February 15, 2013

Plymouth Gin recipes for the ragged philosopher


The bar connected to the Plymouth distillery

It’s no coincidence that Lars Iyer’s characters are fond of Plymouth Gin, Iyers affirmed at his NYU Bookstore reading this week. It’s specific to the characters’ locale during the course of their sustained conversation; it also says something about their cultural background.

Plymouth is home to the oldest working distillery in the world (built in 1430), which was once a Dominican order monastery. Gin was relatively inexpensive, and a favorite drink of the poor. As you’ve probably guessed, Plymouth is the town where the Pilgrims set off from in 1620. The Plymouth Gin bottle was redesigned last year to emphasize the Pilgrims’ ship; a copper cap was added to hint at the use of a copper still used in 1793, and the uneven glass is meant to look as though it has come out of a sailor’s back pocket. The green color even looks a bit like sea glass. You are meant to buy a new bottle when the Mayflower no longer “sails on gin.”

The town is also the home of the British Royal Navy.  Plymouth makes a navy-strength gin: 57% alcohol by volume, reportedly high enough that if the ship’s gunpowder were accidentally soaked with booze, it could still be fired. Though official ties with the Navy were broken after WWII, this gin is still manufactured today.

Plymouth is a clean, bright gin with seven botanicals. If you need a cocktail to go with Iyer’s books (Exodus is just out!), we have a few for you. (We wouldn’t want our readers to get scurvy.)

Published in 1896 as a part of Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, here is the Marguerite Cocktail, arguably the first written recipe for the modern martini — Iyer’s favorite:

1 dash orange bitters
2/3 Plymouth Gin
1/3 French Vermouth

Use a mixing glass half filled with fine ice. Stir ingredients well with a spoon. Strain into a cocktail glass, and serve with a twist of lemon peel. Consider this: What do despair and suffering reveal about the world?

The Gimlet was invented by naval doctor Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette, who is said to have mixed gin with the daily rations of lime to “help the medicine go down”:

2 ounces Plymouth gin
3/4 ounce Rose’s Lime Juice

Combine in a mixing glass, add ice, and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or a short tumbler filled with ice. Garnish with lime wedge for the medicinal benefits. Now, how does it feel to live the life of the mind? Discuss.

French 75, a favorite of Plymouth distiller Sean Harrison:

Dash of sugar syrup
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce Plymouth Gin
3 ounces Champagne

Pour gin, syrup and lemon juice into a champagne flute and top with chilled Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve with a rant about Essex postgraduates.

Purists may want to stick with a splash of water and an ice cube. Lars and W. of Iyer’s trilogy favor their gin neat over ice, or drunk straight from the bottle as they lie on W.’s floor. They also drink a bit of Aalborg Akavit on a picnic (“Did Kierkegaard drink Aalborg akavit? W. wonders. Undoubtedly!”) You drink whatever you like; just make sure you have a great thinker beside you to aid you in saving philosophy.



Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.