The martini cocktail is one of the best known cocktails. Over the years the Martini has changed…as it wasn’t always the martini it is today. The modern day martini is made with gin and vermouth and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist.
Now, wind the clock back to the early 20th century and order the same drink from the bar steward in the local swanky watering hole and you would be given a wine goblet half full with vermouth and half of gin with not a single smoking rosemary twig in sight.
Hogarth’s tragic portrayal of the first gin epidemic to wreak havoc on the metronome of daily life depicting Gin Lane in London in the middle 17th century was in stark contrast to Beer Street, etched at the same time. The two prints were designed by the great master to portray the merits of drinking beer in support of the Gin Act. Gin Lane shows scenes of starvation, infanticide and suicide, whereas in contrast is beer street, depicting healthy thriving commerce and prosperity.
The gin crisis became severe after the government in England had encouraged the distilling of Gin, to help keep the grain price up and increase trade to the colonial outposts of the time. In fact imports of French wine and spirits were banned to encourage homegrown industry which included the distilling of gin.
Over 250 years later we find ourselves in a global gin craze, mirroring the mid 17th century boom in growth, though not the same crisis that befell England at the time. Gin is the fastest growing category of spirits with gin sales set to overtake sales of Scotch whisky by 2020. This time however the multi billion dollar industry is not portraying Gin as “mother’s ruin”. In 2010 there were only 116 distilleries in the UK. In the last two years that number has already doubled.
In Vietnam however, the range of different Gin available is embarrassingly small compared to most other countries in the region. The best range of gin in any bar down town is probably Qui or the Gin House right now.
Worse still, the mixers available are limited to Schweppes from a can, notoriously sweet and often without bubbles.
There is currently one premium bottled mixer tonic available in Vietnam called Thomas Henry (Available at Annam and Mega Market formerly METRO), a gap in the market that was identified by Kristian Harmston of Alchemy Asia.
“Alchemy as well as other reputable importers are bringing fantastic gins into Vietnam now. It would be remiss of us to not find an exceptional tonic to as the primary mixer. We encourage gin-lovers out there to consider this when ordering over a bar or stocking up at home. Life is too short for lousy tonic.”
So there you have it: don’t ruin a good gin with second rate tonic as it isn’t the gin this time that is doing the ruining. Cheers!
Shri Restaurant and Lounge manager Richie Fawcett is an artist who sits on Asia’s 50 best bars voting panel.