I have two great passions in my life. Actually, I have several, but for the sake of this blog post let me just outline these two: gin and books.
Those of you who know me personally are aware of this (oh boy, are you aware of this!) and those of you have read my previous Fluid features and blog posts will have cottoned on to the fact I have a bit of an obsession for gin spiked drinks and great literary works.
So imagine my absolute delight when I found out about the ‘Gin in Literature’ evening at Gaucho Smithfield. The event was part of Gaucho Smithfields’ ‘Ten Days of Gin’ event.
Recognising that gin is one of Britain’s most loved and popular spirits, Gaucho Smithfield was proud to work with some of London’s most iconic and well-known gin brands. I attended Day 5: 'Tipple Through Gin in Literature with Hendricks'.
Gin has fuelled legendary writers, unforgettable characters and gripping plots. As Dorothy Parker said, ‘I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.’
The night promised enjoyable and enlightening extracts during dinner in sumptuous surroundings and with specially mixed Hendrick’s cocktails served from start to finish.
With Duncan McRae, gin ambassador for Hendricks, hosting the evening and reading quotes from writers, old and new, and leading us through the gin-soaked pages of great writers, the evening was a fabulous feast for lovers of gin and literature, books and bottles, masterpieces and martinis….
The event commenced as the clock struck 7 o’clock. Hemmingway would have been furious. ‘It’s always 6 o’clock somewhere in the world,’ he’s famously quoted as saying. I’m inclined to agree with him, but oh well. Anyway, if we’d taken Roman poet Horace seriously - ‘the muses have usually smelt of booze first thing in the morning’ - then we were well behind!
We started with a tomato and strawberry soup with a Martinez cocktail with some startling hearsay that making a dry martini should resemble the immaculate conception, for Thomas Aquinas once noted:
‘…the generative power of the holy ghost pierced the virgin’s hymen like a ray of sunlight through a window leaving…’
The idea behind there is that to make a good martini they have to be super dry. Interesting, but not quite sure what to make of that really.
A dose of Alexander Pope followed (which made more sense) with a quote from 1714 – an affectionate letter to a lady:
‘Most divine, to some proof of my sincerity towards you that I write when I am prepared by drinking to speak the truth….’
A reference that could be associated with one of today’s lovelorn and drunken text messages perhaps?
Though gin is considered a sophisticated tipple nowadays, in the mid-18th century it was labeled as the stuff of ruin. From 1710 to 1759 London endured a gin craze. The capital was canvas where utter debauchery was painted. Terms like ‘blind drunk’ and ‘mother’s ruin’ all come from the gin craze. Hogarth’s famous ‘Gin Lane’ etching portrays an image of London as the stuff of ruin.
The Victorians however, for all their prudery and morbid fixations, found joy in drinking. Now I’ve always found Dickens to be a bit too doom and gloom (he was the soap opera writer of the Victorian era, after all), yet McRae pointed out several of the writer’s quotes detailing the luxurious environment of gin palaces in Sketches by Boz. Dickens also describes what the simple act of making a drink can do to lift a person’s mood in David Copperfield:
‘To divert his attentions from this melancholy subject [the hot water had been turned off] I informed Mr. Micawber that I relied upon him for a bowl of punch, and led him to the lemons. His recent despondency, not to say despair, was gone in a moment. [He] looked as if he were making, instead of punch, a fortune for his family down to the latest posterity.’
The nigh ended with talk of hangovers and roaring twenties, words of wisdom from Noel coward:
For gin in cruel Sober truth, Supplies the fuel For flaming youth.
There was nothing left to do except drink up and conclude the evening with rounds of applause. Applause for literary heroes for preserving the importance of gin and other tipsy tipples. Applause for the Gaucho chef, McRae and Hendricks. And, of course, a big round of applause for the bartenders. In the words of Haruki Murakami:
‘Most people don’t realise it but good cocktails demand talent. Anyone can make passable drinks with little effort. Train them for a few months and they can make a standard issue mixed drink. The kind most bars serve. But if you want to take it to the next level, you’ve got to have a special flair. So if you find someone who has talent, you’d best take good care of them and never let them go. Not to mention pay them well.’
Argentinian beef with creamy mashed potatoes
Experimental cocktail club cocktail (Hendricks gin, cucumber blitzed to a juice and a hint of chilli)
Hendricks Gin and Fever Tree Tonic (served at the start of the evening)