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You can probably make a gin and tonic in your sleep, which means this easy cocktail is just about ideal for putting together on a hot day (or after a challenging one). But even the simplest combo—we’re just talking G plus T here—involves some choices, and there are ways to make the drink you’re drinking tonight even better. Let’s walk through them.
The most important ingredient in a G&T is not really the gin or even the tonic. It’s carbonation. All too often, gin and tonics quickly lose their bubbles, becoming what a friend of mine calls “sweet-bitter booze water.” Nobody wants that.
What can you do to avoid the loss of carbonation? First, chill all your ingredients in advance. “Carbon dioxide leaves warmer liquids faster,” says Boston bartender Fred Yarm, “and bubble retention is everything.” John deBary, author of Drink What You Want, explains it this way: “The warmer something is, the more readily the gas—that is, the bubbles—comes out of solution.” Cool that gin in the freezer if you can, and definitely don’t crack open a big room-temp bottle of tonic—stash single-serving bottles or cans in your fridge, and open a fresh, cold one just when you’re ready to pour it. If you have space in your fridge or freezer, chill your glassware, too.
San Francisco bartender Meryll Cawn agrees that the goal is the fizziest G&T possible, and shares this advice: “Buy tonics with higher pressure and more carbonation.” You read that correctly: not all fizzy liquids have the same level of fizz to begin with. Q Tonic’s promotional materials advertise a carbonation level of 4.5 volumes of CO2, closely followed by Fever Tree, while they say Schweppes comes in around one volume less. (For reference, most beer measures between 2.2 and 2.6 volumes of CO2, while fizzy Champagne clocks in between 5 and 6.)
Since fizz dissipates over time, you might also consider making smaller drinks (say, splitting one small bottle of tonic between two drinkers) and starting the next round with a fresh, bubbly can or bottle. Or you can drink full-size cocktails and simply take Cawn’s other piece of advice: “Drink it quickly.”
Order and ratio
How you pour your gin and tonic can also affect that fizz. Many bartenders start making a G&T by pouring in the gin, piling on the ice, then adding the tonic. There’s solid reasoning behind this: sugar-laden tonic water is denser and heavier than gin, so it will sink down into the gin and essentially mix itself in without stirring. (Agitation can pop the precious bubbles in your drink.) But deBary recommends what he calls “the soda sandwich”: fill the glass with ice, then pour a bit of tonic at the bottom, followed by the gin, and then the rest of the tonic on top. To my tastebuds, this yields a more well-mixed drink. “It’s an efficient way to mix the drink through layering and pouring, rather than by stirring, which is a bit rougher,” deBary explains.
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How much gin? How much tonic? You’re likely eyeballing this drink, and looking to use your full mini-bottle or can of tonic. But one part booze to three parts tonic is a good place to start. (You can achieve this by pouring about half your little bottle into the ice-filled glass, followed by two ounces gin, then the rest of the bottle.) Some gin lovers let the spirit shine by using a little less tonic; fans of day-drinking sometimes aim for a lower-alcohol drink, with around one part booze to four parts tonic.
But which gin?
Chances are, you’re going to make your G&T with whatever gin you have on hand. Many longtime G&T devotees stick to the tried and true: bold, juniper-forward London Drys like Tanqueray or Bombay Dry (not the Sapphire version). I’m partial to Sipsmith, which has its juniper side but is also slightly citrusy and licorice-laced.
“I prefer a punchy gin so that I can taste it over the tonic,” Frederic Yarm, Boston bartender and author of Boston Cocktails: Drunk and Told, tells me. “Tonic has so much sugar and adds so much dilution that I, as a gin lover, want to know that I am drinking a gin and tonic.” He loves Edinburgh’s Navy Strength Cannonball Gin, which is laced with Sichuan peppercorns, as well as Principe De Los Apostoles Gin from Argentina, which gets its flavor from eucalyptus, pink grapefruit, and yerba mate, among other ingredients.
And which tonic?
