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Rock…Paper…Gin, Brandy or Vodka?
rock paper scissors gin

By 1st Principles Distilleries Spokesperson

(10 Minute Read)

What does expensive fine art, clever chimpanzees, a court case, copulating lizards and antibiotics all have in common? Randomly speaking, nothing really, but in an ironic twist of fate, there is an important element of causality underpinning these bizarre events. Let me not strain the point beyond your patience.

The causal link between the above events, is that they were all decided on the rock-paper-scissors algorithm. That’s right the famous game we employ when we want a fair outcome in a situation which seems at odds with each other. Two people stand opposite each other and use their hands to represent three items; a rock (closed fist), paper (an open hand) and scissors (an index and middle finger opened up to represent some scissors). Paper can cover rock, but scissors can cut paper, and rock can of course beat scissors – that’s the long and the short of it. Sometimes it’s just used to decide who gets to cut the last banana over their cereal for breakfast, or who gets their choice of Friday night’s family movie, we’ve all been there.

To be clear, the above examples are actual events. I will explain one of them to illustrate the principle. In 2005 Takashi Hashiyama, CEO of Maspro Denkoh decided to auction off a prosed collection high value paintings owned by his corporation. He contacted Christies International and Sotheby’s Holdings and both firms made their respective proposals, but Hashiyama was indecisive and asked the firms to decide amongst themselves who would finally hold the auction but they were unable to reach a decision. Hashiyama then told the two firms to play rock-paper-scissors in order to decide who would get the rights to the auction.

Our lives are riddled with moments of chance encounters and randomness. It seems that even the simplest of things happens for no reason. The theory of quantum mechanics, describing physics at the smallest scales of matter, is another example that postulates, nature at a basic level is in fact random. Many particles simply come into existence and for the no reason disappear again. Some scientists believe our universe also came into existence on the same principle; it just happened.

This is not a physics lecture of course, but rather an exploration of the randomness all things arounds us. Take for example why we enjoy certain types of spirits? It’s not simply decided by taste, or our mood, sometimes we want companionship, and we seek to have a drink with friends, sometimes with a loved one while cooking our favourite meal. Perhaps we want to forget the sorrows of the world, or simply laugh and have a good time. Other times we long for the silence only brought about by the flickering of a campfire in the middle of nowhere. Some days we are happy and others we are sad. This is life as we know it.

This article is an exploration of three central craft spirits used as bases in cocktails, namely Gin, Brandy and Vodka. Each has their own unique story and soul, and the undefined randomness that make each of them great. Which cocktails are they best suited for, and which drinks made them famous, or is it all just a case of personal taste?


GIN

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

If Gin was a Person…

Napoleon Bonaparte

History

Initially concocted in bathtubs, gin was a mixture of cheap grain alcohol mixed with juniper-berry oil, left to infuse and be distilled directly from tubs. The term juniper-berry does not refer to a berry at all, but rather to the Juniper tree which is part of the Conifer family, a group of cone-bearing seed plants.

What is called Juniper “berries” are in fact nothing other than pinecones, and juniper-berry oil was substituted with turpentine! It comes as no surprise that Bathtub Gin, as it was known, apart from packing a serious punch, also possessed a particularly vile taste and led to many illnesses and even death.

While gin may be the national spirit of England, the spirit originated in Holland. The English discovered genever while fighting the Dutch War of Independence in the 17th century and brought the spirit back with them. The famous London-style gin would be born 150 years later.

Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch physician, created genever as medicine during the 16th century. His high-proof concoction was believed to improve circulation and other ailments. During the Dutch Independence War, it was given to soldiers hence, Dutch Courage.

During the 19th century, British citizens began moving to India after the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 and, subsequently, the popularity of Gin & Tonic spiked. In efforts to avoid malaria, the demand for Indian Tonic Water grew. This is why Schweppes made Indian Tonic; to make the quinine palatable. Gin was added to the tonic water to incentivise the consumption of Indian Tonic.

In the old days, sailing the open seas was certainly no relaxing vacation in the Caribbean. The threat of death and disease was imminent, and The Royal Navy used to mix gin with lime juice to prevent scurvy which was caused by a lack of vitamin C. This drink would later become known as the Gimlet (more about this cocktail later).

Bathtub Gin was never concocted to be gentle on the palate. Drinking straight gin was a sure way to grow hair on your chest and it was intense on the throat. In order to get the firewater down, the spirit was mixed with other ingredients to soften the harshness, which is why so many classic cocktails today use gin as a base.

