When it comes to classic cocktails, they don’t really get much easier than the good old gin and tonic (G&T). All you need is gin, tonic water, ice, and maybe a garnish if you feel like it.
The history of the G&T is pretty interesting – it was invented by soldiers in the British East India Company army stationed in India in the 1700s. You see, tonic water contains quinine, a drug used to treat or prevent malaria, which was quite common in India. Unfortunately, quinine also tastes horribly bitter on its own, so the British officers started mixing it with some water, a bit of sugar, lime, to make it easier to drink – and that was how tonic water was first created.
Since the soldiers were already given a regular ration of gin anyway, they also started adding gin into the concoction. Voila! The gin and tonic was born.
Quinine is no longer commonly used to treat malaria. Tonic water is still around though, and still contains quinine (though a lot less than before), and is more popularly used as a mixer for drinks more than anything these days.
The beauty of the G&T is that it is so easy to make that you can do it at home. There are no official recipes for the drink – some variations call for equal parts tonic and gin, others for a 2:1 or even a 3:1 ratio – so it really is up to you to decide what sort of drink you want.
One thing is for sure though – you should still be able to taste the gin in the drink through the bitterness of the tonic water. Otherwise, you might as well be making a vodka and tonic instead.
There is also an increasingly popular Spanish variation on the G&T, which is almost the same as the standard one, but places more emphasis on the garnish (usually chosen to suit the botanicals in the gin), served with large pieces of ice (so it doesn’t melt too quickly), and in a large balloon goblet to help the drinker appreciate the aromas of the gin better.
The choice of gin is also important in a gin and tonic. While you usually can’t really go wrong with a London dry gin, there are other gins that tend to have more subtle botanicals that tend to be drowned out by the bitterness and fizziness of the tonic water. In those cases, the choice of garnish can be key, as the aromas added on by the garnish can often help to enhance the drink’s aromas (for instance, using cucumbers with Hendrick’s G&T, and so on).
To find out exactly how tonic water can affect the gin’s flavour in a G&T, I decided to conduct an experiment – make three gin and tonics with exactly the same ingredients except for the gins. For this, I used three gins brought in by Sunrise Wines & Spirits Sdn Bhd – Broker’s London Dry Gin, No. 3 London Dry Gin, and Ungava Canadian gin – and mixed equal parts gin and tonic water with ice, and a slice of lemon as garnish. Here are the results:
Broker’s London Dry Gin
Botanicals: juniper berries, coriander seed, orris root, nutmeg, cassia bark, cinnamon, liquorice, orange peel, lemon peel, and angelica root.
London dry gin is more about how the gin is made rather than where it is made. For a gin to carry the name “London dry”, the distiller can’t add anything to alter the flavour or colour of the spirit (except water or neutral alcohol) after distillation.
Made in a 200-year-old distillery at Birmingham, UK, Broker’s is made with 10 traditional botanicals, and claims to have “no oddball ingredients”. This adherence to the traditional London dry gin flavour made this the perfect benchmark for my experiment.
While many of the botanicals in Broker’s Gin do come through when taken neat, the beauty of using this in a G&T is how the juniper stands out in the drink.
Yes, there are slight hints of citrus notes and a little nutmeg, but the overwhelming flavour in this G&T was the juniper. For me, that is the essence of a G&T, the juniper notes of the gin mingling with the fizzy bitterness of the tonic, and Broker’s gin did the job perfectly.
No. 3 London Dry Gin
Botanicals: juniper, sweet Spanish orange peel, grapefruit peel, angelica root, Moroccan coriander seed, cardamom pods.
Unlike the 10 botanicals in Broker’s there are only six in No. 3 – three fruits and three spices. On the official website, they claim that any further botanicals would be unnecessary, as they can “detract from the flavours essential to a classic Dry Martini or a gin and tonic”.
Sure enough, the G&T made with No. 3 was quite unlike the one made with Broker’s, even though both are London dry gins. While the quintessential juniper and tonic combination was ever present, the tonic also seemed to bring out the other botanicals nicely (especially the sweetness of the orange peel and the tanginess of the grapefruit), unlike the one made with Broker’s, which was predominantly juniper. There was also a nice balance to the whole thing, with neither the gin nor tonic overpowering the other. The Broker’s G&T was already good, but the one made with No. 3 is an example of how good London dry gin can get when taken to another level.
Ungava Canadian Premium Gin
Botanicals: wild rose hips, Arctic blend, cloudberry, Labrador tea, crowberry, Nordic juniper
Don’t let the yellow golden colour of this Canadian gin fool you – it’s an excellent gin. If Broker’s big claim is not having any oddball botanicals, then Ungava is on the other side of that spectrum.
All the botanicals used are native to the northern Quebec region of Canada, even the juniper, and this gives the gin a very unique flavour quite unlike the two traditional London dry gins. Floral on the nose, there are hints of berries, a bit of grassiness, and a slight bitter tea-like finish, with the juniper notes just lingering tantalisingly.
While the gin itself is quite different from the other two, the Ungava G&T turned out to be surprisingly uncomplicated, though it looked very refreshing with its slightly golden colour.
There is a strong spine of juniper brought out by the tonic, but the other botanicals seem slightly drowned out by the bitterness of the tonic. There are slight hints of floral and grassy pine notes, and a tinge of berry tartness, but somehow the gin didn’t turn out as well in a G&T as I hoped. I can’t wait to try it in a martini, though …
Michael Cheang is a sucker for unique gins with peculiar botanicals. Share your favourite gin with him at www.facebook.com/mytipsyturvy.