20 November 2017

From the bartender’s corner – Gin #25: Roku Gin

After the really tasty Gunpowder Gin from Ireland, made a swing to the other end of the world – Japan – to continue with the “tea” theme. Roku Gin – made in the Suntory distillery right outside Osaka – is a rather recent introduction to the international market. Meaning, it has been made available just this year.

My first reaction was marveling at the bottle. This is a very beautiful bottle which is hexagon in shape. The relevance of the hexagon shape was completely lost on me till I learnt what “Roku” means in Japanese. It means “six”.

In keeping with that theme of “six”, Roku gin has six strong local influences in the herbs and botanicals that defines the gin – two types of team – sencha (green tea) and gyokuro (refined green tea), two local cherry influences – the sakura blossoms and sakura leaves as well as sanshō pepper, and yuzu. This is on top of the eight herbals that are fairly standard in all gins: juniper, coriander, angelica root, angelica seed, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, bitter orange peel and lemon peel.

The starting point is a neutral grain spirit, but the distinctive feature of the production process is that the different herbals are taken thru different distillation processes e.g. vacuum distillation, vapor distillation and the standard distillation in copper stills.

I did not try the gin neat today. I had it with some tonic water. First off, the flowery nose can be immediately sensed as you start sipping. The palette was a more on the tighter and bitter side (the gin itself has some tones of bitterness and then the quinine adds to that). The tea makes it presence felt rather quickly. It leaves a creamy or buttery sense as it leaves the mouth. The finish clearly had the strong markings of juniper and citrus.

I am not sure pure tonic water is the best way to take this gin. Further research points to suggestions that a little ginger makes the G&T far better. I will try that tomorrow.

19 November 2017

From the bartender’s corner – Bourbon and Honey

You are probably wondering how come I am off gin cocktails. Well, Sharmila and I went to a Cheesecake Factory to wait for Nikita who was spending some time with her friend in the mall next door. This was my first time to a Cheesecake Factory. I was not expecting much at the bar but I was pleasantly surprised.

Of course, first thing I checked was their Gin collection and once I realized they had Hendricks, I was a little more comforted 🙂 It was cold and I wanted to start with a stiffer cocktail. So, I asked for a “Bourbon and Honey” from their menu. Imagine my surprise when the drink came in a martini glass. First time I can recollect having a Bourbon cocktail in a martini glass.

But it tasted pretty good. The bourbon and the bitters were distinctly recognizable but the taste was much softer and mellower. So, I asked the bartender for his secret. She mentioned that it is the house lemon sour.

Next day, I made myself some fresh lemon sour at home. Using her instructions, I boiled water and sugar and stirred till the sugar dissolved. Squeezed a full fresh lemon and half a lime and mixed it in the sugary water. Threw in a couple of ice cubes and stirred till the ice melted.

Some bourbon (Four Roses), honey liqueur (Barenjager) and bitters (Peychaud’s) later, I was able to recreate the “Bourbon and Honey”. Was very enjoyable. Try it sometime at home. If you do, see if you can slap thyme on as a garnish. I did not have any thyme at home.

17 November 2017

A few lines from Fana Buland Shehri…

“nasha sheeshe mein angraaii lene laga,
bazm-e-rindaan mein saaghar khanakne lage
maikade pe barasne lagiin mastiyaan,
jab ghata ghir ke chaaii …

…maza aa gaya”

Roughly translated (improvements welcome)

“Intoxication – hitherto asleep – woke up and spread within the bottle
The goblets started clinking in the company of the inebriated

Unbridled fun started pouring in the tavern
When the storm clouds surrounded the sky…

… I was in cloud nine in ecstasy.”

17 November 2017

Cafe con Laura

Last time I saw Laura was when my family went over to her place to have dinner with her family. That was six years back – almost to the day. Nov 20, 2011 to be precise.

And it was in Santiago, Chile!!!

Today, I met her in my neck of the woods – Milton, Georgia – over a couple of cups of coffee. We had a great time together – talking about our old workplace, colleagues from our prior lives and our own parents!!

Found out an interesting coincidence. When I drove to meet my colleague from Mumbai days at a Starbucks in Appleton, Wisconsin in September, apparently, I was within spitting distance of where Laura’s parents live!! Oh! How I wish I knew that then!!!

16 November 2017

What if your eyesight was taken away from you?

I was somewhat flummoxed about what to do next. I had just concluded visiting one of my patients in the hospice. I had gone to see a new patient that I had been just assigned but he was deep in slumber. At that hospice, those were the only two patients I had. I was wavering between whether to go back home or visit another hospice center half an hour away when I noticed a blind person shuffling along with his walking stick in the corridor. Two things stood out. First, he was reasonably well dressed – and when I say well dressed in a hospice, I mean his shirt was tucked in and his hair was combed. However, he also did not seem to know where he was going.

