Tuesday, 30 December 2014
Maiden in a bottle
Joesph that is, not some sweet innocent lady from yesteryear. And it's his enthusiasm rather than his essence flavouring this particular drink, one you might consider for your New Year's tipple.
Maidenii is a drink I discovered in the penultimate course of a typically Australian and plant-rich meal at Ben Shewry's Attica restaurant in Ripponlea. Regularly included in the Top 50 restaurants of the world, top or near top in Australia, you'd expect to make a discovery or to during one of the eight courses (plus odds and ends of self-picked herbs and little things to try).
It's a vermouth and I've so far only imbibed it with pears. So this is not a review of it's finer qualities as the splash in a martini, the mixer in another of your favourite cocktail or straight on ice.
It comes, I think, from Sutton Grange near Castlemaine, and includes 34 'botanicals', a dozen of them native to Australia. Now botanicals is a term we are becoming used to with gin. In fact you went to a gin tasting you'd think you were drinking a rainforest in a glass, the botancial elixir of life, when in fact it's about 50% alcohol from fermented grain dosed with juniper, plus a few other plants for flavouring.
Vermouth is wine fortified with another spirit, in the case of Maidenii also from grape, plus some Wormwood (Artemisia, the plant also giving Absinthe its charm). In other vermouths, a sweetener may also be added.
In Maidenii, there 33 additional botanicals (I don't think they include the grape fruit in these, but perhaps they do). The 'heroes' are wattle (Acacia) seed, Sea Parsley (Apium prostratum), Native or River Mint (Mentha australis) and Strawberry Gum (Eucalyptus olida). This means you'll find these plant in all three blends of Maidenii vermouth, and presumably in decent quantities.
Their classic blend also has Orange (Citrus 'Valencia' or similar) zest, Bay Leaf (Lauris nobilis) and Gentian (Gentiana) root; the dry blend Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix) leaf, Nigella and Japanese Gentian (Gentiana scabra); and the sweet blend, Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi), Mace (Myristica) and Angelica root. The base wine, and therefore grape cultivar, also varies among the three blends.
Joseph Maiden himself was the Director of Sydney's Botanic Gardens between 1896 and 1924, a role I held myself between 2004 and 2011 (and this hazy image is part of the portrait on what was then the Director's Office wall). Maiden started the National Herbarium of New South Wales (the library of preserved plants, now over 1.2 million strong) in Sydney, promoted and helped establish Wattle Day, and became an expert in the genus Eucalptus. He was much more of course and Lionel Gilbert wrote a lovely book and his life and influence called The Little Giant.
Could I taste the botanicals in my pear desert? Not really. Although I do remember the Pyrus. Otherwise there was too much else going on aboard this wooden plate, all of it very tasty.
[Notes: For those of you into the chemistry of Australian plants (thanks Dan Murphy) there is no indication that the wattle named after Joseph Maiden, Acacia maidenii, is represented in any way within the drink.]