How is it Made?

Traditional gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. It originated as a medicinal liquor made by monks and alchemists across Europe, particularly in southern France, Flanders, and the Netherlands, to provide aqua vita from distillates of grapes and grains. Examples are Old Tom Gin, Genever.

Classic style gins are juniper infused and the term classic is often confused with London Dry Gin. Classic gin refers only to the general juniper-forward taste impression and not any specific process, ingredient list or type of Gin. Examples of classic style gins are London Dry, Navy Strength Gin and Plymouth Gin.

Vapour Infused Gin is made with a special infusion method which does not bring the mix of juniper and botanicals into contact with the liquid spirit at all. The botanical-infused vapour then condenses into a botanical-infused spirit, and water is added to reduce to bottling strength.

How do you drink it?

Gin is the most full flavoured of all clear spirits. It is distilled from mixed grains and infused with flavours, and as such, it has a distinctive taste that comes from traditional botanicals such as juniper berries, citrus peel, and coriander. Modern day distillers make use of more complex botanicals such as Rooibos and Honeybush, or what is available in a particular region, and produces a variety of flavours and tastes.

Gin became popular because it dresses itself in a variety of ways and it can adapt to whatever flavour profile suits the drinker. This aromatic liquor is also perfect for drinking during warmer months.

However controversial in its early days, Gin has become a distinguished spirit and is versatile in its use. It can be enjoyed in refreshing cocktails such as the much-loved Gin-and-Tonic or be used as a base in more classic drinks such as the Tom Collins.

Today we have approximately 5 500 different makes of gin to choose from, with new ones being added each week. Of course, it wasn’t always like this, but this in a way is why Gin has such a rich and colourful history and story to tell.

Best Cocktails to Enjoy with Gin


Fogcutter
The Fogcutter

This cocktail contains three spirits and packs quite a punch. The ideal end of the week de-stressor! Don’t let the name fool you, it certainly won’t cut away any fog, on the contrary…

Ingredients
20ml 1st Principles Classic Dry
20ml 1st Principles Single Barrel Brandy
20ml Green Island Rum
40ml Orange Juice
20ml Lemon Juice
15ml Almond Syrup
5ml Sherry

Combine the gin, brandy, rum, freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice.

Add the almond syrup to really funk things up.

Shake well and add the sherry to top.

Garnish with anything fun you can lay your hands on and serve tall over ice.

negroni
The Negroni

The Italians say one needs to have at least three of these before you begin to enjoy them, or anything else for that matter.

Ingredients
25ml 1st Principles Cocktail Gin
25ml Sweet Vermouth
25ml Campari
1 strip Orange Zest

Pour the Gin, Vermouth and Campari into your favourite rocks glass over ice.

Stir it down to your preferred taste.

Then, zest the orange with true Italian flair over the glass and add to the potion.

Combine the gin, brandy, rum, freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice.

Add the almond syrup to really funk things up.

Shake well and add the sherry to top.

Garnish with anything fun you can lay your hands on and serve tall over ice.

Bramble
The Bramble

Short, fragrant and a shooting taste for a thirsty throat. This cocktail is colourful and a true party pleaser. As long as you have ice, you can enjoy this drink for quite some time.

Ingredients

40ml 1st Principles Rooibos Gin (for an exciting twist!)
20ml Sugar Syrup
20 ml Lemon Juice
10 ml Crème de Mure
Berries or lemon zest, for garnish.

Take a large measure of dry gin and shake together with the lemon and sugar syrup.

Pour over crushed ice.

Drizzle Crème de Mure through the drink.

Garnish with a lemon zest or some fresh seasonal berries.

BRANDY

THE SOUTH AFRICAN POSTER BOY

If Brandy was a Person?

Prof Chris Barnard

History

South African brandy boasts a longstanding history and today it’s a global, beloved and well-respected spirit. That alone accounts for two of the most important brand building elements namely heritage and market share. South African brandy has, and undeniable Dutch history and one will be hard pushed to claim the contrary.

Derived from the Dutch word brandewijn (directly translated to mean “burnt wine”) the South African brandy story started in 1672, very soon after the first vineyards were cultivated by the Dutch settlers. A cook aboard the De Pijl, a Dutch ship, anchored in Table Bay, distilled the first locally grown grapes.

