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The Art and History of the Gin and Tonic Cocktail

The Quest for Elegance in a Simple Package

“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 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 appropriately communicated. 

The Gin and Tonic Cocktail: Balancing the Simple and Complex

The classic Gin and Tonic cocktail expresses the eternal problem of simplicity and complexity perfectly. 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 Charming History of the Gin and Tonic Cocktail

As with most extraordinary things, the Gin and Tonic cocktail has quite a fascinating little history. Alcohol history has always been a part of 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. At the same time, 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 is essential in thoughtful beverage culture. It’s also a central ingredient in the delicate and bright Lillet (known for years as tonic wine, as it were), a beautiful liqueur that has seen a craft-driven resurgence in the last two decades. 

The beverage came stateside in the 1930s 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 through the latter 20th century, the gin and tonic became primarily out of fashion. Thus, tonic water usually tasted acrid, overly sweet, and, in a word, dusty. 

The Revival of the Classic Gin and Tonic Cocktail

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 most straightforward 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 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 an exceedingly agreed upon the standard bearer of the category. If you want to take your highball to the great beyond, 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 indispensable component: “The perfect Gin and Tonic 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 must play a complementary 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 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 makes the original drink more and more unique. 

Finding the Perfect Balance in a Gin and Tonic Cocktail

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

Purple Highclere Castle Gin bottle, wine glass filled with cocktail and topped with orange wedge, orange slices lying in frontsuggest 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 are 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 Perfect Garnish – Rosemary, Orange, and the Infusion of Aromatics

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 long 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 – A Celebration of Simple Elegance

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 heavenly highball. The Gin and Tonic evokes the easy company of old friends that have improved their station in life and can 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. 


Elevate your experience with a bottle of Highclere Castle Gin.Purchase online today