Last week we rounded up our favourite vermouth brands. Now we’ve got a deliciously simple cocktail to show them off in. Some call it the Sweet Martini but it’s better known as… the Gin and It!
When I think of the Gin and It, I always think of ‘It Girls’, upper class English party girls who appear in gossip columns and scandalise polite society with brazen antics in Mayfair nightclubs. But, prosaically the ‘It’ is simply short for Italian vermouth.
The cocktail formerly known as a Sweet Martini
A simple mixture of gin and Italian vermouth, according to Dale de Groff in his The Craft of the Cocktail book (published 2008), the Gin and It was originally known as a Sweet Martini. Looking back through my old books, I found a reference to the Gin & It in David Embury’s 1948 book The Fine art of Mixing Drinks. He writes: “In Europe the proportions used are half and half and the drink is not iced.” His preferred ratio is three parts gin to one part vermouth, very much a sweet Martini.
Sounding like he was writing from 1957 not 1997 when the book was published, Salvatore Calabrase in Classic Cocktails describes the drink as a “perennially favourite lady’s drink sipped at around 5pm.” Or as Al Murray, aka the Pub Landlord, might put it: “pint for the fella, glass of white wine/ fruit-based drink for the lady.”
Even today, many old school boozers don’t really offer much beyond beer and spirits. There’s still a pub near my parents where wine comes in individually portioned plastic cups with peel off lids. I’ve never seen anyone order a second. Under such circumstances, if you’re not drinking beer, then the Gin & It is a great standby. Even the roughest place will have gin and a bottle of Martini Rosso. You might even get some ice.
The heyday of the Gin and It was in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The only gin and vermouth drinker I can recall when I was growing up was the father of a friend of mine, a proper geezer, used to order something similar in his local. He called it a Gin and Mix, equal parts Italian and French vermouth, and gin. Such drinks went out of fashion in the ’80s as interest in gin and vermouth waned. It was all about vodka-based drinks. Now though, gin could not be more fashionable and vermouth too is having a moment with both sales and the choice of brands increasing.
Which vermouth to use
It’s one that you can just throw together, half and half over ice. Or you can up the gin quotient, stir and strain and make something that’s far closer to a Martini. A Gin & It is perfectly pleasant with Martini Rosso, that’s assuming the bottle hasn’t been gathering dust behind the bar for years, but it’s one that really warrants upgrading the vermouth.
It’s where the same brand’s stunning Rubino Speciale Riserva comes into its own. It makes a lovely half and half. But instead I’m going for something from Spain, the deliciously light and orangey El Bandarra Al Fresco, which gives this a summer aperitif vibe. Don’t forget the olives and anchovies.
As for the gin, well, a classic juniper and citrus led gin is going to work best here. I’ve had some bad experiences with gins with unconventional botanicals clashing with the vermouth. Beefeater would be ideal and is a reminder that this is very much a pub drink.
Today, however, I’m using Brighton Gin Seaside Strength. The citrus in the gin goes beautifully with the orange-forward vermouth and the extra alcohol cuts the sweetness of the vermouth. If I was using ordinary strength gin, I’d probably add an extra half measure to make it more refreshing. And finally because you can never have too much orange, I’ve added a dash of orange bitters.
Right, here’s how to make a Gin & It, Spanish style!
Add the gin and vermouth to an ice-filled tumbler. Stir, add a dash of bitters and garnish with a slice of orange. Cin cin!