Staff writer Evan Johnson spoke with Turback about his experience writing the book, the art of pairing drinks with a meal and the growing popularity of gin cocktails.
Evan Johnson: What inspired you to write a book about gin?
Michael Turback: In visiting wineries on Seneca Lake, I happened upon Finger Lakes Distilling. They were making vodkas, gins and blended whiskeys. I’ve always personally loved gin, and it opened up my thought to the artisan small batch distilleries that are opening around the country. I realized that gin is really gaining more popularity. Gin was always the most popular spirit after Prohibition until the mid-to-late ’60s, when vodka took over. But, in the last few years, gin has been gaining new popularity.
EJ: How did you discover the 101 gin recipes featured in your book?
MT: I pay attention to a number of blogs, and when I first thought about making the book, I started making a list of hip bars and lounges where bartenders were getting publicity for doing interesting things with drinks, and I began contacting them by phone or email. Almost everyone I talked to was interested because they’re very interested in gin. These guys were doing interesting things with gin, and I would tell them, ‘Look, I want the drinks to be original, I want them to be interesting, and I want them to show off gin as the main ingredient.’
EJ: How did you decide which recipes to include?
MT: Well, I had to test them all. There were some that I didn’t think were interesting enough or sounded like something that had already been done. The drinks in the book are very progressive. Their originality was very important. I had the luxury of having more [recipes] than I needed, and I was able to narrow it down.
EJ: What types of new trends are emerging in bartending?
MT: What’s fascinating about some of the drinks in particular is the relationship between the bar and the kitchen. There’s a recipe here for cucumber mohitinico. Here’s the ingredients — kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, five slices of cucumber, one lime, a handful of herbs, including thyme, terragon, rosemary and basil, of course, gin and a little tonic water. In the past, we used to think of fruit as a garnish, but these [bartenders] are using basil, mint cilantro and, of course, fresh fruit juices. So there’s a very important culinary aspect to most of the drinks, and that is an emerging trend as well.
EJ: As this trend develops and becomes more popular, do you think more classic gin drinks like a gin and tonic or a gin martini will become phased out?
MT: They won’t replace the most popular drinks, but I think the more popular drinks will become enhanced, so to speak. I’ll give you an example — there is a gin and tonic recipe here, and the bartender, he makes a gin and tonic, but he uses one large ice cube, cuts a four inch strip of lemon peel, cuts a thin wheel of lime, and he uses three juniper berries, a sprig of lemon verbena, a whole edible flower, and then he adds the gin, and he uses Fever Tree tonic. So there’s your gin and tonic. But it’s sort of an elevated version.
EJ: How long did the researching the entire book require?
MT: I didn’t work on this book in the same way I have with other pieces. I was working on other projects at the same time, so it took a little over a year.
EJ: Was there anything that surprised you when you were writing and researching this book?
MT: My surprise was how many people are doing really creative things at the bar. If you went to big city restaurants websites, they link to the lunch menu, the dinner menu, the dessert menu, the wine list and then the cocktail menu. It’s something very new, and it’s a very interesting trend. I was amazed at how many restaurants are doing interesting things with a cocktail.
EJ: How have people’s taste for alcohol changed during your career as a restaurant owner?
MT: In the early days at my restaurant, we were being very creative with cocktails and turned people on to cocktails they had never heard of before. I’ve always been very fond of the French 75, which is gin and champagne. It was popular in the 1940s but sort of fell into the background in the ’70s and onward as this became more of a wine country. I’ve always been interested in what people are eating and drinking. This book has brought it full circle for me.