Welcome to the Intoxicology Report, a drinking journey with a few recommendations and a few lessons. This column is dedicated to my experience consuming one variety of alcohol for seven days straight. This time, we take on gin, my favorite spirit. No, it doesn’t always taste like Christmas trees. Yes, it is the basis for some of the best cocktails from which you ever need take a lingering sip.
I’m feeling cocky. It’s very possible that I have accidentally satisfied the parameters of this edition of the Experiment in some boozy week of my past. That prejudicial confidence was likely displayed on my face when I met Jess, owner of Lula Restaurant Distillery located on a picturesque stretch of St. Charles. The operation, the first of its kind in New Orleans, is housed in a large airy space with a gleaming copper still situated against the back wall. It is visible from all angles and takes on a rose gold quality in the late afternoon sunlight. I’m smitten with the vibe, and I could use a drink.
Lula makes vodka, gin, and crystal rum currently, with plans to add an an aged rum in the near term. Jess, who has a background in food science and chemistry, also worked for years in the kitchen at Commander’s. Something about his personality – direct and observant, but never stern – underscores these details of his resume. Lula’s gin, one of the only on the market distilled from sugar cane, is as light as the space from whence it came. If you are the type to turn your nose up at Beefeater or others of the London dry style, this is an excellent bottle to try.
Jess treats me to a double feature of their pre-bottled gin cocktails (a gin and house-made tonic, and a negroni) after a taste of the pure product. They are 10 ounces a piece and available only in the restaurant. I slurp them both down and admire the thoughtfulness behind them, the gin and tonic is served in a champagne glass to preserve the bubbles, the negroni lacks the sometimes unapproachable bitterness that is the cocktail’s signature. Take note brunch-goers of the world – this is a far more sophisticated (and higher octane) way to enjoy your morning booze than what passes for mimosas most places out of a pitcher.
On an especially oppressive afternoon post-office, everything in the Quarter seemed sticky. Running my finger along any surface leaves my hand feeling as if I had snuck a taste of a glazed lemon cake – but far less fragrant. This fact manifests itself on my evermore irritated countenance as a grimace. On the bright side though, this grimace fits the uppity clientele of my next stop, the Sazerac Bar. I’m here to have what else – a Ramos gin fizz!
This is a cocktail with a time and a place, but the the theatrics of it are absolutely undeniable. The creamy head of mine (which was perfect by the way) descends with each sip, and I start to imagine myself with a Grace Kelly-like poise that I do not possess. For the few of you who may not have visited the Sazerac Bar, you really should. It feels (barring any guests that belong to a wedding party) like stepping back in time. Plus, if you’re clever, you can hit Domenica (also attached to the Roosevelt Hotel) for happy hour pizza afterwards.
Originally intent upon traipsing back through the Quarter after work, I make a detour at the Cellar Door, mainly because I feel the need to fortify myself for the sweat I’m about to lose. I have been treated for dehydration before and have decided this is a perfectly acceptable proactive method, but of course, proceed with caution should you choose to imitate this.
I order the “Green Light District” which is a combination of gin, lime, basil and cucumber. It’s highly refreshing and I get that signature, one drink in rush of optimism that always seems to say, “don’t worry about the details Nina, wouldn’t you rather spend all of your time in the throes of intoxication, or passion, or both?!” Yes, yes I would, but this voice has led to many a misstep.
The next stop on my self-styled tour of essential gin drinks is Napoleon House for a Pimm’s Cup. Generally speaking, I put the Pimm’s Cup in the category of cocktails that I would order for a person that repeatedly tells his or her companions the phrase, “I’m not a big drinker.” It’s takes several of these to get a decent buzz, so I have one and then a Bombay and tonic, and then another, and then I sit outside and my thoughts become languid.
While my final drink disappears down my sweaty gullet, “I Can’t Get Started” plays in the back of my mind. Not only is this song a classic, like many gin cocktails, it is also the best love song of all time. Its rendering of the inevitabilities of failure, the boomerang effect of poor choices, reminds me of a lonely hangover. Frank Sinatra’s version is my favorite, and ‘ol blue eyes had it right when he crooned, “life’s a bore, the world’s my oyster no more.” Drink enough on a pretty little patio full of couples, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
I don’t venture out until quite late after accidentally taking a three hour nap. Whenever this happens, I try not to revisit my college ways and drink more alcohol more quickly than normal to “catch up” but that’s what happens. You know, those poor choices again.
