Most people are at least mildly familiar with the history of this combination and its place in the lore of the British Empire. For those like me who are casualties of the American education system, this grand concoction was introduced by the army of the British East India Company. Tonic contains quinine, which was used to prevent malaria, but it had a very bitter taste. So someone had a brilliant revelation: what better way to make medication more palatable than to add booze and sip it at sundown!
My own history with this cocktail is much more sordid, not only was this the drink of choice on my twenty-first birthday, but it is my very best inept bartender story. I was in London a few years ago after two weeks in the UK. I had sipped scotch in Scotland and and consumed more than my fair share of pub pints around the city. It was my last night and I felt it my obligation as a man of the cocktail to have a gin and tonic before leaving. I wandered down to the bar in the lobby of my hotel, a nice establishment in an upscale neighborhood, and asked the kind chap behind the bar for a gin and tonic. He responded with a look of confusion and I became mildly concerned. I was in London, at a bar and a simple gin and tonic was causing the barman distress, at first I thought it was a joke, what reasonably educated bartender in London can’t make this British staple. I quickly realized that this guy was not joking and preceded to painfully walk him through the drink, literally ice cube by ice cube. The result was drinkable, but I was totally disgusted at what passed for a bartender. That was my last trip to London, but next time I’m staying at the Savoy, or at least near enough I can use their bar as my own.
Okay, back to the drink at hand. Despite my previous anecdote, I don’t think I’ve ever had an awful gin and tonic, but I also can’t recall having an incredible one. I decided that this warm weather and medicinal classic deserved better and I undertook the enviable task of creating the quintessential gin and tonic. I went into this well aware that I was probably fighting an uphill battle against not only the laws of physics, but probably Murphy as well. I began with the most basic dilemma the gin to tonic ratio and from there experimented with different techniques to bring the drink to life. Alas, the results were worth the time and effort; behold the second coming of the gin and tonic!
Start with two ounces of Plymouth gin in an empty old fashioned glass, gently place a slice of lime into the glass and muddle well to release the juice as well as the oils, fill the glass with ice and add three ounces of Schweppes tonic. I have sampled most of the readily available supermarket brand tonics and Schweppes is the best of them. That’s all there is to it. I polled a distinguished panel of judges to validate my findings against a cocktail made with the same proportion of ingredients in the traditional manner and the results were conclusive.
While at its peak the sun may have never set on the British Empire, but the time has come for the sun to set on mediocre gin and tonics. Serve these to your friends with a nod to the absolute genius who thought to fight malaria with cocktails and the ballsiness needed to take over half the globe from an island in the Atlantic!
Gin & Tonic
2 oz gin
3 oz tonic
slice of lime
Pour the gin into an empty old fashioned glass, add the slice of lime and muddle. Fill the glass with ice and add the tonic. Stir and serve.