The Cocktail Hour – Astor Center’s Martini Tasting
18 Gin Cocktails in 3 hours. Heaven or Hell?
If you’re in the Heaven camp, read on below after the martini (aren’t I a clever girl?) Sounds like heaven to me.
Now, THIS is NYCE – Two days with Master Chefs
I have been unable to get back to NYC for some time. This martini event, as well as the New York Culinary Experience happening this weekend (Sept 20-21), were two reasons I’d hoped to make it down to the city … Alas, life happens. No matter how much careful planning you do. Lucky me to have too many exciting things to do!
N.B. You still have time to make it to the full weekend event offered at the International Culinary Center next door to the French Culinary Institute. A once in a lifetime event, this inaugural “Experience” is co-sponsored by NYMagazine and includes 2 full days (breakfast, lunch and champagne) of classes running from Sat morning to Sunday evening. Cooking alongside Eric Ripert or Morimoto, Wylie Dufresne, David Bouley, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres. How cool is that?
And now, about those Martini’s….Astor Center’s Martini Tasting
We joined the stream of excited post-work Manhattanites, tripping on the perilous sidewalks of the LES in our haste. We were all heading to the Astor Center, for the 2008 Classic Martini Challenge. It had started at five pm, and we were showing up at ten till six! What had we missed (besides eating dinner)?!
The party was in full swing when we arrived, walking up the stairs and greeted by suspiciously giddy ticket-takers. Because I had bought our tix ahead of time, we were set for the first blind tasting at 6:15. Paul and I wandered around the nearly two dozen tables of premium gins and bartenders and sales girls (I wanted to say saleswomen, but you don’t get the same image and they were definitely “sales girls”). It was overwhelming at first, so we grabbed spots at the closest open bar.
The first martini we tried was Betsy’s Secret from Blue Coat Gin. It was definitely one of the standouts of the night – a clean and powerful taste with a heavy dose of yummy fresh basil. Their station had several live basil plants. They picked and crushed the basil for each drink, and the tastes were perfectly complementary.
After we had finished our first drink and made a little note on our scoring card, we moved into the tasting room.
This was our first time in the tasting room and we thought it was the coolest facility ever! All the chairs were leather loungers. We had private spit sinks and cold spring water to help cleanse the palate. There were 18 gins to taste and score for the blind tasting. I made it through all 18. Some were lovely to taste straight, others were gag-worthy. It was funny listening to our fellow judges get more and more intoxicated as they went down the line. We tried to be good and spit out most of each – as we were instructed – but you wanted to finish the excellent ones.
After we voted, we headed back out to the cocktail challenge. Paul and I tried every one of those cocktails. And, speaking from a budget standpoint, this evening was a steal. We each tried 18 different drinks and participated in the blind tasting for $30 total! Here’s a rundown of the gins that participated:
- Blue Coat
- DH Krahn
- Martin Miller’s
- New Amsterdam
- Tanqueray No. Ten
- Tanqueray Rangpur
- Whitley Neill London Dry
Aviation gin was unremarkable, which was sad because it was one of the few organic/sustainable picks there. The best part about the cocktail was the fresh honey (the name of the drink was the Bee’s Knees) – not the gin.
The Beefeater cocktail was gross. I didn’t go past the first two sips.
Bulldog Gin had the best sales team. Their cocktail was named Lip Lock and they were passing out dog tags stamped with the brand name. Everyone was walking around the party wearing the dog tags by the end of the evening. The cocktail was not as good as the marketing. It was okay, but rather sweet and kind of sticky on the tongue.
Now, the Citadelle gin was one of my favorites. Their drink was a Ginger Poire Fizz and it had fresh nutmeg, lemon zest and freshly beaten egg whites blended in. It was amazing! I had never heard of combining eggs and gin?! It sounds like a terrible combination, but it worked wonderfully. It made the whole cocktail smoother and rounded out all the flavors.
The G’Vine gin was the first gin ever made from grapes, instead of juniper. It was pretty good. Their cocktail was very herby, and made me feel like I was eating a fresh salad. They were right next to Hendrick’s, which of course made a big production of their cucumbers. Their Carte Blanche was very distinctive, and I drank that one completely. I very much enjoyed eating both our cucumbers after.
Martin Millers gin had the best bartender hands down. They had dressed up this total strungout guy in an adorable vest and bow-tie, and he was tweaking around his station, madly jumping up and down with the shaker. I think he was talking to himself too. The drinks he made were fabulous. The Pink Gin & Tonic was easygoing, sweet and sour, and fluffy (he also used egg whites).
The other cocktails were decent and unremarkable amongst the crowd. I remember thinking that if you put candied fruits in any cocktail, it was likely to taste yummy. One bartender put this scary-looking bean pod in one of the drinks. I let Paul finish that one.
At the end of the evening, my vote went to the Ginger Poire Fizz, but Pink Gin & Tonic was a very close second. Here were the results, reported by Astor Director Lesley Townsend:
Blind Tasting Winners:
#1 Two-way tie: Martin Miller’s and Beefeater Gin
#2 Blue Coat Gin
#3 New Amsterdam Gin
#1 Hendrick’s Carte Blanche
#2 Martin Miller’s Pink Gin & Tonic
#3 Three-way tie: Blue Coat Gin’s Betsy’s Secret, Bulldog Gin’s Lip Lock, and Tanqueray No. Ten’s Sentimental Journey
# # #
From the editor:
Thanks Marisa! Do you recall the flavor profile of Miller’s? I think one of the fascinating things about Gin is the variety of the recipes or profiles. Some are very heavy on the juniper, others more herbal. I recall Old Raj was heavy on saffron.
At Slow Foods I sampled two gins, Death’s Door and Distillery 209 at the crazy drinks pavilion. I couldn’t tell you a thing about either! Will have to try them again sometime.
I find different profiles work well with different cocktails. Make sense, right?
Hendrick’s for a martini, Plymouth or Bombay for G&T…I have Aviation on the bar right now. It’s fine, but a bottle of Hendrick’s never hung around that long….
To read about my near-miss AA experience read: Hello! My name is Irony.
To read about my Slow Spirits class in San Francisco, read here.