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July 26, 2013

Grazing: Blueberry Tom Collins

Blueberry_collinsFloat the idea of a gin cocktail when you're out with friends, and some might wince. "I hate that stuff!" a coworker told me just yesterday with a shudder.

I've never understood this. For me, gin is the (alcoholic) essence of summer — vegetal, herbaceous and gently creeping into my shoulders after one or two sips. Contrary to the maxim, gin has never made me cry — though perhaps I've never drunk enough of it.

Gin also loves citrus. Enter the Tom Collins. This exquisitely simple gin recipe was supposedly born in the late 1800s at the hands of a London bartender who blended the then-ubiquitous Old Tom gin into a refreshing mixture with sugar, lemon juice and fizzy water.

Tom Collins was the midcentury drink to drink in the summer, but it became a bastardized version of itself as people (and bartenders) turned to premade Collins mix. This is something I can hardly imagine, as the drink is so easy to make — it takes minutes.

Since there's a surfeit of blueberries around, I was curious to see if this tannic little fruit might lend some roundness, heft and color to a drink that is generally crisp, bright and somehow both sweet and sour.

Old Tom Gin no longer really exists, but since it was apparently a sweetish gin, I used gin from Smugglers' Notch Distillery. It has ample sweetness and intensity, as if warming spices were used in the blend. I also picked up blueberries from Plainfield, N.H.'s Edgewater Farm, plus a few lemons and soda water. Together, they made puckery purple magic.

To make a Blueberry Tom Collins, drop eight to 10 blueberries in the bottom of a slender glass, then dump in a teaspoon of sugar. (I've tried this drink with both sugar and simple syrup, and prefer superfine sugar.) Muddle the fruit and sugar together until you have a slurry, then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.

Add ice to the glass and pour over two ounces of gin. Top with soda or sparkling water — not tonic.

Stir the drink gently until blended, then garnish with a lemon wedge (and herbs and a few more blueberries, as you wish) and serve. 

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