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The Four Gin Cocktails That Changed History

What we took back from The Telegraph Gin Experience

by Laura Grassulini, Senior Account Executive

British thirst for gin dates back centuries and although there’s been ups and downs, the nation has never fallen out of love with the juniper spirit. The past few years has seen a spectacular return all over the world, with the UK enjoying the biggest boom. The Gin renaissance, or Ginaissance, has seen sales of the spirit exceed £1 billion at the end of 2016 and a total of 43 million bottles sold across the country, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

With Britons becoming a nation of true gin cocktail lovers, people like the award-winning drinks writers Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley were at The Telegraph Gin Experience to share their knowledge. The dedicated event ran on 1st and 2nd August at Kensington Roof Gardens, for third year, and we couldn’t miss it! Within a fantastic setting of flamingos, luxurious plants and exotic décor, Susy Atkins, Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley opened the night. A gin and cocktail tasting, followed the talks, at the private gin fair with exhibitors such as Portobello Gin Road, Brockmans and Edinburgh Gin – we then moved on to a delicious dinner.

The best part was yet to come though, as the hilarious writers entertained almost 60 people for over an hour, chatting through anecdotes about “The four gin cocktails that changed history”.

So, you want to know what these are and how they “changed history”. Here’s a summary of what we took from last night’s amazing masterclass:

  1. NEGRONI: created in Florence in 1919 when the famous Count Camillo Negroni, a bon vivant of the time, asked his bartender friend at Caffe Casoni to strengthen his usual Americano by swapping soda water with gin.  1 part gin, 1 Campari and 1 part sweet vermouth, stirred over ice and garnished with orange peel, became one of the most famous cocktails in history. Did you know that Negroni is referred to as the airport cocktail due to the simplicity of its preparation? You can’t get it wrong, but you can fall fast asleep after drinking if you’re not particularly keen on flying!
  2. MARTINI: This world-famous cocktail is even older than the Negroni, dating back to the 1860s. Although the drinks actual origin is unclear, we know that the Martini evolved from a cocktail called the Martinez served in the US ,where the Industrial Revolution led to what some people call the ‘American Cocktail Revolution’. The world-known Gin Martini was made famous by Jerry Thomas, an American bartender who owned saloons in New York City, known for his pioneering work in popularising cocktails. To have an idea of Jerry Thomas’s fame at the time you only need to know he used to earn as much as the Vice President of the USA…
  3. MARTINEZ: Already mentioned above, this cocktail is considered the precursor to the Martini and is first known to have been published in O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartenders’ Guide in 1884. Byron wasn’t a very talkative chap and liked to go straight to the point, so the Martinez recipe literally read: “Same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whiskey.”
  4. VESPER MARTINI: last but not least – actually my favourite due to the link with James Bond! Although the usual Vodka Martini is better known in Bond’s adventures (“shaken, not stirred”) it’s the Vesper Martini that is the true invention of Ian Fleming. In fact, the first recorded example of this cocktail appeared in writing in Casino Royal, Chapter 7:

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

The Kina Lillet, an aromatic wine-based aperitif from the Bordeaux region, is no longer produced, as the product was reformulated and relabelled in the 1970s. So, if you decide to have a Vesper Martini it will never be the same as Bond ordered in Casino Royal, but the bartender will use Blanc Lillet, the reformulated product.

We left Kensington Roof Gardens amazed by the masterclass, but above all intrigued by an unanswered question: why doesn’t Bond call out the vodka brand when ordering the Vesper Martini?

Joel and Neil didn’t want to tell us, but recommended to go to Dukes bar in Mayfair and ask Alessandro Palazzi to tell us the story himself… so watch this space!