I stepped up, cleared my throat and asked – “Are you trying to go somewhere, Sir?”
“Yes, I am trying to get to my room”, he replied.
“You live here?” I will admit, I did not think of him as a patient.
“Yes. But they have changed my room. And I am all confused now”.

“Okay. Maybe I can be helpful. What is your room number?”
“I think it is 5…7… something”.
I knew that the hospice had no such room number. The highest was 540. So, tactfully, I asked “By the way, my name is Raj. What is your name?”
“Louis Armstrong” (name changed to maintain privacy).
“Hang on here”.

Then I walked up and down a couple of corridors and found his name tag outside room 531.
“Okay. Your room number is 531. I can help you get there”.
“Thank you. Who are you?”
“Oh! I am just a volunteer. I spend time with patients”.
“So you are a doctor or a nurse?”
“No. I just spend time with patients”
“Doing what?”
“Mostly talking to them. Listening to them. Giving them company. Taking them for a walk. You know all that stuff I am allowed to do without a medical degree”.

By now, we had entered his room, All this time he used his walking stick to feel his way thru and I would just tell him which way to turn.
“So, you just talk to people?”. HE seemed almost incredulous.
“Yeah! Something like that”
“So, you will talk to me?”

Well, that presented an interesting conundrum. He is not a patient of mine. In fact, he is not even a patient of the company I volunteer for. But what the heck? I did not have anything better to do.

“Sure. Tell me your story. Who are you? Why are you?”

And the afternoon started rolling from there….

Louis was a NASA engineer. He worked on the first stage of the rocket that eventually put the first man on the moon. He also worked on the first stage of the rocket that put the shuttle into space.

And he was a World War II veteran. Who served in Burma where he was shot down from the sky.

Suddenly, he asked “Where are you from?”
“Which part of India”
“I have been to Calcutta”
“You have?”
“Yes. Do you know what is a third class compartment?”
(I had a vague memory that trains in India had three classes of compartments when I was growing up – usually it is only two now)
“I can’t remember”
“Well, there is no glass in the windows for the third class”
Laughing, I asked “How do you know?”
“Well, we were sent from Bombay to Calcutta by third class compartment in a train to proceed to Burma”

Louis has gone blind slowly over the last thirty years.
“Glaucoma?”, I asked
“Exactly. Are you sure you are not a doctor”
“Trust me. I am very sure. Tell me how was the transition. Are you used to it now?”

“Raj, unless you are born blind, you never get used to getting blind. You really do not know how much you give up till your eyesight is actually taken away from you. I know it is fall season now. I know how the trees and leaves used to look like but I cannot see it now.”

“Do you think it is more difficult to be born blind or go blind”?
After a few seconds of thought, he said “I do not think I can compare. I do not know what being born blind is like. But I also think it is much harder if you are given something and then it is taken away from you than never been given at all. You do not know any different when you never had it to begin with”.

Believe it or not, by then, it was almost an hour and a half that we had been talking. And when I say, talking – I mean he did all the talking. I was mostly listening.

Finally, I let him know that I needed to go.

“Raj – you said Raj is your name right….?”
“It is Rajib. But I go often by Raj”
“Right Raj. I know you do not do this for a living. So you may not come back. And even if you did and went past me, I won’t realize it. But if you find time, I would like to spend more time with you.”
“Sure thing. I have so much more to know about the rest of the life”
“No. Next time, I want to hear about who you are”
“You do?”
“I do.”

Well then, I have to come back, don’t I?

Post Script: Two days later, I went back to the same hospice. After finishing with my own patients, I went looking for him. He was not in his room. I went around all the corridors and finally found him in the common area totally immersed listening to the piano being played by a gentleman who was doing a rather good job at it, I thought. Another volunteer, like me, no doubt.

I thought a lot and decided not to bother him. Felt guilty that I did not let him know that I was around. But did not want to distract him from something he was obviously enjoying either. Will go see him tomorrow.

14 November 2017

From the bartender’s corner – Gunpowder and Tonic

You probably recollect from my previous cocktail post that while I loved the Gunpowder Irish Gin, I was not a big fan of the G&T. I had used a lemon peel as many experts had suggested.

Yesterday, I changed it up and gave it a second shot – this time I went with another common theme among bartenders – use a pink grapefruit to garnish. And I am happy to say, that made all the difference. It brought out the grapefruit in the gin lot more dramatically and the citrus then was able to keep the ginger and quinine from the tonic water under control.

Gunpowder Irish Gin, Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water and a pink grapefruit!