However, all seems to take a turn for the better when I pick up a young man who hails from my hometown of Philadelphia. We trade neighborhood landmarks and stories, get drunker, and I find myself yelling (playfully?) about how I plan to teach him to appreciate gin. We stumble into Bar Tonique for this purpose and I order three cocktails while perched on his lap – a Ramos gin fizz, a Botanist gin martini (2-1 please) and the Last Word (one of the only cocktails I like that contains Chartreuse). All classics, but with different flavor profiles. He tells me he enjoys them all, mentions that he’s in town with his girlfriend, laughs awkwardly, and I dismiss him. The bar is about to close. I let him off the hook and cover the whole tab, because, karma.
It is time to discuss martinis. I drink martinis frequently, usually at my regular spot, Sidney’s Saloon. Note that the longsuffering ears to my crude jokes, Kory, makes a perfect one.
Please, if you fancy yourself of drinking age, know how you like your martini or be prepared to have your bartender bring you what they think your martini is and do not complain. In my humble opinion, any way is fine as long as that way means gin. Vodka martinis are for people that own multiple pairs of $100 yoga pants and frequently discuss the gentrification of a neighborhood they’ve occupied for less than a year, you don’t want to be that person, do you? I have three martinis (Beefeater this time, still 2-1, with a twist) and walk home to the sound of my own self-critical inner monologue.
I popped a bike tire on my way around town earlier in the week and haven’t fixed it yet, so my journey to Seven Three Distilling in Treme (right by the Claiborne overpass) from my place in the Marigny is on foot and on fire. Inside, I meet Jennifer and Dimitri behind the bar, who are expecting me and kindly pour me tastes of Seven Three Distilling’s Gentilly Gin, chilled and neat. It’s super smooth and mild, a bit like Lula’s offering. Also like Lula, it has a Louisiana-specific signature due to the inclusion of elderflower and persimmon, ingredients the makers say mimic “remedies from the Cajun medicine bag.” I’ll tell you, there’s nothing medicinal about this gin, and I would personally enjoy it just with a splash of soda and a lime wedge. After a quick tour of the distillery itself, I head back out walk aimlessly until I reach Iggy’s. I spend the rest of the evening shelling out all of the cash I had handy inside that establishment, alternating between gin and tonic and gin and soda. My head was already pounding when I collapsed in bed a few hours later.
On the final day, I visit Jedd, owner and operator of Atelier Vie distillery, tucked away inside the ArtEgg building on S Broad. This is a tiny operation but, if you come visit for the tasting and bottle sale hours (Saturday and Sunday 10-2) you’ll find no shortage of expertise here. Jedd tells me that he has always had an interest in manufacturing, but it was just a matter of decided what he wanted to manufacture. When he decided on booze, a series of laws (that sound suspiciously like they were written to benefit a single distillery) prevented the project from taking shape until 2012. Since then, Jedd’s Euphrosine Gin #9 has collected a variety of awards, including Gold Medal and Best of Category in the Contemporary Rectified Gin at the American Distilling Institute’s 8th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits. However, what I must sing the the praises of here is the barrel-aged version of Euphrosine Gin #9, what Jedd calls his “sipping gin.” That shit is outrageously delicious, and if you have a stalwart whiskey drinker in your life, pour this for them and watch a grin grow.
Back at home in the humid and seemingly airless interior of my apartment, I stare out the window. Fifteen minutes of indecision pass and I decide to fix myself a martini. There’s a half-empty bottle of Beefeater tucked away in the kitchen, and enough vermouth in the fridge to get by. Are my martinis expertly crafted? No, of course not, but they are cold and made of gin, and that’s what counts when you’re laying across your bed trying not to slosh it out of the glass.
There is a place for restlessness, but this isn’t it. Before the plague of social media and the death of true personal separation between past and present, there was just you, cocktail in hand. To quote Charles Bukowski in his quintessential poem, Young in New Orleans: “There was something about that city though, it wouldn’t let me feel guilty that I had no feeling for the things so many others needed. It let me alone.”
So sit alone my friends, let the crispness of good gin infuse your addled brain, and be well.