Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Quest for Non-Alcoholic Gin

I got this bee in my bonnet the other day. It took hold of me, became an obsession. I was sitting at my desk, at work, and was seized by a craving for gin. Gin is my favorite hard liquor, and I love the juniper berry flavor. My workday would be so much more civilized, I decided, if I could sip some gin while I worked. But that, of course, wouldn't do. First of all, the quality of my work would go down the drain if I were to become even slightly inebriated. And then, of course, the powers that be wouldn't look too kindly upon an employee sipping gin at his desk. Vodka maybe you could hide, but not gin. That's when I got the idea for non-alcoholic gin. I figured that a beverage that was reminiscent of gin, without the alcohol, might at least provide a pleasant illusion to make my workday that much more enjoyable.

So I started thinking about how I'd go about making this faux gin. I knew that juniper berry was the predominant flavoring, but I wasn't sure what the other ingredients were. What I learned was that, other than juniper berry, the herbs and spices can vary. I figured I had to start with juniper, and I figured there might be a commercially available juniper berry extract. There indeed is, available from several brands and sold at health food stores and suppliers. Apparently juniper is an ancient herbal remedy, especially for urinary tract disorders. I called up my local health food store, Back to the Land, to see if they carried the stuff. They answered in the affirmative, and the next time I stopped in I picked up a 1-ounce bottle of Eclectic Institute Juniper.

I then consulted with fragrance blogger Christopher Voigt. I told Christopher about my plan to work on a non-alcoholic gin substitute, and asked for his flavor advice. We quickly got into a discussion of gin flavor preferences. Christopher is a Bombay Sapphire fan, and I'm more partial to the classic London Dry style of gin, with my favorite, Tanqueray, being perhaps the most juniper-forward of the bunch. Bombay Sapphire has a more complex blend of botanicals, yielding a mellower gin, but I prefer in-your-face gin (the scent of which always reminds me of the Vitalis of my youth).

Christopher suggested that Angostura Bitters would help to round out the flavor of whatever I came up with. The only listed ingredient of Angostura is gentian, a bitter herb traditionally used as a digestive aid, but Angostura Bitters is made from a blend of otherwise secret ingredients, with only a handful of people privy to the recipe. According to one source, "The company has special government permission to import the herbs and spices in sacks labeled 'rice' or 'corn' to keep the ingredients secret. To intensify the mystery, the company buys a far greater number of botanicals than they actually need. People speculate anyway. There are guesses such as orange peel and tamarind pulp as the main ingredient. Residues are burnt to prevent identification." I bought a bottle of Angostura Bitters.

All right, I had my flavorings, juniper extract and Angostura Bitters. Now I had to deal with the question of what to use as a base. At first I thought I might just add these ingredients to tonic water or juice, for a mixed-drink flavor. But I nixed the idea, deciding that I really wanted to come up with a true faux gin. I knew that tap water wouldn't do. I needed something with a little more presence, to provide at least a subtle flavor base on which to add the seasonings. My first inclination was to go with a still spring water that has a bold mineral presence, like Evian. The mineral quality of certain dry sakes led me in that direction.

Then I had a brainstorm. I thought of Metromint water. I recently discovered the stuff—mint-infused, purified water—and became especially fond of the lemon mint version. It has a very slight natural sweetness from the mint, with a lemon finish. Something told me this might work.

I went to my favorite local gourmet shop, D'Vine Taste, which I knew carried Metromint. They didn't have Evian, but they did carry a water that turned out to be an even better bet, Jana, an artesian water from Croatia with high alkalinity. I bought a pint of Metromint lemon mint and a pint of Jana.

As soon as I got home I started mixing. Into a glass of each of the waters I started adding drops of the juniper extract (it comes with an eye dropper), tasting it progressively. I decided that 10-15 drops per 8-oz glass was the right amount of juniper. Once I got a satisfactory juniper level it was clear that it indeed needed something else. I added a dash of Angostura Bitters to each. A little bit of Angostura goes a long way, and one small dash did the trick. It gave me a more well-rounded flavor, though I'd say it added a vermouth-like quality, which was just fine. I had just invented the softini.

I alternated tastes of the two versions. While the augmented Jana was interesting for sipping, something was lacking for me. I decided that the Metromint version was the winner, and realized that the vapor component of the mint provided an extra dimension that helped to make up for the lack of alcohol.

This is just a start. I'm sure the recipe can be improved, by working with the balance of ingredients as well as considering additional extracts. I don't intend to make this a full-time occupation, though.