Bartenders have made an art of evaluating each gin’s attributes to choose a complementary tonic (a more floral gin with elderflower tonic; a bolder one with warmly spiced angostura-bark spiked tonic). These days there are grapefruit tonics and lemon tonics and cucumber tonics, but you get more flexibility when you start with a straightforward tonic and dress it up to suit your mood. Bottles and cans labeled “Indian Tonic” tend to be the most bold and refreshingly bitter in flavor, though the colonialist name may make you wince. (It’s a worthwhile reminder of the drink’s problematic association with British imperialism; gin, sugar, and citrus cut the bitterness of the quinine that British colonizers used to ward off malaria.)
Tasting side by side recently, I preferred the flavor of Fever Tree’s bracingly bitter Indian Tonic over the more herbal and floral Indian Tonic from Q, but during the time it took me to sip each drink, I noticed that Q’s version seemed to stay fizzy for longer. By the end of the glass, my allegiance had switched to Q for its persistent bubbles, though I might stick with Fever Tree for times when I’m drinking quicker or sharing a bottle with a friend.
Tonic syrups or concentrates turn a two-ingredient drink into a three-ingredient one, but there are some advantages. Some, like Jack Rudy, are bright and citrusy, while others, like Bradley’s, are more earthy and, well, bark-y. (I don’t recommend making your own syrup, as there is the risk of improper filtration, and unsafe levels of quinine in the final drink.) When you’re using syrup and soda, it’s easy to dial down the sweetness and intensity of your drink by adding a bit more bubbly; you’ll also be able to avoid filling up your recycling bin with glass bottles if you’re fizzing up your G&T by way of a soda maker.
The best reason to keep tonic syrup around, though, is that it’s handy for making other drinks, like a slushy frozen gin and tonic. Jack Rudy’s Brooks Reitz shares his recipe here; I like to start with frozen gin to stave off separation, and sometimes I add a squeeze of citrus before blending. This is a drink without many ingredients to hide behind, so it works well with a more delicate gin; I like mellow, minty Botanist Islay Gin from Scotland here.
Even if you’re not using a tonic syrup, you can reduce the sweetness of any gin and tonic by replacing some of the tonic with club soda or seltzer (this version, made popular in Japan, is sometimes called a Gin Sonic). San Francisco bartender Christian Suzuki-Orellana especially recommends this move if you like your G&T with a light dose of gin and a little more fizz: “I like one to one and a half ounces of gin with tons of room for my effervescent modifier, so I can enjoy a few more, if I choose to have more than one. It’s more refreshing. It’s hydrating.” But especially if you’re using that much soda, he notes, “I personally find tonic waters to be too sweet, so I like cutting it with soda water.”
Glassware and garnish: Give up the lime!
In Spain, the gin tonica is served in a giant goblet, trussed with pretty (and aromatic) garnishes. Most of the bartenders I spoke with praised the goblet for its ability to hold loads of ice (thus keeping the drink colder longer). But a few mentioned that the goblet can feel precariously top heavy, and if keeping your bubbles is the primary concern, they said, a tall, thin Collins or highball glass is better. “It’s the same idea as a flute for Champagne,” notes San Francisco bartender Meryll Cawn. “It keeps it carbonated. Also, you don’t have an avalanche of ice cubes coming at your face.”
Lemon? Sure. Grapefruit? Highly recommended.
While she prefers a tall glass, Cawn says she’s inspired by the Spanish method of pairing specific gins with different tonics and garnishes. Smell your gin first, she says, and think about what could complement or contrast its botanicals. Lemon? Sure. Grapefruit? Highly recommended. But, she notes, “you should definitely feel free to do multiple garnishes: thyme and pickled carrots, or pink peppercorn and grapefruit.” Rosemary or thyme sprigs are common in cocktails, and very nice with gin, but cinnamon sticks are fair game, too—try one in your G&T with a dash of aromatic bitters. You can go cool and savory with a cucumber spear or celery leaves, olives, and even a splash of olive brine. Seattle bartender Jennifer Akin says that more floral gins, like Hendrick’s, call out for a raspberry; with others she likes a slice of orange. Basil and mint can work, too.
The one garnish Cawn avoids might be the one you see most often: “I don’t like lime in G&T because it’s rarely used as a botanical in gin, or in tonic. When you add it,” she says, “the lime takes over almost the entire flavor of the drink.” Ditching the lime may sound like the hardest of all these rules to follow; I promise, though, your new signature G&T will go down easy.