The tinkle of ice. The scent of fresh-cut lime and the cool, bittersweet, tongue-tickling effervescence of that first sip. A perfectly seamless blend of crisp, junipery gin and thirst-quenchingly zesty tonic water, it's no wonder the Gin and Tonic is one of the most perennially popular patio drinks.
In the beginning, it was all just medicine. Hoping to ward off malaria, British troops in India in the early 1800s took to drinking water mixed with the ground-up, quinine-laden bark of the cinchona tree. To make this intensely bitter concoction more palatable, the men added sugar, then fancied things up with soda water. Before long, they were adding gin. The troops brought their delicious new cocktail-hour discovery back home to England with them, but the Gin and Tonic didn't really take off in North America until the 1930s, after Prohibition, when commercially bottled tonic waters first hit the shelves.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GIN
Your favorite gin for a Martini won't necessarily be your best choice for a G & T. While many of the newer, more botanically nuanced gins really shine when mixed with a splash of dry vermouth, their subtle flavors can get overpowered when combined with the assertive zippiness of tonic. For this reason, the classic choice for a Gin and Tonic remains a London dry-style gin. This crisp, bold, junipery category includes the brands Tanqueray, Beefeater, Seagram's, and Gordon's, to name a famous few.
TYPES OF TONIC
I went on a kind of scavenger hunt through the delis, specialty food shops, and supermarkets in my neighborhood to see how many different types of tonic water I could rustle up. (I didn't find Fever Tree or Stirrings and would love to hear readers' opinions on those - as well as any other brands you might have tried.) Here are my tasting notes:
The bitterest of the four, and (judging from the bottle I sampled, anyway) the most effervescent of the group.
Made by the same company (Dr. Pepper/7Up) as Schweppes, and its label bears an identically worded ingredient list. But I found it to be a little less effervescent and the flavor seemed a little gentler and more dilute.
Sweeter than the others, and a little flatter tasting.
Very dry, crisp, and lemony. Made with premium ingredients (agave nectar instead of the high fructose corn syrup found in the other three), this newer arrival is sold at a premium price ($2.89 at my local grocery for a 6.3-ounce bottle).
At the end of my experiment, I compared a G & T mixed with my favorite of the old-timers, Schweppes, to one mixed with the tony new upstart, Q. While my Schweppes-based drink had that classic, familiar taste I'd always associated with summer, it tasted incredibly sweet next to the Q one - even though it had seemed the most bitter in the group when sampled on its own. For special occasions, Q really does make for a refined - if pricey - G & T.
As often is the case with highball drinks, G & T recipes tend to be loose, allowing for a little free-pouring leeway here and there. I took a quick survey of some of the cocktail books I have at home, each written by a well-known mixologist, and found a pretty wide and forgiving spread:
David Wondrich: 6 ounces tonic water, 2-3 ounces gin, lime wedge for garnish
Eric Felton: 4-6 ounces tonic water, 1 1/2 ounces gin, JUICE of half a lime
Gary Regan: 3 ounces tonic water, 2 ounces gin, lime wedge for garnish
Dale Degroff: describes the drink, but doesn't get into measures
This is the way I like mine:
Gin and Tonic
2 ounces London dry-style gin (Tanqueray, etc.)
4 ounces tonic water (make sure the bottle's newly opened and hasn't gotten flat)
lime wedge for garnish
2 or 3 large cubes of ice
Pour gin and tonic water into an highball glass. Add 2 or 3 ice cubes and stir gently. Garnish with a lime wedge.
How do you like your Gin and Tonics?
(Images: Nora Maynard)