For those of us who have had a bad gin and tonic, there’s plenty to fear in the unknown. G&Ts are a bit of an unknown quantity when it comes to bars—the unknown quantity specifically being how much gin is or isn’t in the drink.
A bad gin and tonic can go wrong from erroneous proportions, but everything from bad tonic to bad garnishes can make a bad drink worse, even when it comes to something so simple as a two ingredient drink.
When you’ve had a great one, on the other hand, it’s a sensation you’ll chase again and again: the brisk sensation of bitter and bold flavors, the effervescence carrying aromas full speed through your nostrils before the first drop even hits your lips.
But don’t let the simplicity of a good G&T, or the memory of a bad one, turn you off from making one on your own.
“Like many simple cocktails,” explains Plymouth Gin brand director Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge, “anyone can make a good G&T. You don’t need any special equipment or techniques that take 20 years to perfect; it just comes down to a few key pointers and taking a bit of care.”
Here are five modern guidelines for making an ideal drink for yourself.
1. Skip the straw
“Sipping a gin and tonic from a glass, instead of through a straw, is a wonderful experience,” says Will Wyatt, owner of NYC’s Mister Paradise bar. “The tiny bubbles in the tonic burst at the surface of the cocktail and throw rich, citrusy aromas at you, and the gin blends with the tonic on the nose and the palette in unison.”
2. Use good tonic
“I personally believe that the tonic water is as or more important than the gin you are using,” says Wyatt. “Something dry and direct, such as Thomas Henry Tonic, Fever Tree Indian Tonic, or perhaps my favorite, Schweppes Indian Tonic, which recreates the style of the original Schweppes tonic made at the end of the 18th century. My ideal gin and tonic pairing is Tanqueray 10 (a smaller batch version of their London dry style but with the addition of citrus peel) with Schweppes Indian Tonic and an expressed lemon zest.
3. Your proportions matter a lot
The gin and tonic isn’t a martini, and you shouldn’t make it heavy on the gin just because you can. “A G&T is not meant to be a stiff drink,” Hamilton-Mudge, “it’s a long and refreshing highball, so don’t overdo it with the gin. Three to one is a great balance for this drink (three parts tonic to one part gin). Maybe even 4:1 if you are using a Navy Strength Gin. This makes it a delightfully refreshing and light drink.”
4. The garnish is a bigger part of the drink than you realize—and lime isn’t always the best choice
“Even though a wedge of lime is the most popular garnish, it actually doesn’t suit every gin,” says Hamilton-Mudge. “Gins with no citrus in them, especially big junipery gins, work really well with the powerful addition of a squeeze of lime. However, if you take a softer, citrus forward gin like Plymouth Gin, a simple slice of lemon will work much better.
Hamilton-Mudge says to experiment with combinations and find what works, including other citrus and fresh herbs. “Fundamentally, though, I recommend keeping it simple—and don’t forget to read the back of the bottle. Most gins will have spent a good amount of time and money working out what the perfect garnish is for their gin, and even if you don’t agree, it’s at least worth checking.”
5. Don’t confine yourself to one type of glassware
While a highball is the traditional serving choice, these days you’ll see everything from oversized wine goblets to the occasional champagne flute. “I like to build it in a rocks glass,” explains Wyatt, “to allow the vibrant aromatics of the gin to pop out at you as you sip. I add 1 1/2 oz of the gin, fill the glass with ice, and give it a quick stir to chill it. I then very very slowly add the tonic water, as to not kill any of the bubbles, up to just under the rim of the glass. With a bar spoon, I pull the ice up very delicately then let it down in order to incorporate the two, then express the lemon twist overtop.”
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