“I wrote a long book because I wasn’t smart enough to write a short one.” Mark Twain
The elusive recipe for striking beauty in a simple package is sought after by every artisan. The more that can be left out, the better the remaining elements can shine.
The secret alchemy that allows complex and all consuming works of art, food and drink to exhilarate even the most jaded of observers is sought after by every artisan. Elegance sometimes needs many moving parts and nuances to be properly communicated.
The eternal conundrum of simple and complex are expressed perfectly in the classic Gin and Tonic. After much research from your faithful gin steward, we find that there are infinite versions of the perfect gin and tonic, and it’s great fun experimenting with them all.
The G and T, as with most special things, has quite a charming little history. Alcohol history always being part legend, the agreed upon facts are that British Soldiers in colonial India mixed gin with quinine water. The quinine is the ingredient to note-an extract of the South American chinchona tree bark. It was known to combat the common issue of malaria once they arrived for their tour of duty, while a squeeze of the lime found in this distant land became a necessity for any right thinking soldier who wanted to survive a long sea voyage.
Though a bit of a task to pronounce, chinchona bark holds an important place is the world of thoughtful beverage culture. It’s also central ingredient in the delicate and bright Lillet (known for years as tonic wine, as it were), a beautiful liqueur which has seen a craft driven resurgence in the last two decades.
The beverage came stateside in the 1930’s, and was noted in “The Gentleman’s Companion (an indispensable book for any bon vivant) to “combat fevers, real or alleged”. Automation and industrialization saw a decline in medicinal tonic waters, and on through the latter 20th century, the gin and tonic became mostly out of fashion. Thus, tonic water usually tasted acrid, overly sweet and, in a word, dusty.
Along came the cultural white knight of The Cocktail resurgence, and several companies making high quality tonic water appeared on the scene. New rules for a proper gin and tonic were written, and the classic version was revived. Four Elements of a Gin and Tonic with Style and Panache:
- First off, select the world’s perfect gin. That should be the easiest task of all, I do purport. It will be in a purple bottle and have a rendering of the world’s most famous country home upon it.
- Secondly, find a quality tonic water. Classic Schweppes will get the job done, but a craft version in a glass vessel brings up the production value in aesthetics and flavor. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water is the exceedingly agreed upon standard bearer of the category. If you want to really take your highball to the great beyond, a homemade tonic water will satisfy, impress and leave much room for dialing in the flavors you like best.*** (Link to my classic tonic recipe)
- A tenured ginfluencer reminded me of an indespensible component: “The perfect G&T starts with ice, lots of it! My glass preference is a stemless copa”. Take a look at the beautiful renditions at @ginsquares on Instagram. I would not bet against her highball acumen.
- Last is certainly not least here: garnish, garnish, garnish. With all beverages, the garnish needs to play a complimentary role in the drink without overtaking it. It should be quietly indispensable. Lime is most iconic (its vitamin C content was protection against scurvy , though my friends in the UK tell me that a lemon is the citrus of choice. Do try both. For 21st century craft aficionados, herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme dance well with grapefruit, clementine and valencia orange. Even berries get into the act, and each garnish serves to make the original drink more and more appetizing.
David Wondrich, cocktail historian writes that the classic proportion should be “twice as much tonic water as gin”; while mixer mavens at Fever-Tree strongly suggest ¼ gin to ¾ tonic water. @Ginsquares agrees: “I pour 50ml gin to 150ml tonic. My go to favorite is Fever-Tree.” Ian Fleming (a friend of the fifth Earl, by the by) memorialized Bond’s version in Dr. No: double with the juice of one whole lime.
The ratio and glassware that I enjoy best is served in the tradition of New York City’s Milk and Honey:
2.5 ounces of Highclere Castle Gin, served in a rocks glass with a giant, clear ice chunk.
The Highclere Castle signature has become my absolute favorite garnish for my gin and tonic. A sprig of rosemary and an orange twist adorn the edges of the glass. A bottle of tonic water is served on the side and is slowly added to the gin, making for a more encompassing and lengthy experience. I forgo the lime and leave a bit of flesh on the orange peel, which slowly infuses and pulls even more aromatics, making them dance out of the glass with every sip.
This elevates the no frills highball into a sipping beverage of cascading carbonation and strength, to be enjoyed on a plush couch over lively conversation with good jazz in the background
The gin and tonic has always held existential implications for me. Something so simple, that started as a preventive measure has morphed into infinitely grand versions with many options, yet still elegantly simple. Less is more and more is more when it comes to this little heavenly highball. The G and T evokes the easy company of old friends that have improved station in life and are able to look back at the lean years with fondness while cleverly enjoying the abundance that success has brought.
May your life be like the gin and tonic-enjoyable while straightforward, enrapturing when complex, but always a celebration of simple elegance