Guest post: Muddling Through Ginuary (sans muddling stick)

And today, Jenn checks in on her Ginuary experience. I’m sorry I let you down and didn’t post the full recipe for last year’s tart, Jenn! I will take the blame for that traumatising experience. Thank you so much for taking on the Ginuary challenge with me, it was a blast! Readers, follow Jenn’s exploits at Soaked in Beer, twitter and instagram.

So, my first Ginuary journey has come to an end. I’m a little bit sad, but also a little relieved. My liver is preparing to throw a party and my credit card is breathing a sigh of relief, but I’m going to miss having that little daily goal. There were times when I was slightly freaked out by the prospect of not being able to make it through. Now I’m at the end, I feel like I could use a few more days. There are things I didn’t get to try, places I didn’t visit…now I have to wait a whole year to do them? Well, of course not. I’m pretty sure Ginuary spirit will live on throughout the year.

Looking back on the month, there were highlights, and a couple of lowlights. Mostly highlights though. I took the opportunity to try my hand at beer cocktails. I had been somewhat sceptical about the use of beer in cocktails before. I knew it had been done (and not just Micheladas), but I guess I didn’t take it seriously. Somehow Ginuary has made me see beer in a whole new light. I was lucky enough to be able to try a professionally mixed beer cocktail (‘East Meets West’ at Cookie), but also did a few experiments of my own. I kept them all fairly simple, but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed making and drinking them. I won’t lie – there were times when I definitely felt that the addition of gin to beer made the beer better. Writing those words makes me feel treacherous to my love of beer, but it can be true. I’m also thrilled that I inspired Miss Ginuary to dip her toe into the beer cocktail pool as well.

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Seeing as cooking with beer is something of an interest of mine as well, I couldn’t go through the month without trying my hand at cooking with gin. First I tried my hand at curing salmon in gin. The recipe was simple enough (you can find it here on taste.com.au), and while I think it could use some tweaking (I found it a bit too salty) it worked really well. I’d never cured anything before, so I was kind of surprised how easy it was. However, as you don’t cook it as such, I get the feeling the alcohol remains. I think I may have got a little drunk. Drunk on salmon. Amazing. My second attempt at being a gin-chef was the famous gin & tonic tart. I’d first seen it on this very blog during last year’s Ginuary shenanigans, and knew one day I had to make it mine. Unfortunately the recipe came from an old copy of Delicious magazine and they don’t have it on their website, but I found a recipe online that was supposed to be based on it. They had changed it to make small individual tarts, so I had to change it back, but halve the quantities as I only have a little pie dish. This was slightly failtastic, as I am a noob when it comes to pie, and forgot I would need to increase the cooking time. This ended in the loss of about a quarter of the pie filling, which ended up on the inside of the oven, on the kitchen floor and a little on me. I almost lost the accompanying syrup too, when I got distracted by massaging my chicken. I thought women were supposed to be able to multitask? Not me, it seems. Despite the disaster-chef dramas, the tart did taste very good…and that’s all the matters, right?

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The absolute highlight of the month was provided by professionals, of course. With stellar timing, newish Melbourne bar & restaurant, Virginia Plain, had just introduced a negroni menu. A negroni was always going to feature in Ginuary for me, so I decided to check it out. There are five variation on the negroni theme to choose from, but only two feature gin – The classic negroni and the VP Smoked negroni. I couldn’t choose, so had to try both. The classic was just that – your classic, bold and bitter negroni. The VP smoked, however, was out of this world. If you haven’t worked it out, the VP in the name stands for Virginia Plain. This cocktail is their own take on the negroni, and yes, they put smoke in it. Their own special blend of secret herbs and spices are burnt in this little contraption with a hose that pours the fragrant smoke into the glass, then they pop a coaster on top to keep it in. It’s presented this way, so the customer can release the smoke at their leisure. I left it for a few minutes, so I could (a) marvel at the wonder of a smoked filled glass and (b) instagram it. When you lift the lid, the smoke wafts up and hits you with its woody, herbal aroma (the husband likened it to smelling like a bushfire). While this is great theatre, it also tastes amazing. Consider the slightly sweet, bitter hit of a negroni, with an added smoky depth and complexity. I guess you need to like smoky flavours, as it is very prominent and bold. I was also amazed that the smoke flavor remained right until the last drop. Virginia Plain certainly know what they are doing when it comes to cocktails, and I hear that plans are underway for a gin cart.

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I ended my Ginuary journey with a visit to the Gin Palace. I’d never been to this cosy little underground bar and it seemed like the right way to see off Ginuary 2013. It truly is a palace of gin, with an impressive list that runs for several pages. Their focus seems to be on Martinis, but I was still surprised that I had to go off-menu to order an Aviation. Surely such a classic gin cocktail is worthy of a place in the palace? Still, it was no problem and I was able to say my farewells in the way I had planned.

There were a few bumps in the road. Discovering too late that a White Lady is supposed to have Cointreau in it, not triple sec like my cocktail app seemed to think. I put a dash too much bitters in my Ellison. Then there was that extra hot day when I was rushed for time and grabbed a couple of bottles of Gordon’s premixed G&T. Many years ago they were my go-to pre-mixed beverage. My helpful husband had gifted me with a beautiful purple plastic margarita glass. You know, one of the flashing ones, so I drank it from that and it was dubbed ‘The Bogana’. So tacky, but on a searing hot day it hit the spot. I guess it was kind of cheating as well, as I had already had a G&T on day two…but not Gordon’s pre-mix…and certainly not from a glass with its own light show.

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Considering how unplanned and last minute my decision to embark on Ginuary was, I think I’ve done okay for a first timer. Although would you believe I still don’t have a muddling stick? I’ll make it a goal for Ginuary 2014.