, sweet, fortified wine enhanced with herbs and spices. When it’s combined with gin, you end up with a drink with all sorts of palate-awakening tastes, which is why the drink is often served before a meal as an aperitif.

My other drink recipes would also make nice aperitifs and are twists on two classic cocktails, a gimlet and a gin fizz.

A gimlet is a lime-flavoured, gin-rich cocktail. My twist on it blends in fresh-squeezed cucumber juice. That juice adds a refreshing taste to the drink and an appealing light green colour.

A gin fizz is flavoured with lemon juice and bit of simple syrup. The fizz part is the bubbly soda water you add just before serving it. In my variation, I replaced the soda water with sparkling wine, adding another enjoyable, celebratory taste to the cocktail.

Island Gin Makers

If you want to make cocktails with fine, locally made gin, you have lots of options. Below is a list of distillers around our region that make good-quality gin. Check out their websites to see what they offer, what makes their gin unique and where to sample and buy their products.

• Sheringham Distillery, 252 - 6731 W Coast Rd, Sooke (sheringhamdistillery.com)

• Victoria Distillers, 9891 Seaport Pl, Sidney (victoriadistillers.com)

• Merridale Cidery and Distillery, 1230 Merridale Rd, Cobble Hill (merridale.ca)

• Stillhead Distillery, 5301 Chaster Rd #105, Duncan (stillhead.ca)

• Ampersand Distilling Company, 4077 Lanchaster Rd, Duncan (ampersanddistilling.com)

• Arbutus Distillery, 1890 Boxwood Rd, Nanaimo (arbutusdistillery.com)

• Wayward Distillery 2931 Moray Ave, Courtenay (waywarddistillationhouse.com)

• Island Spirits Distillery, 4605 Roburn Rd, Hornby Island (islandspirits.ca)

• Tofino Distillery, 681-G Industrial Way, Tofino (tofinocraftdistillery.com)

• Phillips Fermentorium Distilling Company, 2010 Government St., Victoria (fermentorium.ca)

Gin and Dubonnet

Serve this fit-for-a-royal cocktail as an aperitif, before a meal.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Makes: two cocktails

6 ices cubes, or more, if desired

2 oz gin (divided)

4 oz Dubonnet (divided)

2 lemon slices, each halved

Divide ice cubes between two- six- or eight-ounce capacity lowball tumbler glasses.

Pour one ounce gin and two ounces Dubonnet into each of the glasses. Set two half lemon slices in each glass, give the drinks a swirl with a cocktail stick, and serve.

Sparkling Gin Fizz

Sparkling wine, instead of the usually used club soda, puts the “fizz” into this version of the classic gin cocktail.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Makes: two cocktails

2 oz. gin

2 oz. lemon juice

3/4 oz. simple syrup (see recipe below)

3/4 to 1 cup sparkling wine (see Note)

1 lemon slice, halved

2 fresh mint sprigs

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Secure the lid on the shaker, then vigorously shake it 20 to 30 seconds. Strain into two six-ounce fluted glasses. Top up each glass with sparkling wine. Garnish each drink with a half lemon slice and a mint sprig, and then serve.

Note: A small, 200-millilitre bottle of sparkling wine should yield the amount needed here. They are sold at many liquor stores.

Cucumber Gimlet

This version of a gimlet blends in fresh-squeezed cucumber juice, adding a refreshing taste and a light, spring-green colour.

Preparation time: five minutes

Makes: two cocktails

2 long, very thin, English cucumber slices (see Note)

1/2 cup grated English cucumber

4 oz. gin

1 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

1 oz. simple syrup (see recipe below)

Thread one slice of cucumber on a cocktail pick or wooden skewer in accordion-like fashion (see cocktail photo). Do the same with the other slice of cucumber. Set these drink garnishes aside until needed.

Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Place the grated cucumber in the sieve. Now very firmly press on the cucumber and squeeze every bit of juice out it. (You should get 2 to 3 Tbsp of juice; see Note 2).

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice. Add the cucumber juice, gin, lime juice and simple syrup. Secure the lid on the shaker, then vigorously shake it 20 to 30 seconds.

Strain and divide the mixture between two chilled coupe or martini glasses. Garnish each drink with a cucumber skewer and serve.

Note 1: Before grating the English cucumber needed for this recipe, cut the long slices of cucumber you’ll also need for these cocktails. To do so, make a lengthwise cut and trim about 1/4-inch off one side of the cucumber. Use a vegetable peeler to cut two long, thin slices of cucumber and use them as described in the recipe.

Note 2: If desired, after squeezing the juice out of it, you can keep the leftover grated cucumber for another use, such as mixing it into a creamy salad dressing.

Simple Syrup

Use this simple syrup to sweeten the cucumber gimlet and sparkling gin fizz cocktails.

The recipe could be doubled or further expanded if you plan on making a lot of cocktails.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Cooking time: a few minutes

Makes: about 1/3 cup

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Combine water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and simmer one minute, until sugar is dissolved. Pour syrup into heatproof jar, then cool to room temperature.

Seal jar and keep syrup at room temperature until needed.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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