Local brandy was being embraced soon became a favourite alternative to similar imported spirits. With well-known brands like Oude Molen, KWV and Distell, local Brandy has turned into major industries and consistently secures winners at world championship events such as the International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC).

Nicholas Charles Krone came to the Cape in 1863 from the Netherlands and became famous for his renowned brandy enterprise in Worcester. In 1845 Jan van Ryn arrived in Cape Town from the Netherlands and opened bottle stores and, later, a distillery of the same name. The Van Ryn Distillery continues to produce some of the world’s best brandies.

René Santhagens, born in Batavia pursued a career as a distiller in South Africa in the 1890’s. He has made a significant contribution to the production of quality brandy. His legacy continues in the Oude Molendistillery established in Elgin, and don’t forget present-day masters such as Kobus Gelderblom, carrying an exemplary torch of excellence!

The rich story of South African brandy and its heritage is one of the main reasons why smaller distilleries have found the inspiration, confidence and creativity to innovate with new craft spirits such as local Gins, Vodkas and Brandies. The Western Cape, with its ideal coastal weather, with no short supply of quality grapes, botanicals and natural products, has seen the region alive with a host of new craft distilleries – all well worth a visit indeed.

How is it Made?

Brandy is made by distilling purpose made rebate wine. All brandies are aged in wooden barrels and may be edited and enhanced with colours and flavours, although not a preferred practice amongst purist Brandy Masters.

In the South African context, the production and classification of Brandy is a highly regulated affair. In Part 1 of the Liquor Products Act 60 of 1989 the specific requirements for Pot Still Brandy, Brandy and Vintage Brandy are explained, respectively. The best Brandies and Cognacs are aged for decades to achieve incredible depth of flavour.

Brandy is not so much made as it slowly evolves and grows; a live feat of nature and a true reflection of what is possible when the best of nature and man work together. It all starts with the farmer producing grapes with character and personality. Then the winemaker, with the help of yeast cells, transform the grapes into rebate wine. Next in line is the distiller, whom, with the help of copper contact and heat, coaxes the best raw brandy from this wine. Lastly, with lots of patience and time, oak barrels play their own special role, and after a number of years brings forth brandy from its wooden cocoon.

How do you drink it?

Brandy is an aromatic distilled spirit and knowing how to drink different types of brandy can enhance your enjoyment of this warm, fragrant, and delicious liquor. There are various ways you can drink brandy to enjoy what it has to offer, from a simple neat brandy to brandy-based cocktails.

The most classic way to drink brandy is in a special cocktail glass called a brandy snifter. The snifter has a bowl and rim shape that directs the brandy to the appropriate part of your tongue and delivers the aromas to your nose.

In one of our previous articles, we explored the process of making brandy and how the dark spirit is classified within the South African context and rich heritage. You can read the full article

Brandy Snifter glass

Best Cocktails to Enjoy with Brandy


Metropolitan
The Metropolitan

This classic brandy cocktail is said to have been created at the Waldorf-Astoria Bar in New York in the 1930s. Mr Andrews describes it as “watermelon pink and the epitome of sophistication, especially when served with a pair of fresh cherries”.

Ingredients

50ml VSOP Brandy or 25ml 1st Principles cask strength VSOP
25ml Sweet Vermouth
Dash of simple syrup
Few drops Angostura bitters
Ice cubes
Pair of cherries for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes and combine all the ingredients.

Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Drape a pair of fresh cherries over the side.

Lumamba
The Lumumba

A sweet cocktail created in honour of Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “This drink is a surprisingly simple combination of Brandy and chocolate milk. It recognises Mr Lumumba’s penchant for both of these ingredients and is a real crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients

25ml VSOP Brandy or 13ml of 1st Principles cask strength Organic VSOP
Chocolate milk
Chocolate for garnish

Stir the brandy and chocolate milk together in a tall glass (a champagne flute looks particularly elegant).

Add a few shavings of grated chocolate on top to finish.

Brandy Alexander
The Brandy Alexander

The Brandy Alexander is a dessert cocktail made with equal parts brandy, creme liqueur, and heavy cream. The first printed recipe for an Alexander was in a 1916 cocktail book. The original recipe used gin instead of brandy. Over time, brandy or Cognac became the liquor of choice.

Ingredients

1st Principles Single Barrel Brandy (equal part)
Creme Liqueur (equal part)
Heavy cream (equal part)

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker (or mason jar).

