If you think that the gin and tonic is a simple drink, then you need to stay back after class. In the trendiest bars in Barcelona — right now I’m sitting in the aptly named Bobby Gin — the locals are going mad for this seemingly simple mixed drink. And it’s not just confined to Cataluña. It’s all over the rustic taverns of Madrid, the pinxto bars of San Sebastian and the jamon bodegas in Andalucía. It’s a national obsession.
I am somewhat of a gin and tonic fanatic. When people talk about their ‘go-to’ drink – their fallback – well that drink has always been the G&T. I grew up in Sydney and in January it can be oppressively hot, with the mercury reaching way above 100 degrees. I remember fondly, Sundays in particular, friends would gather over refreshing highballs of Pimm’s Cups, Moscow Mules and gin and tonics. Simple drinks that required neither contemplation nor a mixologist’s arsenal to prepare them.
It was always Tanqueray with a big wedge of lemon and back then — circa 1999 —Schweppes tonic was about the extent of your options. There was not the myriad of hand-crafted tonics and tonic syrups that now line the shelves of providores and farmer’s markets from Brooklyn to Boca Raton. Now I drink a lot of different gins, each one lending their own quirky nuances, but Tanqueray, with its kick of pine and bright coriander, will always remain my benchmark.
In Spain, the simple highball or Collins glass just won’t cut it. Its bars are serving gin and tonics in oversized wine glasses that look more like classic Burgundy vessels. Several bartenders in Barcelona told me that the bulbous shape of the glass helps to channel the aromas of the botanicals in the gin up into the nose of the imbiber. I’m not totally sold on this; moreover I think the glass just looks, well, badass.
On paper, the gin and tonic does indeed seem like a simple drink. And in theory, it should be. People order it with complete nonchalance. Maybe they prefer a lime wedge over a lemon (that’s an American thing). Almost no one has an opinion on tonic water, although if someone waves a post mix gun anywhere near my G&T, I’m changing my order to a bottled beer. At best, some enthusiasts have a preference in their gin. But little more than that is generally proffered.
At New York’s Saxon + Parole, where I once plied my trade, we made our own tonic water from scratch using lemon, lime and grapefruit peels with chamomile flowers, citric acid, liquid quinine, lemongrass and coconut water — the entire thing carbonated and then poured over a single ice ‘spear’ with Brooklyn gin as its base and grapefruit bitters further drying out the mix.
This infatuation with the gin and tonic has now spread to New York and so recently, I went on a G&T safari with several friends that work for some of the leading gin brands. We started at Oceana in Midtown where they have four variations: spicy, sweet, citrus and bitter, each one paired with a choice of 40 gins. At the Gin Palace, behind an unmarked door in the East Village, they have a rather delicious version on draught using Tomr’s tonic syrup, made by New York bartender Tom Richter. At Cata, an inconspicuous Spanish restaurant on The Bowery, they boast 22 variations on their diverse menu.
Yes, the gin and tonic can be a simple drink. And you don’t necessarily have to seek out these often hard to find artisanal tonic syrups or spend a lot of money on an expensive gin. I do, however, recommend you buy a gin with a proof at least above 90 to cut through the ice and tonic water. Other than that, give me a cold glass, good quality ice, a bottle of tonic that isn’t too sweet and a freshly cut garnish and we’re good. In fact, make mine a double.
THE ULTIMATE GIN & TONIC RECIPE
From Bacchanal in New York City
2 oz. gin
¾ oz. Jack Rudy tonic cordial
Build over lots of ice. Top with Perrier. Garnish with a wedge of lime and lemon, a grapefruit and orange slice and fresh kumquat. Throw in a kaffir lime or lemon leaf if you’re feeling fancy. Stir and serve. Smile, life is good.
Also see: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Gin