You may think you know all there is to know about the humble gin and tonic, but, as aficionado Alice Lascelles reveals, there’s an art to making a truly great G&T
How do you get the measure of a really good bar?
Some people swear by the quality of the espresso, others judge the orange juice. For me, it’s the gin and tonic – so simple to make and yet so often ruined. Part of the problem is that it’s the
one cocktail everyone thinks they know how to make. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the democratisation of cocktail culture, but that’s no excuse for the string of crimes perpetrated on this king
of drinks: flat tonic, weak gin, melted ice, dirty glassware, limp lemon slices exuding a whiff of fridge interior… the catalogue of abominations goes on.
Now, some people insist they actually like their tonic tepid, or that a stem glass and a stirrer do improve the drink – and good for them. But I have yet to find a person whose eyes haven’t lit
up with epiphanic glee on tasting their first well-made G&T. So here are a few tips, hard-and-fast rules and a bit of inspiration. Be warned, once you taste a G&T the way it should be
made, you’ll never be able to enjoy cocktail hour at granny’s again…
Good ice is crucial in cocktail-making. If the cubes are too small, or have been lying around outside the freezer for a while, they will melt too fast and upset the balance of the drink. So go
for large cubes (1 inch square), straight from the freezer. And woe betide the person who stores their ice in the same freezer drawer as their food, says Tim Stones, head bartender at Notting
Hill’s Trailer Happiness. ‘You’ll end up with ice that smells of fish fingers! Buying your ice in bags from an off-licence is a good
way to ensure it’s really pristine,’ he advises. For a bit more drama, you can double-freeze ice into clear blocks and crack it with an ice pick (see Spirits News, page 84), or real party animals
may want to invest in the pro’s favourite machine, the Hoshizaki (from £672, ex VAT at www.hoshizakiicemakers.co.uk). But whatever ice you go for, use as much as possible – fill the glass to the
brim, then add a bit more.
Before we get on to the exciting subject of booze, we must first get the right glass. Traditionally, a G&T is served in a tall, thin, 12oz collins glass, or the squatter hi-ball, although I
prefer a heavy-bottomed rocks glass, the kind you’d have an old fashioned in. ‘Either way, it’s important to have room for lots of ice,’ says Simon Rowe, assistant bar manager at The Dorchester, which gets its bespoke glasses from John Jenkins (www.johnjenkinsdirect.co.uk). Glassware must also be sparkling clean – no
lipstick marks please! For best results, ditch the washing-up liquid and just use boiling hot water and a clean cloth. (Other good places for glassware are John Lewis and www.urbanbar.co.uk)
A paper-thin slice of lemon is a waste of time. Instead, cut a good quarter of lemon or lime, rub it round the rim of the glass to release the aromas, squeeze it into the drink and then drop it
into the glass. For a slightly more bitter, intense hit, add a citrus twist: using a potato peeler or sharp knife, shave a thumb-size strip of rind off a citrus fruit (avoiding the white pith),
then squeeze gently, shiny side down, onto the drink to release the oils before dropping it into the G&T. Which fruit is up to you – lemon is great with Beefeater, lime is good with Miller’s,
and grapefruit is a nice match for Tanqueray No.Ten. Hendrick’s, which is made with the addition of cucumber and rose essences, recommends a slice of peeled cucumber, which sounds weird, but
actually works rather well.
Firstly, pour that saccharine diet tonic you’ve got hanging around down the sink – if you’ve invested in a wonderful gin, you want an equally well-made tonic. Recently, several new luxury tonics
have hit the market, including the delicate, all-natural Fever-Tree (good for gentler gins), and the dry, bitter lemon-like Fentimans, which is worth getting just for the natty bottle. Otherwise,
Schweppes can always be relied on to serve up the necessary bite, fizz and citrus zing to match even the strongest gin. Either way, always stock up on the mini cans or bottles, rather than the
litre versions, and keep them in the fridge – this way you’ll get a fresh, fizzy G&T every time.
Which brand you choose is very much a matter of taste, but an abv of at least 40% is essential to ensure character and structure. Likewise, there is no ‘correct’ gin:tonic ratio, but a good rule
of thumb is 1:2. For a traditional G&T, says Matthew Widdowson, bar manager at Bluebird in Chelsea, ‘choose a classic London Dry gin like
Tanqueray, Beefeater, Boodles or Broker’s.’ If you want to push the boat out, he suggests, invest in a bottle of Tanqueray No.Ten: ‘packed with loads of citrus-peel freshness like grapefruit and
lime’, or the powerful, but elegant Junipero: ‘the most elegant marriage of the traditional juniper and fresh citrus, with a delicate hint of liquorice at the very end.’ For something softer, I’d
also recommend Miller’s Westbourne Strength, an aromatic, scented gin that belies its stonking 45.2% abv, the exotic Whitley Neill, distilled with Cape gooseberries and the fruit of the African
baobab tree, or Plymouth – at under £15 a bottle it’s possibly the best-value gin you can buy.
By now you should have the perfect G&T, but if you want to experiment, bitters are one way to go – the Pink G&T, made by adding two dashes of aromatic Angostura bitters is an old
colonial favourite, originally created to treat upset stomachs. Better still, let someone else do all the hard work and visit The Dorchester, where you’ll find a ravishing range of homemade
bitters including cardamom, lavender and ginger, which you can match with more than a dozen gins. Heaven.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2008