Add ice and shake.

Strain the drink into a low-ball glass or a round tumbler.

Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg which adds a warm-spiced flavour to the drink.

VODKA

LONG LIVE THE RUSSIANS!

If Vodka was a Person?

Leo Tolstoy

History

Vodka is a clear alcoholic beverage from Europe. It has different varieties originating in Poland, Russia and Sweden. It is composed primarily of water and ethanol, but sometimes with traces of impurities and flavourings. Traditionally it is made by distilling the liquid cereal grains that have been fermented with potatoes. Arising as a substitute in more recent times, some modern brands are using fruits, honey, or maple sap as the base.

The word vodka was recorded for the first time in 1405 in court documents in Poland. At the time, wodka referred to medicines and cosmetic products, while the beverage was called gorzałka (from the Old Polish gorzeć meaning “to burn”). The word Vodka written in Cyrillic appeared first in 1533, in relation to a medicinal drink brought from Poland to Russia by the merchants of Kievan Rus.

Scholars debate the beginnings of Vodka due to the little historical material available. For many centuries, beverages differed significantly compared to the Vodka of today, as the spirit at that time had a different flavour, colour, and smell, and was originally used as medicine. It contained little alcohol, an estimated maximum of about 14%. The still, allowing for distillation (“burning of wine”), increased purity and increased alcohol content, was invented in the 8th century.

In Poland, Vodka has been produced since the early Middles Ages with local traditions as varied as the production of Cognac in France, or Scottish Whisky. A type of distilled liquor designated by the Russian word vodka came to Russia in the late 14th century. In 1386, the Genoese ambassadors brought the first aqua vitae (“the water of life”) to Moscow and presented it to Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy. The liquid obtained by distillation of grape must was thought to be a concentrate and a “spirit” of wine which became to the name of this substance in many European languages.

Up until the 1950s, Vodka was not used as a designation for Swedish distilled beverages, which were instead called “burn-wine”, the word having the same etymology as the Dutch Brandewijn, which is the base for the word Brandy. This beverage has been produced in Sweden since the late 15th century, although the total production was still small in the 17th century. From the early 18th century, production expanded, although production was prohibited several times, during grain shortages. From the early 1870s, distillery equipment was improved.

How it’s Made?

Vodka is most commonly distilled from grains like wheat, rye or rice, but it can also be distilled from things like potatoes, corn, beets, fruits (like apples or grapes), or even maple syrup. Vodka made from potatoes tends to have a creamier body and mouthfeel, and a subtle earthy taste.

Corn-based Vodka tends to be sweeter with more alcoholic heat. Wheat Vodka is creamy and viscous, with a clean flavour. Rye-based Vodka has a tangy pepperiness. But most Vodkas on the market use a blend of grains to achieve a consistently neutral product.

Vodka is a clean spirit with subtle characteristics ranging from herbal and grassy to sweet and spicy. It provides a blank canvas for experimentation with infusions and is the perfect base for a variety of cocktails.

How do you drink it?

The first thing to consider when drinking Vodka straight is the quality of spirit. Unless you want to forever ruin Vodka for yourself, it’s best to opt for higher quality Vodka when you’re sipping it solo. The next step to drinking Vodka is the most important: Chill it. The best way to chill a bottle of Vodka is simply to store it in the freezer (don’t worry, Vodka can’t freeze). Ice-cold Vodka is great with food. In Russia, straight Vodka is always served with a meal or snacks like smoked fish, pickles, fresh cucumbers, meats, sausages and olives.

If you don’t want to drink straight Vodka, you can easily mix it into a variety of cocktails that will hide—or enhance—its flavours. While most Vodka cocktails include fresh juice or citrus and are shaken with a cocktail shaker, there are Vodka cocktails for every type of drinker. To make drinks like the Cosmopolitan, The Vodka Gimlet or French Martini, you will need ice, a citrus press and a cocktail shaker. This style of Vodka cocktail hides the alcohol flavour and is bright, refreshing and extremely drinkable.

Vodka also works as the base in a variety of sweeter dessert-tails, like the White Russian, Mudslide and the Chocolate Martini. These cocktails don’t taste like alcohol and can potentially sneak up on you if you’re not careful. If you enjoy drinking Vodka straight, though, there are also plenty of more alcohol-forward Vodka libations to imbibe. Classically stirred and strong Vodka cocktails include the Martini, Vesper or the Dirty Vodka Martini.

