Drink of the month: Gin & Tonic
For September I thought I'd choose something simple and classic; something that looks forward to the sunshine without being overtly tropical; something refreshing but unfussy: the gin and tonic. Now, you may think that the G&T is a bit naff, redolent as it is of 1970's Anglophilia, yacht clubs and estate agents, propriety and middle-class social climbing. There's a wonderful line from Notes on a Scandal when Judi Dench's character says of Cate Blanchett's: "Her fetish for the boy was simply her snobbery manifested. 'He's working class and he likes art'. As if he were a monkey who'd just strolled out of the rain forest and asked for a gin and tonic." Doesn't that say all you need to know about the G&T as social signifier?
But really, we should look beyond such vagaries of fashion, and the more open-minded among us realise that it's a classic for a reason. Unlike some long drinks, the tonic provides a bracing bitterness that imbues it with a complexity that mere citrus cannot replicate. It's very adaptable, with long and short versions, lemon and lime options and the addition of bitters to adjust it to suit the weather and mood. And being so simple, it's impossible to get wrong.
Or is it? You'd think that of all places, a bar called "Juniper" would know what to do with gin, but as my good friend Che discovered, they're no better with that than they are with a Rob Roy:
I was a bit shocked when the barkeep looked at me sideways when I asked for a gin and tonic.Leaving aside rank ignorance of that magnitude, the easiest way to muck up a G&T is with bad tonic. Ideally, it should be well-chilled and fresh from a small glass bottle to ensure that it's crisp and hasn't gone flat. A squirt of the ol' Postmix is a guarantee of disappointment, and really, is there any substitute for Schweppes? It's interesting to read that the distinctive fluorescence shown by tonic water under UV light is actually a sign that the quinine is being degraded into a tasteless and possibly carcinogenic chemical. Thus, you should never store your tonic in direct sunlight, and it's a good excuse when you're drinking in the sun to knock the G&T's back as quickly as possible!
"What's in that?" he asked.
Poor quality limes can also be an issue, and as the photo above illustrates, a lot of the limes we've been getting recently have yellow lemon-like skins and very little lime flavour. Often a quick wipe around the rim of the glass is enough, though a little squeeze won't go amiss. Some would argue that a dash of Angostura bitters is unnecessary given the bitterness of the tonic, but I think it has quite a different flavour profile and can often add a nice earthy depth to the mix.
From the above, it should be possible to work out where one can expect a good rendition: anywhere with decent gin (though super-premium spirits might be overwhelmed by the tonic), competent staff and a commitment to high-quality ingredients should be able to satisfy you. But as always, any nominations for places to seek out or avoid are most welcome, as are any reports of unusual variations on the theme (such as Imbibe's quinine-reduction ice cubes).