Taking Gin & Tonic to the Next Level

The Bin's signature José Andrés gin and tonic

Gin freaks tend not to think of this bracing spirit in seasonal terms: just as you are perfectly justified in drinking rye in the summer, you can easily indulge your inner gin Jones in the winter. And yet … the method of delivery may be different: lighter rye cocktails in summer (say a Collins with simple syrup, bitters and club soda), a boozier gin drink in winter (the fall-back Negroni with Campari and Carpano Antica vermouth).

But it also doesn’t hurt to admit that summer’s lazy days suggest light and breezy drinks. Enter the gin and tonic. One of its virtues is that it’s easy to slam together: grab the booze off the shelf, combine it with a supermarket tonic water, add ice, squeeze in a little lime, and you’re good to go. Repeat as needed.

Feel free to stop here. For you, this will be a very short article.

But if you’re willing to invest a little more time, it will soon become clear that there are options leading to copious  variations on the basic theme. And they all start with the gin. Yes, unlike that other clear spirit, gin has multiple personalities. Some work in the G ’n’ T, some not so much.

Quickly (and then you can all but forget this), there are five basic types of gin; the first three are most suitable for G ’n’ Ts. London Dry is what we’ll see most of on liquor store shelves. It’s a style (not a location) that is light, indeed dry and usually very fragrant with the essential juniper that makes a gin what it is. Think Tanqueray, Bombay, Beefeater … Beyond juniper, each will express its personality in the other botanicals such as citrus, coriander, cardamom and more that are added to the mix.

Plymouth is both a style (more citrus-forward) and a place: Plymouth, England. There’s only one currently available; it’s called, yes, Plymouth, and it’s a personal favorite, especially for martinis.

International Style encompasses a catch-all of base spirits, from grape to grain, and crazy botanicals. Most of the gins being made in the U.S. these days fall under that category, and there are some very good ones, each expressing its place of origin through the local botanicals added to the basic juniper: St George (California), Dry Gin Ransom (Oregon), Big Gin (Washington), Seersucker and Waterloo (Texas) are just a few. Some of the better international brands include Hendricks (expressing rose and cucumber, one of the first to step outside traditional parameters), and The Botanist from the Scottish island best known for peaty whiskies.

Old Tom is an older, sweeter style, just now coming back into production. Genever, built on a malted spirit base, dates back to 16th-century Holland; it’s darker and less botanical.  Play with these in cocktails.

“San Sebastián” and “Zaragoza” gin and tonic variations at Toro Kitchen + Bar

But wait, there’s more: just as gins vary, so do tonics. Sorry to be the one to break this to you.

And just as juniper is essential to gin, so is quinine, derived from cinchona bark, to tonic water. The most readily available brands, such as Schweppes, can be used in a pinch, but know that the bitterness quotient will be sacrificed to citrus flavors and high-fructose corn syrup. In other words, it pays to look around (Central Market is a good source) for admittedly more expensive labels that have been more thoughtfully produced. Fever Tree, which comes in six variations, not all of which are available here, is a personal favorite. Look for the Premium Indian iteration or the Naturally Light version. Save the overwhelming (though interesting-on-its own) Elderflower rendition for vodka. Q Tonic is another, more easy-drinking, possibility. Avoid Fentiman’s. But do consider looking for Jack Rudy Cocktail Company’s small-batch tonic syrup. It’s a concentrate that allows you to adjust strength to your own tastes — just add soda water.  Another option for genuine cocktail geeks is to source all the ingredients and make your own. There are a lot of complex recipes online (look for Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s), and, yes, I have done this.

The recipe for a perfect gin and tonic is, however, simple: add two ounces of chilled gin (I keep mine in the freezer) to a chilled Collins glass containing the biggest-format ice you can muster; add chilled tonic water to taste; garnish with a wheel of lime if desired—or go crazy and add both lime and lemon. If your tastes run to the more expressive Spanish style of “gintonic” (the Spanish are currently enamored of the drink and are also producing some terrific gins), grab a big, balloon-style wine glass, add lots of ice, pour in the gin, and follow it with tonic and slices of citrus (these days I’m liking kumquat), maybe some allspice berries, rose petals, cucumber slices … whatever you think might enhance the chosen gin. Another variation on the theme is one which cuts back on the gin to 1½ oz, adds a half-ounce of dry white vermouth (Dolin, for example), and calls for a couple of shakes of orange bitters before adding the tonic.

Whichever method you choose, it will take a little time and experimentation to come up with your own personal blend. If this all seems a little overwhelming, then here’s one shortcut: get yourself over to The Bin on Grayson, where the bar has perhaps the city’s best selection of gins (check out Alkkemist, a vibrant Spanish product) paired with premium tonic. Try several — it’s research, remember. Toro Kitchen and Bar at Stone Oak and Loop 1604 does their gintonics up in that trendy Spanish style. Consider The Mallorca with Botanist gin, star anise and lemon peel.

Then go home and make space in your freezer for multiple gins. If need be, toss out the vodka taking up space that could be more profitably used.

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