Phillips Gin-Ka: Drink Like James Bond
Local spirits company Phillips first introduced Gin-Ka—described on the label as "a happy mix of gin and vodka"—in 1971, back when gin was all the rage and vodka was barely on the scene. A few years ago, then-CEO Dean Phllips joked to me that he wanted to bring it back as "Vod-In" to reacquaint vodka drinkers with gin, now that the spirits' popularity has flip-flopped.
This fall, vintage-branded Gin-Ka has returned to bars and liquor stores around the state (Zipps in Minneapolis has a fairly large stash). Phillips sent over a bottle and I found it somewhat perplexing: it tastes like gin...diluted by vodka. Convenient, I suppose, to have one bottle that could be used in gin drinks or vodka drinks, but when you want gin don't you really want real gin and when you want vodka don't you really want real vodka? Is liquor cabinet space at such a premium that gin-vodka consolidation is necessary?
But then, inspired by the new James Bond flick, Skyfall, I thought of the Vesper, a drink Bond invents in Casino Royale: three measures of gin, one of vodka, and half a measure of Kina Lillet shaken until cold and then garnished with lemon peel. Kina Lillet has since been reformulated as Lillet Blanc, so I used Cocchi Americano (a close substitute, recently brought into the American market by local rare spirits importer Eric Seed).
In the Vesper, Gin-Ka makes sense: straight gin would cover up the flavor of the Cocchi; straight vodka would be overwhelemd by it. The drink is relatively smooth for its (intense) strength. Appropriate fuel for killing enemy agents and bedding gorgeous women, I suppose.
**If you'd rather have someone else mix your drink for you, the Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar serves a very similar cocktail they call the Vespar, in which aquavit substitutes for vodka—it's very boozy, yet tastes mellow and refined.