Berry Brothers Number Three

Thanksgiving Day and treats galore – so many things for which to give thanks…

The first is No.3 London Dry Gin. It came to me wrapped in tissue paper printed faintly with a map of St. James’s Street in apple green ink. This is a part of London which is indelibly familiar to me. It lies between the place where I grew up – Chelsea – and the area where my parents worked, the theatres of the West End.  No. 3 St James’s was an address that rang a particularly happy little bell in memory’s carillon: Berry Bros. & Rudd, the world’s oldest wine merchant, in business since 1698. My mum sometimes ordered a case of wine from Berry Bros. The company specialized in making things easy for English customers. I remember bottles labelled simply “Hock” (totally delicious Riesling from the Rhine) or “Good Ordinary Claret” (no need to confuse matters by naming the deuxième-tier Château that had created the wine – and besides it was always excellent). Inside the ancient premises is a room called The Parlour – one of the oldest rooms in the shop – where Lord Byron once dined. So did Napoleon III, who was French. So did Prime Minister William Pitt (though I don’t know if that was Pitt the Elder or Pitt the Younger – probably the Younger, since he drank his weight in Port while running the country).

Berry Bros. is now in the business of providing the heirs and successors of the Pitts and Byrons with the wherewithal to continue conquering worlds politick and literary – namely gin. Byron chugged gin and water while writing Don Juan (there are few poems I enjoy more) and the No.3 would have been right up his allée. It’s a real gin. By which I mean it doesn’t taste of exotic flowers, or cucumber and roses, or citrus fruit. It tastes roundly of juniper (okay, cardamom, grapefruit peel, orange, earthy angelica and coriander seed mitigate the whack) but mostly it’s perfumed, pine-forest-bitter, antique-Christmassy, venison-gamey,  juniper – dry as a bone, clean as the London style should always be, and spectacular in a Martini with a twist of lemon. If you need olives, have them on the side. The LCBO has it on its shelves (look for the bottle with the key pressed into its gizzard) – and so should we all.

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