When I asked a bartender how to make the perfect gin and tonic he laughed, then screamed, then punched a hole in the wall. Apparently it’s a contentious issue. Bartenders care a lot about alcohol. A lot more than you or I do. But there’s more to consider with a gin and tonic than you’d think.
You’ve got to think about how much ice you need; not enough and it’ll melt, too much and it’ll hit you in the face as you drink it. Then there’s tonic brand selection and your spirit to mixer ratio to sort out. Appropriate garnish is another big hurdle and that’s even before you’ve got to the gin. You probably have a gin you think is pretty good. But you might be wrong about that. It’s a minefield.
My first taste of the G&T hierarchy was in a training session at the pub I worked in when I was eighteen and impressionable. I listened earnestly as the manager told us that Bombay Sapphire was the best and I believed him. He said that a double tastes better, it isn’t even about the money. You should add five ice cubes and one slice of lime that you rub round the rim of the glass first. And ask what sort of tonic they want. The ladies will want diet he said, but it’s polite to ask anyway.
I’m told now that Plymouth and Beefeater are the real bartender’s gins of choice because their bold, citrusy character stands up well in cocktails. The discerning amateur drinker favours Hendricks and Martin Miller’s though, and will continue to request them in bars no matter what you say. Bombay is for would-be-posh pubs and Gordon’s is what your Grandma has in her cupboard, while Snoop Dogg prefers Tanqueray.
By law, the primary botanical in all gins must be juniper. Beyond this, it’s a free-for-all. Hendricks has cucumber and rose, Tanqueray has coriander, angelica and liquorice, Bombay Sapphire has almond, lemon and a type of pepper you’ve never heard of called grains of paradise. When pushed, however, most bartenders will admit that all gin just tastes like gin. Except for Hendricks, which tastes like cucumbers.
It’s trendy for bars to match their garnish to the signature botanical, but this can really blow up in your face. I recently went to a bar that specialises in Australian spirits and was recommended a Four Pillars. They served it with a hunk of orange squeezed in, ostensibly to bring out it’s orange notes, resulting in the whole thing tasting like juice. I had to drink a travesty and add another bar to my list of places that do bad things to good alcohol. Cucumber is an all-pervading garnish to be wary of too.
Bartenders will tell you that you should fill the ice up to the top of the glass because a drink looks subliminally classier if the ice isn’t floating. I don’t care about ice because I can’t be bothered to crack it out of the plastic tray, so I just keep my tonic in the fridge and drink at a brisk pace.
Having said that, the best gin and tonic I ever drank featured two ice cubes; one shaped like a large ship and the other like an iceberg, and was called the Gin and Titonic. Sure, it wasn’t expensive gin or appropriately garnished, but I’ll drink anything if it’s got a pun in the title.