Another popular option is to drink Vodka in Highball glasses like the Vodka Soda and the Vodka Tonic, which manage to be boozy, minimal, food-friendly and refreshing all at once. But the most iconic Vodka cocktails are the Bloody Mary which has become a standard at brunch as well as the Moscow Mule served in a shiny copper cup, and one of our selected cocktails below.

Best Cocktails to Enjoy with Vodka

The Vodka Gimlet

First in the list of best Vodka cocktails: The Vodka gimlet. The gimlet became popular in the 1950’s, so it’s a retro classic cocktail and has a tart, refreshing flavour and a chic vibe. The gimlet is traditionally made with Gin, but by making it with Vodka, the cocktail has a smoother flavour. While we love the botanical notes that gin brings, the Vodka gimlet is a fun variation.

Ingredients

60 ml 1st Principles Organic Vodka
20 ml Lime Juice
15 ml Simple Syrup

Add Vodka, lime juice, and syrup to a cocktail shaker, and shake with ice.

Pour into a glass.

Garnish with a lime wedge or wheel.

The Vodka Sour

A Vodka sour is one in the family of sour cocktails. Sours are defined as three parts: liquor, citrus, and sweetener. Of course, there are all sorts of variations on the theme such as Whiskey Sours, Pisco sours and many more.

Ingredients

60 ml 1st Principles Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Vodka for a new flavour experience
20 ml Lemon Juice
15 ml Lime Juice (or omit)
15 ml tablespoon simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 Egg white
For the garnish, a cocktail cherry and lemon wedge.

Add the Vodka, lemon juice, lime juice, syrup, bitters, and egg white to a cocktail shaker without ice.

Shake for 15 seconds.

Add the ice to the cocktail shaker and shake again for 30 seconds.

Strain the drink into a glass; the foam will collect at the top.

Serve with ice, a lemon wedge, and a cocktail cherry.

Vodka sour
Classic Moscow mule cocktail
The Classic Moscow Mule

It’s fizzy, it’s tangy, it looks festive, and it goes down easy. What’s a more classic Vodka cocktail than a Moscow mule? This easy cocktail recipe was invented in the 1940’s, but it’s totally timeless. With only 3 ingredients and 3 minutes required, it’s perfect for entertaining or a night in.

Ingredients

½ cup 1st Principles Organic Vodka
15 ml fresh Lime Juice
½ cup Ginger Beer
For the garnish: lime wheel or wedge, fresh mint (if desired)

Because a Moscow mule is all about the carbonation in the ginger beer, this drink is not mixed in a cocktail shaker. To preserve the carbonation, it’s simply mixed right in the mug and served over ice.

Pour the ingredients into a copper mug.

Add ice cubes, and garnish with lime. It’s that simple!

Why are Moscow mules served in copper mugs?

The copper immediately takes on the temperature of the drink and as a result keeps the drink cool in a different way than a glass. The cool copper rim also contributes to the overall cooling of the drink. A second theory is that the Moscow mule was part of a marketing ploy to increase the sale of Vodka, Ginger beer and copper mugs. This trend took Hollywood by storm and photographs of celebrities drinking mules in copper mugs led to this trend catching on and become tradition.

CLOSING COMMENTS

If you are one of the lucky ones, you know, those marvellously fortunate individuals with a special entertainment area and a breath-taking display of spirits, aperitifs, beers and cocktail mixers, then you certainly have the privilege of choice.

Whatever drives your passion or desire for a particular spirit, is at times based on your own particular taste, but in many cases, more often than not, it’s a random choice with no particular formulae or intricate explanation.

I end this article with a few funny quotes for each of these magnificent spirits:

A yawn is a silent scream for gin
Vodka mixes well with everything except decisions
Brandy and water, spoils two good things

We live in exciting times, and we have the option of three monumental spirits to choose from for all our cocktail needs. All three have a marvellous stories and examples of spunky cocktails that are fun to make and that brings out their deep flavours, aromas, tastes and adventures.

Whether you decide your cocktail of choice with the roll of a dice, the flip of a coin or by a game of rock-paper-scissors, is completely irrelevant, what is important is that you enjoy the moment of tranquillity or whatever mood you wish to conjure.

Oh, and by the way, Christies International won the bid for the auctioning off that famous art collection in the end and sold the entire collection for a staggering (at least back then) 20 million dollars. Who could have predicted that!

To that we say cheers!

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