Gin is in: where to drink modern takes on the classic cocktails in Shanghai

Get schooled on the many faces of gin – the coquettish villain of the spirit world

To describe gin’s 400-year history in just one word, ‘controversial’ covers all bases. It’s endured centuries of irony: loved and hated, infamous and famed, welcomed in and tossed out. It’s been a tonic and a treat, a cause and a cure, a friend and an enemy. But now, gin is in. So go on then, get schooled on the many faces of gin – the coquettish villain of the spirit world.
Gin Fizz USA, 1887

Gin Fizz USA, 1887

Then and there: The earliest version of the bubbly drink appeared in American bartender Jerry Thomas’ iconic cocktail bible The Bar-Tender’s Guide (also known as The Bon-Vivant’s Companion and How to Mix Drinks). His 1876 ‘Fiz’ recipe called for gum syrup, half a lemon’s juice and spirits, shaken with ice, strained and topped off with soda water. His later 1887 edition offered up the ‘Gin Fiz’: powdered white sugar, three dashes of lemon juice, gin and one piece of ice, again topped with soda water but this time stirred.

Here and now: The Salad Fizz at Shingo Gokan’s Speak Low lends a one-of-a-kind, vinegary-sweet effervescence that shifts the idea of drinking a salad from nightmare to dream. Radish-infused gin gives the drink a consistent earthy jab that’s balanced by sweets and sours from tomato water, simple syrup, lemon and pickle juices and Champagne vinegar. A dash of celery bitters and a final fizzy head of soda water polish the drink.

Speak Low 579 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu (6416 0133).

Clover Club USA, 1917

Clover Club USA, 1917

Then and there: Named for the pre-Prohibition Philadelphia club in which it was invented, the cocktail seems to have first appeared in Thomas Bullock’s The Ideal Bartender; consisting of dry gin, raspberry syrup, sweet vermouth and egg white, well-shaken. Some recipes replaced raspberry with grenadine, some called for shaking with ice, some without – but all relied on one thing for success: proper shaking to achieve its signature frothy white cap.

Here and now: At Shakespeare-inspired cocktail bar Above the Globe from Eddy Yang, the Clover Club sits pretty in pink on the ‘History’ menu of forgotten cocktails. Somewhat lost in time (probably because of the raw egg, which is now widely used again), you won’t find this one on as many menus as other gin classics. But Above the Globe’s take – French raspberry syrup, The Botanist Gin, lime juice and egg white, flawlessly shaken – is a tart, creamy rendition that just may revive the cocktail’s former splendour.

Above the Globe Seventh Floor, 1013 Beijing Xi Lu, near Jiangning Lu (173 1736 9152). 

Negroni Italy, around 1919

Negroni Italy, around 1919

Then and there: The most common story about the negroni’s unproven origins tells of a man named Count Negroni, who used to frequent a café in Florence and there ask the bartender to stiffen his americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water). It resulted in the swap of soda water for gin, and the birth of the classic negroni – equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.

Here and now: At Lychee, consulting bartender Carson Xie has swapped out the orange-brown drink for a crystal clear Negroni Blanc. It starts with watermelon-infused The Botanist Gin, a well-known-and-loved artisanal favourite with 22 locally picked wild botanicals from Scotland’s island of Islay. Amontillado sherry and dry vermouth add woody, winey tinges, while floral St Germain elderflower liquor adds a touch of sweetness and orange bitters give the final kick. While most negronis are robust, bitter and set up for slow sipping, the Blanc is so wispy that you’ll likely forget its true strength.

Lychee No 2, 49 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu (3461 1377). 

Vesper Martini UK, 1953

Vesper Martini UK, 1953

Then and there: The original recipe for the Vesper, or Vesper Martini, comes from Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale, when one James Bond instructs a bartender on how to make his self-concocted drink of choice: ‘Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.’ Later in the series he breaks out the ‘shaken, not stirred’ tag.

Here and now: Candor’s modern rendition from bartender and consultant Aaron Feder, The Dirty Politician brings together Citadelle Gin, Polugar rye and wheat vodka, and an unbelievably awesome housemade dirty vermouth mix: the pour-off from a vat of cocktail onions and green olives soaked in Doling dry vermouth, pickle juice, olive brine, garlic and chilli. It’s a potent, briny crook of a drink that’s so much dirtier than your usual dirty martini.

Candor Crafted Cocktails Third Floor, Lyceum Theatre, 57 Maoming Nan Lu, near Changle Lu (5425 3696).

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