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My Secret Booze-hound Calendar tells me that Saturday is International Gin & Tonic Day! Not that I need a reason for a good old G&T…
The gin & tonic was invented in the 1800s when officers of the British East India Tea Company stationed in India added gin, water, sugar, and lime to their doses of quinine, which was given to them as an anti-malarial drug. All tonic water contains quinine, which is what gives it the distinctive bitterness. (You would have to drink an obscene amount of tonic water to get enough quinine to actually fight off malaria, so don’t count on a G&T to save you.) Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, and if you’ve ever made your own bitters, you may remember cinchona bark as an ingredient.
You can make a gin & tonic with any old gin and any old tonic, but there are so many options to make it interesting. By varying either component (and even the ice!) you can get a very different result.
If you want low-budget tonic, there’s always Schweppes or Canada Dry which you can find at just about any corner convenience store or grocery store. I refuse to use either, for two reasons: 1) because they’re owned by Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper, respectively, and 2) because they contain high-fructose corn syrup. That stuff is the worst thing you can put in your body, and I avoid it like the plague. There’s a reason why they’re cheap, and it’s because they use a bunch of artificial ingredients.
Artisanal tonics give you a huge step up in quality, but a corresponding increase in price. Fever-Tree, Q Tonic, and Fentimans are all recommended options. Fever-Tree sources ingredients from small suppliers around the world and doesn’t put crap like high-fructose corn syrup in their products. They use no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or flavorings. Fever-Tree also has the distinction of having been named the best tonic by a number of bartenders and critics.
Q Tonic also uses all natural ingredients, no high-fructose corn syrup, and small-supplier sourced quinine. It has the added benefit of having fewer calories than other tonic waters by virtue of the fact that it uses agave as a sweetener instead of cane sugar. If you want your G&T to be uber-British, use Fentimans tonic. It’s made in England and has been around for over a century. Fentimans has the distinction of being a botanically brewed tonic, as opposed to the traditional tonic-making process, which merely cooks the ingredients over heat.
You could also go super artisanal and make your own tonic, which is what MixMasterRhead often does for us. When you make your own, you’re basically making tonic syrup. When you construct your G&T, you need to add soda water to the gin and tonic syrup in order to get the fizz. Here’s the recipe we use for tonic, from Jeffrey Morganthaler’s blog. You can get the more exotic ingredients online.
4 cups water
1 cup chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
1/4 cup powdered cinchona bark
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1/4 cup citric acid
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Combine all ingredients except agave syrup in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out solids using a cheesecloth-lined strainer. You’ll need to fine-strain the mixture, as it still contains quite a bit of the cinchona bark. If you don’t want to wait for the cheesecloth method, run the whole mixture through a French coffee press. Once you’re satisfied with the clarity of your mix, heat it again on the stove, then add 3/4 cup agave syrup for each cup of your hot mix. Stir until combined, and store in the refrigerator in the glass bottle of your choice. Note: homemade tonic will be brownish in color, which will also lend a brownish tint to all cocktails made it with it.
Once you decide how fancy you want your tonic, you have to choose a gin. It’s harder than it sounds, because all gins are not alike. A traditional London dry gin (think Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, or Tanqueray) is made with a traditional blend of botanical ingredients, most notably juniper.
Beefeater’s full roster of botanicals includes juniper, lemon peel, coriander seed, almond, Seville orange peel, orris root, licorice root, Angelica root, and Angelica seed. Bombay Sapphire contains juniper, lemon peel, grains of paradise, coriander seed, cubeb berries, orris root, almonds, cassia bark, licorice root, and Angelica root.
Non-traditional gins include Tanqueray Rangpur (which adds Rangpur lime to the mix; fun fact: a Rangpur lime isn’t even a lime; it’s a hybrid of a lemon and a mandarin, and it’s orange in color, not green), Hendrick’s (which is distilled with roses and cucumbers, in addition to the usual botanicals), and barrel-rested gin (which takes on flavors and color from the oak used to make the barrel or from the spirit that previously occupied the barrel).
Outside of the major brands, there’s a world of gin producers. Small-batch distilleries have multiplied exponentially in the past decade. A trip to your local liquor store will reveal a number of brands you may or may not have heard of. Some of my favorites include Edinburgh, Leopold Bros., Bluecoat, Ransom, St. George, and Damrak. (I drink a lot of gin.)
A word about ice: It matters. (Okay, that was two words. And I’m about to write a lot more.) If you really want your cocktails to be delicious, the first rule of ice is to use something other than tap water. At the very least, use filtered tap water after it’s been run through a Brita or Pur or similar device. The second rule is to keep your ice cubes covered. Exposed ice can pick up aromas from other items in the freezer. I like to use these Tovolo ice molds that create large spheres of ice. If you really want to go all-out, get your hands on some specialty mixing water. Yes, it’s a thing, and after reading this article from The Washington Post, you might be inclined to try it!
Once you’ve assembled the perfect trio of ice, tonic, and gin, grab some limes (use organic, and rinse first!) and concoct your cocktail. You can use a ratio of 1 part gin to 2 parts tonic over a large ice sphere, or you can fill the glass with ice cubes, add 1.75 ounces of gin, then top with tonic. If you’ve made your own tonic syrup, use 3/4 ounce of tonic syrup, 1 1/2 ounces gin, and 2 ounces of soda water over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge, and you’re good to go! Cheers!