So, what to call this drink? I've already suggested softini. But there's a nostalgic side of me that wants to pay homage to the Shirley Temple (and once, as a kid, a waiter offered me the macho version, a Roy Rogers). But who to name it for? It's too late to name a virgin cocktail a Lindsay Lohan, for a variety of reasons.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Anonymous Cook asks:
Is this your circuitous way of telling us you've slept with Lindsay Lohan?

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Cantiello said...

Mr. Cherches, being an aficianado of fine gin, my choice for the quintessential gin would be Hendrick's. Distilled in Scotland, of all places, they have a sturdy handle on what it takes to craft a proper gin. If you're curious as to what a gin should be, try Hendrick's. It's clean with a taste that goes beyond juniper to include an essence of cucumber and rose.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy Cantiello said...

By the way, Hendrick's, as I'm sure you've guessed, is not a non-alcoholic gin. But, then again, what would be the point of a non-alcoholic gin?

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Dr Dave said...

Jimmy, you are a true eccentric. Hendricks is as far out of the mainstream as gin gets (even the advertising emphasizes this).

As intrigued as I am by the idea of nonalcoholic gin, and completely impressed with Pete's tenacity and creativity in formulating same, I suspect that drinking nonalcoholic gin will simply creat the desire for the real stuff. Maybe that's not a bad thing?

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful recipe. My wife loves Gin and now that she is pregnant she's very disappointed that she can't enjoy an evening cocktail with me anymore. I'm going to try mixing this up right away. Thanks

9:11 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Let me know what your wife thinks. Also, you might want to try it with Metromint Spearmint, which I've discovered may be an even better base than Lemonmint.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Michele Thorne said...

Peter-
Wow, what an alchemist! I must say, I am not much of a Gin drinker, but your Softini sounds awesome! Thanks for thinking of us to be a part of that innovation! I am sure Spearmint would do well too. The mint is a bit stronger in that variety so it might taste bolder. Hmmn...I wonder how the Chocolatemint would do? Would love to know...
Michele
Wellness & Outreach Director
METROMINT

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to be nit-picky, but Angosturra does have alcohol in it

2:15 PM  
Blogger JuJu said...

I was so pleased to find this page. I am in my first week of sobriety and cannot BELIEVE I will never be able to enjoy my beloved gin & tonic again. Possibly this recipe will help me over the worst of the next few months. Thank You!! Please post any additional ideas.

Gin drinker since '81

8:59 AM  
Anonymous David Amack said...

You have embarked on a worthy quest. Truth is, I love a good martini but as I age, I gin seems to like me less and less. Keep working at it. I'll be your first (and best) customer.

I happen to like Boodles, which is rather in your face. Of course, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, and Gordon's are all worthy.

Cheers!

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Zanne said...

I'm so glad I stumbled across this! I'm pregnant, and LOVE my summer gin and tonics. I'm leaving now for the ingredients! Please let us know if you've revised the recipe.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Hi Peter, do you have a recipe with proportions, etc.? This is verrrry impressive. Thanks, Kris

6:34 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Sorry Kristine, nothing more precise than what's already in the original post.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Ed said...

Champing at the bit to have a go at this. Loved Tanquerey and Bombay Sapphire but as an alcoholic made do with Gordon's as my finances reflected my thirst. Discovered pommegranite juice lately as it's health benefits have seen it adorn the super market shelves everywhere and thought it would make an awesome gin mixer with cucumber. Sober nearly ten years I searched for a way and thank you for you leads. Have no access to Juniper extract but have dried berries. Any suggestions on how to prepare?

7:10 AM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

There are a number of online vendors, mostly health food or herbal shops, that sell juniper extract online. Just search.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...for those who cannot have any form of alcohol...beware...tinctures (as the juniper product might be) is made with 100 proof vodka...and the Angostura most assuredly is...so not completely alcohol free.

I will miss Gin, 1 part to 1 part with dry vermouth...straight up...two large Cannonball olives the most!

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Peter. Having similar experience of a primal need for gin, but just had a big operation and on some serious meds. Mixing them with alcohol would be a big mistake. The post is a few years old, just wondering if you advanced the recipe or if you came across a brand since your mixology session?

12:28 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Nothing new to report. Good luck.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you go ahead and bottle it. I'm sure it would be a best seller. Anonymous

1:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

i believe, and i guess i forfeit any rights here, that it should be called
"jinx" ("ginx"?)

1:16 PM  
Blogger Laura Hamlyn said...

mmmh I know this post is years old, but for anyone else considering this: have you tried liqueur essences?

they are pretty cheap and are meant to be diluted with a cheap vodka (or homebrew), but I imagine they could be mixed with water for a soft version of the hard stuff...

6:13 AM  

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