The first gin I enjoyed drinking straight was Xoriguer Mahon. Maybe it was the sun-drenched island of Menorca that opened my eyes, or maybe it was the unique nature of the gin that grabbed me.
For an alcohol to become classified as gin, it must have juniper and the alcohol percentage must be at least 37.5% in the European Union and 40% in the US. With such loose requirements, a huge range of production processes exist. Xoriguer Mahón makes a unique style of gin that even has a special EU designation and protection, “Gin de Mahón.” One significant distinguishing feature is the base spirit, as the alcohol derives from grapes, which imparts a unique taste. In addition, the gin must be produced in copper stills with juniper berries using direct wood fires.
The gin has an earthy nose with a hint of sweetness. The first flavor upon trying it is a bold note of juniper. Following this initial pleasant burst, lemon and pine come forth and warm the palate.
THIRST AND HUNGER
Twist on a Classic: Gin and Tonic
For the twist on a classic, the gin and tonic seemed like the only option. Admittedly, I took a long time to come around to this drink. When I first tried one years ago, I thought I had sipped Pine-Sol. Now, it may be my favorite Summer drink. This variation on the classic accentuates the juniper forward flavor of the Xoriguer Mahón and pairs nicely with the tonic syrup and coconut soda.
For the drink:
-2 oz gin (Xoriguer Mahón)
-1 1/2 oz tonic syrup
-Top off with coconut soda
For the garnish:
Tom Collins glass
Add several rosemary sprigs to a small metal cup. Ignite the sprigs with a kitchen blow torch. Once the rosemary begins to smoke, hold the glass over the top to capture the smoke. Add ice to the glass, then the remaining drink ingredients. Stir to combine and garnish.
Something Original: Lemon and Lavender
The inspiration for this drink came from The Great British Bake Off. In the finale of Series 8, Sophie Faldo's showstopper cake that helped her win was flavored with lemon and lavender. I wanted to build on this pairing, and Xoriguer Mahón gin works wonderfully with these flavors.
For the drink:
-1 1/2 oz gin (Xoriguer Mahón)
-1/4 oz lavender liqueur
-3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
-1/3 honey simple syrup
For the garnish:
Combine the drink ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice until three-quarters full. Shake for 5-10 seconds. Double strain through a Hawthorne and fine mesh strainer into your glass.
Eat Your Spirit: Gin and Juice Tart
To incorporate gin into a food item, I decided to make a gin and juice tart. Gin balances nicely with citrus, and a lemon tart was a great way to feature the Xoriguer Mahón.
For the crust:
-7 1/2 oz (1 1/2 cups) gluten free flour (You can use normal flour, but the gluten free flour gives the crust a wonderful shortbread consistency)
-2 1/4 oz (5 1/2 tablespoons) white sugar
-3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
-2 tablespoons water
For the filling:
-7 oz (1 1/8 cups) white sugar
-2 tablespoons gluten free flour (or normal flour)
-1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
-3 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
-1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
-1/4 cup gin (Xoriguer Mahón Gin)
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-Set your oven to 350 degrees F.
-Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt for the crust. Gradually add in the olive oil and water and work the crust together with your fingers.
-Work about three quarters of the dough into the base of a 9 inch tart tin spreading it evenly. Use the remaining quarter of the dough go fill in the edges.
-Cut a circle of parchment paper and lay it over the crust. Fill with "baking beans" or rice to weigh down the parchment paper.
-Blind-bake for about 30 minutes, rotating halfway through.
-When there is about 15 minutes left for the tart shell, stir together all of the filling ingredients, except the olive oil, in a medium sauce pan. Use a wooden spoon, not a whisk or you will get a bubbly tart filling.
-Place the medium sauce pan on the stove over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon regularly until the filling reaches 160 degrees F, about 5 to 10 minutes.
-Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the olive oil.
-Then pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or bowl to remove the lemon zest.
-Take the tart out of the oven and remove the baking-beans and parchment paper.
-Pour the filling into the tart tin and place the tart back in the oven for 8-10 minutes. The tart is done when there is a slight jiggle when wobbled.
-Allow the tart to cool in the tin on a wire rack for 2 hours.
-Remove from the tin and refrigerate. I think it's best cold with fresh whipping cream.
Menorca is where I fell in love with the Mediterranean. In the spring of 2017, while living in Barcelona for a Fulbright Fellowship, my wife, Sarah, came to visit and we decided to travel the island for three days. The beaches, wine, food, sun, and gin was an experience that inspired us to explore other Mediterranean islands. We visited Crete and Sicily afterwards, and plan to visit Corsica and Sardinia soon.
Menorca often receives fewer tourists than two of the more well-known destinations in the Balearic Islands, Mallorca and Ibiza, but it is a destination worth visiting. Menorca, like many other Mediterranean islands has rich history with numerous groups controlling it throughout its history including, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Vikings, French, English, Catalans, and Spanish. The imprint of these groups can be seen throughout the island's culture. And while the focus here is on the gin, the island has another spectacular culinary achievement. It’s the birthplace of mayonnaise.
The Xoriguer Mahón distillery is on the Mahón waterfront. Upon visiting, Sarah and I were the only people in the spacious tasting room. We were greeted with a warm welcome and invited to sample the array of spirits. Unlike any other distillery experiences, at Xoriguer Mahón, the tasting was entirely self-serve. We took our time pouring our own samples and trying their ten or so different liquors at our own pace. While I loved all of their products, I only purchased their original gin. I've found their gin for sale in the US, but have not come across any of their other products.
Mahón sits on the southern tip of Menorca and is a port on a gorgeous Mediterranean bay. The towns scenery, culture, food, and location make it the perfect place to stay when visiting Menorca. Magnificent view of the waterfront exist throughout the town. Mahón has an excellent food scene even though the population is only about 30,000. Two of my restaurants were the wine and tapas bar Anatea and the Restaurant Ses Forquilles. Anatea’s friendly environment, with a welcoming owner, was a great window into Menorcan food culture. Ses Forquilles appears on the Michelin Guide for Menorca and has a phenomenal menu, with artichoke chips and red tuna standing out as highlights. Mahon, size makes it easy to walk everhwere. We stayed at the Petit Maó, which was an ideal location with phenomenal accommodations. This small boutique hotel is my favorite place I’ve ever stayed. And since the entire island takes only about an hour to drive across we stayed there the entire trip.
The Menorcan countryside delights the senses. The rugged Mediterranean landscape and beaches endlessly excite. Many activity options for visitors exist. Unsurprisingly, there are several wineries, although commercial production disappeared for a while and only relatively recently returned. Numerous beaches ring the island with water colors ranging from sapphire to aquamarine. One of the best places to visit beaches and hike through is the Parc Natural de s'Albufera des Grau. To get from beach to beach in this biosphere, you hike along a trail that actually allows you to circumnavigate the entire island, all 187 km. The small town of Es Grau is located in the park and you can rent sea kayaks to row out to the small island right off the coast, Illa d’en Colom, and take in the isolated beach of Playa Els Tamarells.
I long for the day Sarah and I can return to Menorca.